July 27, 2014

  • A New Age of Strife: The return of the Nation-State

    Having spent some recent days reading about the movements of hearts and minds that resulted in the Great War, it seems reasonable to reflect on the stirrings that we see around us today, from ISIS, to Palestine/Israel/Gaza, and issues with Ukraine, as well as Kurdish peoples… Heck, to a large extent Africa as well.

    In very broad strokes, I think we’re reaching a thawing of the quasi stability that came to be after the great wars between the european powers in WWI and II, the establishment of relative pre-eminence of the USSR and USA, and the number of proxy wars and detentes that came to be between them.

    As should be common knowledge, a great number of “treaty countries” came to exist after other nations that had occupied or colonized the area stepped back, and created new amalgams ex fiat. Czechoslovakia, Nigeria are two prominent examples, but the division of kurdish lands and peoples amongst several other geographic regions certainly can be traced back to treaties signed by nations without intimate knowledge or interest in the wellfare of those so consigned.

    As these influences fade, and the interests, power and attentions of declining powers move from these spheres, is it any surprise that peoples might begin to foment for more autonomy and self-definition? That’s what much of the conflict I see in this current crop of conflicts, a desire to return to a nation-state build of ethnics and or religion.

    The age of amalgamated peoples crested, I think with amalgam identities such as the US, Brasil, USSR, Canada… but there are many smaller groups of identities that are re-asserting those identities, above that of government.

    It’s a concept relatively foreign to the US, but one that is all to common around the world.

    Further, in the past, conflict normally continued until subjugation or annihilation, but in the “modern world”, intervening interests can “freeze” conflicts, leaving laundry for the next government or leadership change.

    As the chilling/stabilizing influences of a bipolar conflict have ended, multipolar interests now dominate…

    I think the nation-state is back…

    And that will be the theme of this next century.

June 3, 2014

  • And then I read…

    Hotness re-invented.

    A friend of mine sent me a link to this blog post, written in January of this year:

    http://banei.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/hotness-reinvented/

    I’ll leave it to the reader to peruse its contents, but I will state simply that it is the perspective of a Christian woman on why Christian men often prefer physically beautiful women, and what a Christian woman’s response to this might be.

    For a number of years I’ve been keeping the idea of a book in my head for “Confessions of A Christian Romantic” – a book that centers on the collision between idealism/romanticism and the belief in a loving, just, omnipotent and omniscient God that has a personal plan for your life and the implications for life and love.

    Particularly in the modern world of the ubiquitous internet, dating and marriage has become a much different affair than what those but a generation ago knew.

    But that will be a book written at such a time that I can write on this topic with someone who can inform the discussion from the other side of the gender divide. :)

    But for Banei’s post, here goes:

    Predication:
    1) We are all sinners; despite all our most lofty intentions and desires, our hearts are base and motivations admixed with darker things beneath the surface.
    2) All that is good within us is ultimately redeemed, not the product of original “goodness.”
    3) We are works in progress, lives colliding with other works in progress.

    “Why are Christian guys looking for hot girls rather than godly women of character?”

    This is an age old question, certainly present from 2000 bc and hence. The more generalized form is: “Why do guys look for hot girls rather than women of good character?”

    In fact, the very phrasing, dropping further adjectives would be: “Why do guys look for girls rather than women?”

    The very choice of nouns reflects a great deal of nuance – why do men look for young pretty things, rather than mature, insightful _women_?

    This cannot be answered today in any definite way (after all, like all questions worth pondering, ready answers elude), but I think a little insight can be shed.

    From a biological perspective:
    Men look for outward signs of reproductive health – animals do it too. Symmetry, colour, muscularity, proportionality all imply health which implies fecundity. This data is reasonably consistent. We’re hardwired to enjoy beauty. Women too – in women and in men. Babies recognize beauty but days out of the womb. Physical beauty is the easiest thing to perceive in another person, and the first/quickest thing to find attractive.

    Now this next perspective is not as well studied, but I think it follows logically.

    The next thing that’s the easiest for a man to assess is charm. Charm is interesting, because, at least in the English, it can imply two different facets of attractiveness. Charm requires some combination of perceptiveness and intelligence, and is manifest in conversation (requiring the ability to perceive the desires and thoughts of the other, as to be able to later manipulate/influence) dress (implying either resources to dress well, or the cognitive ability to dress/select well.) Strangely, I personally read a lot into makeup – it suggests (only suggests~!) a great deal about the person, what style of makeup (revealing aesthetic moorings, and potential group-identity/affiliations), as well as the dexterity and artistic inclinations of said person, or at least their makeup artists. :) In a similar vein, musical ability is normally considered attractive by both genders – and I think it is because it communicates a combination of the same things that charm communicates.

    And yet:

    “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (PRV 31:30)

    The deeper truth here, for those that would desire to be wise, is that God looks beyond our “genetic potential” and to our hearts. Recall:

    “6 So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

    7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.””

    Samuel 16:6-7.

    Samuel, like any of us men (and many women!) would love to pick a tall, good looking, strong man to be a leader or at least an ally. But God sees inside. A quick glance at the heights of prior presidents of the US reveals that they have nearly uniformly been of a significant height greater than mean, with several exceptions. We naturally prefer tall, stout men as leaders… but not God.

    In the end, in verse 12-13, Samuel annoints a ruddy, bright eyed, good looking David to be the next king… So, a secondary point here is that God doesn’t judge by beauty – but neither does he condemn it. It is the heart that matters most.

    As an aside:

    Deuteronomy 17:14-20

    The King

    16The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

    18When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

    This is a beautiful example of how God prescribed what nobility ought to be like: not too rich, not too materially blessed. He is to fear God and to not consider himself better than his fellows – he must obey the Law.

    How different this is from what we tend towards as people?
    We allow our heroes and great people to get away with all sorts of misdemeanors and selfish behaviour. We, as a people, have a tendency to idolize – and we erect heroes in sports, entertainment, beauty and power, allowing them to flout rules and mores. This is not to their advantage nor ours – not in the lens of eternity.

    So – if charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting (and really, so much is said nonjudgmentally in that phrase), then what normally follows?

    Depends on the man:
    1) A man who simply (foolishly) loves beauty will be ensorcelled by beauty and that’s the end of it. Does any wise woman want to be loved by such a simpleton?

    2) A man who simply (foolishly) loves charm (and/or intelligence/artistry) may be ensorcelled by these and that’s the end of it. See above for my comments. :)

    3) A man who desires a woman of character, be he religious or not, will look for these things beneath the veneer of beauty and charm… Though this may take time, and he may be distracted by women who possess the former two in spades, but little of character. At some point, some such men may decide that they cannot trust beauty and charm and actively eschew those qualities.

    4) Of course what man, whatever creed or code, would not prefer a woman that possesses beauty and charm and character (when alloyed with mercy and love)?

    Indeed, some may not wish so scrupulous a character as it may thwart their own dark ambitions. On the other hand, character alloyed with unconditional love seems desirable in any situation… making me wonder is truly unconditional (truly blind) love objectively, immutably good.

    On the other hand, what do women want (in this context)?

    To be loved (sometimes worshiped?)
    To have a man who is: “respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”
    Is good looking, hardworking, and charming undesirable?

    Song of Solomon 1:16
    “How handsome you are, my beloved!
    Oh, how charming!
    And our bed is verdant.”
    2:3-13
    “3 Like an apple[c] tree among the trees of the forest
    is my beloved among the young men.
    I delight to sit in his shade,
    and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
    4 Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love.
    5 Strengthen me with raisins,
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am faint with love.
    6 His left arm is under my head,
    and his right arm embraces me.
    7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
    by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
    Do not arouse or awaken love
    until it so desires.
    8 Listen! My beloved!
    Look! Here he comes,
    leaping across the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
    9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
    Look! There he stands behind our wall,
    gazing through the windows,
    peering through the lattice.
    10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
    “Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
    11 See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
    12 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
    the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
    13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
    Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

    Within this passage she extols his virtue in contrast to the other young men who are but trees – he is an apple tree, providing food and sweetness. He protects, giving shade – he delights with his fruit, which is sweet to her tastes. He provides via fruits and foods in the banqueting hall – he loves and comforts, providing an arm for her to rest her head, and holding her with his right arm.

    He is gallant, bounding over the mountains, strong and fast like a young stag. He is eager to see her, gazing through windows and lattice – he brings adventure, declaring that the winter is past – and it is time to explore the world anew “arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.”

    This picture of the lover may or may not be literally true, but it communicates a wealth about a lover ought feel – strong, gallant, loving, and leading somewhere. I think it rare that a woman would reject a man who can give her the sense of all of those things?

    ——-

    And admixed with all of this is entertainments ability to magnify (and many a times, distort) all these attributes and create new icons of that which we desire. And so, men and women find themselves wondering after icons that are synthetic simulacra of bits and pieces of what we find desirable, which alas, exist perhaps only very rarely if at all.

    Men look for persons that exist rarely if at all. And sometimes women do the same…

    “Why are Christian guys looking for hot girls rather than godly women of character?”

    Some do look for hot rather than look for character. But some look for more. Some look for too much, and some look for too little (character).

    The guys you gals should want, should be made of the same stuff you’re trying to be – full of grace, inner beauty and Christ. Don’t be distracted by the icing. It’s not good for either gender. :)

    As to the rest of Banei’s post:

    Thanks for providing such a great counterpoint. Inner beauty must indeed be predicated on inner-vision. Without seeing the debris/detritus and hypocrisy in our own lives, it is so very hard to objectively and compassionately enter into the lives of others.

    As a final thought, a recent conversation made me pay fresh attention to:

    Prv 31:15, 21, 27,
    15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
    21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
    27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

    One of the characteristics of the woman in PRV 31 that is easily missed in the US is her concern for her servants. This is not a woman who bosses around her staff imperiously – her servants are well provided for, well fed, and well clothed. She is not idle, and whatever her mettle, she does not settle to lunch while her workers toil.

May 17, 2014

  • What is Music?

    A friend of mine -
    In fact, my sister-in-law, once wrote a piece titled what I’ve written above. I won’t try to re-capitulate what she’d written, nor will I write something that even pretends to complete. But here, as I listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? Jacky Cheung’s many many pieces, a smattering of Bread, and a bit of Jim Croce… I can’t help but remember that Music, at its heart, is a language for the soul. Passing from eons past to eons yet to come, there is something sublime and transcendent in the tones that speak in math and in spirit.

    440 hz. And segment and multiply.

    Harmonically constructive, destructive.

    It builds and speaks to the soul. (Though obviously, it can destroy)

    How can I live without the muse that music is? How can I live the music, without a muse within?

    What is Music?

    It’s a mirror for my soul.

April 24, 2014

  • Truth

    “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.”

    Revelation 14:3-5

    This period in my life, I’ve come to realize the slippery slope of deceit. Little bends beget bigger bending, and omissions lead to commissions. Integrity is a virtue that must be guarded. A love of truth must be… vigorously held to. These are the standards of living, and I fall short.

    I can only beg for help and hope from my redeemer.

    My sin is ever before me.

    Cleanse me with Hyssop.

    Let me be white as snow.

    Amen.

December 6, 2013

  • Pinyin and Simplified Characters: Raison d’etre?

    One of the primary motivations for promulgating the adoption of simplified characters was the high rates of illiteracy in pre-modern China. Learning complex stroke order and forms for the 1-2000 characters used in common language was very challenging and time consuming. Passive and active command of ideograms is no mean feat, and requires much repetition in order to gain mastery of the common characters – never mind the other 104000 listed in the 2004 yitizi zidian (異體字字典).

    Several prior simplifications have occurred, and indeed, this is a theme in the evolution of a languages. Typically, while the actual numbers of words increases, the syntax and grammar simplify over time. The debate surrounding simplification of Mandarin during the latter portions of the Qing raged as one might typically expect – simplification in a language like chinese, with the meaning and art of a character at risk, is an emotional subject for many. The goal however, is wider spread adoption of the language of discourse and access to writing.

    The communist regime actually considered complete elimination of the Han script and adoption of Pinyin as a the sole language, thus implementing what had already happened with Vietnamese, and, to a certain extent with Japanese/Korean with their syllabaries. However, given the intense tonality of the language, and the number of homonyms, reading pinyin only Chinese was rife with unclear meanings.

    Another problem with the pinyin only model was that the sound for a character differed regionally. Definitely with regional patois such as Cantonese/Shanghainese/Minan etc… but also with regards to local pronunciations of words as well. Thus, a pinyin system would remove the very unusual feature of chinese writing that allowed people that are vocally incomprehensible to be understood through writing alone.

    So, Pinyin currently exists as a pronunciation system for standard Mandarin only.

    Fast forward 60 years, skipping over early chinese typewriters, we come to the problem of how to take keystroke inputs and translating them into images. The major input methods are pinyin based and Changjie based. The latter utilizes the form of the character, using the keystrokes to tell the computer what character it is by pieces of it’s form. Pinyin based utilizes the mandarin pronunciation, using familiar roman keys.

    The situation is now completely different. With input systems becoming the norm, writing is used less and less. Input via either pinyin or Changjie doesn’t actually require precise knowledge of a character’s stroke order or form – it requires a rough knowledge in both cases. Both systems will bring up characters that match the inputted keys, and give an array of options, thus rendering “writing” a near passive-knowledge experience.

    If you can recognize the character, it’s enough…

    So to me, the development of Chinese input methods has essentially obviated the need for simplified characters. With a pinyin/recognition system, you’re not writing each stroke anyway, right? Changjie as well…

    So, with smartphones in ever increasing numbers of hands… and more word processing, why not bring back the more beautiful traditional script paired with modern input methods?

  • Winter Again

    Crisp,
    The snow alights upon dark branches,
    The trees proffer their limbs in whispering supplication
    To the winter sun scattering light in the paper sky

    The air is fresher,
    The sounds somehow clearer
    And the colours so much starker
    Today.
    12.06.2013

May 2, 2013

  • Link:

    China’s Future

    Last article for the day:
    The Economist typically is very dismissive of the Chinese perception that it was slighted and mistreated in the 19th century. If there is one lesson that is clear from that period, a strong GDP doesn’t make for safety. It is estimated that China made up roughly 1/3rd of the World GDP at that time, and all that industry didn’t matter in the face of colonialist forces intent on sacking Chinese wealth and markets.

    Rightly or wrongly, it is no surprise that in the intelligentsia, very cognizant of the forces that brought China low in the past, are very loathe to repeat the mistakes that occurred in the past. It is always fascinating to see the irony.

    In the decline of Rome, the de-emphasis of the military was a major factor in its fall to the Goths (as a group). Chinese dynastic decline was often accompanied by centuries of infighting and fragmented military control. From Babylonians to Incas, military strength is a huge indicator… that said, chickens or eggs? Economics/demography/culture/military? Causal relationships are difficult to truly know.

    Hong Kong was taken by the British because the Chinese fought against the forced import of opium into the mainland. They fought, lost and were forced to cede Hong Kong. These sorts of actions teach that the west defines right by force of arms. Yes, Hong Kong was lost in a fight with drug dealer, effectively. Granted, as you read the annals of the British Empire, it’s quite clear that the complexity, heterogeneity, and chaos of ruling the empire made cogent and consistent decision making impossible (cf. The Ghosts of Empire, Kwarteng, PublicAffairs Press). So to blame the British as a whole makes no sense, but certainly the policy of the leadership.

    This perception of victimhood and need for security is important to understand. Is it an overreaction? Possibly. But would such a people believe the soothing words of those that had invaded before?

    The memories of the conquerors is oft short.

    The memories of the oppressed oft far less forgiving, vis a vis the variance of China’s perception of policy and history with Vietnam, vs. the perceptions/memories of the Vietnamese [recall the slogan, `1000 years of Chinese Rule', frequently noted in Vietnam, but rarely mentioned in Chinese articulation;http://www.mongabay.com/reference/country_studies/vietnam/HISTORY.html]

    These are lessons that relative new-comer, the US, ought to remember, as GDPs are not simply equal to power or stability.

     

April 23, 2013

  • Vows

    I’ve thought often about what kind of vows I consider taking should I ever have the privilege of marrying someone.  

    Without going to far into my own thoughts on what I would say, I offer these as a good set of vows.  They are clearly Christian, and they are deeply rooted in the text and context in which we understand Ephesians 5.  Before anyone takes offense about misogyny or chauvinism, I submit to you that having a husband who leads by sacrificing isn’t 重男轻女。。。The challenge to any couple making vows like those below is realizing that they are both unattainable as broken humans, but that they can remain a sign post or a pole with which to organize one’s marriage and responses to the stress and challenges that are implicit in the journey of marriage.

    Mull.  I’ll respond to these more personally in a later post by this weekend.

    Yes, it’s been a long time.

    Thanks CY and TC, EN and MN!

     

    Bride-

     

    I vow to you before friends, family, and God these things, which apart from the grace of God, I cannot fulfill because of my present weaknesses and continued sinfulness.

     

    As the church loves Christ sacrificially

    so I vow to give up all things to love you apart from Christ

    As the church loves Christ supremely above all else

    so I vow to always delight only in you apart from Christ

    As the church loves Christ eternally

    so I vow to love you until my dying day

    As the church cherishes Christ

    so I vow to regard you as my greatest treasure next to Christ

    As the church submits to Christ

    so I vow to submit to you

    As the church represents Christ

    so I vow to represent you with all dignity and honor

    As the church obeys Christ

    so I vow to respectfully obey you

    As the church serves Christ

    so I vow to serve you with all humility and patience

    And just as the church

    Will forever remain the bride of Christ

     

    So I vow to never depart from or abandon you,

    For richer or for poorer

    In sickness and in health

    For better or for worse

    Until death do us part

     

    By my love, I hope to prepare you

    For the Lord Jesus Christ, whose love

    I can only hope to faintly imitate.

     

    Groom

     

    I vow to you before friends, family, and God these things, which apart from the grace of God, I cannot fulfill because of my present weaknesses and continued sinfulness.

     

    As Christ loves His church sacrificially

    so I vow to sacrifice all for your sake apart from Christ

    As Christ loves His church supremely

    so I vow to forever delight in only you apart from Christ

    As Christ loves His church eternally

    so I vow to love you until my dying day

    As Christ provides for His church

    so I vow to provide for you

    As Christ sanctifies His church

    so I vow to lead you in holiness

    As Christ cherishes His church

    so I vow to make you my greatest treasure next to Christ

    As Christ leads His church

    so I vow to lead you in accordance to the holy commandments

    of our God and King

    As Christ serves His church

    so I vow to serve you with all humility and patience

    And just as Christ has promised

    Never to leave or forsake His church

     

    So I vow to never depart from or abandon you,

    For richer or for poorer

    In sickness and in health

    For better or for worse

    Until death do us part

     

    By my love, I hope to prepare you

    For the One whose love

    I can only but hope to faintly imitate.

December 11, 2012

  • Taxing the Rich

    It’s very interesting to me that the debate in congress and with the Oval Office centers on taxing the rich.  For disclosure, I will have my taxes increase under the proposed changes, so read this with a grain of salt.

    The discussion on taxing the rich is actually quite a sad misdirection in that the concept that made so many upset with Romney was his effective tax rate in the teens.  The present changes do nothing to affect his tax rate, nor most of the 0.1% and up, because the majority of their wealth is from capital gains rather than in wages.  Small business owners are in this category as well – their business earnings will be taxed as personal income tax at the highest rate should they exceed 200K/250K depending on marital status.

    Net effect?

    Working professionals are taxed more, truly wealthy are largely unaffected.  This has 0 effect on a trust fund kid or an heiress, as they have no wages.  Many Congressmen and Senators become wealthy from investment as well, taxed at capital gains rates… and many finance firms earn their money from capital gains rates as well – although some of these Bush era changes are going to expire as well.  If the top tax bracket tax does go up, it just widens the gap between the truly wealthy and the rest of us.  

    If the government really wanted to narrow the GINI, this isn’t the way to do it – the towering piles of capital exist in the leadership of both liberals and conservatives – I find it humourous that these tax changes will not disproportionately affect them.

October 7, 2012

  • Growth at all Costs…

    One of the things I think is very interesting about economic perspectives on current growth rates.  There seems to be an assumption that growth should occur indefinitely and at high rates.  A recent article in the economist talks about why Canada should increase consumption to boost economic growth. 

    I’m not sure GDP growth should be looked at as some sort of arbitrary target.  Borrowing to drive growth cannot be a long term solution; repayment of the debts used to drive growth eventually curtail growth… you borrow now, but will pay later…  this isn’t rocket science.  The pursuit of stable growth rates isn’t a science – and macroeconomic, regional and global forces affect it.  To believe that one nation can control its growth rate indefinitely is poppy-cock.

    The sooner our economies adjust to the reality of debt and overspending, the better.  Better pain now than later – because the uncertainty of colossal debt (yes, we could default – but that results in economic upheaval – vis a vis Argentina or even pre-Reich Germany.  Government/societal default does not normally presage good times.

    F