Friday, December 10

Trying to Get My Mind Around WikiLeaks

My initial reaction is that WikiLeaks isn't that bad, and may ultimately be good.

For an opinion piece in this vein, read Why WikiLeaks Is Good for America (thought, ultimately, I don't consider just America my scope).

My friend, Ray's post on Facebook, was the first opinion that pushed me to consider the alternative. He said 'To be clear - Wikileaks is not a "whistleblower." It's a fence - an organization that facilitates the transfer of stolen property for personal gain: fame, fortune and notoriety.'

There's no doubt in my mind that Assange is a disturbed glory-seeker. But that doesn't necessarily invalidate the results.

Here's a take I like:
Wikileaks is like Pirate Bay; something that I don't like but have to defend because of the collateral damage caused by attacking it.
Simon Phipps via Tim Bray

(Idle thought: Which is worse? Pirate Bay or WikiLeaks?)

I agree that we're seeing some ugly collateral damage in response to WikiLeaks. The comments from some of our looser-cannon pundits and Congress members alone is probably more embarrassing than any of the cables.

One of the things we're getting via WikiLeaks is actual evidence of the ways in which our 'diplomacy' is unsavory. The realpolitik fits in just fine with Machiavelli. I still find it distasteful.

Tangential note: As a member of the media who's been commenting on WikiLeaked material, we can't afford not to.

On another hand (how many are we up to now?), David Kenner of Foreign Policy says:
In short, these are the most sensible, boring cables that I've come across yet. And I'm at a loss why Julian Assange thinks that they will do anything but increase the American public's belief that its government, by and large, acts responsibly on the international stage.
Random thought: I have noticed that the closer people are to official positions, the more disturbed or angered they seem to be by WikiLeaks.

Tom Barnett says we have bigger fish to fry, and there's no doubt about that.

Secrecy News says 'the scope of government secrecy in the U.S. has exceeded rational boundaries', and I'm pretty sure that's right.

I guess that's about it for me. Help me out. What are your thoughts about WikiLeaks?

Wednesday, December 1

Would Greek City-states Be a Better Governmental Model?

Reading about the Greek polis: 'city-state' or even 'citizen-state'.

I stipulate that federalism has been best for the US up to now. Hamilton's success is obvious, in my opinion. Hard to think our country would have risen to such great heights with Jeffersonian ideals.

However, I do think to continue in strength, we're going to have to start getting smaller, to devolve decision-making and spending to more local levels, as small as possible, really.

At the same time, I think there's a fairly good chance that Stephenson's enclaves will also eventually come to pass, whether we like it or not.

The US would be best-served by more local government, or at least engagement, but will we really be able to pull it off?

It's certainly possible without a Constitutional convention. All it takes is more people, as many as possible, getting involved in their communities. More local involvement is always good. If we had a movement of local citizen activism, it would certainly change this country more than any national change in political partisan control.

Beyond that, as a Christian, I am also a firm believer in local impact through church involvement and local Christian activity. In fact, that would is my preferred local activism for Christians.

There, I've solved our problems. Live long and prosper ;-)

Monday, November 29

Barca v. Real Madrid Thoughts

Video highlights

Five-star Barcelona thrash Real Madrid

David Villa strikes twice as slick Barcelona thrash Real Madrid

+ Ronaldo continues to supply evidence that he is a punk.

+ How did so many defenders from the World Cup winners, including the keeper, get totally eviscerated by Barca?

+ David Villa looks like a little nerd. Dang, does he have a nose for the ball. Dude can flat out score (two goals, one assist in this game).

Sunday, November 21

Can We Help Cyber-dissidents?

After reading Digital Weapons Help Dissidents Punch Holes in China's Great Firewall, I can't help thinking that there must be something interested parties can do to help. My thoughts begin along the lines of BOINC or the World Community Grid -- distributed computing like SETI@Home and other similar projects.

The article mentions The Global Internet Freedom Consortium, which promotes several actively-developed software solutions.

I suppose a person could host a run a Tor relay, but that doesn't really answer the mail.

I was thinking about this back during the Iranian protests, too...

What do you think?

Saturday, November 6

Download (and Backup) Your Facebook Content

Got a lot of content on Facebook that you don't have anywhere else? Want a reliable backup?

I first tried SocialSafe, and even paid $3 for an early version, which so far has not worked for me. Trying their latest version right now, which seems to be choking on the size of my Fb footprint.

Then I found out that Fb has provided this functionality for a month now. How did I miss it?! It doesn't promise as much as SocialSafe, but it does deliver. Looks to me like the format you get it in is basic html.

The short, self-explanatory version is: Account > Account Settings > Download Your Information.


Lifehacker: How to Download Your Information from Facebook
Facebook: Download Your Information

Obama on 'The Daily Show'

Just a few thoughts I had, again, mostly random, and am just getting posted.

Watch the video here.

no. not the two toughest years since the Great Depression. (economically, yes)

for me to take you seriously, you have to offer an honest critique of yourself and your work

Obama wants it both ways (a little): we will bring massive change (but it will take some time and there are big challenges so be patient with us). problems in DC are systemic. you can't make sweeping changes with the system close to what it is. you just get the same results eventually (Contract with America eventually sold out, etc)

however, i tend to agree that the economy has been stabilized for a comparatively small price (if his numbers are right. i'm sure every Libertarian has a different story)

such a partisan audience, it's crazy

'is government nimble enough to handle these 21st century crises?' now that is a GREAT question.

Filibuster reform is surely needed.

'Troy' Thoughts

Finally got around to watching Troy after Cory's recommendation and reading the 'Iliad'. A few mostly disconnected thoughts while watching:

1:17--no. Hektor would never have done such an ignoble thing [kill Menelaos while he was fighting Paris].

thought i'd like Sean Been as Odysseus. no. once thought i'd prefer him to Viggo Mortensen for Aragorn. no, too.

you feel bad for Hektor. he wants to live. he wants to see his son grow.

'Sing, O Muse, the anger of Achilleus'

'So they buried Hektor, tamer of horses.'

love the characterization of Achilleus. spot on. killing machine. his battle scenes would have been a little cooler in 300 style.

but Brad Pitt doesn't quite have the acting chops, especially to pull off the scene with Priam.

not bad. hits the right emotional notes.

of course, Achilleus would have never gone for such a gambit [the Trojan Horse] (though i see the need to telescope the action).

Curse Orlando Bloom for his terrible archery form in four movies! ;-)

Overall, good movie. Recommended. Would actually make a decent intro if you were going to read the 'Iliad'.

Tuesday, October 26

Confucius: Something More Important than Voting

Yes, voting is important. But it's not the most important way to influence our life together as a nation. Not even close.

Being even more engaged than voting can be good, too. Political action can be a good thing.

But we have the sneaking suspicion that all politicians on both sides are slimy. And the longer they've been in the game, the slimier they seem (in general).

If you share these impressions, you'll agree with me that politics is not going to fix or save any nation.

The twins are studying Confucius, who emphasized that the way we treat one another in our personal relationships shapes our nation most. Respect and love must begin at home with children respecting parents and parents loving and nurturing their children. (Parents should endeavor to be worthy of their children's respect.)

Unsurprisingly, we could make a very similar argument from the thought of both Jesus and Paul. It's fun to reference someone else for a change, though, yes? :-)

(Of course voting is an anachronistic concept with respect to Confucius. But the priority fits with his overall concept of government.)

Sunday, September 12

Mini-Iliad Review: Because You Demanded It!

Thanks to Mark Safranski for 'commissioning' this post and Mike Lotus for encouraging it. Mark has crossposted on his much-more-major-than-mine weblog, Zenpundit.

What makes 'The Iliad' a classic? Why is it classic?

I think the primary answer is simple: it's the characters. If you can hang tough through all of the idiosyncratic flourishes and ornaments and repetitions, the characters are compelling: Achilleus, his anger and character; the comparative nobility of Hektor and Patroklos (both of whom we know are doomed); the vagaries of the gods and their adolescent machinations; the supporting cast of Agamemnon, Menelaos the wronged, two very different men named Aias (Ajax), Diomedes, Aeneas, Odysseus, Nestor, Paris, Helen and Priam. Take these characters and others and mix them with an interesting story and you have a classic that reaches out to us from about the eighth century BC (when it was likely 'composed' (with heavy use of previous, oral sources) by Homer), maybe from as far back as the 12th century BC (maybe the original setting of what has come down to us as The Trojan War). 'The Iliad' still resonates with us today.

One reason 'The Iliad' can still move us is that Homer has done a masterful job of relating the 'accidents' of life. 'Time and chance happen to all men', and people who lived 3000 year ago couldn't deceive themselves about their ability to control life the way we 'modern' people do. Human experience and emotions are often inscrutable. 'Love' (baldly called 'lust' by Homer) can easily destroy. When it occurs in the most influential levels of society, it can draw whole nations into its whirling vortex. Even the love between men in 'The Iliad' can seem illogical (no matter where you come down on the homosexuality question): why does noble Patroklos honor Achilleus literally to the death?

'The Iliad', of course, focuses a lot on war in ways that have become shockingly remote for most of us. Nothing is so susceptible to 'luck' as war. One 'good' soldier gets hit by stray friendly fire and dies instantly. Another 'bad' soldier comes through the whole war unscathed. Consider the hazards of love, life and war in 'The Iliad'. Consider them in our own experience. It makes more sense than many theories to conclude that arbitrary and capricious gods can powerfully affect us.

My final guess (for the purposes of this mini-review) at why 'The Iliad' is a classic is that the poetry is timeless. This is, of course, nearly impossible to take in from one read-through in translation. My friend, Jason, listened to the abridged version and talked about its power. The commentators discuss it quite a bit, from what I can tell. Most of us (who aren't going to pay the price to really test it) are going to have to take this on faith and rate it as we will. Poetry is a dying art, and poetry appreciation is probably in an even worse state.

I wonder what role foreknowledge plays in 'The Iliad'. Many of us know the broad outline of the story going in. If we don't, Homer spills it in short order. Does knowing Achilleus dies shortly after this episode in The Trojan War change our view of him? Do we cut him more slack? How does knowing that Hektor and Patroklos die within the bounds of this story affect us? Or that Odysseus lives? Or that Agamemnon will be murdered in his bath by his wife (he had it coming ;-)?

Something else that stands out about 'The Iliad' is the graphic war imagery. Homer's descriptions almost seem gratuitous when he goes into detail about how one soldier killed another, where the spear penetrated and where it came out, what muscles were severed, what happened to the bowels, teeth or brain. It's probably distasteful to many of us in the 21st century, but I think we can just chalk that up to cultural differences.

My second big question is: what does 'The Iliad' mean? I'm very snobbish about exegesis, especially concerning the Bible (my training, as a former pastor), but including any suitably worthy literature (with concomitant training in British Lit and Analytic Philosophy). Exegesis, in principle, is simple: what was the author trying to communicate to the audience? (So why is good exegesis so hard to find? ;-) If we are to make any meaningful connection to the original work, this is where we have to begin. You can deploy your Reader Response Theory on 'Twilight' or some such drivel, but keep it off my Homer (I told you I'm a snob ;-).

We come to 'The Iliad' at a loss because Homer's values are very different from ours. His presuppositions are vastly different from ours. I have touched on some of these already. The gods can show up at any time and throw any wrench in the works for almost any imaginable reason. We have to take the role of the gods seriously to take Homer seriously. What did their role say about the responsibility of people? Humans retain some responsibility, almost paradoxically. Helen isn't completely off the hook for running away with Paris. Achilleus does not get a complete pass for his anger that causes the deaths of so many Achaean comrades. Agamemnon is not excused for his overbearing pride that contributed to the disagreement with Achilleus. And even noble Hektor faces bouts of inaction and cowardice for which he is not wholly exonerated.

Another value we find hard to understand is the ancient Greek concept of nobility. It's just born there. If you're a shepherd who's not the natural-born son of King Priam and Queen Hekabe, that's all you'll ever be: a shepherd. The main characters are noble; many are first-generation half-deities and most (all?) have divinity in their bloodline somewhere. From our standpoint, Achilleus behaves like a monster, especially in his repeated attempted-desecration of Hektor's body (the gods protect Hektor's body and Achilleus' ultimate honor by preserving Hektor's corpse inviolate in almost the perfect proverbial deus ex machina). He's sacrificed any claim to nobility as far as we're concerned. Not so for Homer and the ancient Greeks; Achilleus retains his nobility, though it is clouded by sins. He receives partial pardons and rationalizations. From our perspective, we view him as maybe the original anti-hero. Homer's view is much less ambivalent, and Achilleus gets away with things for which lesser men would go straight to Tartaros without passing 'Go'. It's a far cry from our 21st century Western concept of nobility and our love of 'rags to riches' fables. It's only riches to riches here (though maybe no one knew through the rags that you were really rich).

So what is Homer's message? The conclusion of my barely-better-than-cursory reading is: Given that nobility and greatness are natural, almost literally gifts of fate (the Fates); and that humans are subject to the whims of the gods; it is best to be brave and seek glory (within reason--with a glance forward to Aristotle's middle-way ethic). How's that going to help you with your job or family? Not much. It's fodder for thinking about societal values and a long way from whether or not to stick it out in your mediocre, going-nowhere job. (It might possibly apply to whether or not you should run away with your neighbor's spouse.)

For most of us, 'The Iliad' is probably a test in proper exegesis more than someplace we should or will go to look for meaning. But maybe that's just my soap box ;-)

Tuesday, June 8

This morning's run

Got up at 6 to beat the sun and heat. Wil's taking a break from running, at least for now. Running even as late as 8am has been hard on him. My number one goal is that he enjoy running. I'd rather have him take a break than come to hate it. I went to bed too late, almost 1am, so only working on 5 hours of sleep this morning.

Running this early, I'd forgotten the sun doesn't clear the trees in most of the neighborhood. So this morning was 65 and shady almost the whole time. Blissful.

First great song was 'Wave of Mutilation', tearing through it just like The Pixies.

Second great song was 'All These Things That I've Done'. You know that commercial that Nike used it in? Yep. Turning over just like that, heading up the long hill.

Third great song, to finish: 'We Are the Champions'.

Overall, great change. But also missed having my buddy with me. Ambivalence.

Saturday, May 15

Ready to race

Our next race is next Saturday, May 22nd: Going the Extra Mile 5k. Our training has been going well, but I've been itching to get out and run the course. Finally got that done this morning.

Runners will start at 8:30 and we started a little before that this morning, maybe about 8:15. It wasn't quite 75 degrees yet, but it's hard to believe it'll be that cool next week. Have to plan on it being warmer. The good news, in this regard, is that much, and maybe even most, of the course was shaded this morning. Again, we'll be just a little later and the sun will have risen a little sooner, but we can count on a good amount of shade. A lot of people were watering their lawns. I hope some of them turn their water on us ;-)

Starting last night I've been having this funky twinge in my left knee. It's not normal pain. It's almost like phantom pain. It hurts for a moment, but it doesn't. It didn't seem to affect my running. If I had to guess, I'd say it's more nerve-related than tissue or mechanical. Does that make sense at all?

I was a little worried about the elevation changes. This course is a lot more hilly than our last race (which was almost ideally flat). However, in practice, it didn't feel that much different than our normal runs in the neighborhood.

We started out walking to warm up for five minutes, so we were already behind race pace. Then I took a wrong turn and probably lost us another minute. But we still finished the course in about 31 minutes! It almost doesn't seem possible that we were running that fast. We must run faster than 10 minutes/mile (6 mph) usually. I haven't been timing it exactly. We usually just run for 30 minutes. So, we will be shooting for sub-30 minutes for the whole thing come next Saturday.

Notes to self: bring cold Gatorade for after race, hit the water table for one drink and one cup of water for my head.

Friday, May 14

Doubting Roethlisberger

Two critical articles I read recently:

The Hangover: Roethlisberger, SI

Roethlisberger: Can't Cut Him, Can't Stand Him

Plus, could Roethlisberger's boorish behavior be a result of brain damage?

Right now what we've got is one more case of a badly-behaving star who says I won't do it again. Not least of all from reading these articles, I predict that Ben will misbehave again and that Pittsburgh will have to cut him loose. What do you think?

Thursday, April 29

'The Autobiography of Malcolm X'

+ I really enjoyed this book. Compelling life and Malcolm X impresses me most of all as being amazingly charismatic. Watched a fair number of video clips on YouTube and he's almost mesmerizing to me. In interviews, he seemed to be able to absolutely disagree without making it personal. He remained polite. I admire that mix.

+ I agree with a lot of what Malcolm X says about the oppression of black people by whites. How can we ever atone for that? Should we?

+ Obviously, the stuff from Elijah Muhammad and Fard is crazy. As impressive as Malcolm X is, it's hard to believe he got taken in by some of that stuff. Not to mention the extent of Muhammad's ultimately-revealed adultery.

+ Then again, Malcolm X was very naive about areas of life he did not know. On one hand, he was a very hardened, streetwise crook. On the other, he was taken in completely by Elijah Muhammad and also by Islamic and African dignitaries. All of them could do no wrong, in his opinion.

Monday, April 12

The most evil people in history

Studying Hitler and Stalin and got to thinking about this question. I know you, my friends, will have good contributions. Stupid answers like 'Bush' or 'Obama' will be deleted with extreme prejudice.

Started with this search and found:

Top 10 Most Evil Men
Top 10 Most Evil Women
Most Evil Men and Women in History


Leopold II of Belgium
Pol Pot

My main criteria is body count. Did Pol Pot and Hirohito/Tojo get into the millions like the top 4?

What do you think? I'm sure there's much I don't know that you can teach me.

PS: reading 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' now and wonder how to factor slavery in. More on that in a subsequent post...

Wednesday, March 31

Three things I noticed watching 'Iron Man' again

1. They used the wrong 'reins' on the fake cover of Fortune (or Forbes, whatever it was). 'Tony Stark Takes the Reigns'.

2. The main terrorist bad guy, Raza, was played by the same guy who played the captain of the USS Kelvin (Faran Tahir).

3. Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from 'A Christmas Story') played Stane's lead scientist!

Sunday, March 14

Flash Gordon!

I really loved the 1979 Flash Gordon cartoon when I was seven. Oddly enough, it came on Saturday afternoons. In fact, I had it in my Netflix queue. So when I saw it at Target for $5, I decided to buy it to watch with Wil.

A lot of the show doesn't age very well, of course. And, especially as the shows went on, the quality drops markedly.

I really love some of the visual designs: Zarkov's rocket, Ming's ships, the Hawkmen in general.

I really loved the opening sequence, especially the music. Here it is:

Wil and I watched through the 14 episodes on this particular DVD and enjoyed it.

So it got me thinking I might enjoy the original Flash Gordon comic strips by Alex Raymond, and I sure have! Thankfully, our library has the first three volumes of the Raymond strips. Finished the first book last week and looking forward to getting the next volume soon.

Thursday, February 4

Watchmen mini-review

Recently re-watched 'Watchmen' and really liked it. Such a great adaptation of the graphic novel, often panel by panel. It was a little more violent, which I didn't need.

Also really liked the music choices. 'First We Take Manhattan' by Leonard Cohen (second song over credits after obligatory 'Desolation Row' cover) is new to me and I really like it.

I found the changed ending to be, actually, better than the graphic novels psychic alien squid-monster.

Really my only complaint is the original work itself. I deeply disagree with peace, even global peace, founded on a lie. Thanks for nothing, Alan Moore ;-)

Tuesday, February 2

District 9 (almost-haiku review)

Really cool concept

Really worn-out, evil, soulless, arms-manufacturing, corporate villain

Otherwise, loved it

Sunday, January 3

Sermon: Why you (and I) are almost certainly greedy

Treasure vs. Money
Greed is a particularly dangerous sin because it hides in our hearts while binding us to our materialistic desires. Money has tremendous power over us: for some it is our significance, for others it is our security. We can break free from our slavery to money by treasuring Jesus, who was willing to pay the ultimate price so that we may be his ultimate treasure.
Matthew 6:19-34

How money exercises power over us, why, and how we break it.

What does the eye section mean here?

If your eyes aren't working, whether there's light or not, you are in darkness. cf Luke 12.13-34.

Materialism is an inordinate desire or dependence on money and material things.

And materialism has the peculiar effect of blinding you spiritually, of distorting the way you see things. It has a power over the way you see everything.

Materialism has the power to blind you to materialism. We don't think it's true of us. That's why Jesus says it's an 'eye' sin. Greed hides itself and blinds us. We all have friends or relatives who are 'more greedy' than us. If we say 'this does not apply to me', that's a very bad sign.

Some of us choose jobs just for the money. We work for a few years and then find ourselves empty.

Some of us work for companies that exploit people. We're not trying to do it. We're just not asking questions. 'Is my company hurting people?'

As professionals, we rub shoulders with people who make a lot more money than we do, and that makes us think we can't possibly be rich or greedy. We don't ask 'Do I really need to be spending this much money on home, apartment, clothes, etc?' We don't say 'Aren't there ways I could be giving more?'

In 1635 the First Congregational Church of Boston disciplined Robert Cain for greed because he was making a 6% profit on his goods and they had set the maximum at 4%. The good thing here is the accountability. What accountability do you have for your spending? Who can challenge you on money?

Jesus talks about money all the time.

Money has the power to keep you from asking hard questions about how you make it and how you spend it.


We live in the most wealthy society in the history of the world. 70% of the world's wealth is in the hands of 5% and being a professional puts you in the top 20% of the 5%. Is there anyone in this room who dares to say 'I really am doing just fine when it comes to material things. I couldn't give anymore away than I already do. I couldn't live any more simply. I couldn't be more generous with my money.'

The rest of the world knows better. They look at us and say 'There are so many good things you could be doing in this world if you just didn't think you had to have that gadget.'

It's astounding that we live in this place and time and won't even think about the possibility that we are greedy. That shows the power of greed.


Where you treasure is, there is your heart also. The place where your heart really rests is revealed by money. For many of us, money is a way of getting significance. It's why we spend it on ourselves too much and don't give it away like we should. Where we live, where we can afford to eat, the social circles we move in make us feel more important.

We have a tendency to look at those who are below us economically and say 'You are below me.' And you don't have to be very rich. Middle class people feel superior to the poor. Do you really think you'd be that much better if you'd started in the same circumstances?

Significance, approval, importance
Security, control, safety

For others, money is their security.

Why are you not radically generous? Are you giving away an amazing amount of money?

Jesus says 'running after these things can't add a minute to your life'.

Addison Leach story (second husband of Elisabeth Eliot): 2 college girls became Christians and wanted to be missionaries. Their parents said 'You've had a religious experience; how wonderful. But you need some security: a Master's degree, a job or two to get your career off the ground, and some money in the bank for security.' The girls came back and said 'what should we say?'. Leach said 'One day a trapdoor is going to open and you're going to fall into the Everlasting Arms or nothing at all. You think a Master's degree's going to give you some security.'

People who look to money for their significance [and succeed] become arrogant people that nobody likes. And people who look to money for their security can't stop death, tragedy, broken relationships.

So how do we break the power of money in our lives? How do we get to the place where we're really radically generous? How do we get to the place where we're not worried about money?

Literally: don't treasure earthly treasures but treasure heavenly treasure.

To treasure something means 'If I have this, it's all worth it. If I have this, I'm worth it.'

Everybody's got something: money, career, status, romance. 'If I have this, it'll all be worth it.'

Lord of the Rings. The One Ring. Whoever has it calls it 'the Precious'.

Anything that your soul treasures, you will pay any price for it.

Every treasure but Jesus will insist that you die to purchase it. Jesus is the one treasure who dies to purchase us.

How do we treasure Jesus?

Jesus dies for us because we are His Precious. He died for us because He said 'if I have them, it'll all be worth it'.

How do you react to rich people? Many of us resent rich people and feel morally superior to them. That shows that money still has power over us. It shows a lack of awareness of spiritual wealth and a lack of humility.

If you envy and honor rich people, money also has power over you.

Awareness of our sin should keep us humble and not needing to feel superior to rich people. Awareness of God's love for us should keep us from feeling inferior to rich people, like they have some great thing we don't have. Money doesn't compare to the riches we have in Christ.

Respecting poor people is another sign that money doesn't have power over you.

Third sign money no longer has power over you is being really generous.

'If your eye is good' - Greek word translated 'good' here can also be translated 'generous'. 'If you have a generous eye.'

How much should we give? Jesus gave everything. He gave sacrificially.

Use the tithe if that requires sacrifice for you. If it doesn't, you'll have to give more.

Old letter: 'We [Xians] share our table with all, but we do not share out bed with all.' We're promiscuous with our money, but not with our bodies.

Which kind of person benefits their neighborhood more?