Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back from Haiti

It was a long ride home, but I have 300 pictures and dozens of stories. I hope to start posting them this weekend. For a couple pictures, make sure you visit the Port-au-Prince Calvary Chapel blog. I'm the guy with a big sunhat, a beard, and a white t-shirt receiving instruction on how to whitewash a cement wall. I'm not very smart about such things. But now I'm an expert.

Monday, February 23, 2009

book report: vol. 2 Gulag Archipelago - serfs and zeks

Russian history includes seven centuries of serfdom. Apparently, Russia could not exist without serfdom, even though communism believes in the equality of all, so the USSR had to create prison camps to replace the exploited labor lost from the serfs. Solzhenitsyn writes
Serfs! This comparison occurred to may when thy had the time to think about it, and not accidentally either. Not just individual features, but the whole central meaning of their existence was identical for serfdom and the Archipelago; they were forms of social organization for the forced and pitiless exploitation of the unpaid labor of millions of slaves. p.149

Since serfs were replaced with prisoners even the vestige of human rights was unnecessary. The "cure" of communism was worse than the illness it claimed to treat.
The serfs did not work longer than from sunrise to sunset. The zeks started work in darkness and ended in darkness (and they didn't always end either). For the serfs Sundays were sacred; and the twelve sacred Orthodox holidays as well, and local saints' days, and a certain number of the twelve days of Christmas (they went about in mummers' costumes). The prisoner was fearful on the eve of every Sunday: he didn't know whether they would get it off. And he never got holidays at all ...those firsts of May and those sevenths of November involved more miseries, with searches and special regimen, than the holidays were worth (and a certain number were put into punishment blocks every year precisely on those very days). For the serfs Christmas and Easter were genuine holidays; and as for a body search either after work of in the morning or at night... the serfs knew not of these! The serfs lived in permanent huts, regarding them as their own, and when at night they lay down on top of their stoves ... they knew: This is my own place, I have slept here forever and ever, and I always will. The prisoner did not know what barracks he would be in on the morrow (and even when he returned from work he could not be certain that he would sleep in that place that night). p.151
The result of communism was something new to Russia, but not what the communists would have wanted to be associated with, famine. For the zek,
as far as livestock was concerned, only lice. One way or another a serf would cast his line and catch a fish. The zek caught fish only with a spoon and only in his gruel. The serf had a little cow named Brownie or at least a goat and chickens. The sek's lips never touched milk, and he'd never see hen's eggs for whoe decades, and probably he'd no recognize them if he did.
Old Russia, which experienced Asiatic slavery for seven whole centuries, did not for the most part know famine. "In Russia no one has ever died of starvation," siad the proverb. And a proverb is not made up oult of lies and nonsense, The serfs were slaves, but they had full bellies. The Archipelago lived for decades in the grip of cruel famine. The seks would scuffle over a herring tail from the garbage pail. For Christmas and Easter even the thinnest serf peasant broke his fast with fat bacon. But even the best worker in camp could get fat bacon only in parcels from home. p.152
I do not think Solz believes the life of the serf was right or just but he knew something worse, something he, nor the country, could have imagined as worse.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

book report: vol. 2 Gulag Archipelago- The enablers

The rise of communist Russia did not alarm the entire world. And the world could not believe atrocities would be committed by communists whose entire belief system depends on the assumption that men are ultimately good and not evil, that civilization is innate and not a thin veneer. Hence when contrary stories emerged, they were roundly condemned. One such escapee story by a prisoner who spoke English and snuck out on a British freighter.
Evidently An Island Hell by S. A. Malsgoff.
This book astounded Europe (and no doubt they accused its fugitive auther of exaggerating, for, after all, the friends of the New Society could not permit themselves to believe this slacerous volume) because it contradicted what was already well known; the newspaper Rote Fahne had described Solovki as a paradise. (And we hope that the paper's correspondent spent time in the Archipelago later on.) And it also contradicted those albums about Solovki disseminated by Soviet diplomatic missions in Europe; fine-quality paper and true-to-lie photographs of the cozy monks' cells. (p. 60)
The USSR also welcomed foreign dignitaries to view their incarceration methods. Of course, the dignitaries only saw what they wanted to see of what the Soviets prepared for them to see. Any prisoner who was on display, if questioned, had to answer in front of his incarcerators, the ones who could do with his life whatever they wanted.
Oh, "what an intelligent, farsighted humane administration from top to bottom," as Supreme Court Judge Leibowitz of New York State wrote in Life magazine, after having visited Gulag. "In serving out his term of punishment the prisoner retains a feeling of dignity." That is what he comprehended and saw.
Oh, fortunate New York State, to have such a perspicacious jackass for a judge!
And oh, you well-fed, devil-may-care, nearsighted, irresponsible foreigners with your notebooks and your ball-point pens - beginning with those correspondents who back in Kem asked the zeks questions in the presence of the camp chiefs - how much you have harmed us in your vain passion to shine with understanding in areas wher you did not grasp a lousy thing!
Human dignity! Of persons condemned without trial?... (p.147)
As the prophet Jeremiah says, the heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

book report: vol. 2 Gulag Archipelago

The American version of Solzhenitsyn's history of the Soviet prison labor camps appears in 3 massive volumes. My earlier book reports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) came from the first volume, books 1 and 2. The 2nd volume contains books 3 and 4. Some of the quotes, including this one are macabre, but I note them because these are not a serial murderers lone quirks, but a bureaucratic, institutionalized deformity of a national soul that turned inward on itself. All of us are capable of this wickedness. I think part of it is that wickedness is easy. Righteousness is near impossible. So what happens in the far northern camp on Solovetsky Island where monks lived peacefully for centuries and disease invaded the crowded facility?

...the doctor gave terminal cases strychnine; and in the winter the bearded corpses in their underwear were kept in the church for a long time. Then they were put in the vestibule, stacked standing up since that way they took up less space. And when they carried them out, they gave them a shove and let them roll on down Golgotha Hill...

At one time - in 1928- a typhus epicemic broke out in Kem. And 60 percent of those there died, but the typhus crossed to Bolshoi Solovetsky Island as well, and hundreds of typhus patients lay about in the unheated "theatrical" hall all at the same time. And hundreds likewise left there for the cemetery. (So as not to confuse the count, the work assigners wrote the last name of every prisoner on his wrist, and some of those who recovered switched terms with shorter-term cadavers by rewriting the corpses' names on their own hands.) And when many thousands of the Central Asian "Basmachi" rebels were herded here in 1929, they brought with them an epidemic characterized by black spots on the body, and all who fell ill with it died. It could not, of course, be the plague or smallpox, as Solovki people imagined it was, because those two diseases had already been totally wiped out in the Soviet Republic. [Solz. uses the sarcastic voice on every page - jpu] And so they called the illness "Asiatic typhus." They didn't know how to cure it, and here is how they got rid of it: If one prisoner in a cell caught it, they just locked the cell and let no one out, and passed them food only through the door - till they all died. p. 52

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

blogs I commented on Feb 09 week 3

I found Frank Beckwith's post at Moral Accountability on abortion reduction vs. pro-life very familiar.

The Suzy B blog noted that Obama will be funding for embryonic stem cell research by executive order.

Scot McKnight is concerned with the neo-reformed. Ben Dubow pointed me there and asked for feedback, so I left similar thoughts there that I did at McKnight's blog.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off to Haiti

I'm flying down tomorrow with a team from the Calvary Chapel in Boston to Haiti tomorrow. They have a partnership with a young Calvary Chapel in Port-au-Prince which is establishing an orphanage. I'll be down there a week doing light construction, evangelistic skits, and whatever else I'm asked to do or see as a need I can meet.

Please pray for my family and the team's safety and effectiveness in bringing the kingdom of God to such a needy country.

I have some blog posts scheduled while I am gone from my latest book reading. Additionally, my wife, the Smart Mom, may contribute some posts. I hope to have pictures and posts when I return.

Friday, February 13, 2009

blogs I commented on Feb 09 week 2

I have a friend who pastors a church in Connecticut named Eric Stillman. I like his blog. I also made a comment there this week about sex and the church.
I also really really enjoyed Guy Muse's post on The most ignored words of Jesus, so much that I had to give him an attaboy.
Andrew, the Tall Skinny Kiwi, has great thoughts on debt, recessions, school loans, ministry freedom, and Larry Burkett, to which I chimed in on the bible college response to expensive theological training.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We have duck eggs

We have 3 ducks. Supposedly, 2 of them are female. They are pets for the kids but I was hoping to get a little more for the investment in feed, hay, and fenced enclosure. The cat controls the mice outside, and, unfortunately, the sparrows. The dog supplements the doorbell and makes too much noise and forces us to take walks year round. The rabbit... eats our left over salad. But the ducks have finally made a contribution. Since we aren't patient enough to wait for 3 more so that we can each have one, my sweetheart hard boiled them so we could divide them up. They were yummy. And every morning a new one appears. That won't get us through a great depression or anything, but it's neat to grow a little more of our own food.

Lincoln's speech on slavery in Norwich Ct. 1860

This is taken from an article in a local paper, the Norwich Bulletin. Lincoln campaigned on behalf of Connecticut incumbent governor William Buckingham, a Norwich resident. If you replace slavery with abortion and property with choice, the argument for human rights is as contemporary as anything written this week, but written better. I believe the US Civil War was God's judgment on our country. I am not at all hoping for God's judgment on us for abortion. I pray for mercy. But injustice will be met with justice. I hope it is done by repentance first.

An abstract of Lincoln’s speech in Norwich on March 9, 1860, from “Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI” edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay.

Whether we will or not the question of slavery is the question, the all absorbing topic, of the day. It is true that all of us — and by that I mean not the Republican party alone but the whole American people here and elsewhere — all of us wish the question settled — wish it out of the way.

It stands in the way and prevents the adjustment and the giving of necessary attention to other questions of national housekeeping. The people of the whole nation agree that this question ought to be settled and yet it is not settled. And the reason is that they are not yet agreed how it shall be settled.

Again and again it has been fondly hoped that it was settled, but every time it breaks out afresh and more violently than ever. It was settled, our fathers hoped by the Missouri Compromise, but it did not stay settled. Then the Compromise of 1850 was declared to be a full and final settlement of the question The two great parties, each in national convention, adopted resolutions declaring that the settlement made by the Compromises of 1850 was a finality — that it would last forever. Yet how long before it was unsettled again? It broke out again in 1854, and blazed higher and raged more furiously than ever before, and the agitation has not rested since.
These repeated settlements must have some fault about them. There must be some inadequacy in their very nature to the purpose for which they were designed. We can only speculate as to where that fault — that inadequacy is, but we may perhaps profit by past experience.

I think that one of the causes of these repeated failures is that our best and greatest men have greatly underestimated the size of this question. They have constantly brought forward small cures for great sores — plasters too small to cover the wound. This is one reason that all settlements have proved so temporary, so evanescent.

Look at the magnitude of this subject. About one sixth of the whole population of the United States are slaves. The owners of the slaves consider them property. The effect upon the minds of the owners is that of property and nothing else — it induces them to insist upon all that will favorably affect its value as property, to demand laws and institutions and a public policy that shall increase and secure its value, and make it durable, lasting and universal. The effect on the minds of the owners is to persuade them that there is no wrong in it.

But here in Connecticut and at the North slavery does not exist, and we see it through no such medium. To us it appears natural to think that slaves are human beings; men, not property; that some of the things, at least, stated about men in the Declaration of Independence apply to them as well as to us. We think slavery a great moral wrong; and while we do not claim the right to touch it when it exists, we wish to treat it as a wrong in the Territories where our votes will reach it. Now these two ideas, the property idea that slavery is right, and the idea that it is wrong, come into collision and do actually produce that irrepressible conflict which Mr. Seward has been so roundly abused for mentioning. The two ideas conflict, and must conflict.

There are but two policies in regard to slavery that can be at all maintained. The first, based upon the property view that slavery is right, conforms to the idea throughout and demands that we shall do everything for it that we ought to do if it were right. The other policy is one that squares with the idea that slavery is wrong, and it consists in doing everything that we ought to do if it is wrong. I don’t mean that we ought to attack it where it exists. To me it seems that if we were to form a government anew, in view of the actual presence of slavery we should find it necessary to frame just such a government as our fathers did — giving to the slaveholder the entire control where the system was established while we possessed the power to restrain it from going outside those limits.

Now I have spoken of a policy based upon the idea that slavery is wrong, and a policy based upon the idea that it is right. But an effort has been made for a policy that shall treat it as neither right nor wrong. Its central idea is indifference. It holds that it makes no more difference to me whether the Territories become free or slave states than whether my neighbor stocks his farm with horned cattle or puts it into tobacco. All recognize this policy, the plausible, sugar-coated name of which is “popular sovereignty.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

research supporting liberal=pro-life recanted

Too bad the faulty research gave cover to many pro-lifers who wanted to vote Democratic anyway. It wasn't even necessary to be personally acquainted with the research, all it takes is for someone to tell someone else that research shows that liberal policies such as welfare reduce abortion as much as slow as molasses pro-life legislative wins such as parental notification and the like. Here is the story at Moral Accountability, in a post by Michael New, Ph.D. who called BS on this report when it came out, and finally gets to see the original claims removed and replaced with next to nothing. The set up.
Analyzing state level abortion data from 1982 to 2000, it purportedly found evidence that increased spending on various welfare programs resulted in substantial reductions in state abortion rates. The spin given to the results was that many pro-life laws, such as those requiring parental notification for abortions performed on minor girls, had little effect. So the paradoxical message to pro-life voters was that they could best advance their interests by electing pro-choice Democrats instead of pro-life Republicans.
The details.
The original study argued that three welfare policies had significant effects on state abortion rates. First, family caps, which deny welfare recipients extra benefits if they have additional children out of wedlock, increased abortion rates. Second, increased spending on the Women Infants Children (WIC) program reduced abortion rates. Third, increased spending on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) also reduced abortion rates.

The effect.
...this study gave Doug Kmiec, Nicholas Cafardi, and others intellectual legitimacy in arguing that pro-life voters should vote for liberals, even if they favor abortion-on-demand and its public funding, in order to advance the pro-life cause. At last, there was a methodologically sophisticated study which allegedly demonstrated that the welfare policies favored by Democrats were more effective in preventing abortion than the pro-life laws supported by Republicans. It seemed too good to be true.

The problem.
However, after the original study was released, the authors discovered that they used incorrect abortion data for the years following 1997. Furthermore, after some dialogue with me, the authors decided that it would be appropriate to eliminate data from states, such as Kansas, where abortion reporting was inconsistent over time.
The result. The new version provides evidence that welfare policy has no more than a marginal effect on the incidence of abortion.

However, I could not convince my Christian friends that Obama was not the solution to abortion. I couldn't convince them that killing 1 million kids a year was worse than the stupid war that looks cheap now compared to the stupid recession that he claims can only be solved by spending a stupid amount of money that our third generation will still be paying for and copying Bush Jr. by trying to get people to spend their money instead of saving it, but Bush was too colloquial by stating plainly, "go out and keep buying stuff." Now liberal columnists say it for Obama. Morally worse though is Obama continues to loosen the hindrances to abortion. No FOCA yet, but embryonic stem cell research, which doesn't work, unlike adult stem cell research will have his full support. Additionally, New adds, Sadly, just weeks into his administration, President Obama has already demonstrated considerable disregard for the sanctity of human life. One of Barack Obama’s first acts as President was to revoke the Mexico City Policy. Now non-governmental organizations receiving funds from the U.S. Government can perform and promote abortions overseas. I do hope you read all of New's article.

Lesson learned. If you tell people what they want to hear, they'll believe it. If they don't want to hear it, they'll clamp their hands over their ears and eyes and tell the messenger to shut up, and quit showing us pictures, and quit saying the same thing over and over again.

Though seeing they won't see, though hearing they won't hear...

Monday, February 09, 2009

cinema review: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

I never knew Frank Sinatra's entertainment skills included acting. He did a great job in this movie. The only thing not great about his performance was his karate scene. It was so bad, it was realistic. In fact it was real enough that Sinatra actually broke his hand in the scene. Ironically, today in 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy made his claim that the State Department had card carrying Communist party members in its employ. This story twists McCarthyism on its ear by suggesting the finger pointers were actually collaborators with the Russians and Chinese Communist governments. Every scene with the unnamed "bad" party in the movie was filmed with busts of Lincoln. Every scene with the unnamed "good" party was filmed with bald eagles and American flags. I don't understand why a movie in 1962 was filmed in black and white, but it only detracted from one scene, the American flag rendered in caviar. I wish I had seen that in color. Angela Lansbury looks the same as she did 100 years later in the TV series, Murder She Wrote. Perhaps she really did have ice in her veins like that character who would eat her own young. She was creepy. Great movie, though.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

cinema review: Bella (2006)

Wow! It's been two days since we watched Bella and I can still use exclamation points. I loved the story and I loved how it was told. The foreshadowing and flashbacks and the present were so tightly interleaved that it didn't make sense until the very end. In a way, every scene was "now," the present. The past and the future haunted the main characters. She did not want to be pregnant. He was willing to adopt her baby. Her reasons were stereotypical. There's not much need to be creative on why women see abortion as their best option. But his reasons are complex and provide the story arc. The climax is at the very end and left us weeping. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't seen it. I found the stories of how the movie came together from a rookie director and a fresh face to American cinema with a script written by someone who never wrote a script before yet won an award at the Toronto Film Festival inspiring. The movie has power. It's about life and family and it tells it well. Enjoy.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Blogs I'm commenting at this week Feb 5th

I haven't interacted much at the end of January with other bloggers but I'll try to get it going for February.
I started at the CBE Scroll, Every glass ceiling is broken?
That's all.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

book report: 1491 by Charles C. Mann

I picked this up at the library as a consolation since I couldn't find what I really wanted. Ironically, I had checked this book out before but never read it, a victim of library gluttony. I am very happy that I now have finally read it. 1491 by Charles C. Mann seeks to deliver us from white presumption and ignorance. The subtitle is "New revelations of the Americas before Columbus." His thesis, simply, is that the New World had a massive population that was mostly wiped out by European diseases before Europeans ever settled here. He points out that modern genetic analysis of native immune systems (North to South) show vulnerabilities peculiar to their phenotype. It only takes one fishing boat from Europe with one sailor with measles or small pox somehow infecting one Indian trading with the crew, who then infects his village. Apparently, this happened in New England before the Pilgrims arrived. Europeans recorded villages of bones, unburied, scattered, untended, up and down the New England coast.

So what is left to prove a large population? European records speak of abundant villages on the Atlantic Coast, up the Mississippi, and further South. Modern archaeology recognizes mound cultures in the North and Amazonian farming cultures in the South that were missed or denied in the past. It seems the archaeology suffers over and over again from out of sight, out of mind. The jungles of Mexico hide so well so many cities.

Which leads to another issue. Undisturbed forests are a myth. They are a myth in North America, Central America, and South America, especially in the Amazon. Forests were cleared. Slash and burn was used intentionally and sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. More than likely, the failures would have been learned from if invasion and disease had not halted most cultural development.

I am familiar with much of the history he covers and I believe Mann did a great job. I learned a great deal more. However, he disappointed me a couple times. The first big disappointment is his explanation of the lost tribes theory, that the Europeans understood Indians to be the missing tribes of Israel. He called Judah the Northern tribe with it's capital in Jerusalem and Israel the southern tribe with its capital in Samaria, p. 143. Even if you don't know the Bible that well, anyone who looks at a map knows that Samaria is north of Jerusalem. My other gripe is the overreaching in his concluding chapter. He wants to give credit to the rise of libertarian government to the Iroquois nation in New York. He may have drunk too deep of Francis Jennings and could never shake the buzz afterward. His proposal is too grand to be tucked into the end of a book covering a much different topic. Perhaps that is his attempt to set up a sequel, which is fine in fiction like Harry Potter, but takes away from the accomplishment of this book. I wish he stayed on topic.

This book, though, is told from a 1st person perspective. This is his journey of deliverance from ignorance and Anglo pride. Unsurprisingly then, the story meanders. I think it makes for a more interesting history book. I hope fellow truth seekers will also pick up this book.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl commercials and my kids

As a family that has no cable, and one channel of free reception, we are still sensitive to everything immoral on television that passes for normal. Like many, we go as a family to a Super Bowl party and enjoy the food and socializing. We also look forward to creative commercials, of which there are many, Unfortunately, I forget that sex still sells, even when all ages are watching. I don't want my daughters to perceive themselves as only valuable when barely dressed. But hey, I admit I'm watching a game that includes cheer leaders, but I never saw them on the TV tonight. Even I was covering my own eyes a couple times. For those of you who are not sensitive to these things, I'm telling you, there is a lot wrong with television. For details, I refer you to Just Plain Nasty at Mere Comments.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

new bike for 2009 and beyond

Behold, the Electra Townie. The Electra website is Flash-based so you have to look in the Townie category for the "7D". It's only a 7 speed. It's a cruiser, so it is stretched out and the handlebars are high. I can stand on the ground while sitting and I will have no pressure on my wrists. I bought the big baskets for the back to do milk runs in. It's at least 35 lbs. if not more. It doesn't have a suspension except for the huge seat and the fat tires. I plan to start February commuting on it tomorrow. I will sell the recumbent. Anyone want an Actionbent Jetstream 2 with understeering? It's 2 years old and needs new tires and a tuneup. I will probably put it on Craigslist sometime this week. Some of the things I've missed that I look forward to again is hands free riding and barefoot riding. My ride will be alot slower than the recumbent but it's fine as I only have a 6.5 mile commute. I bought this last year's beauty from Niantic Bay Bicycles.

Bonus fun: Can you find our cat, Mr. Penguin? He's in both pictures.