Saturday, December 31, 2005

Time at the end of the year

Our company provides a page on their intranet for tracking the hours volunteered for community organizations.  Every so often they hold a drawing for a small prize, and sometimes they recognize service in different areas -- the company really likes the American Cancer Society and local food banks, I think, but no matter.  For whatever it's worth, I put in my hours from month to month too.
They clear out the database after the first of the year, so Friday I checked my time to see the total for 2005.  According to my own count -- and if anything, I suspect it's lower than the actual -- I've put in something like twelve hours a week, average, for the past year:
John Locke Foundation = 10 hours  (mainly a presentation I did - I can't count time for Carolina Journal articles)
Johnston County Republican Party = 22 hours
S.C. Home Educators Association = 25 hours
North Carolinians for Home Education = 544 hours
Total = 601 hours
Observation:  Don't underestimate the impact of "community service", whether freely volunteered or assigned as a judicial sentence!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Further news from Walmartgatory

I always take great interest in the ebb and flow of merchandise at Wal-Mart. Prior to hurricanes, for example, there will be a run on bread and Sugar Frosted Flakes -- this will be true even if supplies of batteries and masking tape remain strong. Being Southerners, we see hurricanes as Trouble. (Visitors to Charleston, Wrightsville Beach, and New Orleans don't count, since they seem to think a Hurricane is a mixed drink in an ornamental glass, and behave accordingly.) I learned a few years ago if I buy our normal four to seven gallons of milk on the way home from work, people see my power company ID or the logo on my shirt and get uneasy. I have to assure them we're not stockpiling, just feeding seven kids.

In contrast, unlike folks who really live with it, we Southerners think of winter precip as a Holiday. When snow is predicted, Wal-Mart runs low on sugar and chips. As the 21st-century analog of the Trading Post or General Store, W-M serves as an indicator of sorts, holding clues to what's on the popular mind, and snow = fun to us.

This year, a few days before Christmas, it was plain that Johnston County was due for an onslaught of sausage balls. Witness the condition of the meat cooler at the Clayton-Garner Wal-Mart; nearly every kind of bulk sausage, except the expensive Jesse James variety, is gone. Even the frozen pre-cooked patties we like for breakfast were in short supply.

On the other hand, a few days later, after Christmas, the ramen noodle department had been ransacked. Beloved Wife's theory credits a popular salad made with crunched-up ramen; I wonder if it's repentence over too much ham and good cheer ("No thanks … just a little soup, I think").

For what it's worth, though, there seemed to be less repentence over gifts than I've observed before; the return lines were not nearly as packed as I've seen in previous years. Maybe the gift card business has something to do with it. John Hood at the Locke Foundation has a few observations of his own today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ow, my head

Did this consultant use a buzzword generator to write his report?  I don't think you can parody this kind of stuff:

    "So far, however, a combination of device-centric and network-resident barriers have conspired to suppress attachment rates beyond the initial corner-office inbox junkies," said David Kerr, vice president of the company's Global Wireless Practice, in a statement.

    "While improved data economics coupled with expanding device portfolios from Microsoft Mobile partners, Symbian camp evangelists and aspiring Asian vendors all augur well for the future," he added, "no dominant paradigm has yet emerged to transition these PDA users into true converged device solutions customers."

The link to the article follows, but I already read it -- it still doesn't help much translating the gobbledygook above.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What is Walmartgatory and what can be done about it?

I am not part of the I-hate-Wal-mart crowd (heavily overlapping the I-disdain-people-who-shop-at-Wal-mart crowd); while I recognize the trouble a big-box discounter causes certain smaller retailers in the neighborhood, I know for a fact that they have their come-uppance too -- for example, when there are two big boxes in the neighborhood, even with the same company, market forces begin to reassert.  When we lived in Louisiana, the local WM had specially selected their staff for surliness and slovenly habits; we routinely drove an extra seven minutes or so to shop the next WM, one town over.  Everywhere, too, we do our pharmacy business with a local firm; the one in Smithfield, Carroll's Pharmacy, is outstanding, even though I differ with the pharmacist's politics.

But there is one thing which almost makes me sign on to conspiracy theories -- at certain levels of fatigue and certain hours of the day, I've noticed, I can almost sense a sort of haziness come over me in the supergiantmegabox WMs here.  It is accentuated by the difficulty in cell phone reception, especially the new WM between Clayton and Garner (very minimal signal by the cheese cooler, though enough digital to text message in an emergency … HOW MUCH BTR? ND REG FLOUR? -- It's Christmas week, you know.  Another five yards down the baking supply aisle, you lose digital service.  By the computer department or hardware, all signals are gone, period.)

We've dubbed this twilight place "Walmartgatory" -- where unrepentent shoppers are held indefinitely suspended in a sea of merchandise, cut off from weather and time, their communication with the outside world blocked or garbled (CAN YOU HEAR ME?), no information or reality except that which is selling or for sale.  It's like sensory deprivation experiments with your eyes wide open.

Is it the lights?  Do they flicker at a rate which induces a zombie-like state? 

Or is it simply the effect of too many trips to the same place for wildly different needs?  Surely this didn't happen at the General Store.  I can't say but it occurs often enough to make me wonder.  The only solution I've found is focus, focus, focus … must stay focused …

Monday, December 19, 2005

Coming soon: What is 'Walmartgatory' and what can be done about it?

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear ..."

I started out this year planning to comment on books I was reading as I finished them. For the most part, I haven't done that after all, spending more time on other issues and writing what I did write about books mainly for print publication.

I have to break out of that habit for this one, though -- Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer. This is not a new book, copyright 1996 I believe, but it is fascinating, a terrific blend of biography and political/military history. Fischer has enough material for two books here, the biography of Revere itself, but also an hour-by-hour account of the events of April 1775, demonstrating his stated thesis -- that history does not tell of a lonely midnight rider or two, but actually a well-organized group of civic leaders throughout New England, keeping in close contact by means of signal and courier, and an effective network of surveillance and intelligence interlocking with the Whig political leadership and the militias of the villages across Massachusetts and Connecticut.

While Paul Revere did ride that night, he rode on many nights and many missions, and he was only the foremost of dozens of other couriers who carried the alarm of April 18. Although I was concerned that Fischer's book might be a revisionist work to downplay the contribution of a loved folk hero, in fact the reality he brings out places Revere in a less romantic but much more deliberate, influential, and noble role all along.

This is great reading and highly recommended. There is some profanity, quoted directly from the soldiery, and some observations in the early chapters about the practices of vice - mainly prostitution - as adapted to still-Puritan Boston, so a bit of editing is in order if shared with a younger audience.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In the December Carolina Journal

The December issue of Carolina Journal is posted on the website here and includes my interview (page 23) with Wake Forest pastor Scott Brown, discussing how his daughter's family history project became a book (Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer by Kelly Brown, published by Vision Forum) and led to a feature-length movie, The League of Grateful Sons.

A really interesting family and a terrific project -- and if ever an article writes itself, this one did.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


For reasons which elude me, I seem to have settled into a pattern of posting every Tuesday (at a minimum). 

Why might that be, I can't say. 

I have more to post later but this, at least, will be my placeholder.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Unintended humor 11/30/05

Whether you are on a business trip, on excursion or have moved to a different region, PDA Church List will help you find quickly a local church in your neighborhood and never miss spending time in the presence of God.

So goes the plug for a Palm OS program I read about today. Thankfully, those of us working for an omnipresent God and enjoying the practical benefits of "the priesthood of believers" aren't dependent on particular holy spots to interact with the Almighty. But beyond that, this program is a directory of "more than 14,000 Churches and 43 Denominations worldwide".

Of course, if you are including forty-three denominations, you definitely need this special feature:

* Error Tolerance Search …

because even though there may in fact be forty-three distinct Baptist denominations alone, there's still a wide range of theology in that group.

But wait … before you rush to download this useful program, read the definition: what they mean is an error-tolerant search function, for finding results even if you do not know the exact spelling.

No help in predicting the results of the teaching, even if you do not know the exact doctrinal standing. Another opportunity missed …

Monday, November 28, 2005

National repentance, long ago

This is a prayer of the Levites, when Judah began to return to the land from Babylon.  It strikes me as uncomfortably current in its assessment of the country's spiritual condition.

… However, Thou art just in all that has come upon us; for Thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.  For our kings, our leaders, our priests, and our fathers have not kept Thy law or paid attention to Thy commandments and Thine admonitions with which Thou hast admonished them.  But they, in their own kingdom, with Thy great goodness which thou didst give them, with the broad and rich land which Thou didst set before them, did not serve thee or turn from their evil deeds.

Behold, we are slaves today, and as to the land which Thou didst give to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, behold, we are slaves on it.  And its abundant produce is for the kings whom Thou hast set over us because of our sins; they also rule over our bodies and over our cattle as they please, so we are in great distress. ...

Nehemiah 9:33-37 (NASB)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Who are you hanging with?

Recently I was fed up with the host on talk radio going home so I scanned to a nearby station. The one I landed on was playing to the "Loser" demographic -- the commercial stack at the top of the hour included, in this order,

  • a car dealer marketing to people with bad credit ("a car for your lifestyle"),
  • an online computer dealer who also promotes to people with bad credit,
  • an Internet business opportunity ("we do all the work, you make all the money! Send for free CD"), and
  • an ad for a municipal referendum for no less than eight separate bond issues ("to build the Durham we all deserve"), i.e. more deficit spending.

This did not make me want to hang around this station long.  My usual listening is funded by home improvement companies, mortgage lenders, and professional practices … though every demographic, I suppose, is out shopping for wheels.

Book review: His Excellency, George Washington

The November issue of Carolina Journal is posted online now; I have a review of Joseph Ellis's His Excellency, George Washington on page 20.

George Washington is the original American icon, as close as our pocket change and enigmatic as his monument. Joseph Ellis recalls his own childhood in Alexandria, Va.; the great man, he says, was “ubiquitous … like one of those Jeffersonian truths, self-evident and simply there. And the beauty of all self-evident truths was that no one needed to talk about them. They were so familiar that no one felt obliged to explain why they merited an annual parade.”

Washington has long suffered from biographers “oscillating in a swoonish swing between idolization and evisceration.” Ellis aims for the middle course and hits it squarely. The cold and formidable Washington, so imposing that even close associates drew back from familiarity, emerges as a man of like passions with ourselves. ...

Reagan said who's paying the bill

I neglected to post a comment celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's election, but this fits with it. I recently finished reading an interesting collection of RR's radio addresses and miscellaneous other writings called Reagan In His Own Hand. In one of them dated November 1976, he tallied the number of federal government employees (civilian as well as military), federal retirees, families of both, as well as Social Security and welfare recipients and other people depending on government assistance.

He then compared them to the number of private wage earners in the workforce, adding their families to the government dependent group. He makes the point that since the government doesn't produce anything on its own, only absorbs or redistributes the fruit of private people's labors, that pool of private earners supports everyone else. I don't have the numbers at my fingertips this morning but it was something like 60 million earners supporting 180 million others. It was an eye-opener.

To make this observation is not to criticize those paid by "the government" in some fashion. We need some level of government, we need the military and certain other indispensable services, and those employees are justified to expect a pension at the end of their service. Likewise, if you accept a governmental role in charitable endeavor -- certainly debatable, but leave it for now -- there are those who ought to be considered reasonable recipients of welfare programs. And certainly, even if there were no government tomorrow, my work is still supporting eight other people just in my own family. But the recognition of that crucial ratio points out that the pool of taxable income earners is finite and relatively small, and squeezing that goose in a vise does not accelerate the delivery of golden eggs. Eventually the goose dies or escapes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

News from the World ... Of socks

The Asia Times Online reports on a pending new textile trade agreement between the U.S. and China:

    … The squabble over textiles dates back to January 1 of this year, when the expiration of the Multi-Fiber Agreement opened the global textile market to the most competitive producing country - China. Vast increases in import quantities for particular goods quickly followed; Chinese imports of socks to the US, for example, increased from fewer than 12 million a year four years ago to a staggering 700 million pairs (five Chinese socks for every man, woman, and child in the US) in the first eight months of 2005 alone.

I haven't analyzed the economics of it yet -- the article has a detailed explanation I just don't have time to read this moment -- but the concept of "five socks per person" sounds exactly like a typical load of laundry for us.  The article does not say whether the five socks are four different colors or not.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Benefit No. 2937 of Having a Large Family

At the N.C. State Fair recently, several of us were taking a break outside a livestock display and watching the front of the "World's Largest Steer" exhibit, which frankly didn't have the world's largest audience. 

After a while, the proprietor came across the street to us and asked, "What are you guys about?"  We were wearing our blue "uniform" shirts which help with crowd control and team identity in busy venues. 

When we explained we were all one family, he did some quick math and said, "Tell you what -- the whole family can come see Big Jim for $5" … which we did.  It really was a very big steer, certainly the biggest I've ever had my portrait made with -- but when the passers-by saw eight or nine people (us) coming out of the exhibit, curiosity took hold and business picked up.  Mission accomplished?

Benefit No. 2937:  Sometimes you can serve as an advertising gimmick.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dinner with Zell

Recently we were invited to an awards banquet sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, with former Senator Zell Miller the keynote speaker. John and Susannah went along; John's friend Kiefer Wynn is sitting to John's right. Both young men made a favorable impression when they met the Senator afterwards -- as we always expect they would.

I only had back-of-an-envelope notes of Sen. Miller's speech, and those I didn't expand for a while afterward so I may have forgotten some of the connecting phraseology of what I did catch. The refrain from his closing was a good catch line, though:

"Have we met the demands of freedom, or have we abandoned our responsibilities?"

I'll have to hand it to him, the Senator didn't pull any punches on the idea of reforming medical insurance. In his view, the reform needs to come from our expectations as consumers, not from a D.C.-downward restructuring. The illustration he used was a hypothetical auto policy, where we expected the underwriters to cover the cost of tune-ups, tire rotation, oil changes, in addition to the very occasional accident. A point well taken; it is very easy to look at someone else's "entitlement program" and see a cost center, but we cling tenaciously to our own. Everybody needs to shoulder some personal responsibility -- it's out there.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More "Hard Times"

Two more state groups have reprinted my article, "Hard Time Homeschooling" and made it accessible on their websites -- the Indiana Association of Home Educators and the Christian Home Educators Confederation of Kansas

I did get to talk with the editor from the Michigan group at the Philadelphia conference, and she confessed that she had changed the title to "Hardship Homeschooling", which I actually like better than the original.

Thanks, folks --

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Atlanta: Big Pigeon is watching you

I'm back from a four-day trip to Atlanta for a class in relay design. The instructors, all three of them, were Greek -- apropos of nothing, but an unusual occurrence here in the south, I'd think. For some reason I missed, the owner of the laptop used for the presentations had a favorite bird picture for his wallpaper, creating the interesting effect seen here.

I made my obligatory trip to The Varsity on Monday; this is one of those places that achieves the coveted Michelin "Pilgrimage" status. Somebody has to have their chili recipe online somewhere. An unexpected discovery was Ray's N.Y. Pizza, just up the street from the Georgia Tech Conference Center -- two thumbs up for the "Manhattan" stromboli. No interesting dinners other than carry-in Chinese -- I had some writing and research to do back at the room and didn't go into any restaurants after class.

The hotel was an oddity. There is apparently a slow-motion remodeling job going on, so the lobby looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright tribute -- Johnson Wax "lily pad" columns, for example -- but upstairs you were likely to find the room number scribbled directly on the door with a Uniball pen, or a Marks-A-Lot if you're lucky. Most perplexing was the overall layout; did Holiday Inn go through an architectural "with-it" phase in the early seventies? I've seen more round Holiday Inns than any other hotel, for example, but this one took the cake -- a tri-lobed design which somehow put you two hallways away from anywhere, at any time. Really, really peculiar; triangles are good for bridges and roof trusses, not for floor plans.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

He fixed the major thing, anyway

We'll be celebrating our favorite German next week but here's an observation on the language.  Besides his major accomplishment, Martin Luther inadvertently provided the basis for Hochdeutsche and the standardization of the language in his translation of the Scriptures.  It did nothing to change this, though:

"I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; for nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language.  I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words had been water, I had been drowned, sure.  She had exactly the German way: whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war, she would get it into a single sentence, or die.  Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him until he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Dover edition p. 122-123

Monday, October 17, 2005

Seen at the N.C. State Fair

Just like last year, the Republican booth at the state fair seemed to be getting more traffic than the Democrats nearby; if nothing else, we saw lots of Republican stickers on passersby.  Our favorite, connected with a "Pledge of Allegiance" petition, was red (of course) with white lettering, reading:

My God

My Country

My Republican Party

You know it's Monday when

… you hear someone say, "We're having problems with the network" and it's referring to a situation at home.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Unintended humor

Not surprisingly, the current debate on public policy in the electric sector is increasingly polarized.

"Beyond the Crossroads: The Future Direction of Power Industry Restructuring"
Cambridge Energy Research Associates,,170,00.html#top

"The descent into ideology"

Interestingly enough, the willingness of conservatives, of all people, to debate and question their own assumptions has meant that conservative thought adapted quickly and fixed its errors rapidly.  So writes J. R. Dunn in The American Thinker this week -- he's concerned that we're throwing away the key to our success:
With the Harriet Miers controversy, conservatism has begun its descent into ideology. Unlike the Left, conservatism has never been an ideological movement, in the sense of possessing an overarching system of thought demanding acceptance in toto. American conservatism is based on principle, firmly-grounded, straightforward concepts: that men are lower than angels, that governs best which governs least, and that innovations must be examined under the presumption of error. Apart from these axioms, everything else was open to debate. Until today, there has never been an orthodox party line in conservatism.

(HT:  John Locke Foundation's Jon Ham)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

And now, a personal opinion:

HP MFD bǔ hǎo!

UPDATE: I had a run-in with our new multi-function devices at work; whether it was an integration problem with our locally-developed application, a feeding problem with the large paper it insisted on using, or operator error on my own part, I can't say. All I know is it is an 18-step process to extract a "jam" (often a mirage) from this printer, and I was forced to recall our $40 Lexmark printer at home is beating the performance socks off the HP it replaced.

NC hsers are semi-finalists at San Antonio film fest

I am pleased as can be that the short documentary film A Flame Undaunted, about the North Carolina delegate, patriot, and governor William Richardson Davie, has been named a semi-finalist in the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. The final competition is October 27-29.

The film is a production of the Homeschoolers Unfolding History chapter of Tar Heel Junior Historians, sponsored by the Public Library of Smithfield and Johnston County. Our son John Calvin wrote and directed the film, which is our stake in the matter. This is the second year HUH and the Youngs have placed in the semi-finals; last year there were two films, Independence Bound and Christ in the Camp (the latter written and directed by our son Caleb), in that category.

A Flame Undaunted also placed second in the state competition at the secondary level, and the elementary level team took second in their division with After the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Great job, everybody -- this group just gets better every year.

A Francis Schaeffer moment

I recently read Schaeffer's The God Who Is There, where he deals with the issue of despair in modern liberal thought. Basically, either you accept that God is real and communicates in a meaningful fashion with His creation, or you cast off that idea in favor of some substitute which ultimately leads to atheistic nihilism, or an illogical leap necessary to bridge the rejection of revealed religion with the reality of the soul and spirit.

It came back to me with force at a recent motivational meeting featuring a film about football coach Lou Holtz. It was encouraging and all, but on reflection it rang very, very hollow. The editing on the film did a downright expurgation of anything which looked like religion in submission to a holy God -- even when showing Holtz at Notre Dame. Honestly -- there was one tightly edited clip of Holtz sending the team off from a pep talk (supposedly), but if you were alert, you might just barely catch the delayed ending of one player making the sign of the cross. Aha -- this wasn't rah-rah, it was team prayer ... but we can't show that, can we.

It's like the speakers who smile and talk about the value of Faith but never its subject. Faith in what? Or whom? Does it matter, in your world view? It had better, because there are serious consequences to choosing the wrong answer.

As Calvin Thomas wrote about secularized Thanksgiving, some people seem to be praying "To Whom It May Concern." Or trying to harvest fruit without planting a tree. All is vanity and a striving after wind, says the preacher.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Columbus Day

Recently I asked my wife, who is of native American descent, what she thought of the genocidal invasion of North America by hegemonic 17th century Europeans.

"I think it is the unmitigated blessing of God," she said, "sending the Gospel to His Indian people." *

I think this is instructive; on this Columbus Day, not everyone who may have an ancestral grievance against immigration actually carries that today.

In fact, on this day I'd like to recognize some immigrants who are very important to me:

James Brookshaw arrived in Baltimore in 1674 to serve as an indentured servant with his wife Mary O'Harigan; one of their grandsons became the first child of European descent born in Haywood County, North Carolina.

About 1690, a British ship landed a group of French Huguenots in the new proprietary colony of South Carolina; in that group, I have reason to believe, was my ancestor Pierre Dutarte, formerly of Picardy, France. He and his countrymen came here seeking religious freedom, after the Edict of Nantes was long cancelled at home.

In 1692, one-time privateer and successful merchant Thomas Pinckney of Durham, England, arrived in Charles Town, S.C., aboard the Loyal Jamaica. He is one of the few of my ancestors who arrived with any personal wealth to speak of; Thomas Parris, moving from Barbados to Pembroke, Massachusetts, sometime around 1655, may have been the other.

In 1751, Johann Schlueter arrived in Philadelphia from Hamburg on the Koenigin von Daenemark, bringing his wife and twenty-year-old son to the colonies. Johann died among the Pennsylvania Dutch, but his son Heinrich settled in Rowan County, North Carolina, on a square mile of land not far from where I was born two hundred twelve years later.

Beat Rebsamen and Hans Kuntzler of Thurbenthal, Switzerland, settled in central South Carolina in the mid-1700's as part of the Hanoverian-English crown's plan to populate that region with European Protestants. Both were mixed in the Regulator Movement and were pardoned by King George III shortly before the Revolution.

In 1792, Daniel MacLeod was born aboard the ship that brought his parents from the Isle of Skye to Charleston. The former Prussian cavalryman Anthony Pullig arrived in Charleston about that time.

Most recently, James Mack of Dublin landed in Charleston in 1825 and became a cartwright in that city.

My wife's history is just as broad, from her Cherokee ancestors in upstate South Carolina to the Rev. Thomas Smyth, D.D., the young Scotch-Irish Presbyterian who preached against slavery in a downtown Charleston congregation as early as the 1830s -- and continued in service at that church into the 1880's. Her connections with the Plantagenets mean I truly did marry above my ancestral station.

It's commonplace to say it, but we are most definitely a nation of immigrants, and the more I learn about my own forebears the more I appreciate the opportunity they had and gained in this country.

And to all our recent neighbors Chilean, Korean, Iranian, and Syrian, a cordial welcome from me to you.

* It may be worth noting that our youngest son is named after David Brainerd, the 18th century American missionary to the Indians of Massachusetts.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Sir, please step away from the PDA."

Professor Steve Andriole of Villanova University has had it with personal information systems users. I've met a few, though it sounds like he's stumbled across a nest of them:

How can anyone focus meaningfully on anything? Is this a plot by the makers
of adult ADD drugs?

The best example of this came at a meeting I recently attended. I watched all of the middle-aged guys pull out their weapons of choice: cell phones, crackberries, laptops, pagers and what are now considered old-fashioned PDAs. Each one of them laid their devices in front of them like they were trying to create some kind of cockpit.

''Mine is smaller than yours,'' I heard one of them say, as another challenged everyone to a digital race. ''I bet I can download more and faster than anyone here.''

These people are idiots.

If you can believe it, this item came across in a PDA newsletter, Palm Blvd.

Progress ... I guess

ADELAIDE, Australia -- "In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth."

That's according to a new version of the Bible translated into the text message language of cell phone users.

The Bible Society in Australia on Thursday launched its translation of all 31,173 verses of the Bible in the modern, abbreviated language of text messages.

The verses can be accessed over the Internet for free so that they can be spread by cell phone to family and friends, said society spokesman Michael Chant. ...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Interesting headline of the day

Seen on this morning:

"Supreme Court to revisit assisted suicide"

Chief Justice Roberts got under their skin in a hurry, hmm?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sometimes there isn't a shaft of light

"For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day.  It shall be the time of the nations."

(Ezekiel 30:3)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Some counties do it better

I have the honor of the lead article, State's School Construction Costs Soaring, in the October issue of Carolina Journal. Quoted in the final version are interviews with architect Steve Taynton of the Department of Public Instruction's School Planning section and Johnston County school board member Larry Strickland:

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the union, and especially in its school-aged population. The growth, coupled with demand for more and better facilities, smaller classes, and specialized programs as well, has pushed local governments into a school construction boom.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Carolina is one of only 14 states where the number of elementary schoolchildren has grown despite a nationwide decline between 2000 and 2003. The state also ranks fourth in the number of students added in the high school ages.

As this occurs, though, demand for critical materials and skilled labor is driving the cost of the construction sharply higher. Major projects as far away as China have pushed the price of structural steel and concrete to new levels. Recovery work after Hurricane Katrina, where more than 200,000 homes
were reported destroyed, is not only affecting material availability but competing for contractors’ attention. ...

Ask the locals

We're just back from a conference trip to Philadelphia, and I wanted to mention that based on the recommendation of a co-op student from there, we chose to bypass Pat's ["Tourists" he said] and get our official cheese steak from Jim's Steaks instead.

Byron was right, of course, they were good. And actually we didn't bypass Pat's entirely. Couldn't get cheese fries at Jim's, you know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Posted from a runway in Raleigh

On plane. Doesn't say JOHNSON AGRI-CHEM on side but /is/ small.

Glories of the Internet

Here's another one … as long as you're not already in the car when the question arises.

To find rest areas on I-95, say for example in Maryland, you can look them up with the other useful information here at the I-95 Exit Information Guide.

Excellent title!

I can't comment on the content, nor the source -- The Weekly Independent, a left-liberal arts & angst kind of paper, distributed free in this area -- but I loved the title of a 9/16 lecture:

"Mozart with Hegel:  Non Giovanni"

Garrison Keillor would approve.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What you been doing with yourself lately?

A whole lot of this, mainly.

After review, there were seventeen Post-It notes needing attention on this drawing alone.

But I'm just keeping the lights on for our customers and groceries on the table for us.

Time to unleash the Trunk Monkey

Ric Kolseth sent this in response to a frustrating interpersonal situation I'm dealing with. What a wonderful innovation -- the Trunk Monkey.

I wonder if they have one for a '97 Blazer?

Bill's barn

The owner of one our favorite places in Wilson was recently told that he couldn't advertise his restaurant on the side of his own barn, so he got rid of the sign, barn, and all.

Paul Chesser has the whole story here.

I say here's one for Bill, and a raspberry for regulators.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Long term view of things

"Meditation on Statistical Method"

Plato, despair! We prove by norms
How numbers bear Empiric forms,

How random wrong Will average right
If time be long And error slight;

But in our hearts Hyperbole
Curves and departs To infinity.

Error is boundless. Nor hope nor doubt,
Though both be groundless, Will average out.

-- J . V. Cunningham


-- headline posted on a friend's desk at Clemson

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers. But whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, those He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?

-- Paul the apostle (Romans 8:28-33a - MKJV)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good things about working late

  • You get to be first to use the restroom after the cleaners
  • No one minds if you listen to Chinese folk music on your workstation's CD-ROM drive
  • You don't have to step outside to take a personal call
  • You can practice Spanish with the custodians
  • Sunsets are really pretty from the west side of the building
  • You don't have to pay to leave the parking garage after 7:00
  • You have a clear shot at the last break room cookie everyone avoided all afternoon
  • There's less ambient glare after the sun goes down
  • You don't get hung up behind other people's jobs at the plotter
  • You get to find out when other people really leave

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Some understatement is too painful

From the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer:

It's a misdemeanor to race cars on any street or highway in North Carolina. But when someone is hurt or killed while racing unlawfully, the consequences can be serious.

The picture above was a 1970 Corvette on Monday -- I thought it was a motorcycle at first glance. The other car, a Mustang, was split in half. The driver of the Corvette is the one that survived.

Oh, THAT explains it

A short article in The Charlotte Observer reported on local schools starting to teach Mandarin Chinese, even at very early ages.

A table at the end compared the difficulty of learning two classes of language -- French and Spanish, which are phonetic and share some roots and cognates with English, are "Category I" and take about 480 hours to become "minimally proficient". Students can aim to "function professionally" after 700 to 900 hours.

Chinese, though, and Arabic as well, are "Category IV" languages which take "at least 1300 hours" to even get to the miminum level, and 2400 to 2700 for professional fluency. Bu hao.

I'd be interested to know how Arabic differs structurally from English -- as far as I know it also is a phonetic language, though reading right-to-left in a totally different script is bound to make it at least a Cat II. I'll ask my Syrian-born colleague at work if I think about it.

All the more interesting in light of the 53 hours or so we were able to invest before landing in Shanghai.

Update: I did speak with my Syrian coworker, and he said that the complexity of Arabic is grammar and pronunciation. It is phonetic, anyway.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Small private schools sell their size

Small private schools, with 25 or fewer students, filling a niche
Carolina Journal Online, 9/14/05
“We are committed to each child feeling like they’re in the front row.”

That was the vision shared by Judy Miller, the head of Raleigh’s Maas Jewish Community School. ( Hers is one of the newest nonpublic schools in the state, just starting its second year this fall. It is also one of the smallest; the 2004-2005 enrollment was 10 students.

Miller’s comment underscores one of the contrasts in North Carolina’s educational landscape. While the state’s public school systems and their constituent campuses have grown to massive proportions, with some superintendents presiding over student populations near 100,000, there are a significant number of small private schools attracting their own share of students and supporters. In many cases, their very smallness is key to their success.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Wider circulation

A couple of years ago my column in the November 2003 Greenhouse Report was called "Hard Time Homeschooling".  The point of it was that even when circumstances get tough, we need to keep on with our commitment to home education for the sake of our children, and not let ourselves be overwhelmed by events.  It got the most response of any column I've written to date -- I think because all of us either go through these times, or know someone who has, or can imagine facing hard decisions like that and wondering how to deal with it all.
I mentioned the column and the basic argument in an online discussion with other state leaders following the landfall of Katrina, and to my surprise a number of them have requested permission to reprint it in their own publications.  To date they include:
Christian Home Educators' Fellowship of Oklahoma
S.C. Home Educators Association
Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators
Ontario Christian Home Educators' Connection (Canada)
Indiana Association of Home Educators
and Dr. Brian Ray's e-mail newsletter (he's blogging but doesn't know it yet -- all the writing and research is going into the e-mail so he may as well put it where everybody can see it).  Kind of flattering -- I hope they all find it useful.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Help for homeschoolers in the Katrina Zone

We've received a number of calls asking how to help homeschoolers who have been displaced or disrupted by Hurricane Katrina.  While there are many agencies well equipped to provide food, clothing, and shelter, only other homeschoolers will understand the need to replace critical educational materials -- because when the homes were flooded, their school system was destroyed at the same time.

There are several projects which started up within days of the storm, but as we learned helping the victims of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the need will continue for months, and months, and months … the following are accepting cash and credit donations, and I can personally vouch for the integrity and determination of the leaders in each case.

Three projects we can recommend are:

The Home School Foundation "Hurricane Emergency Response" and "Operation Extended Family"
Link []

The Foundation is a charitable fund operated by the Home School Legal Defense Association.  Donations should be designated for Katrina relief, since HSF has a number of different assistance projects ongoing.

Family Reformation Ministries "Operation Katrina"
Link [

FRM is headed up by our friend James MacDonald of Katy, Texas, just outside of Houston.  Among other things, James is using his contacts within the homeschooling community and publishing world to provide curriculum for home educators flooded out by the storm.

National Black Home Educators Resource Association
Link []

NBHERA is led by long time brethren Eric and Joyce Burgess of Baker, Louisiana, a suburb of Baton Rouge.  I spoke with Joyce recently -- it took several days to get a phone call through at all -- and she said their project is focusing on the black families which were hit so hard in New Orleans.  Their church in Baker is operating a shelter for over 500 evacuees, and Joyce said she and a team of volunteers are working with the mothers of preschoolers in the shelter -- although most of them may not have been considering homeschooling, while living in the shelter there's literally no place for the pre-K children to go, and Joyce's group is helping them fill the time with worthwhile and educational activity.  NBHERA is a special group always, but they are particularly close to the crisis at this moment.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Oh, rats

Cobranchi's blog (not Cobranchi per se, he's offline and out of country at the moment) reports today that Scott Somerville is shutting down his admirable blog, Somerschool.  

We can only conjecture what's up at the moment -- somehow I can't imagine Scott will just disappear without his usual gracious explanation of things -- but I'm going to miss it, too.  Hope to see you again soon, Scott (one place or another :-)

Mileage rates increase -- sort of

A follow up to an earlier post on The Locker Room ( --

"In recognition of recent gasoline price increases," the Internal Revenue Service has just raised the standard mileage allowance for business travel from 40.5 cents to 48.5 cents per mile. (,,id=147423,00.html)

"This is about fairness for taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “People are entitled to deduct the real cost of operating a vehicle. We’ve responded to the recent gas price increases by making this special adjustment so taxpayers get the tax benefit they deserve.”

Volunteers who travel on behalf of non-profit organizations and charities will continue to enjoy the 14 cent per mile rate in effect since at least 2000 ( ); it is "set by statute, not the IRS", as the current press release points out.




Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Best of the evening

Spoken by Four Oaks mayor Linwood Parker, concerning the government's response to Katrina in New Orleans -- as exactly as I could catch it in the county GOP meeting last night:

"The problem of people in low-lying areas in New Orleans wasn't because they didn't have cars to evacuate, or didn't know where to go or what to do.  The problem was they were dependent on government assistance, so many of them, and they knew that if they left their homes with their checks coming in two or three days, when they came back they wouldn't have any money the next thirty days.

Why is it that 20% of the people can't participate in the American dream?  That's something which the government can't give you.  What we've seen is that if you wait on the government, you drown."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Free music - of the d-i-y kind

A friend transferring in-company but out of state sent me a phrase of liturgical Latin (Domine, non sum dignus, to be exact) in our exchange of notes.  Admittedly not fluent myself, I did a quick Google to find the translation -- and what should turn up but a "Wiki" site, the Choral Public Domain Library, with a 171-page index of free choral music … including several by William Billings.  Whoa …

Link for reference:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hint: It's not glamorous but it works

But attacking the academic achievement gap is hard work. It takes time. It takes commitment. There's little public glory in helping a child to read or learn math. Substance and effort are boring. But symbolism -- like a flaming cross in the night -- is seductive and attracts attention.

One paragraph out of Rick Martinez' column, but it brought to mind a couple of things I've read this year.

One is Sam Levinson's Everything But Money. Levinson is an often-quoted Jewish humorist who grew up in the Depression-era slums of New York, but went to college like his brother the doctor and his brother the dentist, etc., and became a teacher. Why did he succeed? He says they were "the privileged poor" -- committed parents, a solid foundation of training in right and wrong, high expectations. Also notable is a community culture which honored scholarship. It may not have paid much, but a scholar was a man worthy of respect.

The Chinese culture shows the same currents. Ebey's Illustrated History of China may not have offered any new insights, but it elaborated on the truly ancient civil service system of Imperial Cathay -- those who aspired to leadership were expected to be scholars as well as gentlemen. In Europe, you can see where notable men scratched and scrawled graffiti at historic sites -- like Lord Byron's mark in the dungeon of Chillon Castle. In China, you see tablets of poetry or honored fragments of calligraphy, which were the accepted signature of a noble mind's visit. (And as Paul Theroux mentions in Riding the Iron Rooster, it is very possible that the deeply imbedded Confucian ideal of filial piety and honor for the family is what preserved modern China from absolute chaos during the upheavals of the Twentieth Century).

As another columnist stated somewhere this spring, the Asian student in America does not have a "math gene" which programs him for academic success, but he does have a supportive framework, a family with high expectations, and a culture which respects academic achievement.

A few months ago I spoke with a reporter who wanted to talk about "classical education", i.e. the philosophy rooted in the liberal arts, Western civilization ideal. She asked if it showed a difference in test scores, and I told her I doubted it, because standardized testing, like most of modern education, is based on reading comprehension and math computation skills, and classical education focuses on interaction with the great conversation of ideas and philosophy -- which are not tested that way. It's meant to produce minds like Newton and Jefferson, and not simply employable units of human resource.

So if it's not genetic, i.e. deterministic and beyond our influence, then what can we do to re-instill these things in American culture, before it's simply too late?

What's wrong with that?

The magazine The Church Report offers this list of "Ten Ways To Be Sure You're In A Bad Church".

I especially liked the first one:  The church bus has a gun rack.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No longer in Biloxi

NOAA has posted 350 aerial photos from their survey of damage caused by Katrina. I was able to locate our old apartment on West Beach Boulevard in Biloxi, in this image here. You can scan from the water's edge on the left, follow the path of the storm surge, step over the debris pile about four blocks inland from U.S. 90, and then into a Disney-like landscape of Keelser Air Force Base ... so perfect anyway, but in comparison with the wreckage a quarter mile south, absolutely surreal.

Anyway, just for reference, our apartment was just to the left of center in this image, which was due south (left in this orientation) from the end of the runway over at KAFB.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Good walls make good neighbors?

North Carolina has a positively unique legal situation for private (and home) education -- a complete separation between private and public sectors. I have an article in the August issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, outlining the history and the law which set this up .

It's not one of the articles available online but the title shows up, anyway.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage on the Gulf Coast, including a short stay in Biloxi (Keesler AFB), four years at Panama City (Tyndall AFB), and following fourteen months in exile in central California (Modest0), another four years in Zachary, Louisiana, a few miles north of Baton Rouge.

Probably much more than my coworkers and neighbors, then, I have been riveted to the unfolding calamity of Hurricane Katrina. We still have friends throughout the region, some of whom are no doubt suffering at least the loss of power (speaking of coworkers, help is on the way). Even without the human connection, knowing the places which are now underwater or totally missing puts a different spin on the event. As I told a colleague this week, as much as I enjoyed our time in Louisiana, just this week I'm glad not to be there.

I have to add my respect to the efficient evacuation of New Orleans before the storm; frankly, I didn't expect so many in that brash and brazen city to exercise such discretion. Congratulations to not only the Diaspora but to the mayor and the governor for their leadership in this ... no doubt thousands are alive today who would have been drowned.

There's not much I can add to the story at this distance except to say (1) we're praying for you, and (2) here are the best sources of information I've found this week:

The Advocate (Baton Rouge) and WBRZ-TV2 - Reports are the major impacts are loss of power and addition of many, many refugees from New Orleans and surrounding parishes. I read that the schools in Baker and Zachary, almost alone in East Baton Rouge Parish, will be open today or this week. What amazes me is the repeat of Hurricane Andrew, which we rode out in Zachary in 1992; just like Katrina, the weather service seemed to take the attitude that a major storm hundreds of miles across would just shrivel like a salted slug when it touched the Mississippi delta. No need for alarm in Baton Rouge, shoot, it must be a hundred miles from Grand Isle.

Note for New Orleans forecasters: Please ask Charlotte N.C. about Hurricane Hugo, or Raleigh about Hurricane Fran, or for that matter, look at what Andrew did in Baton Rouge. I have a lot of respect for meteorologists, but I have to say it boggled me to read the dismissive predictions for this storm, so similar to the last ones. Obviously NWS offices differ from place to place.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) - publishing in pdf mode since evacuating their building near the Superdome. "Most of our readers are no longer here," some one commented, "but they can get to the Internet and they want to find out what's happening." We spent some time in New Orleans (how could you avoid it?) though not frequently. It sounds as though Jackson Square and the Cathedral fared better than they might have, though Antoine's lost part of a wall on the third floor. (For the record, we only splurged there twice, but it's one of those things like visiting the Opera in Vienna ... quintessential). While I don't know the Ninth Ward, which flooded first and worst, I do remember driving through the levees at different points, where they had pumping stations and flood gates alongside the road. I also remember the long bridges across Pontchartrain, including the I-10 span which is now destroyed.

The Sun Herald (Biloxi) - Biloxi is a narrow strip of land, and our apartment was just across US 90 from the beach, directly under the approach path for Keesler's runway. Every evening about sundown the daily medivac plane would fly over; our cat, Sugar, would sit in the bedroom window and watch it with interest. From reports, nearly everything from the CSX tracks on the south boundary of the base, to the water, is history. I'm waiting to hear if Jefferson Davis' home, Beauvoir, survived.

Update: No, it didn't. The Sun Herald reports: Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home in Biloxi. The bottom floor of the library and the home itself were gutted. A Confederate flag, though, still draped over the arm of Davis' statue in the library. One of the surreal touches which these storms always seem to leave behind.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the road

ITEM: In Avery County, Three Mile Highway is 4.6 miles long.

It may be due to the settlement called ... Three Mile.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Traffic Control

This is the neatest traffic condition site I've seen. Worth exploring all the side streets, too. Nota bene the "Jam Factor" scales on major roadways.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Here's a test message sent from my cell phone.

Monday, August 22, 2005

That counts

My mother, a school librarian, had a book called The Ten Best Things About Barney, in which a little boy grieving over a dead pet is encouraged to list ten good things to remember the dog by. As these things do, the "Ten Good Things" has become a bit edgier in our family, usually applied to really unpleasant situations -- like the scene in "Young Frankenstein" when one grave robber tells the other it's a rotten, crummy job they have. The other demurs "It could be worse"; "How?"; "It could be rainin' !"

We had an opportunity to count blessings for real last night. We drove the usual Indy-start Sunday traffic up I-95 to church in Rocky Mount, parked, and took our seats. A friend who pulled in right after me tapped me on the shoulder and said I had a tire in the process of going flat. Since the service hadn't started yet, we slipped back out and found, yes, the valve stem had separated from the rim, and before my friend and I could pry off the hub cap, the tire was flat.

After a challenging sermon on diligence, several friends helped us change the tire (a lot of exercise on a 3/4 ton van, on a day which hit 105 earlier) and we drove home as night fell.

Now, what was blessed about that?

1. We didn't lose a front tire at 70 mph, surrounded by traffic.
2. We were able to determine what had failed
3. We found out early enough that we could repair it while it was daylight
4. It happened in the church parking lot rather than alongside a road
5. We were surrounded by friends with tools and willing hands.
6. We had the spare tire (being a full size truck tire, sometimes we don't have it on board)

That's just six, but the list can go on. Potential alternatives could have been a crash at highway speeds; going flat in one of the deserted places between Rocky Mount and Smithfield; having to change it alongside the road and in the dark, without help; and more.

So there are quite a few good things about a flat tire at church.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A portable solution

The Wilson Daily News reported yesterday on the proposal to place toll booths every thirty miles along I-95.

Friend and JLF president John Hood likes the idea, but as the paper notes, "Hood said engineering concerns exist about retrofitting an existing highway for tolls. He said if a new road is built with tolls in mind, construction of the highway and its exit and entrance ramps reflect that purpose."

That may be, but then, you could also do what they do in China, and plop down one of these portable toll booths wherever you feel like it. If it doesn't work out like you want, just snatch it up and put it somewhere else.

For that matter, you can add and subtract them at will. Need more repair money between mile markers 121 and 138? Drop an extra booth or two. Traffic too fast between Fayetteville and Lumberton? Add more toll booths and slow it down. Business slow in Kenly? Put three or four between US 301 and US 264 at Wilson, and I'll bet commerce picks up ... along with the collective blood pressure.

And you're not even considering the possibilities along the secondary roads. What fun.

A simple rule

John Hood's comments about video games earlier this week were just a few days ahead of WPTF's Kevin Miller, who interviewed attorney Jack Thompson about his work against the increasing violence and prurient content of video games, and the BBC's story on the same subject.

We adopted a very simple rule with our boys some time ago, based on Proverbs 14:9 (Fools laugh at sin ...) -- whatever would not be permitted in reality, isn't permitted in fun, either. Sin is serious, play is practice for life, and we don't rehearse things which should require repentence.

Carried out consistently, this answers a lot of questions. Combat flight simulators are okay, because there is an honorable service to country; Grand Theft Auto is not. Leading armies into battle is okay -- the boys love the Civilization II and Age of Empires games -- but rapine and pillage are not. Historic simulations and "what if" scenarios that may be played out are educational, but when the secret code unleashes flying sports cars with machine guns to slaughter the knights of the Second Crusade -- you've just stepped out of bounds. It's even acceptable to be Pharoah of Egypt, but we draw the line at building his temples (Thou shalt have no other gods before Me; Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ... )

This rule works on the computer or off -- for example, you're not allowed to pretend to shoot your brother, but both of you are allowed to shoot imaginary villains and invaders, in order to defend your home or country. To facilitate this, we require the boys to all be on the same "team" when pretending this way; it can't always be done in sports or some other games -- and sometimes we see hurt feelings and unchristian behavior as a consequence.

Some folks have looked at us a bit funny, finding that we allow toy guns but discipline the boys if they point them at each other. Sometimes it's a fine line, I freely admit. But part of being a man is knowing the proper boundaries of the use of force, and the proper application of doctrine and character to life -- requirements of the groups of men we call "governments", too. And I want my sons prepared for both roles.

Flat Earth

My review of Thomas Friedman's book on globalism in business, The World Is Flat , appears in the August issue of Carolina Journal, page 20.

RALEIGH -- Many of us have spoken with call-center operators in Bangalore, India, and would be only slightly surprised that Wal-Mart is China’s eighth largest trading partner — larger than most nations. I was surprised, though, to hear a Hispanic acquaintance worry over the impact that globalization was having on his friends’ businesses in Mexico. Thomas Friedman says our NAFTA partner hears the "giant sucking sound" in stereo.

Welcome to Thomas Friedman’s new book, The World Is Flat. In it, he posits three historic periods of global development — the age of discovery and colonization, followed by a period of business consolidation and growth across national boundaries, and now dawning on an age of information transfer and knowledge workers, spread out and settled in wherever an Internet connection can be made. As the traditional model of vertically integrated, heavily hierarchical corporations converts to a horizontal and collaborative network of contractors, partnerships, and offshore talent, Friedman says the world is flattening, and barriers to trade, culture, and thought are coming down. Not everyone likes it, though.

RTWT here.

For God's sake

There is a danger in reading too much into providential situations. The sky clears overhead in time for your parade, and you (properly) bless God, but don't recognize you may be participating in someone else's direct intervention. The blue sky was not about you at all, though you're welcome to enjoy it when it comes.

I was reading in Ezekiel recently and noticed, again, how directly he speaks to our generation. In chapter 20, the elders of Israel came to the prophet seeking a word from the Lord; His word, it seems, was "Go away".

"Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, '"Have you come to ask of Me? As I live," says the Lord Jehovah, "I will not be inquired of by you."'" (20:3)

He then lays out the pattern of Israel's history -- God reveals Himself to Israel, who then ignores or repudiates His commandments, leading God to purpose judgment against them ... but repeatedly, to relent. Why?

"But I worked for My name's sake, that it should not be profaned before the nations among whom they were" (20:9, cf 20:14, 22)

This went on from 1447 B.C. to the 590's, when Ezekiel began his ministry.

The blow falls in verse 39 -- "'And you, O house of Israel,' so says the Lord Jehovah: 'Every man go and serve his idols, and do so from now on if you will not listen to Me. But never again defile My holy name with your gifts and your idols.'"

To be written off by the only Hope is a fearful thing.

We are fools to think that God's apparent mercy toward us in our rebellion is solely for our good. Here is God's own chosen nation, placing itself in opposition to Him time and again, and spared -- not because they are worth it, but because it would dishonor God's name in the sight of the world to do otherwise. Israel was not chosen because they were special, but the other way around. And their time eventually ran out.

We need to pay attention here, individually, corporately, nationally. Even in repentence, He reminds us of the same overriding fact:

"'And you shall know that I am the LORD when I have worked with you for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,' says the Lord Jehovah." (20:44)

It is a hallmark of His providence that any blessing bestowed is a matter of grace to the undeserving. Ultimately, it's not about us at all, ever; it's all about God, and His honor. For what, indeed, is the chief end of man?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Why, indeed

I was part of a conversation with the owner of a Christian bookstore catering to homeschoolers. In her area she meets a number of parents who come in looking for curriculum but specifying, very definitely, they do not want materials with a Christian flavor to them, and do not want their children exposed to Christian teaching.

She told me she is in business to serve whomever needs help, so she guides them to books which meet their specification. She mused, though, over how often these same parents will ask her, "Why is all the good stuff Christian?"

I read a similar comment online this weekend, where a mother in Arizona is starting a homeschool organization for Pagans. She mentions as part of her inspiration that she had attended a high school graduation presented by Arizona Families for Home Education, saying "the ceremony was beautiful and seeing so many homeschoolers graduate was amazing ..." (link here for attribution, not endorsement)

Why indeed. My friend's response about the benefit of starting with Truth as your foundation was said in love, and accurate. The question which came to my mind, though, was what prevents the same question from rising in relation to any other field -- art, music, engineering, medicine, literature. Why not?

Take it seriously

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.

Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

-- Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)
"Stricken, smitten, and afflicted" (No. 192)
Tune: O Mein Jesu, Ich Muss Sterben
From the Geistliche Volkslieder

Friday, August 05, 2005

A policeman's lot is not an 'appy one

Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark: Policemen in Michigan had to unholster a stun gun when a hit-and-run driver confronts them in medieval garb -- long sword and all.

Closer to home, a teenaged girl is in jail charged with aggravated (aggravating?) assault after spitting on a Cary, N.C. police officer.

And in St Petersburg, Florida, police chief Chuck Harmon says it was not a violation of policy for officers to handcuff a five-year-old schoolchild.

"This child needed some intervention, but I don't think it was by law enforcement," Harmon said, calling the handcuffing "premature."

We don't pay these guys enough for the nonsense they have to put up with.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A reliable friend

One there is, above all others, Well deserves the name of friend;
His is love beyond a brother's, Costly, free, and knows no end:
They who once his kindness prove,
Find it everlasting love!

Which of all our friends to save us, Could or would have shed their blood?
But our Jesus died to have us, Reconciled, in him to God:
This was boundless love indeed!
Jesus is a friend in need.

Could we bear from one another, What he daily bears from us?
Yet this glorious Friend and Brother, Loves us though we treat him thus:
Though for good we render ill,
He accounts us brethren still.

O for grace our hearts to soften! Teach us, Lord, at length to love;
We, alas! forget too often, What a Friend we have above:
But when home our souls are brought,
We will love thee as we ought.

-- John Newton, 1779 (Olney Hymns) -- Tune: Godesberg

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Touring the Bypass

This weekend my sons and I took a first trip on the new U.S. 64 bypass around Knightdale. I spent a couple of months working on a project at the Milburnie substation, smack in the middle of the bypassed section of "Old 64", and I can testify there was no joy coming or going during rush hour traffic.

Still, I think the new bypass will always be connected with the day I put my hand on a 500,000 - volt power line.

Of course the power was off, or I would have ended up like a six-foot pork rind in a blue shirt. Progress Energy had to relocate a steel lattice transmission tower farther back (and higher above) the new road's right of way, and in the neatest piece of construction work I've ever watched, the crew unbolted the base of the tower, lifted it sixty feet in the air, and landed it on a new base a hundred fifty feet up the line. Six of the nine cables were lowered to the ground (the other triplet was inaccessible, routed through the center of the tower), which gave me the creepy opportunity to lay hands on a once- and soon-to-be very high energy cable. Power lines aren't insulated, you know, just bundles of bare aluminum and steel.

This tower is on the north side of the new highway just west of Smithfield Road, at exit 425 .

There are some other points of interest along the Triangle's newest highway. The environmental walls transition from "North Raleigh brick" close to the Beltline, to a more utilitarian concrete-with-pebbles closer to Knightdale. The biggest piece of natural stone I've seen in Wake County is hunkering behind a barn on the south side of the road at mile marker 422 . There's a fully-signaled railroad crossing, with automatic gates and all, on a road that no longer crosses the tracks -- it was truncated by the six-lane bypass at mile marker 421 , on the north side.

Knightdale's water tower would earn the "Doorknob to Hell" nickname we assigned to a similar structure at college; it's visible, obvious, and freshly painted, so no mile marker needed. And the graceful junction of US 64 and the Beltline at Poole Road, with its interlaced bridges above I-440, is punctuated on the westbound side by an arabesque around the sewage pumping station inside the Inner Beltline -- an unexpected sensory experience.

The scenery along the eleven-mile ride is rural Wake County, but not for long. It might be advisable to enjoy the trip while deer sightings are still likely and the tire debris is infrequent -- the traffic is already picking up.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kyoto? Try a little further west

Ah, spring in Shanghai.

Joseph Coletti at the John Locke Foundation posted a comment on the Locker Room today about a new way the U.S. can "participate" in the Kyoto accords -- by voluntarily doing whatever it takes to make our air better than it was fifteen years ago.

Before we go torpedo our economy, though, let's take another look at countries whose air quality is not subject to the Kyoto agreement -- like Japan's very large neighbor just to the west.