Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gods and demons

I Wrote a book about 10 years ago called Incans, Aztecs and Mayans. As a result of some of the things I wrote there, I received an e-mail this morning:
My 9-year-old daughter posed this question to me: "So, if the gods of the Aztecs are demons (p. 69) (which we know to be fallen angels), then do (did) they actually exist?" (We understand "gods" to be figments of people's imaginations (such as the Greek gods), not fallen angels.)
Here's how I replied:
Dear L_____:

Thank you for passing along your daughter's question. I will attempt to answer it to the best of my ability. If I have misunderstood what you said, please write back!
*******
It was a little over 20 years ago, while Sarita and I were at the U.S. Center for World Mission, that I wrote an article in which I confessed how my view of demons had been changed. From my upbringing, I had come to view demons in much the way, if I understand accurately what you wrote, that you view them: as a kind of "figment of the imagination" like the Greek gods. As I wrote up my story back in 1992:
I took a seminar led by an old OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship, formerly China Inland Mission) couple. Ernie and Mertie Heimbach were as straight-arrow conservative (theologically speaking) as two people could come. Mertie's mom had been imprisoned by the Japanese because of her Christian testimony. [You can find that story in Days 1-3 of the August 2006 Global Prayer Digest.] No lunatics, these! Ernie had been OMF's American field director for several years.

And Ernie and Mertie talked about their encounters with demons when working among the Hmong people of Thailand.

At one point, they were very discouraged about their ministry among the Hmong. And then they overheard someone saying, "If you have a medical need, the Western missionaries are very helpful. But if you have any problems with demons, go to the witch doctors. They know what they are talking about."

That comment just about did Ernie and Mertie in! What good was it for them to serve people's medical needs? Weren't they there to help them spiritually? The medical was supposed to support the spiritual. But here, it seemed, the people were ignoring them completely for their deepest spiritual needs, the very reason that they had come!

"We had never been trained to deal with demons," said Ernie and Mertie. And I knew that I, John Holzmann, graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, hadn't been trained to confront demons, either. Demonic powers were, as I wrote shortly after I took Ernie and Mertie's class, "like the headless horseman. . . Unreal."
I will note that there are certainly plenty of Scriptures that give the impression that idols or demons--the "gods" of the nations--are mere figments of imagination. Isaiah 44:9-19 is a famous one:
[The carpenter] cut down . . . a cypress or oak. . . .
It is man's fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me; you are my god.”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
And there are other such passages. The place in I Kings 18 where Elijah confronts Baal and his prophets is another favorite. Verses 26 and 27 are particularly poignant:
Then [Baal's prophets] called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
--The overwhelming mockery, the derision, is unmistakable. What fools!

But then we have portions of Scripture like Deuteronomy 32: 17, that identify gods other than YHWH as demons. And the plethora of verses in which we see Jesus casting demons out of people (Matthew 8:16; 9:32-33; 15:22-28; 17:14-20; etc., etc.). As I look at those verses, it seems pretty inescapable that whatever-they-were that Jesus was rebuking, they were real and beyond "normal" human intervention. Same thing in Acts 16:16-19 and 19:13-17: obviously, there is some kind of "power" or "ability" that is beyond "normal" human explanation. Not even a "sickness" (or mental illness) can explain all of these behaviors--or the responses of those who interacted with the persons described as "having" the spirits or demons within them. And I see no derision. Instead, I see deep concern . . . and action taken against the beings identified as spirits or demons.

As I have moved forward in my life, I have, personally, paid more attention to the basic sentiment of Joshua 24: 15, in which Joshua challenges the Israelites: "if serving [YHWH] seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve [YHWH]."

There seems to be a real choice. We ourselves have to make that kind of choice in today's day and age. Whom will we serve? God sets that question, that decision, before us: Whom will we serve?

I hope I may have given you at least a beginning answer to your question.

May God grant you wisdom as you seek to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Sincerely,

John Holzmann

Monday, September 29, 2008

Knowledge and Truth

File photo of Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, taken February 11, 2007, at the meeting in which she was named president.
File photo of Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, taken February 11, 2007, at the meeting in which she was named president. Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Harvard's president Drew Faust made the following comments at her inauguration last October 12th. I just ran into her speech last Thursday evening at a special meeting of CrossGlobal Link, The Mission Exchange, and the Evangelical Missiological Society/EMS--a dinner held in honor of the lifetime achievements of my former boss and mentor Dr. Ralph Winter.

One of the speakers quoted a portion of Dr. Faust's comments and expressed a certain degree of contempt.

"Harvard is both a source and a symbol of the ever expanding knowledge upon which the future of the earth depends," said Dr. Faust, "and we must take an active and reflective role in this new geography of learning."

And what is the content of the knowledge upon which the future of the earth depends? According to Faust,
The "Veritas" [Latin for "Truth"] in Harvard's shield was originally intended to invoke the absolutes of divine revelation, the unassailable verities of Puritan religion. We understand it quite differently now. Truth is an aspiration, not a possession. . . . [I]n this we – and all universities defined by the spirit of debate and free inquiry – challenge and even threaten those who would embrace unquestioned certainties.

We must commit ourselves to the uncomfortable position of doubt, to the humility of always believing there is more to know, more to teach, more to understand. . . .

Clearly, Faust means to place herself and the Harvard University outside the scope of "those who would embrace unquestioned certainties."

But I wonder where such a refusal to embrace certainties--questioned or not--might lead? With what is one left if truth is always and only "an aspiration [and] not a possession"? If it is true that one can never possess truth, then on what grounds can Faust urge any form of responsibility such as what we read in her last quoted sentence: "We must commit ourselves . . ."?

The question I have just raised becomes even more insistent as we listen further to what she said in her speech:
We are able to live at Harvard in a world of intellectual freedom, of inspiring tradition, of extraordinary resources, because we are part of that curious and venerable organization known as a university. We need better to comprehend and advance its purposes – not simply to explain ourselves to an often critical public, but to hold ourselves to our own account. . . . We must regard ourselves as accountable to one another, for we constitute the institution that in turn defines our possibilities. . . .

It is not easy to convince a nation or a world to respect, much less support, institutions committed to challenging society’s fundamental assumptions. But it is our obligation to make that case: both to explain our purposes and achieve them so well that these precious institutions survive and prosper in this new century. . . .

James B. Conant, Harvard’s 23rd president [wrote in 1951 that he] was confident "[that Harvard] will maintain the traditions of academic freedom, of tolerance for heresy. . . ." We must dedicate ourselves to making certain he continues to be right; we must share and sustain his faith. . . .

This is a ceremony in which I pledge – with keys and seal and charter – my accountability to the traditions that [Conant']s voice from the past invokes. And at the same time, I affirm, in compact with all of you, my accountability to and for Harvard’s future. As in Conant's day, we face uncertainties in a world that gives us sound reason for disquiet. But we too maintain an unwavering belief in the purposes and potential of this university and in all it can do to shape how the world will look another half century from now.

Fascinating all the "necessities" laid upon us by someone who is confident that she possesses no truth!

But, of course, she does believe in truth . . . and truths. And she holds certain perspectives by faith. She said so herself. Indeed, she laid it upon her audience as a necessity that they hold certain perspectives by faith.
******

I wonder if she overstates her intent?

I sense a kinship with her in her stated desire always to express "the humility of always believing there is more to know, more to teach, more to understand." And I find it in accord with my own personality to "challeng[e] society’s fundamental assumptions." So I find it no difficulty to "support . . . institutions committed to [these ends]."

However, it seems a fool's errand to seek "knowledge" when there is no pot of gold--no truth, i.e., therefore, no real knowledge--to be found on the other end of the rainbow.

I am reminded once more of the statement attributed to G. K. Chesterton: "The purpose of opening one's mind, as of opening one's mouth, is to close it again on something solid."

Or of Budziszewski's question for the intolerant professor of tolerance, "Don't we have to use standards to describe what is tolerable and what isn't? What are yours?"

Because, ultimately, isn't that a goodly portion of the real question: "Choose you this day whom you will serve"?

Whom will you serve?

Faust has made clear it is not the god of the Puritans who founded the institution she now leads.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Soundtracks of our lives

A few days ago I discovered Playlist.com. Kind of neat to be able to put together your own preferred playlist of music.

The first song I looked for was "Africa" by Toto. There's something about the yearning in that song that always grips me.

When I found it, I said to myself, "Well! This is pretty good!" So I added "Africa" to my playlist . . . and left Playlist.com to get on with work.

Then this morning I was listening to my "Placid Music" station on Pandora.com, when I heard "The Child in Us" by Enigma.

Oh! Talk about yearning! . . .

That song, along with several other Enigma tunes, always brings me back to the time, several years ago, when I was writing up notes on Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. --It was the music I happened to be listening to at the time. I didn't have access to Pandora nor to an MP3 player, so (poor me! ha ha.) . . . I was listening to CDs on my three-CD changer. But I was able to listen to the same three albums for two or three days in a row before I got sick of them. So, it seems, Enigma's first two albums were staples during that period of my life, and I am always reminded of the melancholy of A Farewell to Arms whenever I hear those songs from Enigma.

So this morning I heard "The Child in Us" and got thinking: what other Enigma songs would I like to hear more frequently on Pandora? I did some searching and found several--which I added to my Pandora playlist.

Meanwhile, realizing that I have no real control over what which songs I hear when on Pandora, I got thinking again about Playlist.com. So I visited and began adding Enigma songs to my Playlist.com playlist!

But then I got thinking. How much am I revealing about myself simply by the choices of music I make? Should I "hide" who I am by adding a bunch of music choices that I wouldn't have made right off the top? For example, Toto and Enigma are not Christian groups. And, in fact, especially when you get into Enigma . . . it's just . . . different from what most people listen to.

And then the next group I looked for: Moody Blues.

Boy! I used to listen to them all the time when I was in high school. . . .

Maybe it was while I was bumping through their songs on Playlist.com that I began to question what I was doing. Not because of my personal choices. But because of what it might reveal about me. and

There was that yearning again. The sadness. The desire for "something more." Indeed, I'd say, something holy and more.

The song that inspired me to write this post is "Watching and Waiting":
Watching and waiting
For a friend to play with.
Why have I been alone so long?
Mole he is burrowing
His way to the sunlight,
He knows there's someone there so strong.

'Cos here there's lots of room for doing
The things you've always been denied.
So look and gather all you want to,
There's no one here to stop you trying.

Soon you will see me
'Cos I'll be all around you
But where I come from I can't tell.

Don't be alarmed
By my fields and my forests
They're here for only you to share.

'Cos here there's lots of room for doing
The things you've always been denied.
So look and gather all you want to,
There's no one here to stop you trying.

Watching and waiting
For someone to understand me.
I hope it won't be very long.

Again, it's not Christian. And there are some rather weird aspects to the song. (Who is speaking, for example, at different points?) But . . . (and I used to think about this in high school) . . . isn't there some kind of holiness to that yearning . . . something that might pull someone toward God?

I wonder about that today, too.

Oh, yes! There is something holy and beautiful and satisfying about Twila Paris' thoughtful Christian songs (I'm thinking of The Warrior is a Child at the moment . . . though, come to think of it, that's a pretty plaintive/yearning song, too, isn't it?) . . . or Michael W Smith's songs, too (thinking of Lord, Have Mercy--because I just heard it on Pandora).

But there is something really wonderful, too, about the "songs from the other side" where there is still the great unfulfilled yearning. I think. . . .

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How we talk with our kids

Due to my relationship with the literature-based, internationally-oriented Sonlight Curriculum homeschool program (I'm co-founder with my wife, and a co-owner), I still spend a significant amount of time "meditating" on what goes on over there.

So I noticed a series of posts on the Sonlighters Club forums about how some parents talk with their kids.
I was once talking with my 6-year-old son in line at a store. I didn't realize the vocabulary we were using, to be honest.

The lady behind us asked if I talk to him all the time like that.

I asked what she meant. I wasn't scolding him or anything like that.

She said, "Does he really understand all those words you are using?"

My son said, "Sure, don't you?"

I was both proud and a little embarassed.

As I thought more about it, I realized that his vocabulary was in large part from the books we read.
And then, in response:
I have to agree! My 5-year-old has the best vocabulary at her age of any of my children. Not that the rest were shabby, but listening to good Sonlight books since she was 9 months old certainly hasn't hurt!

Our families are always laughing at her word choices. She has no idea the words she uses aren't typical 5-year-old vocabulary.
It got me thinking that this was the way we always talked with our kids, too. Never "down" to them. Oh, yes, add explanation when and as necessary. But mostly just talk like you'd talk to any adult . . . even if they are four or five years old.

It sets them up to speak confidently with other adults . . . as I also like to remember. (Thinking of our daughter's swim coach when she was 7 or 8 years old. He turned to Sarita in amazement: "Your daughter walks up to me [though she came only up to his belt buckle], looks me in the eye and talks to me as if she was an adult. Totally respectful and all, but I'm just not used to kids being able to do that!")

Yay homeschooling!
*******

Hey. While I'm on this kick. Let me mention another beautiful story I just read, written by a new homeschooling mom.
Monday, we spent the entire day out in the woods exploring, listening, fastening weed wackers out of sticks, spying a falcon high in the branches, a yellow and black spider, a woolly worm, blazing new trails, and having the most wonderful time together. Then the three children (11, 8, and 4) worked together to build a teepee out of branches found in the woods.

Today we were back in the books and the olders were asking, "Can I read another chapter?" and I finished the book.

They are delighted that they know the countries of "Southwest Asia" and talk about the characters and story lines from the readers and read-alouds like they are friends.

We are in total suspense to find out what happens to Ranofer [a character in one of the books they are reading--JAH]. They are begging me to read on.

I love these moments.
Yep.

And then another mom replied,
Son (5) and I went to the hardware store to buy some treehouse making supplies. My husband and son worked on that this afternoon.

Talk about one excited boy!

Of course, we read half a book and did lots of other things throughout the day.

What rich lives we have!
Oh, yes!

And then a third mom:

Isn't it great?! We took a "day off" last week to build a shed. There is LOTS of math in shed building.
Oh, to be young again and to do it all over!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some suggested solutions to the Executive Branch's attempted power grab . . .

I'm "just" really impressed with how people outside of the government seem to have more common sense and insight than those on the inside.

Check out Dave Ramsey's proposal. Or, better yet, Carter Dougherty's history lesson about Sweden's similar problem in the early '90s.

And, in case you're not riled up enough, check out Jason Linkins' pointed commentary in The Huffington Post:
A critical - and radical - component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press.

Section 8 . . . of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that's so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one's hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

In short, the so-called "mother of all bailouts," which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People's duly sworn representatives. All decision-making power will be consolidated into the Executive Branch. . . . The measure will run up the budget deficit by a significant amount, with no guarantee of recouping the outlay, and no fundamental means of holding those who fail to do so accountable. . . .

Robert Kuttner cuts through much of the gloss in an article in [Mon]day's American Prospect:
. . . When the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s pumped a total of $35 billion into U.S. corporations and financial institutions, there was close government supervision and quid pro quos at every step of the way. Much of the time, the RFC became a preferred shareholder, and often appointed board members.

The Home Owners Loan Corporation, which eventually refinanced one in five mortgage loans, did not operate to bail out banks but to save homeowners.

And the Resolution Trust Corporation of the 1980s, created to mop up the damage of the first speculative mortgage meltdown, the S&L collapse, did not pump in money to rescue bad investments; it sorted out good assets from bad after the fact, and made sure to purge bad executives as well as bad loans. And all three of these historic cases of public recapitalization were done without suspending judicial review. [Emphasis added. --JAH]
. . . But one cannot overstate this: Section 8 is a singularly transformative sentence of economic policy. It transfers a significant amount of power to the Executive Branch, while walling off any avenue for oversight, and offering no guarantees in return. . . .

[T]he fact that Section 8 of the Paulson plan seems to strike few as a de facto dealbreaker can and should astound. The failure of Congress to hold the line on this point would be truly embarrassing. But if we make it through this week with nobody in the press specifically informing the public about the implications of this single sentence - in the middle of a complicated bill, in the middle of a complicated time - then right there, you have the single largest media failure of this year.
Amen.

. . . Oh. While we're at it.

Notice that, in his speech tonight, Bush didn't say a word about the Section 8 power grab--not even a hint of contrition for the bald-faced attempt to place us all under a dictatorship.

I needed some more data . . .

This morning's "United States of France" post, I now realize, was too mild. Way too mild.

Considering the intent of his email, somehow I don't think Ron Paul will mind if I quote what he sent a few hours after I posted this morning:
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dear Friends,

Whenever a Great Bipartisan Consensus is announced, and a compliant media assures everyone that the wondrous actions of our wise leaders are being taken for our own good, you can know with absolute certainty that disaster is about to strike.

The events of the past week are no exception.

The bailout package that is about to be rammed down Congress' throat is not just economically foolish. It is downright sinister. It makes a mockery of our Constitution, which our leaders should never again bother pretending is still in effect. It promises the American people a never-ending nightmare of ever-greater debt liabilities they will have to shoulder. Two weeks ago, financial analyst Jim Rogers said the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made America more communist than China! "This is welfare for the rich," he said. "This is socialism for the rich. It's bailing out the financiers, the banks, the Wall Streeters."

That describes the current bailout package to a T. And we're being told it's unavoidable.

The claim that the market caused all this is so staggeringly foolish that only politicians and the media could pretend to believe it. But that has become the conventional wisdom, with the desired result that those responsible for the credit bubble and its predictable consequences - predictable, that is, to those who understand sound, Austrian economics - are being let off the hook. The Federal Reserve System is actually positioning itself as the savior, rather than the culprit, in this mess!

• The Treasury Secretary is authorized to purchase up to $700 billion in mortgage-related assets at any one time. That means $700 billion is only the very beginning of what will hit us.

• Financial institutions are "designated as financial agents of the Government." This is the New Deal to end all New Deals.

• Then there's this: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency." Translation: the Secretary can buy up whatever junk debt he wants to, burden the American people with it, and be subject to no one in the process.

There goes your country.

Even some so-called free-market economists are calling all this "sadly necessary." Sad, yes. Necessary? Don't make me laugh.

Our one-party system is complicit in yet another crime against the American people. The two major party candidates for president themselves initially indicated their strong support for bailouts of this kind - another example of the big choice we're supposedly presented with this November: yes or yes. Now, with a backlash brewing, they're not quite sure what their views are. A sad display, really.

Although the present bailout package is almost certainly not the end of the political atrocities we'll witness in connection with the crisis, time is short. Congress may vote as soon as tomorrow. With a Rasmussen poll finding support for the bailout at an anemic seven percent, some members of Congress are afraid to vote for it. Call them! Let them hear from you! Tell them you will never vote for anyone who supports this atrocity.

The issue boils down to this: do we care about freedom? Do we care about responsibility and accountability? Do we care that our government and media have been bought and paid for? Do we care that average Americans are about to be looted in order to subsidize the fattest of cats on Wall Street and in government? Do we care?

When the chips are down, will we stand up and fight, even if it means standing up against every stripe of fashionable opinion in politics and the media?
Times like these have a way of telling us what kind of a people we are, and what kind of country we shall be.

In liberty,

Ron Paul
And then there is this from Gary North:
For months, high-level government officials assured us that America's financial markets were safe. They continued to assure us right up until Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on September 18 said a $700 billion bailout is required to save the economy from a collapse comparable to the Great Depression.

Our leaders, including Paulson, did not have a clue as to what was going on. . . .

The assurances began in August 2007. They accelerated right through September 18.

It did not matter that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nationalized without vote by Congress on a Sunday afternoon, September 7. The experts remained optimistic.

It did not matter that a week later, also on a Sunday, Merrill Lynch sold itself without a vote by its Board of Directors to Bank of America, which also did not ask for a vote by its Board of Directors.

It did not matter that on Monday, September 15, Lehman Brothers Holdings declared bankruptcy -- the largest bankruptcy by far in American history, dwarfing Enron and WorldCom combined.

We were assured on September 15 that everything was under control.

It was not just Paulson, Bernanke, and the President who assured us. It was also almost every talking head from the financial world who appeared on television. The main exception was Prof. Nouriel Roubini, whose grim forecasts have come true, one by one.

On Sunday, September 14, he said that no investment bank would survive. He said the model was fundamentally flawed. Two went bust within 24 hours: Merrill Lynch and Lehman. The other two were bailed out by a change in their legal structure on Friday, September 19. Both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley surrendered their status as investment banks, switched to holding companies, thereby coming under Federal regulation, and immediately becoming eligible for bailout money.

We have seen a stream of ex-geniuses depart as multi-millionaires: Angelo Mozilo (Countywide Financial), Charles Prince (Citigroup), Stan O'Neal (Merrill Lunch), and Dick Fuld (Lehman). They join the legendary Franklin Raines (Fannie Mae), who had departed years earlier, and who today is an Obama advisor. Then there were the recent heads of Fannie and Freddie.

The head of AIG will be replaced soon.
How is this possible that we, the people of the United States, are supposed to pay these guys--and our elected officials--multi-hundreds of millions of dollars for the "privilege" of taking on the trillions of dollars of debt they have wracked up in our behalf?

I think it's time for us to get on the telephone, as Ron Paul urged!

I think I finally feel free to vote my conscience

I am so sick of the two major parties, and so sick of the lack of integrity or character on the part of the Republicans, in particular, I figure I can do no harm by voting my conscience (as I have refused to do the last two elections, due to the supposed "evil" of the Democratic Party).

Yes, I voted for George Bush both times. And what has that gotten us? More tax-and-borrow liberalism, and now, in the last two weeks, socialistic benefits for people who have dedicated themselves to acquiring the most money possible, and higher inflation and/or future misery for many people who have dedicated themselves to living frugally within their means.

I think this Time magazine article, titled
How We Became the United States of France
, expresses it well:
This is the state of our great republic: We've nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We're about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they're a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We're now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. . . .

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word) regulation-averse Administration has made France's only Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterand did was nationalize France's big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn't have to deal with bankers who didn't want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie. France doesn't have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieus, where it likes to warehouse people who aren't French enough (meaning, immigrants orAlgerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren't over their heads in personal debt. . . .

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they're looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don't want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do. . . .

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there's no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysee and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don't have to: they're the most coddled special interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We're more French than France.

George W., as far as I can tell, has proven himself more socialistic than Franklin D. Roosevelt was. And that's saying rather a lot!

Of course, we're not about to try to elect George W. again. That's nice. But now what does John McCain have to offer?

Prior to Palin being put forward, it was only the Democrats who had an inexperienced candidate being promoted for the White House. But now the Republicans have promoted an equally inexperienced candidate and, worse, they seem unwilling to admit what a sham she is.

She is supposedly a high-minded, principled person with a heart set on eliminating government waste. Really? Must be a relatively recent conversion.
  • Yes, she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. But only after she promoted it. (During her 2006 campaign for governor, Palin repeatedly expressed support for the bridge project, saying Alaska should take advantage of earmarks “while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.” [Anchorage Daily News, 10/22/06 (answer to Question #5); Ketchikan Daily News, 8/9/06, 11/21/06])

    Moreover, it was only after the issue became a national embarrassment that she decided it was a bad idea.

    Meanwhile,
  • She was all in favor of as much federal pork as she could get her hands on for the community she served as mayor.. ($27 million in 14 projects.)
  • She permitted the $25 million, 3.2-mile long, federally-funded "road to nowhere" to continue. --I guess, as long as the federal government pays (meaning, U.S. taxpayers pay) for it and the taxpayers ignore it, such expenditures are okay.
  • Oh. And let us not forget her "travel expenses" incurred for staying--or, rather, going--home and/or for helping her family travel with her.

    "Her costs have been much lower than her Democratic predecessor's," say her apologists.

    Yeah. But what about honesty, accountability, ethics and integrity? Would the IRS permit private businesses to charge off these kinds of expenses as legitimate business expenses?

    If you heard of some private business person who was doing this, would you agree: "Yeah, that's really okay!"?

    I don't think so!
And then I'm supposed to take comfort that she is a quick study on foreign policy even though, by her own admission, that has never been of interest to her?

Sorry. I would be happy to do a similar "analysis" of Obama and Biden, but I have never had interest in potentially voting Democratic.

Now I have to decide whether to vote Libertarian or U.S. Constitution Party.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gracious responses in difficult circumstances

The September 6/13 edition of World magazine includes a great interview of Professor J. Budziszewski [Boojee-SHEF-skee] of the University of Texas. I mentioned one of his books, True Tolerance: Liberalism and the Necessity of Judgment several years ago. I probably should have mentioned his How to Stay Christian in College and Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students. --Problem is, I haven't read either of them. I have few doubts they are good. But I haven't actually read them.

So now comes Ask Me Anything 2: More Provocative Answers for College Students. I found his answers--shared in the World magazine article--insightful, gracious, and compelling.

A couple of examples:
Budziszewski: [A professor in a public policy class said,] "All of you students are too intelligent to be pro-life, right?" The implied threat was plain: "If any of you are pro-life, I'll grade you down." Guess whether anyone spoke up....

World: What's the right way for Christians to talk back to such professors?

Budziszewski: A rule one is "Speak up." Even the most bigoted professors often change their tune when challenged. Other rules are "The logical," "Be respectful," "Keep it reef," "Limit yourself to a single point," and, "Remember that you don't have to 'win.'" It's not difficult to ask, "Sir, I understand the insult, but what is the argument?" Nor does it require genius to say this to a professor blathering about "intolerance": "If we had to tolerate everything, wouldn't we even have to tolerate intolerance? Don't we have to use standards to describe what is tolerable and what isn't? What are yours?" [Emphasis added. --JAH]

Sounds like a worthy mentor to me!

Besides reading his books, you can also find Budziszewski serving as the wise and gracious Professor Theophilus at TrueU.org.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And now the other side . . .

I get all this bad news about my cholesterol levels and then . . . I receive a little advertising booklet by Dr. William Campbell Douglass II, M.D., called The Biggest Medical Lie of the Last 50 Years.
More than 50 years of evidence involving thousands of patients PROVES that your cholesterol count isn't your biggest worry. . . .

Cholesterol is so important that every cell in the human body needs it. And which of your organs has the highest concentration of cholesterol? Your brain! That's right, your brain is loaded with this supposedly deadly stuff. But when it comes to making cholesterol, your liver is the main "factory."

In fact, your own liver makes most of the cholesterol that's detected by blood tests. That's why changing what you eat causes almost NO change in your cholesterol count. Your liver just produces more cholesterol to make up for what you don't get in your diet.

When people try strict diets, a small number, called "high respondent" can lower their blood cholesterol by about 10 percent. The rest of us can totally give up saturated fat and cut calories like crazy, but we'll see only a 5 or 6 percent drop in cholesterol.

That's because your body needs cholesterol and your liver fights back when you try to take it away. All the diet does is make you deficient in a nutrient you need. Study after study proves high cholesterol is associated with longer life.

Yes, that's right. You can live longer if you have high cholesterol. . . .

If your cholesterol is too low, you could be in trouble. Low cholesterol is one of the most accurate signs of bad health ever found. . . . Because in the government's own Framingham study, older people with the lowest cholesterol levels had some of the highest death rates. . . .

Mainstream doctors tell us we should try to get our cholesterol below 200. Their advice is absolutely crazy. Here's the truth . . .

Elderly people with low cholesterol die more often from a heart attack compared to old people with high cholesterol. That's what a Yale University doctor found. His name was Harlan Krumholz. . . . His findings were even published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The truth is even more shocking
if you look beyond heart disease

A recent study shows that death from all causes--not just heart disease--is lower among elderly people with high cholesterol.

It's not just old people, either. Among people of all ages, low cholesterol is connected to a higher risk of death from gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. That discovery came out of 19 studies involving 68,000 people.

You want more proof? I've got it.

Another research team kept track of 100,000 healthy people for 15 years. They discovered that folks with low cholesterol were more likely to catch serious infections— the kind that send you to a hospital.

And University of Minnesota scientists found that low cholesterol actually INCREASES your risk of certain infections like pneumonia or AIDS.

Low cholesterol is a death warrant

An article in the European Heart Journal confirms that low cholesterol is dangerous to your health. Examining 11,500 patients, they found those with cholesterol below 160 were more than twice as likely to die than those with high cholesterol.

And here's something very interesting: The number of deaths from heart disease was the same in both groups--but the low-cholesterol group had far more cancer deaths. . . .

Low cholesterol is linked to cancer

The medical community has known for years that low cholesterol is linked to cancer. A big French study in 1980 revealed that the cancer rate climbs steadily as cholesterol levels fall below 200.

But, this is exactly the range the heart experts tell us to aim for! We're supposed to take drugs till we get our cholesterol below 200. . . .

Way back in 1987, the National Cancer Institute was intrigued enough to back a big study of 12,488 men and women. They found that men with the lowest cholesterol levels were more likely to get cancer than those with the highest levels. The article appeared in The Lancet, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals.

The guys behind this study were basically right across the hall at the National Institutes of Health from the heart "experts" who were telling the world to take cholesterol drugs.

The heart researchers ignored the evidence

They were too proud to change their minds. And maybe—just maybe—money had something to do with it. (Gosh! You think?) Cholesterol reduction is now a $20-billion-a-year industry.

The whole cholesterol scare was cooked up by a tiny handful of powerful doctors at prestigious institutions. They crammed it down the throats of the whole medical profession, over the objections of their own advisors and a majority of practicing doctors.

And leading cholesterol "experts" collected fat payments from drug companies all the way.

Yeah.

And, of course, Douglass keeps going.

Now I have to follow through on his references, cryptic as they may be.

*******

While I'm on the subject, I might as well reference some additional articles that seem to advocate the same positions as Dr. Douglass.

For example: The Truth About Cholesterol:
Only 7% of cholesterol is in the blood. The other 93% is located in every cell of the body, where its unique, waxy soapy consistency provides the cells with their structural integrity. Because cholesterol’s unique structure makes it impossible to dissolve in water, it forms a crucial component of the membrane surrounding every cell. Cholesterol acts to interlock lipid molecules, which stabilise our cell walls. The presence of cholesterol in the fatty double layer of the cell wall membrane adjusts the fluid level and rigidity to the proper value needed for both cell stability and function. Therefore, cholesterol is a vital building block and structural component for all bodily tissues.

The highest concentration of cholesterol is found in the brain and nerve cells. Most notably, cholesterol is an essential part of the myelin sheath, which allows neurons to conduct impulses necessary to communicate with each other. The myelin sheath, similar to the coating on copper wire, ensures that the nervous system functions properly by aiding the passage of electrical impulses. Cholesterol is the ‘synaptogenic factor,’ responsible for the development of highly specialised contact sites between adjacent neurons in the brain, known as synapses. (Announced in 2001 by researchers from the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science)

The formation of synapses is necessary for learning and the formation of memory. Cholesterol has been found to be the rate-limiting factor in the formation of synapse, Cholesterol not only helps guide the connecting parts of neurons to the right places, but is necessary for their ability to grow in the first place. The brain cannot tap the cholesterol in the blood, since lipoproteins, that mediate the transport of cholesterol, are too large to pass the blood-brain-barrier. The glial cells in the brain therefore produce their own cholesterol, to provide nerve cells with this vital component.

Cholesterol has beneficial effects on the immune system. Men with high cholesterol levels have stronger immune systems, than those with low cholesterol, as can be seen by the fact that they have more lymphocytes, total T-cells, helper T-cells and CD8+ cells. Researchers have also identified cholesterol as an inactivator/neutriliser of multiple bacterial toxins.

Further, many strains of disease-causing bacteria, are almost totally inactivated by Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (Ravnskov 2003; Quarterly J of Medicine; 96)

Cholesterol, or more precisely 7-dehydrocholesterol, is the precursor to Vitamin D. Vitamin D has long been recognised for its role in maintaining calcium balance and promoting bone health. More recently it is becoming known for a wide range of other functions, including the maintenance of mental health, a strong immune system, blood sugar regulation and the prevention of cancer.

Cholesterol also acts as an anti-oxidant, protecting cell membranes from free radical damage. . . .

Where does one get truth?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A tearful concert


Thursday evening Sarita and I had the privilege of attending a Twila Paris concert--one of our local Alternatives Pregnancy Center's annual fund-raising events.

I was astonished to find myself with tears running down my face through much of the concert. But, somehow, thought-provoking, worshipful and "deep" songs like the following will do that to me, I guess!

We Will Glorify
We Bow Down
Lamb of God
He is Exalted
The Warrior Is A Child
For the Glory of the Lord
How Beautiful
Visitor From Heaven [she said she hadn't sung this one in close to 15 years, but it was perfect for a crisis pregnancy center! --I wish I knew the story behind it. Did she lose a baby?]
God Is In Control

There were more, but I can't remember them, and I lost the "play list" I created at the time.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More bad news on the medical front

After getting the news I did on Tuesday about my eyesight, I decided I should share the worst of my blood work numbers with my primary care physician (PCP) at Kaiser. Funny: in the midst of a brief back-and-forth with my PCP, I received another letter from Dr. Leonardi.

First, my correspondence with my PCP.

Dr C______:

I went "out of plan" to get some very detailed analytic work done by Dr. David Leonardi of the "Leonardi Executive Health Institute."

I thought you should see at least some of the results (most particularly, those that are "out of range" or near out-of-range). So here are what I sense are the more salient numbers from a 6/18/08 blood draw after a 12-hour fast with [testing norms] and, where available or different, [/optimal numbers]:

Glucose - 97 [65-95/<90]

Hemoglobin A1C - 5.4 [3.5-5.1]

Insulin - 6 [1-5]

Cholesterol - 209 [0-200]

Triglycerides - 153 [0-100]

Cholesterol, HDL - 44 [50-200]

Cholesterol, LDL, calculated - 134 [0-100/<70]

Coronary Risk Ratio - 4.8 [1-3.5/<3.0]

Cholesterol, VLDL - 31 [4-40]

WBC w/ Differential & Platelet - MCH - 33.2 [27-33]

Testosterone, Total - 441 [750-1100]

Testosterone, Free - 54.6 [90-130]

Estradiol, High-Sensitivity - <2 [10-40]

DHEA Sulfate - 143 [350-500]

Cortisol, AM - 6.8 [8-18]

IGF-BP3 - 5.8 [2-4]

TSH - 0.08 [0.3-2.0; T-3 & T-4 were normal]

Results from 8/6/08 blood draw after 12-hour fast:

LDL Particle # - 1942 [<1000]

LDL Particle Size - 20.0 [>20.5]

Small LDL Particle # - 1581 [<600]

Large HDL Particle # - 6.6 [>6.6]

Vitamin D - 25.0 [>50]

His response:
Well, they look okay. . . . [T]hey all look pretty good.

On our scale, your testosterone of 441 would be normal.

The particle sizes I don't know what to do with. That's not normally a test I run.

You have quite a bit of hormone deficiency but as they stand I'm not sure of the significance.

We could refer you to an endocrinologist and they could address all of those issues if you like.

The A1C is a tad high but that is not a good screening test and anything less than 6 is still normal.

The cholesterol is borderline high but I still wouldn't treat it with medications.

We could get you some testosterone injections and see what happens. It might fix a few of the other hormonal abnormalities.

Let me know what you want to do.

On the one side, I was astonished he was willing--and, apparently, Kaiser-Permanente would be willing--to even consider dealing with the testosterone issue. But to compare his comments to Dr. Leonardi's is . . . almost . . . distressing.

When we met three and a half weeks ago, Dr. Leonardi made a big deal about what he called "glycation"--a process by which sugar molecules become bonded to proteins in the body and create AGEs--Advanced Glycation End-products--the cause of many age-related chronic diseases, specifically type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, peripheral neuropathy, deafness, blindness . . . and more.

As he put it,

No one dies of old age. Aging is the development of degenerative disease (heart disease, cancer, dementia (Alzheimer's and vascular), stroke, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis, in particular).

And we now know what causes these things. The disease biochemical pathways have been mapped. We now have biomarkers that measure the disease pathways and to demonstrate the effect of our diet and activities on them. Put another way, we know what accelerates and retards--or even reverses--our progress down the path of degenerative diseases.

Much of what promotes disease, we do to ourselves.

What accelerates aging? According to Leonardi,
  • Oxidative stress

     
  • Glycation

     
  • Inflammation

     
  • Declining levels of vital hormones

     
  • Dyslipoproteinemia (unhealthy patterns of serum proteins carrying fats & cholesterol)

     
  • Acidic nutrition [Not necessarily referring to foods that are acidic within themselves--for example, oranges. Rather, acidic nutrition refers to foods that cause the body to produce acids so that its own pH balance moves to the acidic side].
Leonardi showed me how each and every one of these six factors interacts with the others to accelerate degeneration. And then he discussed how, by taking specific actions against these factors, one can retard and potentially, even, reverse their effects.

Though I found "new revelations" in each of these areas, for me, the biggest revelations had to do with glycation and hormones . . . with particular emphasis on glycation . . . because I can so readily affect it by what I eat.

Glycation occurs when "extra" sugar molecules randomly bump into proteins and form AGEs. --That's what an AGE is: a mass of proteins gunked up/stuck together by sugars. . . . High blood sugar levels (caused by intake of high-sugar--or, more accurately, high glycemic index/glycemic load--foods . . . from soda pop to cakes, mashed potatoes to bread, chips to cereals, and rice, corn, peas, bananas and grapes!) increase the probability that sugar molecules will bump into proteins and cause AGEs. So the thing I need to do, said Leonardi, is to maintain a low blood sugar level.

Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), said Dr. Leonardi, is the best way to measure average blood sugar levels over a long period (the past 60 days). It is, he said, a "direct measure of AGE formation."

The "normal" HbA1C level is 4.3 to 5.9 but our goal should be 4.3 to 5.0 because, said Leonardi, levels above 5.0 correlate with carotid plaque, colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality (Dr. Leonardi referenced the original report).

Oh. Guess what my mother died of . . . at age 55? Yep, colorectal cancer!

And yet, with all these studies, and with my mother's history, my PCP says, "HbA1C is not a good screening test."

And though, as I pointed out back on August 29th, that Dr. Leonardi says LDL and HDL, on their own, are not good markers or predictors for heart attack but/and the number of LDL cholesterol particles per unit of blood is the #1 risk marker for heart attack (and my number is almost double the highest range of "normal"), and while, even on the basis of my LDL/HDL ratio my risk of having a coronary event appears high, my primary care physician not only doesn't know what to do with the particle number, but wouldn't treat my cholesterol with medication.

And this is the day after the Kaiser-Permanente ophthalmologist noted in my records, for my PCP to read, that I had just suffered serious (negative) results from non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy.

*******

Meanwhile, the same day that I am engaging in this correspondence with my doctor, as I said above, I received a letter from Dr. Leonardi with the results of my "Carotid Intima-media Thickness Test (CIMT)"--An ultrasound measurement of the thickness of the artery walls in my neck--"the part of the wall of the carotid arteries that is affected by atherosclerosis."

The part of the wall measured is composed of the intima (a single layer of endothelial cells) and media (muscle layer adjacent to the intima).

Atherosclerosis (plaque formation) occurs between these two layers, increasing the thickness as plaque accumulates. Normative ranges have been determined for our population and are stratified by age and gender. Knowing how you stand relative to your peers and what "relative age" your CIMT represents gives us an impression of your relative risk of both stroke and heart attack.

A number of studies have validated CIMT as a good indicator of the risk of cardiovascular "event."

Dr. Leonardi explains that, after the tests are done,
Your results are then compared to a "normative" population so we can score your artery with the age that corresponds to the wall thickness. . . . Our goal [is] to track a reduction in your artery age every one to two years.
So what did the test show for me? Chronologically, I'm 52--just shy of 53--years old. Compared with the "normative" (i.e., average) population, my CIMT shows me to have the carotid arteries of an average 64-year-old!

********

I have radically altered my diet over the last four weeks since I visited Dr. Leonardi; my "discovery" Tuesday has motivated me even more.

********

I'll try to address the issue of hormones, and especially testosterone, in a future post.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Snippets of a thought-provoking sermon

Todd Van Ek, senior pastor of the Gun Lake Community Church in Wayland, Michigan, spoke at the Mission India "Gathering at the Grand [Hotel, Mackinac Island]" August 21-24.

I enjoyed and was challenged by much of what he had to say. But two stories, in particular, caught my attention.

I asked him if I might have permission to post them on my blog. He said yes.

So here they are:

"A Holy Discontent" (6:00):


and

"It Will All Go Back in the Box" (4:21):


I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lost a large portion of the sight in one eye . . .

Last Thursday, as I drove up to Denver International Airport, I sensed something was wrong with my right eye. I wasn't sure what, but something was bothering me.

Friday morning, the "something wrong" continued. I got the sense that there was some kind of grayness in the lower right corner of my vision out of the right eye, but I couldn't be sure.

Saturday, my sense that something was wrong grew stronger. Saturday night, as we were heading to bed, I was standing in the semi-dark of our bedroom when Sarita turned off the lights in the hallway. Suddenly, it appeared to me, that the edge of my vision that had been dark was now glowing.

By Sunday evening, I had committed myself to call my optometrist to get the eye checked.

I finally got to see him yesterday at noon. As I described my symptoms, he said, "It sounds as if you have a detached retina, and I can't help you with that. You need to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible."

As soon as I got home, I called Kaiser Permanente and asked for an appointment ASAP. They had to do some heavy schedule juggling, but they got me in yesterday afternoon.

After thorough testing, the doctor said, "Based on everything you told me, I was sure you had a detached retina. But your retina looks fine. However, I noticed your optic nerve is swollen. . . ." He then said something about neuropathy or neuritis, and then asked me a series of questions about experiences I may or may not have had. In every case, I said I had not had those particular experiences. . . .

To cut a longer story short, the doctor said he needed to do a bit of additional research on the computer, went out of the office and came back a few times, asking me a question or two at each reappearance, and finally offered his diagnosis: "non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy" -- what I have since discovered is "affectionately" known as non-arteric AION or NAION . . . to distinguish it from AAION -- or arteritic AION: in layman's terms, the equivalent of a (relatively mild) heart attack or stroke to the optic nerve. The blood vessels feeding my optic nerve have been occluded, and so my optic nerve, starved for the nutrients it needs (including oxygen), has been damaged.

[Difference between arteritic and non-arteritic AIONs: the one variety involves arteries -- producing the equivalent of a major heart attack or stroke; the other involves smaller blood vessels and not the arteries, so the damage is less. Another major difference: arteritic AIONs destroy central vision; non-arteritic AIONs can produce the (relatively rare) loss only of peripheral vision. --Indeed, it was this matter that it was only my peripheral and not my central vision that caused my doctor his consternation and need to do additional research "on the spot." He has seen many patients who have lost central vision; I was the first he had seen who had lost "only" the bottom half of peripheral vision due to something other than a detached retina.]

"Can I get my sight back?" I asked.

"No," he said. "The portion of your optic nerve that has been affected has actually died. . . . And just as with a heart attack or a stroke, where the portion of the heart or brain affected actually dies and does not regenerate, so it is here. Your vision will not return."

He hesitated a moment and then said, "Well, let me not be quite so absolute. The literature offers no reason for hope. But who am I to say it could never happen? . . ."

He turned to my medical chart and began asking me questions about my general health. In a longer conversation, when we got to the subject of cholesterol and I told them about Dr. Leonardi's discoveries, his face lit up (as much as a doctor is willing to let his face light up at a patient's misfortune): "Your cholesterol got you."

And so, though I didn't have a heart attack (praise God!), my elevated cholesterol levels -- or, more particularly, the large number of cholesterol molecules and their small size -- have caught up with me.

"The things we have all been hearing about for the last 20 years, the need for a healthy diet, exercise, no smoking, etc.: you need to pay attention to that," said the doctor.

He urged me to take an aspirin a day to keep my blood thin and, hopefully, avoid further damage.

"I want to see you back here in a month," he concluded.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MathTacular! --Sometimes it's a lot of fun to own a company

Our son, the video production guy, sent us some proposed trailers for a couple of math videos he just completed and that are just now coming available at our homeschool site.

Sarita asked him to create a quick-and-dirty trailer . . . which he did . . . and then asked us for our feedback: "How is this for a Trailer? Good to post?"

Here's what he sent. [If you're short on time, you may want to skip this video, though it's only a very short 50 seconds.]

video

What do you think?

I wrote back:
Ummmm . . . really cute, but I'm afraid it doesn't really say anything. For those "in the know," of course, it may generate some saliva. But for anyone else, it only raises questions and certainly does not create in me any--any--interest to buy. You've given me no reason to buy.

Perhaps you need a voice-over? And/or some words on the screens interspersed between the moving pictures?

One last concern: in the last scene, just before Justin runs out the door, Amber is standing there holding some kind of sign. I couldn't read it. I don't think anyone else will be able to read it either.

Bummer!

Sorry.
And I was. I hate telling my kids that I don't think they've done a great job.

But then, this morning, I got a second email:
Better?
And this was attached:

video

Same video, as far as I can tell upon a cursory glance, but, oh, wow! What a difference a voice-over makes!

"That is GREAT!" I wrote back.
Perfect! Wonderful! I love it! Thank you!

(Mom says she already said much the same thing. But. Just in case.)

Truly. I laughed out loud . . . and was intrigued by the real content you provided.
And then tonight.

I got home and saw he had sent a third email:
This one good enough to post?
And he attached this video:

video

Oh, wow!

I laughed out loud!

I replied:
Love it, Luke!

Really great!

Dad
As I said in my title: Sometimes it's a lot of fun to own a company . . . to see and experience and encourage excellent creativity early on . . . to see your own kids (both Luke and Justin) blossom in their individual areas of capability.

--Just thought you might enjoy the smile along with me.

Oh. And just in case you'd like to pick up a copy of either or both videos, MathTacular2 is available at www.sonlight.com/RM33.html, and MathTacular3 at www.sonlight.com/RM37.html.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Phishing" site?

Maybe it's a result of my Ghoughpteighbteau tchoghce post or something. The reference to ghoti and tchoghs? McAfee SiteAdvisor has now declared my site a potential phishing risk.

Really?

I collect no information on anyone.

This is surreal.

Have I been hacked somehow? Google, maybe? Yahoo? . . .

I have just written to McAfee:
Subject: False and ineradicable "Phishing" warning
URL this concerns: http://johnscorner.blogspot.com
User ID: brightflash
Type of inquisry: Report an error
Your message:
My Blogger.com blog has been marked, somehow, as a potential phishing site?!?!!

I have registered with your firm, but, then, I can't confirm I am owner of my own site because, of course, using Blogger.com, I have no access to the root directory in order to place your requested html file in my root directory. . . .

In fact, frankly, the instructions you-all seem to give in order for me to confirm I own the site appear, to me, to be a kind of hack from you!

Anyway.

How do I get my (what I have always intended to be!) innocuous blog taken off of your "phishing" list? . . . Especially since it appears your firm has never even reviewed my blog. . . .

Saturday, September 13, 2008

For writers: clichés . . . and how to get rid of them

I've subscribed to Daphne Gray-Grant's weekly Power Writing newsletter for a couple of years now. I love it. I find it inspirational and helpful all at the same time. But this week's issue may have outdone them all.

Daphne gave me permission to reprint it here (with proper attribution, of course!):
PW# 137 - Why you just can't stop yourself - cliché consciousness part 2

Holy Toledo! Last week's Power Writing column on clichés caused zillions of honest-to-goodness linguaphiles to come of out the woodwork. It's clear as a bell that more pure and simple advice on avoiding clichés would be helpful, or at least a welcome force for change.

So, better late than never, here is some more straight-from-the-shoulder counsel on how to cut these clichés off at the pass and turn those lemons into lemonade.

Last week I suggested making one read-through for clichés a core part of your editing process. Read each sentence slowly, preferably out loud, asking yourself: are any of these words too predictable? Is this image fresh? Have I slipped into jargon or reflexive and mindless writing?

This is a good first step, but it may not be enough. If you work for a company where clichés and jargon are part of the atmosphere, you may be so immersed in bad language that you can't smell it anymore. So here are some additional suggestions.

As I recommend in my book, use the Cliché Finder. It's a fun little online service that allows you to paste a block of text into a box. The software then combs through your writing, hunting for and highlighting clichés, which you can then remove. It doesn't catch everything but it's fr.ee.

For the opposite perspective, have a look at the site Westegg. It helps you generate clichés, which seems a bit dumb on the surface. However, this can help build your awareness and the site's 10 random cliché generator is especially amusing.

Consider subscribing to the fr.ee Buzzwhack service, which will keep you on your toes by sending you a fresh buzzword plus definition every day.

And Power Writing subscriber, John Care from Mastering Technical Sales has some good suggestions, too. He's written a terrific three-page document called "Eliminating Corporate Fluff." Here are three of his key recommendations:

*Look for and eliminate made-up words such as flexicurity and flex-ponsive.

*Look for and eliminate buzzwords such as scalable, open or architecture.

*Look for and eliminate nouns masquerading as verbs, especially retask, architectured and professionalizing. (Ugh! Ugh! Triple ugh!)

Finally, here is a sampling of responses from other Power Writing subscribers on the topic of clichés they love to hate:

From Barbara: I avoid them like the plague!

From Trish: Tell it like it is!

From Anna: Take it to the next level and kick it up a notch

From Henry: There's a simple solution to these cliches -- we need to think outside the box!

From Doug: I am currently conducting a war on a number of, as in "we received a number of letters on the topic." One is a number. Ten million is a number. How many letters did you actually get?

From Mark: You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk (a line from the cliché-ridden Aerosmith song, Amazing.)

From Frank: Wake-up call and going forward

From Barb: tried and true

From Deborah: Let's not forget literally which nowadays apparently adds emphasis rather than reality.

And from Michael: My heart skipped a beat and I breathed a sigh of relief to read your stranger than fiction piece regarding cliches. I hate them too, like a stick in the eye or maybe even a pain in the neck. Frankly, at the end of the day, it's like a burr in my saddle to read the newsletters of others until I'm blue in the face, feeling all along that there's 57 channels and nothing on.

Have a nice day!
Again, to subscribe to Daphne's free newsletter, go to her website.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ghoughpteighbteau tchoghce

No. That's not a typo. I'm referring, of course, to that quintessential American snack food once made famous by the phrase, "Bet you can't eat just one!"

Remember? I believe it was Lay's that advertised its ghoughpteighbteau tchoghce.

Oh. You can't read those words? Why, isn't it obvious? That's ...

Gh -- as in hiccough (otherwise known as hiccup)

ough -- as in though

pt -- as in pterodactyl

eigh -- as in eight

bt -- as in debt

eau -- as in bureau

tch -- as in itch

o -- as in women

gh -- hiccough (again)

and

ce -- as in nice

. . . --potato chips by more common orthography.

And why do I mention this matter of orthography? Because of an article in the August 16th The Economist magazine:
English spelling
You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
The rules need updating, not scrapping

GHOTI and tchoghs may not immediately strike readers as staples of the British diet; and even those most enamoured of written English’s idiosyncrasies may wince at this tendentious rendering of “fish and chips”. Yet the spelling, easily derived from other words*, highlights the shortcomings of English orthography. This has long bamboozled foreigners and natives alike, and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

One solution, suggested recently by Ken Smith of the Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them. Mr Smith is too tolerant, but he is right that something needs to change. Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is strikingly inconsistent.

Three things have exacerbated this confusion. The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries altered the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and as Masha Bell, an independent literacy researcher, notes, the 15th-century advent of printing presses initially staffed by non-English speakers helped to magnify the muddle. Second, misguided attempts to align English spelling with (often imagined) Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of superfluous “silent” letters. Third, despite interest in spelling among figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Prince Philip and the Mormons, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation. . . .
There's more.

It's a fascinating article.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Web 2.0 -- "The Machine is Us/ing Us"

Interesting video presentation of how the worldwide web has evolved and is still evolving.



I am still in the midst of the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. How about you?

******

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and the creator of this video says, "Web 2.0 is linking people . . . people sharing, trading, and collaborating. . . ."

I believe he is correct. At the same time, I would like to point out that the impact of the Web is not -- and will never be -- wholly good and upbuilding. And there is true wickedness in the world, and there are true and strong differences of opinion, and when someone of a different opinion wants to "win an argument" or "destroy the enemy," he or she can certainly use the Web to fulfill his or her purposes.

Point: the Web certainly does offer opportunities for sharing, trading, and collaboration, and it is being used for these purposes, but it is being used for nefarious purposes as well.

Let us make sure that as much of what we do as possible is used for good!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two brief Scripture meditations on the character of God

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Michigan, Sarita and I had the privilege of meeting a woman named Dru Scott Decker. We walked several miles together around Mackinac Island. As we walked, we talked and Dru told us about how she came to know Jesus.

In the midst of her longer story, Dru mention several Scriptures that particularly caught her eye. They all had to do with the idea that God "gave." That idea was not something she had expected. As she writes in her book Finding More Time in Your Life (p. 16),
The words "give" and "gave" . . . touch[ed] me as I read . . . the Bible:
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life (John 3:16 TEV).
Before I started reading the Bible, I told a friend over dinner that I had done so many good things I was sure God would be glad to have me as part of His team. My friend, who had never read the Bible either, agreed. But as I kept on reading my . . . Bible each day, and as I prayed, I started to see things from a very different perspective.

I had hoped that at the end of my life there would be a scene with a big set of scales. One side would hold the bad things I had done. The other, the good things. I had hoped that God would look at both sides and say, "More good than bad. Come on in." However, the more I read the Bible, the more I saw this wasn't true. . . .

The spotlight was not on what I had done; it was on what God had done for me and whether I had accepted what He wanted to give me. As I kept on reading, I was surprised by other aspects of the character of God.

I had thought I had to earn God's love, but I read that it is a gift. I do not have to accomplish to earn it (Romans 6:23).
As I thought about what Dru had told Sarita and me, I realized she was pointing out part of the character of God -- a portion of His character that is too easy to forget. But it is a fundamental aspect of His character and something that sets Him apart from all other gods.

On Sunday, our pastor preached a sermon on the building of the tabernacle in the Old Testament. Our church just moved into a new building. This past Sunday was the first regular service to be held in it. And our pastor wanted to emphasize that unless the Award is present, a new building means nothing. And so he had us turn to Exodus 25:8:
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
Somehow, the theme and idea of God dwelling in our midst or "being with" us, hit me strongly.

What other God/god has ever expressed such strong desire to be with His/his people?
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel."
(which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14)
This, too, is something that is fundamental to God's character: a desire for relationship, a desire to "be with" us. The question is, do we want to be with Him?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Write rhymes

Lack the perfect rhyme? Check out WriteRhymes:

Copy the word you want to rhyme into the box on their page, then hold down the Alt key while you click on the word itself. The word will suddenly appear with caret symbols ("Greater than" and "Less than" signs) on both sides, and WriteRhymes will offer rhymes sorted alphabetically and by number of syllables.

Better yet (and this seems to be the developers' intention), compose your poem in the window itself, and when you are stuck, Alt-click on the word for which you want a rhyme, place your cursor where you want the rhyme to appear,

    

then click on the rhyme itself,

    
and the rhyme will appear within your poem:

    

I'm not sure this is the most efficient or effective way of writing poems, but I can see its value as a tool in the poet's arsenal. I can also see how it would serve as a great brain exerciser and vocabulary builder.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Walk, ride, drive?

Another location-based post.

Yesterday, as I was looking for information about Zevia, I went to their website, and asked where I could buy it locally. The closest store, I was told, is 5.76 miles away. I was unaware of the location, so I went to Google and asked for directions. As I plugged in the necessary information, I was astonished to see a new option I had never seen before on Google Maps: "By car."



"What's this?" I thought. "What other options do they offer me?"

Amazing! One of the options is "Public transportation."

What are the differences between the two maps?

Well, here is the first map:



And here is the "Public transportation" map:



Okay. Beyond the map itself, what other information do they give me?

Oh! This is interesting!

"Suggested trips with upcoming departures." And then detailed instructions.



Click on one of the symbols . . .



. . . and find the same kind of information as is in the left-hand column.



But what other alternatives do they offer?

"Walking"? What will that show?

Well, I get the map . . .



. . . and I get all the detailed directions:



And then something jumps out at me: the time.



Walking: three hours and 19 minutes. Wow!

How long would public transportation take?



Somewhere between about an hour and 15 minutes and an hour and 45 minutes.

And by car?



About 15 minutes!

And people wonder why we prefer our private cars to public transportation . . . or walking? How much is your time worth?