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December 15, 2014

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

The Gospel in Puerto Rico

Known as “the island of enchantment” (isla del encanto), Puerto Rico lives up to its name. An archipelago roughly the size of Connecticut, it contains a beautiful variety of ecosystems and, as tourists know, maintains an inviting tropical average of 80° Fahrenheit (27° C) year-round. It was home to the indigenous Taíno people before Christopher Columbus arrived during his second voyage in 1493. It remained under Spanish rule for more than four centuries until Spain ceded it to the United States after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Puerto Rico is a bicultural nation, straddling the Latino and American worlds in a number of ways. Since 1917 Puerto Ricans have been granted U.S. citizenship, and in 2012 54 percent voted for a nonbinding referendum in favor of seeking statehood. Spanish and English are official languages, making Puerto Rico one of the few bilingual countries in the world. It's common in parts of the country to hear “Spanglish,” a mixture of conversation in Spanish sprinkled with idioms in English. For example, “Compramelo por favor que esta on sale!” (Please buy it for me 'cause it's on sale.) In many ways Puerto Rico is a melting pot of influences, drawing from its heritage as a Spanish colony, its checkered history with slavery, and its privileged status as an American territory.

Continuing our series on the state of the evangelical church in Latin America, I corresponded with Gadiel Ríos, pastor of La Iglesia del Centro in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. In this interview we hear about the Puerto Rican church, the blessings and challenges of ministry there, how Puerto Rican evangelicals can encourage believers in the states, and more.

Below is a translated and slightly edited version from the original interview in Spanish.

How would you describe the state of the church in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is completely Christianized. Today we have churches on every corner, various Christian radio and television stations, institutes, and seminaries. However, in recent years the false teachings of the “word of faith” movement and prosperity theology have dominated the island in such a way that they now comprise the standard theology of most evangelicals. All this has produced a spiritually weak church that is materialistic and has a poor evangelistic and missionary vision.

In 1910, 100 percent of the Puerto Rican population identified itself as Roman Catholic; today that number has gone down to 56 percent. Of the 33 percent who identify as Protestants, the majority (65 percent) identify or belong to the Pentecostal church. What has been the effect of Pentecostalism on the island and on the evangelical church?

The classic Pentecostalism that came in 1916 evangelized the country in less than two decades. Christians in both mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches were attracted by the fiery and powerful message, the unprecedented spiritual manifestations, and the zeal of its members. The disadvantage of this movement was its poor theological depth and high propensity toward legalism. Still, the greatest contribution of the Puerto Rican Pentecostalism was the sending of missionaries to Latin America and beyond.

What most encourages you about the evangelical church in your country?

Our island is mired in an unprecedented economic crisis. This has led to a surge in violence, corruption, and general unease among the population. Because of our socio-political circumstances, families are migrating to the United States in large numbers. How can this encourage me today? After 30 years of saturation in prosperity theology and “word of faith” teaching, we finally have the right setting and the attention of Christians to teach the basic tenets of the faith. If something motivates me today it is how many brothers truly hunger for sound teaching.

What is the biggest challenge facing the evangelical church in Puerto Rico?

The main challenge we have in Puerto Rico is the need to re-evangelize evangelicals. The last two or three generations have not known sound doctrine, and as a result their Christian practice has been impoverished. We need to again teach the Word of God in expository fashion, reintroduce the beauty of evangelical doctrine to a new generation, and align the practice of our congregations to the biblical model, especially when it comes to family worship within the home.

How can the evangelical church in Puerto Rico encourage the evangelical church in the United States?

The church in Puerto Rico has a special advantage; therefore I firmly believe that it also has a special commission. Our particular geopolitical condition makes us American citizens by birth; our education allows us to be largely bilingual; but our culture and experience makes us 100 percent Latino at the same time. With the growing Latino population in the United States in the coming decades, Puerto Ricans are strategically located to be a "factory" of pastors and ministers of sound doctrine for Spanish-speaking congregations that already are urgently needed nationwide.

Not only are you a local church pastor, but you have also begun a ministry named ReformaDos with the mission to “restore the preaching and teaching of the Word of God and of the gospel of Christ to its place of preeminence in the pulpits of each local church.” Would you share more about this ministry?

Our parachurch organization exists primarily to help develop pastors through workshops and seminars—and this almost entirely free. We have organized various conferences, having expositors from such ministries as 9Marks and Ligonier, as well as literature in Spanish provided by the TGC Spanish site (Coalición por el Evangelio) and Logos. This coming year we hope to have our first national conference in Puerto Rico, and we hope to establish a school for pastors to help prepare potential church planters.

How can we pray for the work of God in Puerto Rico?

Pray for a new generation of pastors and leaders who embrace sound doctrine and sound practice in their ministries. Pray for God's provision to continue exposing the local church to good resources as well as a genuine return to the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, fasting, and service. Pray for the restoration of the Christian family, especially for men to heed the call of servant-leaders at home, within the church, and the larger community. In short, pray for revival! I firmly believe that we have a “mustard seed” among us. Pray that God will give growth and fruit to this labor.

Recent article(s) in the The Gospel in Latin America series:

Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition National Conference returns next year to Orlando, Florida, from April 12 to 15. We're delighted to partner with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a special pre-conference for Spanish speakers on April 12 and 13. TGC Council members Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez, Don Carson, and Albert Mohler will deliver keynote addresses, while Tim Keller, Juan Sánchez, and Felix Cabrera will join them on panels about gospel partnerships, church planting, and evangelism methods in the 21st century. Spanish speakers who stay for the full National Conference receive a 30 percent discount on the subsequent event, which features workshops and simultaneous Spanish translation.

by Ivan Mesa at December 15, 2014 06:01 AM

TGC Staff Cite Best Books from 2014

The fact that hundreds of thousands of books are published annually didn’t keep us from intrepidly citing our favorites in 201020112012, or 2013. Year-end lists are fun—and hopefully beneficial, too—so let’s continue the tradition. Some TGC staff members have identified several books (potential Christmas gifts!), all published in 2014, which we found to be particularly edifying or enjoyable. Our comments briefly explain why we appreciated them and how they might benefit you.

After reading our list, we invite you to join the merriment and share your own favorite books published in 2014.

Collin Hansen, Editorial Director

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, Philip Jenkins (HarperOne). Last August we marked a somber anniversary, 100 years from the beginning of the war that would supposedly end all wars but actually unleashed still more unthinkable carnage around the world. Secularizing Europe isn’t keen on recalling the religious elements of this war. But we must, lest we repeat these evils because we have forgotten: “Not in medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the world’s Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than 10 million lives.” [Interview]

America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, Grant Wacker (Harvard). Billy Graham has not yet passed into God’s presence, but he has largely passed on his role as evangelical leader. Even so, the world he created through unprecedented global evangelism is the one we still inhabit, for better or worse. Graham is quick to thank God for his influence and quick to take responsibility for his sins and mistakes. Therefore we can learn much from his humility and also from his errors, thanks to excellent historians such as Wacker, who set this titanic figure in his American context. [Review]

Kathleen Nielson, Director of Women’s Initiatives

Lila: A Novel, Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Robinson stands out as a key contemporary American novelist, and her characters grapple live with the most basic truths of the Christian faith. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 with its piercing, poignant story of the elderly Rev. John Ames; Home (2008) developed one strand of that story; and Lila now develops another: the backstory of Ames’s young second wife. It’s a potent juxtaposition of hurt and healing. Robinson can take imagery from Ezekiel, weave in theological assertions from Calvin, and make it all come alive in this haunting, disturbing, and well-worth-reading novel. [Review]

Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today, David Helm (Crossway/9Marks). As a member of The Charles Simeon Trust board of directors (chaired by Helm), I’m not totally objective. But it is a joy to see this work as the fruit of years of practice and instruction, both at Simeon Trust and Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, where Dave serves as a lead pastor. This book addresses the subject of biblical exposition with exceptional clarity. It’s written for preachers, but any student and teacher of Scripture will benefit from this excellent setting forth of the principles and process of speaking God’s Word today. [Review]

Andy Naselli, Administrator of Themelios 

The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Gordon Fee (Eerdmans). I don’t agree with all of Fee’s exegetical conclusions, but his scholarship is solid and his arguments clear. I plan to use this as my main textbook for a graduate course I’m teaching on 1 Corinthians in the first half of 2015.

Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook, Rodney Decker (Baker). My dear friend Rod Decker went to be with the Lord in May at age 61, but in spite of his terminal cancer God enabled him to complete two major projects that publishers released in November: (1) a two-volume handbook on the Greek text of the Gospel of Mark, and (2) this comprehensive 672-page introduction to the Greek of the New Testament. His linguistically informed Greek grammar is his magnum opus, the fruit of decades of classroom instruction.

Jeff Robinson, Associate Editor

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, Thomas Kidd (Yale). Kidd paints a lively picture of a lively man who was the leading figure of the First Great Awakening in both England and in the American colonies. It is an impeccably researched volume, both sympathetic and graciously critical of Whitefield, a clear example of how Christian history should be written to both enlighten and edify. Kidd is one of the church’s best young historians. [Review]

Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, Tim Townsend (HarperCollins). Lutheran pastor Henry Gerecke was tasked with the unthinkable: defending at the Nuremberg war tribunal the Nazi criminals who planned and carried out some of the most evil crimes in human history. Gerecke was a faithful minister who believed the grace of God could make the vilest sinner clean. But what about the Nazi war criminals? Could there be grace for them? What sort of compassion would it take to proclaim the gospel to them as they awaited execution for their wickedness? His new “congregation” contained names that, nearly 70 years later, need no introduction: Goering, Speer, Ribbentrop. Gerecke was forced to wrestle with the intersection of sin and grace on perhaps the sharpest cutting edge since Calvary. 

Bethany Jenkins, Director of Every Square Inch 

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford). In recent weeks we have collectively lamented injustice in America. Yet our longing for something better is hardly unique. Most of our global neighbors have become accustomed to seeing those tasked with carrying out justice being the same ones most guilty of perpetrating injustice—prosecutors seeking selective charges, judges taking bribes, police officers looking the other way. Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, and Victor Boutros, federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, argue that until we end “the common, everyday, predatory violence” that thrives among the global poor, even our best economic and humanitarian efforts to alleviate poverty will come to naught. Who will invest in property through micro-finance programs, for example, if private property rights are violated with impunity? Who will send their daughter to school, no matter how much they believe in The Girl Effect, when school is the number one place where young girls are raped? [Review]

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd (Viking Adult). Set in early 19th-century Charleston, South Carolina, The Invention of Wings has two alternating narrators with two entirely different voices—Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, and Hetty “Handful” Grimke, Sarah’s handmaid slave. When Sarah is given ownership of Handful on her 11th birthday, Sarah first tries to refuse, but her efforts are rejected based on cultural limitations imposed on her as a white woman. The novel covers 35 years of a complex friendship between Sarah and Handful as they increasingly come to see—really see—one another, recognizing their expected roles in society and their personal commitments to defiance of those roles. This masterfully written story includes suspense, enlightenment, grace, redemption, and hope.

Joe Carter, Editor

400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman, Adam Plantinga (Quill Driver). One of my favorite things to read about is what I’d call “vocational epistemology”—stuff people know because of the jobs they do. A superb example is this new book by a veteran police officer (and nephew of Reformed epistemologist Alvin Plantinga). The knowledge Plantinga shares ranges from the “TV gets it wrong” variety (“You are required to read someone their Miranda rights after they are in police custody and you have begun interrogating them about an offense”) to examples of how the criminal justice system really works (for example, because it’s so difficult to convict, many district attorneys won’t bother to charge a stolen car case without a confession). (Caution: Plantinga isn’t overly graphic, but the book contains profanity and uncensored descriptions of criminal activity, such as prostitution.)

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson (Riverhead). In his latest book Johnson reveals, in prose that amuses and amazes, how innovations often lead to other innovations. (For example, Gutenberg’s printing press created a surge in demand for spectacles since the new practice of reading made people realize they were farsighted. And eyeglasses were the first invention since clothing that ordinary people would wear on their bodies.) Johnson has an uncanny ability to combine cultural criticism and science journalism in ways that makes you appreciate the glory of God’s creation. If you love the history of ideas, this book is a must-read. 

Gavin Ortlund, Editor

Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California’s Culture, ed. Jason Sexton and Fred Sanders (Ashgate). As someone interested in both theology and California, I find this book fascinating. People associate California with many things, not usually theology! But we need to think theologically in order to fully account for the many contradictions of Californian culture, the beauty and brokenness that combine to characterize this place in God’s world. Approaching California through a theological lens stirs up prayers for God’s kingdom to advance here.

Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, Dane Ortlund (Crossway). My brother Dane’s book on Jonathan Edwards is readable enough to be a great entry point for those who don’t already know the 18th-century pastor-theologian, while also rich enough to be interesting and enlightening for those who already love him. The book explores what Edwards can teach us about the Christian life today, interpreting beauty as the organizing key to his thought. This book will be a great resource for those who want to learn about Edwards, as well as to those who simply want to grow in their understanding of what Christianity practically looks and feels like on a day-to-day basis. Highly recommended. [Review]

Brian Tabb, Managing Editor of Themelios 

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Richard Hays (Baylor). Hays’s simple yet profound thesis is that we learn to read the Old Testament by reading backward from the Gospels, and likewise we learn to read the Gospels by reading forward from the Old Testament. This book challenges and inspires us to see afresh the centrality of Jesus in the biblical story.

Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, Christopher Ash (Crossway). Ash offers a warm, honest, accessible, theologically rich, and pastorally sensitive reading of one of the most challenging books of the Bible. He shows readers to see how vitally relevant and important Job is for understanding the innocent, redemptive suffering of Christ and the painful, mystifying trials through which God leads believers in this life.

Matt Smethurst, Associate Editor

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Tim Keller (Dutton Adult). [20 QuotesReview | Interview] A vibrant prayer life is often grueling and rarely convenient. It’s hard-won. And it’s absolutely worth it. In his latest book, Keller distills decades of experience and biblical wisdom into a theologically informed, practically shaped guide for life on our knees. Blending sociological, theological, devotional, and methodological insights, the TGC co-founder has produced a gift for anyone desiring to “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4), petition him with humble boldness, and watch him respond with infinitely wise love.

Michael Jordan: The Life, Roland Lazenby (Little, Brown, and Company). The most definitive MJ biography to date, Lazenby’s 700-page masterpiece reveals stories and insights even long-time fans have never heard. I reflected last year on the superstar’s life and legacy, noting the tragic union of professional greatness with profound emptiness. Lazenby’s book fills out that sobering paradox in far greater detail. May God interrupt my childhood hero’s life with grace.

by Matt Smethurst at December 15, 2014 06:01 AM

Christmas Traditions: For Progress and Joy in the Faith

"What are some of your family Christmas traditions?" our young friend recently asked us over dinner—not an uncommon question this time of year. Christmas, more than any other holiday, seems to draw up deep longings. We revere the ancient story, eternal in its significance and surrounded by mystery. We yearn for the season to be filled with meaning, a meaning we can embrace and pass on to others. So we look for special ways to celebrate Christmas, to make it our own.

I was a mess our first Christmas alone. I had my Ray, but we had always traveled to celebrate with family. This Christmas our first baby was due. We were housebound. We had no tree, no decorations, and nothing to sell as Jim and Della Dillingham did (in O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi) to help finance my Christmas expectations.

But it was Christmas, after all, and Christmas is about Jesus. Surely Christmas should be one of the happiest and faith-filled days of the year. So we began building our own traditions, built around the anticipation and wonder of God with us. We decided that the most important thing was that we had him and each other. That was all that truly mattered.

The apostle Paul helps clarify why spending time together is so valuable: “I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:25). That has been our goal in building traditions with our family through the years—progress and joy in the faith. What helps us see and follow Jesus more clearly? What gives great joy to him and gives us more joy in him? 

Decorations, Stories, and Meal Times Together

Christmas in the Ortlund house begins the day after Thanksgiving, with turkey soup simmering on the stove and carols filling the house. Soon evergreens and nativity sets replace the pumpkins and cornucopias. Our huge handmade felt Advent calendar is hung on the wall to begin the countdown. Decorations are pulled out of drawers and closets. We smile when we unwrap the old ornaments from that first Christmas alone—cookie cutters we still use 40 years later with colorful ribbon glued around their silhouettes. On the day before Christmas that hard first year away from family, Ray convinced the corner tree lot salesman to sell us a scraggly tree at a price we could afford. Although we had no lights, the gingham bows and handmade decorations made it memorable. Traditions, like faith, can start small and grow in beauty and meaning through the years.

Traditions in our home include lots of Christmas music and storytelling from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. When our children were small, we used our Advent wreath or a picture Bible during family worship for their “progress and joy in the faith.” And we had many other Christmas books to read during story time. Why not invest in a new book each year, books that tell this 2,000-year-old story in faithful ways but also show the newness each Christmas brings? Build a small library of beautiful books used just at Christmas and discover the joy of sharing them around the dinner table or fireplace.

If you are just beginning to develop your own traditions, decide on some foods you will prepare only at Christmas. Maybe there are foods you grew up eating. If not, choose something you love! Our favorites are five special types of cookies my mother made year to year. And we always have a Swedish smorgasbord on Christmas Eve, in honor of Ray’s ethnic heritage, complete with fruit soup and rice pudding (but we draw the line at lutefisk—sorry, Dad). The traditional food is shared with words about the faith passed down in Ray’s family, and the faith that blossomed in mine as my parents grew to understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Importance of Generosity

After church on Christmas Eve and a late-night viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life or Scrooge along with Christmas cookies to enjoy, we would tuck the kids into bed, and Ray and I would bring down the gifts. On Christmas morning we lined up on the stairs, youngest to oldest, with me bringing up the tail. Ray would tell us to gently cover the eyes of the one in front of us, and he would lead us down the stairs to the tree where on the count of three, four excited children would jump and squeal with the wonder of overflowing bounty. Then we would open our stockings, share breakfast, and spend the day slowly opening our gifts and playing with them. 

Year by year we tried to teach our children that giving gifts was God’s idea. The joy of generosity for both the giver and receiver originates in heaven. We give because God gives. We never want to take lightly the cost of Christmas to God the Father or his Son, Jesus Christ, who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Each Christmas Ray and I ask ourselves, Who can become "rich" through what the Lord has given us? How can we give so that others experience "progress and joy in the faith"? And then we give until we laugh for the joy of it all. Sometimes the gifts come out of our savings, other times our budget gets shaved in creative ways. Bibles for overseas students, food for hungry families here and abroad, bills paid for someone in need, ministries that need special help at this time of year—Christmas is for giving! One Christmas when we were the “poor” someone slipped us $100 cash, explaining it was a tradition of theirs. We felt like millionaires and have made this act a special part of our own giving traditions. Indeed, it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Another tradition we cherish is recording our “progress and joy in the faith” in a holiday journal. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we ask family members and visiting friends to record their thoughts in this much-cherished book. Some write what they are thankful for, others share a favorite gift or memory, little ones draw pictures, and we include a small snapshot when possible. This is a visual record of our “progress and joy in the faith.” Each year we bring it out, rejoicing over what God has done in the past and anticipating what new things he will do this holiday season.

Enjoy a cherished tradition. Develop a new one. And as you celebrate may your Christmas be with filled with progress and joy in the faith! 

by Jani Ortlund at December 15, 2014 06:01 AM

Roads from Emmaus

14 New Year’s Resolutions for Orthodox Christians

Around this time of year, many people start thinking about ways they can change for the better. While New Year’s resolutions are not particularly a feature of the Orthodox faith, change certainly is, and resolving to change based on times and seasons is certainly part of our liturgical tradition. So adapting the cultural custom of […]

The post 14 New Year’s Resolutions for Orthodox Christians appeared first on Roads from Emmaus.

by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick at December 15, 2014 03:54 AM

CrossFit Naptown

Official Holiday Party Details

Monday’s Workout:

Every 2 Minutes Perform 1 Rep
Strict Press: 1-1-1 (0 Min, 2 Min, 4 Min)
Push Press: 1-1-1 (6 Min, 8 Min, 10 Min)
Push Jerk: 1-1-1 (12 Min, 14 Min, 16 Min)
*Score = total of highest weight from each movement


8:00 As Many Rounds As Possible
10 Calorie Row
10 Power Cleans (135/95)
10 Bar Facing Jumps Over Barbell
10 Back Squats (135/95)


Holiday Party December 20th


The official details of the Holiday party this Saturday have been cemented:

The show will be at Comedy Sportz on Mass Ave at 10:00pm. There will be a “Pre-Show Party” that all are welcome to attend, whether you will be attending the show or not!

Pre-Party: 8pm-9:30pm @ CrossFit NapTown (Delaware St.)

Be sure to get your ticket reserved before the show sells out! To save your spot, email with your name and the number of tickets you would like to reserve (all family and friends are welcome if you would like to bring a guest). There are only 26 tickets remaining so get in quick!


NapTown Rowing Class

Tuesday 6:00-7:00am

Don’t forget to set your alarms for tomorrow morning to make your way in to the gym for top of the line rowing instruction! Do not let your endurance fall by the wayside in the cold, wintry months!

Like the NapTown Rowing Club Facebook page Here:




by Anna at December 15, 2014 03:06 AM

The Urbanophile

The Inevitability of Tradeoffs, or Understanding New England’s Sky High Energy Costs

People advance two main sorts of arguments in favor of things for which they advocate: the moral argument (it’s the right thing to do) and the utilitarian one (it will make us better off). As it happens, in practice most people tend to implicitly suggest there’s a 100% overlap between the two categories. That is, if we do what’s right, it will always make us better off too with no down sides at all.

But is that true?

For most of us, our life experience suggests that there are always tradeoffs and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Urbanists tend to argue in way that suggests this isn’t the case. The types of policies advocated by urbanists tend to be presented not only as right in a certain moral sense, but also ones that make society better off in every way. When things go awry in some respect, as they always seem to do, this is always seen as an avoidable defect in policy implementation, not as a problem inherent to the policy itself. Urbanists aren’t alone in this of course. It affects most of the world. But since I cover the urban beat, I’ll focus on us for a minute.

Today the New York Times opens a window into the type of trade-offs that are studiously avoided in most writings on the subject of climate change. Called “Even Before Long Winter Begins, Energy Bills Send Shivers in New England,” it talks about how a lack of natural gas pipeline capacity is sending electricity and gas costs through the roof as the temperature turns cold.

John York, who owns a small printing business here, nearly fell out of his chair the other day when he opened his electric bill. For October, he had paid $376. For November, with virtually no change in his volume of work and without having turned up the thermostat in his two-room shop, his bill came to $788, a staggering increase of 110 percent. “This is insane,” he said, shaking his head. “We can’t go on like this.”

For months, utility companies across New England have been warning customers to expect sharp price increases, for which the companies blame the continuing shortage of pipeline capacity to bring natural gas to the region. Now that the higher bills are starting to arrive, many stunned customers are finding the sticker shock much worse than they imagined.

I’ve written about this before re:Rhode Island, which is among the most expensive states in America for electricity (most of which is generated by gas). But all of New England is high, with Connecticut ranked as having the country’s most expensive electricity. Gas prices spike every winter to levels far above the rest of the country, as the graph below that I found via City Lab shows:

This would appear to be a simple problem to solve: just build more pipelines. I included on my list of starter ideas for improving economic competitiveness in the state.

Unfortunately, planned pipelines haven’t been built due to environmental opposition:

The region has five pipeline systems now. Seven new projects have been proposed. But several of them — including a major gas pipeline through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, and a transmission line in New Hampshire carrying hydropower from Quebec — have stalled because of ferocious opposition.

The concerns go beyond fears about blighting the countryside and losing property to eminent domain. Environmentalists say it makes no sense to perpetuate the region’s dependence on fossil fuels while it is trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, and many do not want to support the gas-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has made the cheap gas from Pennsylvania available.
A year ago, the governors of the six New England states agreed to pursue a coordinated regional strategy, including more pipelines and at least one major transmission line for hydropower. The plan called for electricity customers in all six states to subsidize the projects, on the theory that they would make up that money in lower utility bills.

But in August, the Massachusetts Legislature rejected the plan, saying in part that cheap energy would flood the market and thwart attempts to advance wind and solar projects. That halted the whole effort.

Here we see the clear tradeoff in action. Reducing carbon emissions has a clear human and economic cost. High electricity costs wallop household budgets in a region with many communities that are struggling or even outright impoverished (as recently as last year, for example, a third of the residents of Woonsocket, RI were on food stamps). This particularly harms poor and minority residents. What’s more, it helps contribute to the region’s low ranking as a place to do business and its anemic job creation.

Given that gas itself is dirt cheap and will be for the foreseeable future thanks to fracking, hurting residents through high electricity prices designed to drive energy transition is clearly a deliberate policy choice.

Fair enough if you believe reducing carbon requires subordinating other public goals like more money in poor people’s pockets. But how often is this forthrightly stated by advocates? Almost never.

Instead we’re treated to article after article in various urbanist publications talking about some awesome green project that’s being implemented somewhere, and how other places ought to do the same thing. There’s lots of doom and gloom about the increased potential for future disasters if the policies aren’t followed. But there’s seldom much about the immediate negative consequences that almost certainly will follow if they are.

I like energy efficiency. I’m glad we have more fuel efficient cars. I’m very glad I don’t own a car anymore. I’m not so excited about light bulb mandates and other “feel bad” policies that don’t materially affect emissions. But there’s definitely a lot we can do on the energy front.

But I also care about things like poor people’s electricity bills and economic growth. And I’m not willing to make unlimited sacrifices (including imposing sacrifices on other people) in the name of conservation. I can appreciate that others might make different tradeoffs and want more conservation than I do. But at least they ought to be honest about the costs and harm they are imposing on people in the name of their preferred policy matrix.

Instead there’s disingenuous talk about the “green economy” powering local economies when there’s no such thing as green industry. Or claiming, as many did in response to my article earlier this year, that Rhode Island’s government is actually conservative, so its problems can’t be laid at the foot of excessively progressive policies imported from places with vastly more economic leverage than most of New England. I guess I did not know that killing gas pipelines in the name of promoting renewable energy via high prices was a Tea Party idea.

Actually, not even the places that do have huge economic leverage are behaving like this. New York City has more economic leverage than just about anybody. But it also, as the chart above shows, has cheaper gas. One reason is that, as City Lab reported, NYC recently just opened a new gas pipeline into the city:

A really important thing happened last month to New York City and the rest of the mid-Atlantic. This event will change the daily lives of millions of people, especially during the coldest months of winter. And, despite some protesters, it all went down with less fanfare than Jay Z and Beyonce going vegan for a month.

An $856-million pipeline expansion began ramping up service, allowing more natural gas to get to New York City consumers. The New York-New Jersey expansion project moves more gas the last few miles from Jersey, which is the terminus for much of the Marcellus Shale gas flowing out of Pennsylvania, into Manhattan. The Energy Information Administration called it “one of the biggest… expansions in the Northeast during the past two decades.” It will bring an additional 800 billion British thermal units (BTU) of gas to the area per day.

Maybe New England wants to out do New York City when it comes to driving a green energy transition. (NYC seems to be focusing more on climate change adaptation, aka “resiliency,” these days). That’s a valid policy choice to make. But it’s one with consequences.

Unfortunately, the consequences of these policy choices are seldom presented by their advocates. People only discover them when the costs show up in a way that can be tangible traced back to those policies. Maybe in the case of New England and energy costs, people are starting to wake up to the matter, possibly in a way similar to how sky high housing costs in so many cities woke people up to the actual trade-offs being made in housing policy.

Advocates are there to advocate of course. So perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect advocates of any stripe to give you the full story. But that’s why we should always pay attention to what the critics of particularly policies have to say. That will give us a more complete picture of the tradeoffs any particular policy set will require.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at December 15, 2014 12:50 AM

December 14, 2014

Cal Newport » Blog

My New Project, Part 2


Asa Frederick Newport. Born December 10, 2014. Another future Study Hacker…

by Study Hacks at December 14, 2014 11:27 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

2014 Annual Review Is Here! This Updated Free Tool Will Help You Plan Your Whole Life (Seriously)


Over the past eight years, nothing has helped me to accomplish big goals and stay on track more than a single exercise I complete each December: the Annual Review.

Tomorrow I’ll publish a long post with my successes, failures (which are always more interesting), and lessons learned from 2014. This will probably be my most personal review year ever, for a variety of reasons, and I promise to share much of it with you through the blog.

But Wait, You Too!

My favorite part about the review is that it brings a degree of order to my multi-faceted life and career, which consists of many different projects and roles. My second favorite part is seeing what everyone else comes up with.

Over the years, many of our readers have conducted their own Annual Reviews, frequently sharing their lessons with others on their blogs or in the comments or just with friends and families. A whole cottage industry of other review outlines, resources, and manifestos has sprung up, which is great to see.

At the end of this process (about 10-14 days from now) I’ll share many reader contributions from this year. If you’d like to be included, link to this post and use hashtag #AnnualReview in your own post. But far more important than social sharing is that you actually do the exercise, whether using my approach or your own.

Here’s how you do it:

1. Read the original post

2. Download this free tool (more about this in a moment)

3. Before doing anything else, make two lists consisting of a) what went well and b) what didn’t go well this year

4. You can skip ahead to the goal-setting part of the review if you want, but we’ll also be going through things one day at a time on the blog—so you don’t have to do too much at once

The Updated Template (Download for Free)

For the whole eight years I’ve used the same simple spreadsheet to set goals in various life categories. It’s a very basic tool. It won’t win any design awards, but it will help you to think more clearly about your life, which is probably more important.

We’ve recently tweaked the formatting and added a few more data points, so be sure you have the current version:

—>Download the Updated Annual Review Template

It’s been pointed out to me that a spreadsheet may not be sufficient to truly devise what matters to you and plan your life accordingly. This is technically true—we first need to ensure that our goals match up with our values and overall vision. No amount of goal-setting will help if you’re pursuing the wrong goals.

However, I do believe (strongly!) that being specific about our intentions and tying them to measurable milestones is good for us.

If you haven’t done it before, give it a try. If the template structure doesn’t work for you, don’t hesitate to modify it however it serves you best.


Action: We’ll begin looking back at 2014 starting tomorrow morning. It’s been a long and complicated year in my part of the world, so tomorrow’s post will also be fairly long and personal. See you then!


Image: Matthijs

by Chris Guillebeau at December 14, 2014 11:00 PM

Caelum Et Terra

The Woman at the Well: the Rest of the Story



woman11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. While what you say is true, I still thirst for this living water.” 20Jesus answered her “Well here is some paperwork. Fill this out and take it, with 100 shekels, to the Sanhedrin. But this may take a while. Your case is complex.”


by Daniel Nichols at December 14, 2014 06:46 PM

512 Pixels

DeLorean abuse →

Taste? Where we're going, we don't need taste.


by Stephen Hackett at December 14, 2014 04:55 PM


The Meaning of the Magnificat

Text: Luke 1:39-56

There are not many times when evangelical pulpits will devote sermons to Mary. This is typically due to reactions against Roman Catholicism, but it also comes from the simple fact that Mary does not actually occupy much space in the New Testament. However, there is a time where she does factor in a big way, and it is in the beginning of the gospels and the birth of Jesus. The opening chapters of Luke’s gospel tell us the most about her, and her famous song, The Magnificat, teaches us something about how she understood God to work. This morning we will look over Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth and her reaction to the fact that already her son-to-be was recognized as the Lord Himself. We will see how she is blessed by this and how she reflects that blessing back to God to magnify the Lord.

Mary and Elizabeth

The story of Mary and Elizabeth meeting together is primarily meant to show us that Jesus’ special identity was known already, even if in part. He isn’t even born yet. He is just recently conceived, alive in Mary’s womb, but already His spiritual significance can be detected. This teaches us something about prenatal life as well: both John and Jesus already have clear and irreducible identities, and John is portrayed as having a sort of awareness. Indeed, he is able to identify Jesus as he leaps in the womb.

At the same, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, thus showing us that Jesus has a divine presence with him. This Spirit makes sure that Elizabeth understands what is going on rightly, and it is the Spirit who enables Elizabeth to say, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary is blessed because of the fruit of her womb, and that fruit is the Lord.

What exactly Elizabeth meant by “the mother of my Lord” is not entirely clear. She may only have meant to say that the child had a noble character. More likely she was indicating that this child was indeed the messiah. She may have even been using “Lord” to indicate the special presence of the God of Israel. For readers today, we know that all three identifications are correct.

Mary’s Song

The Magnificat, the song of Mary, is actually a response to Elizabeth’s words. After hearing what Elizabeth has said about her and her child, Mary responds in verse:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. (Lk. 1:46-48)

This song has many parallels with the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, and indeed Mary is another member of the many woman who are selected by God to play a mighty role in the unfolding of His covenant. Even more than the barren Hannah being given a special child to be dedicated to God, Mary is a virgin whose child will be God Himself. Mary’s child will be the long-promised “seed of the woman” who will crush the serpent’s head. And this is why she is blessed, not because she has a special merit in herself but rather because God chose her as a vessel to bear the Christ.

The themes of Mary’s song are also familiar features to God’s covenant, and they are the kinds of things that get mentioned quite a bit in connection to Advent. As we have been learning these past few weeks, the messiah would bring in justice, raising what is low and leveling what is high. He would straighten what was crooked and bring all things to right. Mary’s song says the same things:

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. (Lk. 1:52-52)

But beyond that general observation, we can also highlight three key features of the Magnificat. First, Mary responses to the blessing she is given by magnifying God. She does not draw the attention to herself but instead uses the grace given to her to reflect God’s greatness. This is a lesson for us all still.

Secondly, Mary says that God reverses the strengths of this world. Those who are mighty are “pulled down.” Those who are lowly are exalted. Those who are hungry are filled with good things, while the rich are “sent away empty.” This is another way to describe salvation by grace. God does not save those who are already strong and powerful. In fact, He saves those who are week, those who know that they are in need.

And then thirdly, Mary states that this is all a fulfillment of God’s covenant:

He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever (Lk. 1:54-55)

As we said earlier, Mary is the fulfillment of that very first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman shall crush the head of the seed of the serpent. This promise continued through Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (Gen. 17:15-17).  We see it again through Joseph, through Samuel, and through David. Special children of the promise all pointing to that future child of promise, Jesus Christ. Mary is the last of these miraculous mothers, and Jesus is the final seed of the Woman.

The Meaning of the Magnificat For Today

And so what can say about the Magnificat today? It’s very interesting to see its connections to biblical history, and I do think our worship is enhanced when we connect the coming of Christ to the messiah of Israel, when we tie ourselves into that ancient story of redemption. But does it reach out further into our Christian lives?

The Magnificat shows us that God specially blesses the poor and lowly. Mary was not a particularly special woman prior to being chosen by God. We have no reason to think she was flawed in any particular way, but she was clearly humble and lacking in nobility. She describes herself as holding a “lowly estate.” And God worked in Her completely through His power. She conceived a son quite apart from any natural ways, and while her body certainly participated in the bearing of the child, this wasn’t actually some active choice where Mary “did her part.” Rather, she accepted the gift God gave her, and she continued in that acceptance. God loves to exalt the lowly, and He loves to do all the work along the way.

The Magnificat also reminds us to beware of worldly riches and power. At the same time our God is exalting the lowly, He is pulling down the mighty. He humbles the proud, and He does this by bringing them down. If you are rich, the gospels tell us that you will have a hard time entering the kingdom. You will have a hard time acknowledging your need. You will have a hard time being hungry. And so beware anything that makes you feel strong and self-sufficient. Be vigilant to keep a posture of spiritual dependency. That sounds strange, but you have to work to remind yourself that you need God. Do not become complacent in your routine, thinking that you have it figured out. Practice humility.

And in all of this, God leads the way. In the virgin birth, we see God humbling Himself. He who was “in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). God was born of a woman. He made Himself a helpless child, growing inside the womb of an earthly mother. The infinite creator of all things was nurtured, held, and nursed by a young Jewish woman in the 1st century. What amazing humility.


The great English poet John Donne has a masterful poem called La Corona, the crown of prayer and praise, and in it he has a section devoted to the virgin birth. He employs a series of paradoxes to illustrate the majesty of the divine humility. His words are still powerful today:

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb. 

This is Christmas. The God of the Universe made Himself a helpless baby so He could help helpless sinners like us. He humbled Himself in order to lift us up, and so we continue to magnify His name today. Let us pray.

by Steven Wedgeworth at December 14, 2014 02:00 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

The Word Took a Body [Awakening Faith]

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)

Our faith is not founded upon empty words, nor are we carried away by speculation or tricked by false arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win men and women back from disobedience, not through forced slavery, but by an appeal to human free will for freedom. The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the language of their message was hard to understand, the Father sent the Word in person, commanding him to show himself openly so that the world could see him and be saved.

We know that by taking a body from the Virgin he refashioned our fallen nature. We know that his manhood was of the same clay as our own; if this were not the case, we could hardly be expected to imitate him. If he were a different substance than I, he would not have ordered me to do as he did, because by my nature I am so weak. A demand like this could not be reconciled with his goodness and justice.

No, he wanted us to know that he was just like us, so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, and he slept. He endured his passion without protest; he submitted to death and revealed his resurrection. He offered his own manhood as the firstfruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as he did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.



Awakening Faith DevotionalAwakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church

by James Stuart Bell and Patrick J. Kelly

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by ZA Blog at December 14, 2014 02:00 PM


snb: In promising directions

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ll know I was a long-time, die-hard fan of hnb, a note-taking application with a branching structure. It is a very old program — probably second-only to sc, among dated applications that I still used on a daily basis — but never failed to build or do the job.

So I have fond memories. And I’m intrigued that there’s a redrafting of hnb available, running under the name of snb.


And it has a lot of the allure of the original, with a few additions. As I understand it, the biggest draw might be the availability of Unicode characters, provided of course that your terminal supports them.

snb also handles checklists or to-do lists after a fashion, allowing you to tick off an entry with the “d” key. Movement is primarily vi-ish, with the shifted HJKL keys dragging entries up, down, in and out of branches. Most of the other keys you can find in the default page for snb, which will open if you don’t give it a file at startup.

If I understand the startup pages, any configuration is going to require editing the source files and recompiling. That’s probably not a huge inconvenience, and looking over the user.h file, it’s not so terribly different that you might have trouble.

I like snb and if I had found it about six months ago, before I came across tudu, I might have jumped ship in that direction instead. As luck would have it, I’ve gotten used to some features that tudu offers, and stepping away from those isn’t appealing.

snb is a good project though, and I’m curious to see how it evolves.

Tagged: manager, note, organizer, task, to-do

by K.Mandla at December 14, 2014 01:15 PM Sounds from the deep

I got from a regular contributor who doesn’t like to be named, along with a note mentioning that it only does one small thing, and probably wouldn’t be too interesting on the whole.

Au contraire … I think it’s quite interesting, even if the best parts of are lost in this medium. As you might have guessed, mimics the Hollywood sonar-sound trope, playing a specific tone for both the ping and pong.

But the tipster was right on the other point — aside from that one audio pattern, doesn’t show much information. Or rather, there are other ping utilities that show much more.

On the other hand, if you just want an audible for a server status, and don’t care so much about statistical analysis, might be a good choice.

Now we just need a ping tool that plays The Bloop, and maybe a few more creepy noises. :|

Tagged: information, network, ping

by K.Mandla at December 14, 2014 01:00 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)

This is one of my longer and older essays on a topic very near and dear to my heart, from 2010, which I reprint for the benefit of any newer readers. I note with considerable satisfaction that there have been more examples in the cinema of comic book or science fiction films since this writing that lend support to my theme:

Part I — On Dehumanity

Let me address a question which, if answered, would answer several questions at once. Why are crass popular comic book superhero movies better than mainstream Hollywood movies?

Why are they better and more honest, more sound, and more true than a modern comedy or tragedy or melodrama, or what passes for it? Why are they better drama?

There are some deep questions unexpectedly connected to this shallow question. Let us see into what oxbows of digression the river of conversation leads. A prudence of space may require the discussion to be drawn over several parts.

The question is also based on some assumptions, such as the assumption that comic book movies, by and large are good, and are good drama. (I am aware of the glaring exceptions, and any useful theory must explain those exceptions as well.) What comic books are not is naturalistic drama; they are high romantic drama—but more on this later.

I am thinking in particular of movies like THE INCREDIBLES, DARK KNIGHT, SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, BATMAN, BATMAN BEGINS, and the first SUPERMAN movie by Alexander Salkind, and also MEN IN BLACK and X-MEN. If we are generous with our definition of comic book movies, we can add that best beloved version of FLASH GORDON known as STAR WARS; but I cannot in this space defend that these movies are good, and make for satisfactory drama.

Those of you who disagree, read no more, or accept it in philosophical humor for the sake of the argument, because this article is concerned with discovering the reason wherefore this is so, not debating whether this is so.

To the skeptic, all I can report is that the taste of the public put these films in the top ten to top hundred of highest grossing films of all time, whether ticket price inflated or no, so that if you scorn such films are trash, you do so in a lonely minority.

The second assumption, harder to defend and harder to swallow, is that mainstream Hollywood movies are artsy, trivial, greasy, and bad. I do not mean popular blockbusters like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, inspired by old cliffhanger serials, nor do I mean CASABLANCA, inspired by genius, or WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND or LORD OF THE RINGS, inspired by widely beloved best-selling books.

I am thinking of movies critics and Hollywood insiders like, flicks such as FULL METAL JACKET, RAIN MAN, DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, AMERICAN BEAUTY, CHICAGO, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, THE DEPARTED, THE HURT LOCKER. These are not obscure films, and each won widespread critical acclaim, awards, and praise; and you could not, for 357 dollars gold nor with a 357 Magnum persuade me to sit through one showing of them.

The third assumption is that Hollywood movies are made by the elite for the elite, and that it is only with reluctance, or to pay the bills, does Hollywood turn out nutritious fare meant to please and sate the coarse palate of coarse commoners like me, as the popular blockbusters mentioned above.

I do not mean to dwell on this point, I merely ask that you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, accept it as uncontested, since surely the counselor for the Defense of Hollywood dare not claim the actors and studios like us, want to be like us, or like what we like. Their entire claim to be an elite, and superior in taste, intellect, and moral insight to the pathetic bourgeoisie is dashed if they do not discriminate themselves from bourgeoisie tastes.

With these assumptions explicit, let us ponder the question.

Why are comic book movies better than Hollywood movies?

Now, one might assume that anyone asking this question merely has tastes that are common, plebeian, philistine and low.

As for that, I do confess it: it is easy enough to enjoy and appreciate the works of Homer and Euripides and Sophocles, Dante and Milton, Shakespeare and Wagner and Beethoven, the paintings of William Bouguereau or John William Waterhouse, or the movies of Akira Kurasawa and Hayao Miyizaki for the genius of these men is brighter than summer lightning, and darts from so dazzling a high empyrean, and echoes into such profoundest deep that one would be blind and deaf not to be awed by it.

What is difficult is learning to appreciate and savor the artistic genius of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, who wrote comic books and paperbacks, fairy stories and science fiction marketed to children. I have worked hard to lower my taste to appreciating the things as common and simple as fairy tales, and all the simple and true things under heaven. I hope one day my taste will be as coarse as that of St. Peter, who was a fisherman.

The elite of our culture have not yet shouldered that difficult task. We all know that the elite are out of touch with the tastes of the common man, but how far out of touch they are is something of a shock.

Allow me to quote from “J.R.R. TOLKIEN” by Jeremy Mark Robinson:

Philip Toynbee declared, in 1961, that Tolkien’s ‘childish books had passed into a merciful oblivion’, a wonderful statement, just a tad inaccurate. In 1997, The Lord of the Rings was voted the top book of the 20th century by readers in a British bookstore’s poll (Waterstone’s). 104 out of 105 stores and 25,000 readers put The Lord of the Rings at the top (1984 was second).

The results of the poll angered many lit’ry critics in the UK. Howard Jacobson, Mark Lawson, Bob Inglis, Germaine Greer and Susan Jeffreys, were among those irritated by Lord of the Rings‘ success among readers. The Daily Telegraph readers’ poll came up with the same results. The Folio Society also ran a poll (of 50,000 members), and Middle-earth was top again (Pride and Prejudice was second and David Copperfield was third).

It was Tolkien’s incredible popularity that annoyed some critics and journos. Writers are nothing if not bitchy and envious of other people’s success, and British journalists have a long tradition of knocking down anyone who’s successful. So the popularity of The Lord of the Rings served to underline many of the prejudices of the literary establishment and media in the UK:
(1) That people who liked Tolkien were geeks, anoraks, sci-fi nuts, college students, hippies, and so on.
(2) That Tolkien’s fiction was juvenile, reactionary, sexist, racist, pro-militaristic, etc.
(3) And it was badly written, simplistic, stereotypical, and so on. (4) And it was in the fantasy genre, which was automatically deemed as lightweight, as ‘escapist’, as fit only for adolescent boys. And so on and on.

What Mr. Robinson reports of these polls is underscored and emphasized by some that film critic and conservative commentator Michael Medved mentions about movies.

Allow me again to quote, this from a talk Mr. Medved gave at Hillsdale College:

In years past, Hollywood also turned out popular and sympathetic portrayals of contemporary clergymen. Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and Spencer Tracy played earthy, compassionate priests who gave hope to underprivileged kids or comforted GI’s on the battlefield. Nearly all men of the cloth who appeared on screen would be kindly and concerned, if not downright heroic.

In the last ten to fifteen years mainstream moviemakers have swung to the other extreme. If someone turns up in a film today wearing a Roman collar or bearing the title “Reverend,” you can be fairly sure that he will be either crazy or corrupt—or probably both.

Mr. Medved offers the examples the film Monsignor (in which a cardinal seduces a Nun, embezzles Church funds to the Mafia and CIA) Agnes of God (Nun commits infanticide, stuffs her own baby down the toilet) The Runner Stumbles (seduction again) True Confessions, Mass Appeal and The Mission (various other crimes and offenses). Also, Pass the Ammo, Salvation, Riders of the Storm, In Light of Day, Malone, Crimes of Passion, and that masterwork of bad cinema The Last Temptation of Christ.

In explaining the hostility to our Judeo-Christian heritage that characterizes so many of these films, industry insiders firmly deny any deep-seated anti-religious bias. They insist that moviemakers are merely responding to the beliefs and prejudices of the film-going public. According to this argument, they are merely following the honorable capitalist practice of giving the customers what they want.

There is, however, one gigantic flaw in that line of reasoning: all of the movies I’ve mentioned above—every single one of them—flopped resoundingly at the box office. Taken together, these pictures lost hundreds of millions for the people who made them. Hunger for money can explain almost everything in Hollywood, but it can’t explain why ambitious producers keep launching expensive projects that slam religion.

He next lists films where religious faith was portrayed in a sympathetic light: Chariots of Fire, Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful, Places in the Heart, Witness, A Cry in the Dark: all box-office successes. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was ruthlessly (and pointlessly) slandered, and yet still made an astonishing fortune at the box office.

[…] It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is a perverse sort of idealism at work here. For many of the most powerful people in the entertainment business, hostility to traditional religion goes so deep and burns so intensely that they insist on expressing that hostility, even at the risk of commercial disaster.

Medved goes on to quote a 1982 survey by researchers from the University of Maryland which analyzed the attitudes and practices of key decision makers and creative personnel in the movie business. “Only three percent responded that they regularly attended church or synagogue. In the country at large, by contrast, the same study indicated that just under fifty percent flock to services on a regular basis.”

By no coincidence, a survey by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Psychological Sciences, “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” found that consumers of “Green” and “Planet Saving Products” are more inclined to cheat, lie and steal.

Risibly, perhaps because Mazar and Zhong are from the planet Mars, and not aware of the last fifty years of human history, the researchers speculate that people who wear what they call the “halo of green consumerism” are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. “Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours.”

Pardon me, but I must pause to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.

Those of us from the planet Earth, who remember being lectured-at and talked down to for the last fifty years by these sneering self-anointed Green busy-bodies and Enviro-Marxists know very well why Greens tend to lie and cheat: it is because they are unbathed and draggle-haired hippies.

Anyone who did not note the moral degradation involved in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolt overlooked the express and often repeated point and purpose of that revolt: it was to degrade moral standards, first in the sexual realm, then in common courtesy, chivalry, common decency, then in independence of character, then in toleration of dissent. Somewhere along the way personal hygiene fell by the wayside, along with respect for one’s elders and respect for one’s word.

The purpose of the Green Movement, which sprang from the unbathed Youth Movement, is not now and has never been to save the planet and preserve the beauty of nature. That is what Boy Scouts and Rod and Gun clubs and other arch-enemies of the Greens mean to do. The Greens want to trash industry and to feel good about themselves.

It is self esteem therapy, not anything related to reality.

If they were interested in reality, they would publish rather than falsify scientific data, such as Global Warming scares.

If they were interested in preserving nature rather than interested in watching brown skinned people die of malaria, they would legalize rather than forbid the use of DDT. Population Explosion alarmist Paul Erlich would have publicly repudiated his exploded theory once he lost his famous bet to Julian Simon, had he been interested in reality, or vulnerable to shamefacedness; and committed seppuku in the proper Japanese ritual fashion once the demographic data made it clear that the Industrialized world is suffering from underpopulation, not overpopulation.

The Greens are not interested in any of these things because their hearts are not true.

We are not dealing with honest people or even with hypocrites who pretend to value honesty. We are dealing with a philosophy of life and a world view that values untruth, and reacts with umbrage, not shame, when they are caught faking data or believing faked data.

Umbrage: because their code regards it as meritorious to lie for the sake of the cause, the party, and political correctness. To cheat is merely to lie with actions rather than words, and to steal is merely to cheat another of money or goods due him: but the root of all evil, despite what the Good Book says, is love of dishonesty.

But we have wandered far afield: let us return to the main current of the conversation. These examples (and they could be multiplied endlessly, I am sure, from your own life and experience, dear reader) suggest that good taste, faith, and trueheartedness are interrelated in some way.

We need not pause to ponder in what why they are interrelated, or whether the chicken of reality-o-phobia comes before or after the rotten egg of aversion to morality and faith. Let us merely for now proceed on the assumption that the elite in the West today accept a moral code, or antimoral code, which in some way encourages and in some way is encouraged by their code of aesthetics.

They have bad taste because they have bad morals.

Instead of believing in God, or following the Way of Heaven called the Tao, or seeking Nirvana, or paying heed to any saints, philosophers, or sages of Occident or Orient, the Glittering Generation just believe in Themselves and seek to do it Their Way, and they seek Self-satisfaction. They heed only the inner voice of pop-psychiatry self esteem, which, by no coincidence, happens to coincide with the voice of fashion, of political correctness, of useful idiocy.

No matter in what other way the great ideals of faith, truth, and beauty are intermingled, we can at least establish the sole point we need for our present purposes: a man putting up a vast idol to himself erects a monument to his own execrable bad taste. (See the Confessions of Rousseau for details.)

The vast idol to himself that the modern or postmodern man puts up always is posed in the posture of Promethean defiance: the tasteless slabs of smelt used to create the looming figure always have arms upraised in rebellion. For the modern artist, to be is to be subversive.

But against whom does the rebel rebel? To what cause do these Pied Pipers seek to subvert their ensorcelled audience? To subvert means to use subtle means to pry the fidelity of one from his former loyalty to a new. To what buried and illusory fairyland does the music of the Pied Piper’s piping pull?

You can see against whom these would be Lucifers and play-pretend-Prometheans lift their impotent arms by reading their works. They are not shy about telling you. They challenge authority, and convention, and the bourgeoisie morality. Some are alert enough to know against whose authority they actually rebel, and shameless enough to admit it: the it not the followers of the Ten Commandments the Sexual Revolutionaries conspire, but against the Author.

They regard you as sleepy and stupid sheep who need to be startled out of complacency and educated out of stupidity by the jarring clamor of their art. They do not regard themselves (as more sane and more humble artists do, for humility is sanity) as employees seeking your entertainment dollar by providing you with divertissement and simple enjoyment.

Nor do they regard themselves as did the pagan bards of old, whose purpose was to maintain in the memory of mankind the great deeds, whether joyous or tragic, done by demigods and heroes wise and great who came before, and whose name and fame should not perish from the Earth, or whose example should serve as an inspiration or a caution, lest men forget their forefathers and themselves and drift without roots, and be forgotten by their children when time is done.

No, indeed, the express purpose of the subversive modern artist is to cut those roots, to blind the modern world to the past, to drench the eye in the slumber of oblivion, and leave the soul adrift.

Rebels not only rebel against, they also fight for.

Now keep in mind we can speak only in general terms about what is in truth a complex gathering of many persons acting for many goals over many years: but let us not delay to make all the legalistic qualifications or list all exceptions that might obtain. We are seeking wisdom here, not scientific knowledge, and where a single counter example destroys a general scientific principle, an exception does not undo a generally wise observation. Let us silence this objection before it is uttered: to speak in general terms is allowed, for the same reason that we can speak of a sand dune and observe its shape, or hear the stampede and guess its direction, without naming each cow or counting each mote of sand. Sand dunes do indeed have shapes, even if some grains are tossed aside by the wind, and stampedes do go in one direction, even if one in the herd breaks away.

So what are they fighting for, this modern elite?

After the Great War, Europe went through their Crazy Years period, and during the Cold War, America followed, and the elite opinion makers, politicians, writers, thinkers, intellectuals and entertainers, all those who control the imagination and the deliberation of Western Civilization became enamored and fascinated by the series of ideas the previous two generations of philosophers and literati had conceived: the idea that God was Dead and that life meant nothing, and that life was unfair.

The great moral crusade of that generation, the so-called Sexual Revolution was the main rebellion against morality. In the name of freedom and progress, the progressive bent every effort to undoing the progress of all previous generations of saints and sages and moralists, and enslaving the world to addictions and sins: Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a heady mixture of self-indulgence and socialism. The great moral crusade was Antinomianism.

Antinomianism, the idea that moral rules have no meaning, is a logically incoherent idea, easily refuted by human experience. Progressivism, the idea that the rules of the science economics can be replaced by wishful thinking, is likewise incoherent, and likewise alien to human experience.  Progressivism and Antinomianism are Siamese twins, since the promised revolution of the Progressivism involves an overthrow of basic principles of justice, such as the maxim that forbids stealing, forbids envy, forbids treason, forbids lying. The more violent and radical version of Progressivism, Socialism, also refutes the principle of justice that forbids murdering the innocent masses in their millions who all have to be trampled underfoot for the Marxist and Maoist revolutions to succeed. Socialism is the first code of conduct in history where to show disrespect to one’s elders and ancestors, and to hate and uproot one’s own history and institutions is regarded as a virtue rather than a vice.

Adherence to incoherence has several consequences for any mind willing and able to carry out the logical corollaries implied: civility, history, politics, and reason are all involved in the downfall of morality.

Simple civility is the first casualty of this world view, for it presupposes a degree of respect, if not for persons, then for rules of courtesy, but in either case for norms. One cannot consistently be an Antinomian and be in favor of norms.

(One also cannot respect the victims of one’s lies: contempt is the only logical way to regard those one lies about or lies to.)

History is simply ignored by the Progressives: they regard it as a principle of Hegelian or Marxist or Darwinian evolution that the past has no control over the future, no merit, and need not be consulted. The extraordinary and risible inability of the Progressives of any age to learn from their mistakes, their astonishing parochialism, and their revolting inability to honor even their own founding members are all explained by this philosophical amnesia.

As a political philosophy, Progressivism is not a political philosophy, and does not pretend to be: it is a psychological strategy to scapegoat others for failures and dissatisfaction. As the National Socialists were with the Jews, as Marxists are with the Capitalists, as Race-baiters are with Whites, and Feminists are with Males, as Jihadists are with the Great Satan, and as everyone is with the Roman Catholic Church, the Progressive scheme of things consists of finding someone to blame and expanding the power of the State in order allegedly to rectify these allegedly blameworthy evils.

Nothing is ever blamed on the nature of things, or natural limitations of reality, or on historical facts: these entities do not exist in the Progressive mind.

Reason, of course, cannot be dethroned from the respect it merits by any reasonable argument: instead it has to be shunned.

To do this is relatively simple: Reason was merely called ‘rationalization’ by Freudians, ‘False Consciousness’ or ‘An Ideological Superstructure’ by Marxists, or an ‘Epiphenomenon’ by various sorts of Behaviorists and radical Materialists. Reasoning, particularly metaphysical reasoning, was denounced as meaningless verbiage according to a metaphysical principle of the Logical Positivist School.

Hence, the one central principle of this allegedly rational and scientific age is its devotion to centerless unprincipled unreason.

The philosophy of centerless unprincipled unreason is called secular humanism, but it should rightly be called dehumanism, since its end is to remove all particular human characteristics from the human soul, and leave man barren, helpless, hopeless, soulless and empty beneath the Mordorian lidless eye of the omnipotent state.

This is the world view and the mission of the elite.

Let me hasten to add that no one person holds all these beliefs, or hold them all to the same degree. The beliefs contradict each other and contain lunatic paradoxes, so of course no one can embrace all Modernist ideals simultaneously. Many folk only have one or two of these slogans they repeat, perhaps lukewarmly, and few are true zealots. The average Progressive or Leftist or New Ager or Lover of Dunderheaded Stupidity does not buy fully into these beliefs simply because no one could: these beliefs are deadly, and only the dead could practice them consistently.

Why are the elite so out of touch with the common man? The common man comes from the common experience of Christendom, and Christendom combined Jewish faith with Greek rational philosophy and Roman civic virtue. The dehumanist who rejects all authority must indeed reject that most demanding of authorities, Christ, and finds he cannot reject Christ without rejecting also faith, reason and virtue.

You may be wondering how our elite, or any elite, could rise to predominance in society they reject? Should not the elite be composed, as in the Old World, of those established ruling and land-owning families whose ancestors founded or conquered the social order, and hence are loyal to it? Or, in the New World, should not the elite be composed of self-made men whose genius and enterprise and good fortune enabled them to contribute so much to society, offering mankind oil and steel mills and rail lines and electrification, that the reward of the free market elevated them to wealth? Would not either an elite of lineage or an elite of money be loyal to the social order?

The answer is that the modern Progressive elite are not the children of iron who whose fathers won land by hard military service and fawning on princes, but neither are they children of wealth whose fathers’ stubborn hands won gold from a hard world by fawning on customers: our elite are self-selected and self-anointed, and they know nothing of the iron of war nor the gold of commerce.

The elite are people who flock to journalism and entertainment and politics and the academy, and they share one outstanding characteristic:

Even though their intellectual accomplishments are relatively modest, they take their ability to disregard morality as a sign of lofty and superior intelligence, as if disobedience were a difficult quadratic equation.

As a corollary, they assume that loyalty to morality can only be due to an absence of intelligence rather than the presence of experience, common sense, honor, grit, manhood, spiritual insight or upright character.

They are people less moral than the rest of us, and they take that lack of moral character to be a sign that both their moral character and intellectual ability supersedes our own.

The pop psychology of high self esteem, the loss of the Christian virtue of humility, is what allows them to have these inflated and false-to-facts self-estimations.

Fan as I am of the free market, Capitalism has one obvious drawback: it is too forgiving. Capitalist societies forgive entertainers and entrepreneurs their peccadilloes, their addictions to drugs or booze or porn or adultery or pederasty, because the society wants the goods produced by the entrepreneur and the diversions provided by the entertainer. There are times when your favorite song is the only thing fending off a gray and rainy day of despair; and nothing else will cheer you. Why should you care if the singer molests children? He does not live in your neighborhood. Your ill opinion will not affect him. There are times when the only car worth buying is your favorite make and model. Why should you care if the manufacturer is an anti-Semite? The free market does not condemn.

The entertainment and media markets are even less condemnatory: Artists are expected to be odd. What would in a normal society be a sin in the world of artists is an amusing eccentricity, or a source of insight, or a sign of the sanctity. In the Academic world, eccentricity to the point of sickness and madness is not a drawback, but a passkey to lauds and fame. See the case of Peter Singer of Princeton for details.

Democracy also has a drawback: our liberty allows for such license, that no accomplishment is needed ere one is called accomplished. Eve our elitism is democratic: Anyone can be a snob!

All you have to do to achieve the paramount of the modern Decalogue is dishonor your father and mother; to be the modern version Horatio, all you need do is betray the ashes of your fathers and the altars of your gods. Hegelian evolution says that whatever comes later is better, right? Well, you come after your forefathers, and you are younger than your teachers, so you must know more.

To be a snob in the Old World you had to be born to a high family, or in the New, to earn a high place. But all you have to do to be a snob in the world of no-fault modern snobbery is look down on the giants who founded and fought for this nation.

The only way to look down on a giant is to turn your soul upside down, can call evil a type of good (tolerance, diversity, choice) and good a type of evil (intolerance, divisiveness, bigotry). And all you need to do to switch the labels on things, change the definitions so that the north arrow of the moral compass reads south, is to be a damned liar.

Yes, I do mean damned. So picture the modern Progressive as a dwarfish figure, head firmly wedged into a chamber pot, who looks down (what we call up) sees the clouds and stars underfoot, and sun and moon, and proudly imagines he is trampling heaven. And when he seeks to soar to higher places, overhead is a blank and cold earth, merely a roof of matter, impenetrable to his wit; and when he dreams of spiritual things his thoughts ascend to hell. The harder he tries to live up to what he thinks are higher ideals, the lower toward the central fire he sinks.

The short answer is that the elite of our culture are not a high elite at all, but the low dregs.

They do not sneer at us as their inferiors despite their embarrassing retardation in experiential, intellectual, philosophical and theological matters, not to mention their bad manners and sexual perversions: they sneer at us as their inferiors BECAUSE of their retardation.

Lest I be accused of exaggeration, let me pause to give a single example, which will have to serve for countless others. Recall to mind Shirley Jackson’s famous 1948 story, “The Lottery” in which the folk of a small rural town in the American heartland gathers every year to implore an unnamed force to grant a good corn harvest. The townspeople consider, and then reject as foolhardy, the notion of ceasing the lottery as other towns have done. A young mother draws the black spot, and is without remorse and without regret stoned to death by her neighbors and kin, including her own children.

A Chronicle of Higher Education piece by Kay Haugaard, a writer who teaches at Pasadena City College, reports the following:

Until recently, Haugaard says, “Jackson’s message about blind conformity always spoke to my students’ sense of right and wrong.” No longer, apparently.

A class discussion of human sacrifice yielded no moral comments, even under Haugaard’s persistent questioning. One male said the ritual killing in “The Lottery” “almost seems a need.” Asked if she believed in human sacrifice, a woman said, “I really don’t know. If it was a religion of long standing. . . .”

Haugaard writes: “I was stunned. This was the woman who wrote so passionately of saving the whales, of concern for the rain forests, of her rescue and tender care of a stray dog.” …

And so on. One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice. Another said that the stoning might have been part of ‘a religion of long standing,’ and therefore acceptable and understandable. Another student brought up the idea of “multicultural sensitivity,” saying she learned in school that if “it’s a part of a person’s culture, we are taught not to judge.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, these students are morally retarded. Morally, not mentally. No matter how smart they may be in other areas or academics, no matter how good their vocabulary or grasp of spatial relations, when it comes to making blindingly simple moral calculations, they are like a ten year old with the mind of a two year old, who can neither form sentences nor tie his shoelaces.

Let us turn with disgust from this grisly vision of the triumph of sardonic hell over the innocent minds of stupid youth back to our initial question. Hollywood mainstream movies stink because Hollywood is run by self-anointed elitists whose only claim to being the elite is their inferiority, and their inferiority is a cause and also an outcome of their dehumanist world view.

Can a dehumanist concoct, without betraying his principles a satisfying dramatic story?

To answer this, we first must turn to what makes for satisfactory drama, but that question in turn leads to a deeper question. Are the rules of drama objective, something we can discuss rationally, or are they merely an epiphenomenon or side effect of accumulated accidentally prejudices and social programming?

If we answer this, we can finally turn to what the elements are that often appear in superheroic tales, and whether or which such elements in such tales lends themselves to satisfactory drama. This will require a further digression into the origins of naturalism versus romanticism in literature. We may even have space to observe the relationship between good drama and the doctrine of determinism.

Part II — On Drama

Can a Dehumanist concoct, without betraying his principles, a satisfying dramatic story? The short answer is no. The long answer requires we discover the nature of dehumanism and of drama.

What is Drama?

The muse of philosophy who broods on Mount Helicon must forgive me if I describe what is a sprawling mansion of many chambers with the briefest of blueprints. Again I warn the reader that we are speaking in the most rough-hewn generalities, and that the presences of many exceptions and qualifications (of which, dear reader, I doubt not you are as well aware as I) does not unmake nor invalidate the general result.

To be a satisfying drama, certain basic elements must be present, either in large or in small:

  1. A protagonist with a goal or dream or need or mission, who is facing…
  2. An obstacle (it can be a person, as an evil villain, or a situation, as life in an evil village) presenting a real challenge, perhaps an overwhelming challenge, blocking the protagonist’s achievement of this goal. Facing this challenge initiates…
  3. Rising action, perhaps with unexpected yet logical plot-turns to astonish the reader’s expectations, leading to…
  4. A climax, a crescendo or catharsis, which in turn brings about…
  5. A resolution that not only…
    1. Makes intellectual sense, with no plot threads forgotten and no plot holes showing but also…
    2. Makes moral and emotional sense, it shows the cosmos the way it is or the way it should be, but also…
    3. Makes thematic sense, such that it can be used as an example, or a model, or a reflection of life or some aspect of life.

Other aspects of storytelling (such as ornamental language or proper pacing, or the use of humor, pathos, satire, insight into human nature, or character development) are needed at least in some degree, but this varies so greatly from genre to genre and tale to tale that it cannot be simplified to a general rule.

There are five dimensions to any story: plot, characters, setting, style, and theme. Philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft, writing about the philosophy in Tolkein’s LORD OF THE RINGS, re-words these five as dimensions into work, workers, world, words, and wisdom.

The plot is the work to be done, and a dramatic story gains stature if the work is hard, the cost is high, and the reward immense. This is why Robert Heinlein listed only three basic types of stories 1. Boy-meets-girl 2. The Little Tailor 3. The Man Who Learns Better.

What is at stake in a boy-meets-girl story is the future happiness of the couple; nothing is more immense than love. Stories involving any deep emotional relationship fall into this category, not exclusively romance. Stories of this type are about people and passions, honor and attachment: the boy is changed because he falls in love.

The Little Tailor (if I may remind any reader who don’t read fairy stories) tells of a man whose boast of swatting flies gives him a reputation as a giant killer. Then a real giant shows up. Stories of this type are about people and challenges. Facing the giant changes the tailor. What is at stake here is life and death.

Man Learns Better is an inverse of the second plot. The Man finds his fixed ideas or his innate character, when played out, leads to ruin, and this leaves him sadder but wiser, or humbler but wiser. He changes because he learns and grows. If learning your lesson carries a heavy price, the drama is greater. What is at stake here is the man’s soul.

If the hero fails, he loses his heart, or his life, or his soul.

From these three all basic variations of plots can spring: the chase, the quest, the competition, the sacrifice, or tales of revenge, escape, enlightenment, victory and defeat, but in order for the plot to be a plot something has to be at stake and it has to be meaningful to you and to your readers. The work must be a great work.

The end point of the plot is comedy or tragic or melodramatic. Comedies end happily: everyone gets married, or everyone gets a medal, or Dorothy gets back home, and, Oh, Auntie Em, there is no place like home. Tragedies end soberly: Rhett leaves without giving a damn, or Hamlet and half the cast dies, or Oedipus learns a truth so horrid that he puts out his eyes. Melodramas end, or don’t end, with more of a bittersweet sense that life simply goes on, as when Kwi Chang Kane walks off into the sunset accompanied only by the lonely warbling of a bamboo flute, or the Lone Ranger gallops away, leaving grateful and astonished townsfolk wonder who that masked man was.

Those who do the work of the story are the characters. The characters are more dramatic the more the reader can identify with them: this is sometimes achieved by making the characters well-rounded, with strengths and flaws that flow naturally from their personality, sometime by making them quirky and irregular as men in real life tend to be, with unexpected angles to their personalities, and sometimes by making them simplistic, larger-than-life, and iconic.

Usually a character who is less three dimensional seems less real and therefore engenders less reader sympathy, hence interest, hence drama.  An exception arises for iconic characters who have taken up a permanent place in the imagination of the public, and I speak of Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein’s Monster, Zorro, Fu Manchu and the like. In almost every case, the original incarnation in print of the character was more quirky and particular than the many later incarnations, and that the simplification process leaves out details the original author put in, such as the character’s British title, cocaine habit, habits of speech, or added details, such as a characteristic drooping moustache or deerstalker cap or neckbolts not found in the original.

The drama of a character is in his humanity, for unless he is someone you know and love, his triumphs, passion, or losses neither elate nor sting. The complexity or simplicity of the character is merely tool for creating the empathy, the meaningfulness, that allows the reader to fall in love or fascination with the protagonist. This is not to say the protagonist need be loveable: he can have ugly personality traits. But if the author has worked the witchcraft of his craft correctly, the character will be beloved to the reader nonetheless,  warts and all. The character flaws are not overlooked: but to love is to forgive.

The setting must have the same verisimilitude as the characters, or the reader will not accept the world, and the spell called suspension of disbelief will break. To that degree, imaginary lands must resemble lands that are or that could be or that should be here in the real cosmos: because stories that leave out a basic part of the cosmic all readers instinctively put less faith in, and get less drama out.

No doubt fans  of science fiction and fantasy will object that the worlds in which speculative romances are set either do not yet exist or cannot ever, since they are set in other worlds or beneath the light of far suns, or set in Elfland, that perilous realm, where no laws of nature that we know hold sway. Ah, but I tell you Elfland, or something like it, is real, and that in our hearts we know of it, and it is this heart, and not your head that tells you this dull world is all the world that there is, which leaps in glad recognition at a book of speculative fiction.

Or are you an exile in this world? Nearly every science fiction reader and fantasy reader feels this sensation, and knows deep in his bones that this false and mortal world is not his home. We are in exile here. The science fiction reader in his imagination knows that he is meant for some finer world, perhaps on Mars, perhaps farther than Archenar or Andromeda, perhaps further than the Twenty-Fifth Century. In his imagination, he lives there, not here. This is a shadow or a reflection not of a neurosis but of a deep truth: The Christian in his soul knows that all the sons of Adam are meant for a finer world, a new earth under a new heaven, and in his soul he lives there, not here.

The style must be suited to the subject matter, and cohere with the rest of the tale. An epic, for example, is best served by elevated language; a children’s tale by lucid, even Biblical, simplicity of speech; Laconic heroes are better set in Westerns than in Love Stories. Humorous stories must be droll; Science Fiction requires unexpected oddities of word-use, so that readers are startled with a door dilates, or when a ship lifts rather than sets sail.

The theme is the philosophy behind the tale. It can be something as simple as the moral in an Aesop fable, or something as mechanical as allegory, but real drama is rung from the tale when the theme conveys not merely a lesson that can be put into words, but a vision of life, of man and man’s place in the cosmos, that the reader can use as a lens to view life through, and in sharper detail.

What is a dramatic theme? The Aesop fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is not that dramatic, or the tale of Chicken Little. They are too simple and didactic. These are merely types, or stereotypes. When you meet an alarmist, or someone who rings a false alarm, you say, “Chicken Little is like him” meaning one small aspect of that complex person is reflected in the simple theme of Chicken Little

But Scrooge is a real person. When you meet in real life a stingy and lonely grasper, solitary as an oyster, you do not say “Scrooge is like that man” but rather you say, “That man is like Scrooge” because old Ebenezer Scrooge is the more lively and realistic person of the two, even if he happens to suffer the disadvantage of being not real or never having lived.

The philosophy of life reflected in Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL is so powerful and so popular that it is almost unparalleled. If I merely told you that generosity and Christmas cheer would save even a stingy and lost old soul from the self-wrought chains of greed and avarice, and save the poor and give them hope, you might nod politely if your reason grants assent to the proposition. But if you read the tale, so that it enters your imagination bypassing the watchful guardians of your reason, in your imagination the world comes alive, scarlet and gold with passions and visions, gray with ghosts and white with snow, and the torch of the giant drops a spark of Christmas spirit in your heart, if you have one to ignite, and the sight of a crutch carefully preserved by an empty stool next to a cold fire chills your heart with tears, if you have them to shed.

Scrooge is an excellent example of the third of Hienlein’s three types of plots, the Man Who Learns Better: except that he is wiser and filled to overflow with joy when he learns better, and the dawn banishes the cloaked horror of the final spirit, and the vision of death. Tales of salvation and redemption and forgiveness and reformation are among the most powerful and dramatic stories man can tell.

Pause now and notice what all these elements must achieve if the tale is not merely to be told but well told: not merely diverting, but actually dramatically satisfying.

The plot must be both logical, springing from previous events, and engaging, springing from the choices and deliberations of the protagonist, or, better yet, the hard choices and difficult deliberations. A story cannot be told in a world without free will, because then the characters choices mean nothing.

The characters must either be iconic, that is, posses the grandeur of archetypal myth, or must be realistic, that is, possess the detailed granular reality of real persons, naturally to their own character, but with the irregularities and unexpected textures of life. The character must be empathetic, someone the reader can like, so that the character’s victories elate or woes trouble the reader.  The character must be meaningful for his adventures and changes to be dramatic.

The setting must be as the characters, and reflect, remind, or contrast with the real cosmos. Tales that leave out an entire dimension of real life, such as Boy’s adventure stories with no romantic interest, cannot help but be less able to enchant the reader with the illusion of reality. They cannot help but be flat.

By the real cosmos, I do not mean the modern, scientific, naturalistic account of the cosmos. We all know or suspect that this is not the whole of the story of reality, because if material and natural reality were the whole of reality, we who lived in the cosmos would not tell stories, which are unreal, at all. The setting must be meaningful for the tale to be dramatic.

The style must augment the other dimensions of the tale: as in brief and manly speech for Westerns, elevated language for epics, drollery for comedy, and so on. The words must achieve poetry, even if it is only the angular and laconic poetry of the journalistic style best fit to tell a crime story. The words must exceed the mere denotation of words in order for the work not to be a legal document or a journalistic account, but actually to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The words have to be magic.

To be dramatic, the theme either must confirm the world view of the reader, or challenge that world view and lead the reader to a finer and better one instead: finer and better means, if anything, more meaningful, a tale that lends more depth, reality, and meaning to real life rather than vampiring meaning away.  Such themes as speak to eternal truths both challenge the wrong and confirm the right in the reader, and it is in the very deepest part of his soul that the deepest themes reach. A theme is a dramatization of a philosophy; and in order for a philosophy to be good, it must most of all be truth.

Let us now descend from these high matters that the Muses on their holy mountain sing, and follow a more Orphic path, and look at where modern footsteps with such good intentions have led.

What is Dehumanism? This question will be addressed in a next installment.

Part III — On Morlocks

What is Dehumanism?

Dehumanism is a term I have coined to describe that soft-edged cloud of modern thinking beloved of the Progressive elite. There is no rigorous definition of dehumanism for the same reason there is no Magisterium for the Wicca, and no Supreme Ruling Council of Anarchists. We are talking about a loose and incoherent alliance of incoherent thinkers. The central principle of Dehumanism is that it lacks principle. It is a disjointed admixture of Machiavelli, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Nihilism.

Its Machiavellian view of morals says that the ends justify the means, and says that noblest ends, such as world Utopia, justify the basest means, such as genocide; Its Darwinian view of history says that races and bloodlines are locked in remorseless and eternal war to extinction, that men should be bred like a dogs, and the weak and unwanted be exterminated; Its Marxist view of economics is that the free market is a Darwinian war between economic classes which must regard each other as implacable foes; Its Freudian view of ethics says that to repress the natural and selfish impulses in a child leads to neurosis, therefore ethics is unnatural, whereas pride and lust and greed and ire and perversion are not only natural, but healthy. Its Nietzschean theology says that God is dead and therefore Power is God. Its Nihilist philosophy says that nothing means anything, therefore no philosophy has meaning and no reasoning is reasonable.

Let me hasten to add that no one person holds all these beliefs, or to the same degree. The beliefs contradict each other and contain lunatic paradoxes, so of course no one can embrace all Dehumanist ideals simultaneously or with equal fervor.

Some wax and wane. The theme of Eugenics, for example, was quietly dropped from the Dehumanist diapason after Hitler betrayed Stalin. Eugenics is no longer welcome in polite society unless disguised as a concern about overpopulation.

Eugenics is not gone forever, of course. The notion is built into the world view of Progressivism, which sees reality as an endless war of race against race, selfish gene against selfish gene. The National Socialists celebrated this alleged reality and sought the totalitarian power to throw the victory of the Darwianian war to the Teutonic race; whereas the Fabian Socialists abhor this alleged reality, and seek the totalitarian power to impose a cease-fire on the Darwianian war.

The Christian idea of a brotherhood of man, or the Enlightenment idea of limits to government, is alien to Progressive thinking and abominated by them. They think colorblindness permits un-umpired competition between the Teutonics and their dusky inferiors; the duskies cannot win; and not to win means to be oppressed; hence, by the twisted logic of Progressivism, a non-racist government or a non-totalitarian government unable to umpire the competition between races leads inevitably to Teutonic triumph and ergo is racist. The only way to stop pro-White racism is by anti-White racism. This requires Whites to act against their own personal self-interest or Darwinian clan interest. Such interests, oddly enough, by the Nietzschean and Machiavellian theology and ethics, is the only source of life’s moral code. It is merely a matter of time before another variation Progressivism arises with some new formulation of Eugenics in its van. The selfish gene demands no less.

The average Progressive or National Socialist or Leftist or New Ager or Lover of Imbecility does not buy fully into these beliefs simply because no one could: these beliefs are deadly, and only the dead could practice them consistently.

The average Progressive or Leftist or New Ager or Imbecilophiliac does not except in small ways support them: he is like a man who burns his leaves and his trash in his backyard, and empties his spittoon off the dock, while the smokestack factories of Academia fill the air with gassy smog, and the overflowing sewer of Hollywood pours liquid sludge by gallons unnumbered into the flood.

He is himself neither truly a Nihilist nor a Marxist; his contribution to the general moral and mental pollution of the age is minimal, but real, and every little bit hurts. He is someone happy to call M. Night Shyamalan a racist for not hiring blue-eyed Eskimos to play the roles of hydrokinetic tribesmen from a make-believe world.

But such is the poisonous moral atmosphere of the modern age. I call it Dehumanism because ours is the first era in history which holds, as its basic postulate of moral reasoning, that there is no moral code, merely arbitrary or useful social myths, and no such thing as reasoning.

It is possible to raise a child to be a sociopath. A sociopath is a being without a conscience. He is able to avoid punishment, but he acknowledges no authority competent to impose duties on his behavior. Even the authority of reason is dismissed as suspect and partial. It is possible to raise a generation of sociopaths merely by raising a critical number of sociopaths among them.

Possible? It is not even difficult. All one need do is teach no young how to reason nor how to reflect on their consciences. It is no more difficult than raising a generation of illiterates: merely teach no young how to read.

At that point, without recourse to reason and without recourse to conscience, and being unable to perceive or even to imagine abiding by any moral standard, mankind will be reduced to being merely an ape that talks. It will indeed be a rational creature, able to calculate a sum or repair a motor, but it will not be human. It will be a creature that can be tamed, like a dog, not to injure its master’s kin, but also trained, like a dog, to kill its master’s prey, but the ability to reflect upon the moral meaning of its trained behaviors will be lost. It will be human in name only, if it deserves that name. A fitter name for the race replacing Man is Morlock.

Such forms the backdrop of assumptions, the starting point, of what any story teller or film maker expects his audience to accept unasked and unsupported.

How can one create a satisfactory drama against such a backdrop, with such intellectual furniture as the props?

What kind of tales can Morlocks tell?

If a Morlock is a creature unable to make or even imagine moral judgments, he only avoids injuring others to avoid punishment. He cannot imagine any other evil aside from injury, and he cannot but resent the lash of the master who inflicts the punishment. Only a totalitarian system of rewards and punishments can check his impulses. Conditioned to equate “goodness” with reward, and therefore the only good he can imagine is reward, usually physical pleasure, such as wine, women, and song, but sometimes psychological pleasure, such as praise, rank and dignities. The Morlock must be a hedonist.

The primary daydream of the Morlock is to achieve the reward for good behavior without the tedium of good behavior: his daydream is to break the whip of the master. His stories are stories of rebellion, retribution and retaliation.

Any authority figure in Morlockian stories is to be shown as a pretender, a poseur, a traitor to his right to rule, a hypocrite or tyrant. No antagonist other than an authority figure fits the mould for a Morlock story.

Morlocks, lacking conscience, daydream of being freed of control, but not in order to live the productive lives of free men. What they seek is pleasure. What they seek is thrills. The nature of pleasure is that it palls. Pleasure is not joy, it is merely stimulus. Stimulus weakens on repetition. Morlocks thrive on defiance. It does not matter what they defy nor why.

Morlocks also lack reason, a sense of proportion, and a sense of common sense. Seeking stimulus, and resenting any attempts at control, they seek indecency. And then when Hugh Hefner and Lenny Bruce becomes mainstream, and mild indecency is the norm, the only way to find an equal psychological reward is to become grossly indecent, to praise Che and Mao and Castro, and to call all the victims of 9/11 little Eichmanns who deserved to die. Once abortion is legal and commonplace the only way to defy the commonplace (and find the stimulus of pleasure that comes from defiance) is to become Peter Singer, and call in tones of whining self-righteousness for the death of children up to the age of two.

The Morlockian rebellion against reason never ends, because the point is to promote ever more illogical and unrealistic offenses against the conscience. It is addictive: ever larger doses of grotesque ugliness, outrageous perversity, malign brutality, and inhuman cruelty are needed to produce the same rush of smug self-esteem. The note of sadism, sheer brutal bloodthirsty love of pain for the sake of pain, is never very far from the high and lofty symphonic daydreams of the utopians

Let me pause to interpose the description of a movie made and distributed and viewed by modern Americans. Hundreds of people and tens of thousands of dollars cooperated to make this. They volunteered.

Not for the squeamish.

Two men are shackled to saws, with their mutual girlfriend hanging in between them over a larger blade. They decide to spare their own lives by sacrificing the unfaithful woman, who is graphically sawn in two. As the blade cuts through her, she screams (and screams and screams) as her blood spatters the men and her intestines slide to the ground.

Another elaborately grotesque trap involves four people, one of whom is superglued to the seat of a car that will soon fall from a jack, accelerate and kill his three friends. If he can rip his back from the seat and reach a lever to stop the car, he’s told he can save them. He cannot, of course, and his flesh is torn apart in his attempt. One of the tires falls on a woman’s face, shredding it and the rest of her body as the car speeds off. A man’s jaw and arms are attached to the car by hooks—and ripped from his body when the vehicle speeds into the fourth man, who is shackled to a wall. Blood and body parts fly. When asked how many victims there are at the crime scene, a cop says, “Enough pieces to make four.”

A woman’s eyes and mouth are savagely gouged by spikes when Bobby cannot save her from a trap. He must pull a fishhook from another woman’s stomach, ripping her throat in the process—evident by the mound of flesh he heaves out of her mouth. Bobby must pull two of his teeth in order to find a lock’s combination. He twists pliers in anguish, ripping his mouth, causing blood to pour from the wounds. We hear his jaw crunch. In order to reach and save his wife, Bobby pierces his pectoral muscles with large hooks and miserably hoists himself up with chains. Eventually, his chest rips apart and he falls to the floor in a pool of blood.

People are also shot and graphically burned to death. A man’s eyelids are shown sewn shut.

This is the seventh movie in this franchise, which has countless imitators and has spawned its own subgenre, called torture porn.

I solemnly assure you that even the Imperial box, front row center, at a Roman gladiatorial game did not show wounds and torment so vividly and closely. As I said above, the point is not to drive our civilization down to the point of paganism, nor to the point of barbarism. Barbarians are still human. The point is to drive civilization lower, to the subhuman.

What is it about subhumanity that hinders drama? We are now in a position to draw two threads of the argument together.

Part IV — the Contradiction

One can indeed write a story that contradicts one’s own world view. Any author unable to disguise his personal opinions for the sake the story he tells lack the essential Puckish dishonesty of the auctorial tribe, and should not be set to telling tribal lays.

However, one cannot hide the world view of the story itself, since this forms the theme, and informs or influences (at least, in works of art maintaining minimal integrity) the plot, character, setting, and style.

A Dehumanist author can write a dramatic tale, but a dramatic tale cannot be a dehumanist tale except in the one exception already mentioned: any story of rebellion against authority, any story that expresses relief or morbid enjoyment at the discovery that life is meaningless and that no final judgment nor eternal life awaits us, can be written dramatically and honestly.

Aside from a rebellion story with a nihilist theme, the dramatist can write nothing else that fits the dehumanist world, and the dehumanist can write nothing else that is dramatic. The attempts to do so will be dishonest, or, at least, will lack an essential element of drama.

Aside from a rebellion story with a nihilist theme, there is no dehumanist drama.

I have made a bold statement: but if we accept what has been said previously about the elements of drama, no other statement will do. Let us recall these elements. What is required for a drama to be truly dramatic?

Here let me emphasize that I am only talking about how dramatic a tale is, not about other things, aside from drama, that make a tale enjoyable.

To use an example from my own field, DUNE by Frank Herbert and FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov both were set in galactic empires, but Asimov’s short stories were intellectual puzzles, whereas Herbert’s novel was drama of operatic scope, with as many betrayals, escapes, duels, deaths, and prophetic warnings as a Shakespeare play.

Asimov’s work is not bad: it is both popular and entertaining. But I am not here talking about popularity and entertainment. I here discuss drama.

Drama happens when the reader is immersed in the tale, when the reader is touched, perhaps moved, perhaps changed, by the experience.

The drama is satisfying when, after unbearable suspense, the conclusion finally comes, and finally happens as completely as you hoped (if the ending is happy) or feared (if the ending is not). This satisfaction is when all the elements of the plot and theme come together, and something in the reader’s heart has a Eureka-like moment, almost like a moment of recognition. I knew that would happen.

The satisfying richness of the drama can only spring up from stories that bring drama out of each story element.

To be dramatic, the plot events must be logical, flowing one to the next. The Dehumanist world view does not admit of logic and reason, at least, not the nihilist school of thought. Their school of thought has events that have no meaning and no logic, or, better, no events at all: and so their art is angular, absurdist, cubic, dadaist, and their drama follows the pattern of WAITING FOR GODOT, a tale where nothing happens.

To be dramatic, the plot must revolve around the deliberations and the decisions of the characters. No tales can be told about your decision what to eat for lunch. The decision must be about a weighty, that is, a meaningful matter.

Stories involving creatures with no free will, such as Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, or BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts, can be interesting puzzle stories or dark and dramatic mood pieces. There is some Poe-esque drama in a story where a man who thinks he has free will discovers he has none, in the same way a tale about a man waking up in cramped quarters and only slowly realizing he has been buried alive is dramatic:  but the sharp risk is run that the reader will suddenly realize he is reading about a dead robot, not about a living character, and the spell of suspension of disbelief will break.

This happened to me during the Spielberg movie AI. Once the mother, who was alive, was off screen, I suddenly realized that the little robot boy — who had no capacity, being a robot, either to suffer or learn from suffering — was a meaningless clockwork doll. This also happened, for me, while reading CATCHWORLD by Chris Boyce: since all the characters had been hypnotically and neurologically conditioned to react a certain way to their mission, there was no conflict between their mission goals and their personal goals, and therefore the story lacked drama.

I will not say it is impossible to wring drama out of a tale where there is no free will, and the characters make no decisions (aside from meaningless pre-programmed ones). My point only is that the more honest such a story is, by definition the less meaningful the actions of the characters will be, and therefore the less dramatic.

As for setting, a tale can only select one of three possible types of setting:

The story world can be a world where there are more things in heaven and earth than our dreamt in your philosophy, that is, a world larger than the real world to which the reader returns when he closes the book. All fantasy, all science fiction, takes place in worlds containing more than our worldly philosophy dreams of. It is the stock in trade and defining characteristic of science fiction.These are larger than life settings.

Or the story world could contain just as many things as the reader world. The two worlds are equal. The stories of Dashiell Hammett or Jane Austin take place in a fictional world containing the same dimensions our world contains. These are lifesized settings.

Or the story could contain fewer things as the reader world. The author’s invented world is smaller, narrower, and dingier than the real world. Stories that dwell on disease and despair occupy this niche. It is the natural location for the Dehumanist story, because it represents dehumanist philosophy, namely, the nihilist philosophy that all human virtues and passions are arbitrary illusions. These are smaller than life settings.

All ancient poetry and epic contained elements of romance and fable, stories of gods and monsters, which could not exist in the reader’s world, or of heroes and villains who were godlike or monstrous. With the advent of naturalistic writing, however, the exaggerations of romances, the tales of knightly deeds, descents into hell, or ascents on hippogriff back to the aery sphere of the moon, all fell into neglect. More realistic and quotidian concerns occupied the center stage.

The spirit of romance that informed ancient poetry was relegated to the nursery, becoming fairy stories, or the pulp magazines, where in purple prose the cardboard characters of boy’s adventure fiction swam in submarines or sailed in airships to encounter the immortal yet unearthly beautiful witch-queens ruling lost races in unexplored continents.

From such pulp roots did both science fiction and superhero comics ultimately come. Pulp adventures were placed off the edges of the map, or beyond the reach of history books, in Atlantis or Africa or Cimmeria, or Pellucidar or Barsoom, because the settled and civilized parts of the world were too small to contain the larger things of which your philosophy has not dreamt. Only the white spaces beyond the edge of the map are large enough to hold the larger than life landscape needed. By the time explorers reached the Arctic or Everest, the edges of the map were offplanet. (And these days, one cannot even set a lovely space princess to rule the crumbling ruins beneath the brooding pyramids of Mars, or set a hero to face a nine-armed Martian in the radium-lit gladiator pits, because too much is known of Mars. The edges of the map have moved.)

Dehumanist and postmodern tales do not need to be set beyond the fields we know, or beneath the colored light of distant suns. Their world is small.

The effort and effect, the point of Dehumanism in its many forms is deconstruction. The dehumanist looks at a tale as he looks at life, not to see it but to see through it.

In a dehuman tale, the handsome prince always must be a philandering creep, the monster an innocent victim of society, the wonder must be an illusion and a lie. The setting of story that is honest and true to the dehumanist message is a world more sinful, meaningless, and broken than our own, and less appealing.

Such a story could indeed be told with considerable craft, but it creates not a feeling of drama, not immersion, but a feeling a distance: a sense that one’s cynical suspicions about the world are confirmed.

As for style, one prominent element of Dehumanist theory is that words have no meaning, and are therefore merely arbitrary tools with arbitrary connotations, to be used in order to manipulate the reader, not to discover the truth of the world. Dehumanism says that all poetry is propaganda. A dehuman author, such as Phillip Pullman, can write passages of dramatic effect raising even to the level of Homeric poetry, but he cannot do so in a sustained fashion without being untrue to his world view: eventually, even if he starts as a poet, he must end as  a propagandist.

As for theme, the only messages to be gained from Machiavelli, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Nihilism are messages of cynicism, savagery, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, moral solipsism and despair.

By moral solipsism, I mean the theory that you and you alone must invent ex nihilo your own moral code and way of life, and that no logic and no judgment and no authority stands ready to help or guide, because all determinations are equally arbitrary, and mean only what you, in your omnipotent whim, take them to mean. Moral solipsism means rejecting the world, heaven and earth, and everything in it.

Stories about rejecting the world and everything in it, cursing heaven and seeking hell can indeed, once or twice, maintain a certain stark Luciferine drama, and even be, to adolescent minds, bracing. I would list VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS as an excellent example of when this was done. But the drama always evaporates because the theme of such tales is that life has no meaning and God is dead.

The ending of Philip Pullman’s otherwise excellent trilogy was bland and undramatic because the character Lyra  is, at the end, a smaller person than when she began. She began as someone running with wild street urchins, gypsies and witches, and she was full of loyalty, zeal and adventure, willing to defy tyrants and war on tyrannous gods in heaven; and ended as a melancholy schoolmarmish nobody, whose mission in life was to go to school and be nice to people in small ways. It was a story about moral solipsism. When Lyra rejects the world and sits down to invent her own personal moral code, what she comes up with is a bland and slightly creepy version of underage erotic hedonism. If the moral code of the tale is smaller, rather than larger, than the moral code of the average reader, the average reader is in no way prone to be swept up in the drama.

In sum, the point where the various component philosophies of Dehumanism agree is that life is meaningless. Machiavelli, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Nihilism all point to the pointlessness of ethics, the bestial nature of man and the bestial nature of nature, the meaninglessness of individual effort or individual property, the illusory nature of the mind, of the soul, and of reason.

If you write a tale where the protagonist stands to win or lose his life, his heart, and his soul, this makes the stakes high and the drama dramatic: if at the same time, your theme honesty puts across the idea that life is merely biological mechanics, emotions are epiphenomenon or social programming, and souls are figments, your opportunity for drama evaporates.

As I said before, tales of salvation and redemption and forgiveness and reformation are among the most powerful and dramatic stories man can tell. But the world view of the dehumanist, the moral relativist, the nihilist says that there is no salvation, no redemption, no forgiveness in the world, and to be reformed is merely to move arbitrarily from one empty form to another.

Drama is meaningful; dehumanism demeans meaning.

The epics of ancient poetry, Homer and Virgil and Fardusi and Vyasa, were filled with sound and fury of great and eternal significance. The modern naturalistic novel took place on a smaller scale, starring heroic realistic humans rather than demigodlike romantic heroes: Sam Spade rather than Sir Galahad. The post-modern subnaturalistic novel took place on an even smaller scale, starring people less heroic than an average police officer, priest or physician. Steerpike and Stephen Daedalus.

The magician Prospero could appear without a jar in many an ancient epic; and his sweet daughter Miranda in any modern novel; and in any postmodern, Caliban.

The question remains whether these opinions about the nature of drama are true only here and now, or only in this writer’s opinion, or if there is some more general or universal ground to support them. If that is answered, we finally can turn to the question of what it is about Superhero tales that lend themselves to better tales than what the mainstream (that is, elitist) of Hollywood evidently prefers.

Part V — On Aesthetics

Are the rules of drama subjective, conventional, or objective? The short answer is a qualified yes: a heavily qualified yes. Drama is subjective, but also conventional and also objective, even if the objective element is requires wisdom to discover, and even if the discovery can never be utterly free of doubt.

The first qualification is that any work of art follows the conventions of its genre, and these conventions, being conventions, are subjective from the point of view of the universe, but objective from the point of view of the individual. Like the rules of chess, the rules for how to write a sonnet cannot be changed by an individual. If you play a game where the pawns move backward, it is not chess; if you write a poem where not of 14 lines of ten syllables in iambic pentameter ending with a rhyming couplet, it is not a sonnet. Call it something else.

The second qualification is that personal matters of taste cannot be fully removed from the question. This does not mean we should fall into the opposite error of assuming all aesthetics is merely personal taste and nothing but: and yet it means that any conclusions admit of doubt, mayhap of grave doubt.

The reason why we know that more than mere personal taste is involved is that any reader, assuming him even partly honest, can bring to mind some example of a work of art he acknowledges to be good or even great, but does not appeal to him personally; or some work of trash he knows in the abstract to be without artistic merit, skill, or craft, but which he pursues with pleasure, and, if he is a snob, it is a guilty pleasure, because he learned to be ashamed of his taste for common things.

If you want my own testimony, I can list the BROTHERS KARAMAZOV or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor as acknowledged classics utterly not to my taste, intolerable to me, or the remake of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA—an artistic triumph I could not continue to watch because I abhorred the political themes intruding. I enjoy the Shadow novels by Maxwell Grant, even though these are mere pulp, the artless and execrable writing of HP Lovecraft, comics by Steve Dikto, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Do not leap to the defense of how great is the art of Kirby and Dikto: I acknowledge these are fine cartoonists, perhaps the best the industry has produced, but I do not take their work to be equal to that of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or Da Vinci’s fresco of the Last Supper.

The third qualification is that we must restrict our inquiry to what human beings living in the human condition can know and see. The speculation that Martians or Ghosts, Elves or Angels might have such different apparatus to sense and interpret the world that no rules of art which apply to our sphere and to the human condition could apply to theirs simply need not concern us: we are hunting for an objective rule of art the way a philosopher hunts for an objective rule of science. Let us not conflate universality with objectivity. Universal refers to what is true in all times, places and conditions: Objective refers to what does not change when the observer changes. Simply because the curve of an airplane wing will not, in outerspace, nor on the Moon, produce lift, does not mean Bernoulli’s Principle is merely a local prejudice.

The fourth qualification is that some works of true artistic merit are buried where the world has not found nor acknowledged them: consider that some of Maxfield Parrish’s work first appeared as advertisements, or Norman Rockwell as magazine covers.

Likewise, in the modern day, the Lord of the Hell has raised his iron scepter above its cindery lava plains, and at the signal of their Great Sultan, his reigning Dukes, Peers and Ministers, with folded wings of membrane, bowed their flame-crowned heads, and in his name commanded the world to acknowledge, and praise as if it is fine art high-flown the merest rubbish, junk, filth, poop, and vomit imaginable, starting with Picasso and ending with Piss Christ.

There are works of no merit whatsoever raised by the clamor of dog-eyed establishment critics and beauty-hating gargoyles to world wide fame. If you for a moment thought these gargoyles were not liars to the marrow of their crooked bones, you might wonder, all aghast, if perhaps all taste in art, all rules of craft, were not indeed mere personal preference and arbitrary and subjective.

But no, these things are not art, but anti-art, and they correctly express the world view of those that made and admire them. They are Morlocks, and their works consist, as Morlock-work must do, of taking the beautiful things of the sunlit Eloi world, dragging them down into the sewers, and chopping them into grisly strings of meat.

The leitmotif of all this modern art is the spirit of violent rebellion. For reasons I have stated above, drama and even a certain angular and sinister beauty can flow from such Promethean rebellion against established forms: but every other dimension of the human experience aside from the heady emotions rebels on the barricades can know are closed.

Example: An honest art critic can look at Duchamp’s NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, and see in it something jarring and startling and new, something that tries to tear his perceptions away from the human method of perception, something that shatters, and violently, the bourgeoisie conventions of representation and perspective.

Nude Descending a Staircase by Duchamp — wait. Is that pic upside down?

But there is nothing else aside from this dimension to the work. You cannot study the perspective, because it is not a perspectival drawing. You cannot comment on the accuracy of the representation, because nothing is represented. You cannot notice the beauty of the nude’s face or comment on her rapturous expression, because she has no face. You cannot even comment on where and how the original myth is reflected or reinterpreted, because there is no myth, no tradition, no context, no nothing.

Ravishment of Psyche by Bouguereau

Contrast this with the RAVISHMENT OF PSYCHE by Bouguereau. You can remark on the composition because there is composition, and talk of the theme because there is a theme present; there is an erotic dimension (no pun intended) because the nude figures of Eros and his beloved are dawn well enough to see them; there is a classical dimension, as this is a scene from myth; there is a romantic dimension, as well as symbolic, as well as the technical skill required to draw the feathers on the wings of the love god, or the folds of the banner fluttering from the nude and swooning form of his ascending bride. There is even a religious dimension here, for any with eyes to see it, since this is an image of the soul ascending in to heaven in the arms of divine love. Anyone who has ever been swept aloft by love will know something of a shock of recognition studying this picture.

Your talk indeed might consist of nothing but dismissive contempt for the way the artist has handled his subject, theme, technique, perspective, eroticism, romanticism, classicalism, spiritualism: but at least you have something to talk about. There is something actually present in the work to discuss and judge, aside from merely rebellion against convention. (There is, of course, rebellion against convention in Bouguereau as well, albeit a jaded modern audience might not see how radical the rebellion is. Show this painting to a Marxist-Feminist, and listen to her tired and trite politically correct condemnation of it, and then you will understand against what the flight of Psyche flies.)

But for what it is, the eye-jarring rubbish of Duchamp does correctly what it means to do. This means we have to add another qualification: we must restrict our comments to what all art, including modern art, has in common. Whatever is actually present in modern art (and by design there is damned little of it) that speaks to beauty and to the sublime, must also be taken into account. There is indeed something brave and breathtaking in the rebellion of Lucifer.

These qualifications seem to leave us with very little room to establish an objective aesthetics. If the rules of art are not mere personal taste, nor mere conventions of genre, nor something created by specifically human biases of the human race, and if we cannot depend on the testimony of critics and experts to determine what is great art and great drama, and if we cannot even dismiss the deliberately rubbishy modernist rubbish as rubbish, how can any allegedly objective rules be deduced or discussed?

Let us start, as good Thomistic scientists must, with common sense observation. I remind you of the primary data that we all have experienced great art that does not appeal to our taste, and we have all seen art produced from other cultures which appeal to us even in translation, or even across the gulf that separates Orient from Occident. If you have not experienced this, dear reader, then read no further: my comments are not addressed to you.

All of us, if we are not merely children or possessed of childlike tastes, recall works that we had to work to learn to love, such as obtuse poems which has to be explained before they were beautiful, words of archaic or foreign cant, or novels referring to experiences in life we were too young, on first reading, to recognize or know. Even science fiction and fantasy has some introductory learning that needs be done, a certain grasp of the scientific world view or the conventions of fantastic genre that must be gained, before the work is loveable. The only art I know that has no introductory effort at all is comic books, but even they, in recent years, now require introduction, since no one unaware of the decades of continuity can simply pick up a comic book and read it with pleasure: they are written for adults, these days, not kids, and adults expect and are expected to try harder to get into the work before getting something out of it.

The reason why modern art can pass for art is that the Tailors of the Emperor’s New Clothes can claim, and the claim cannot be dismissed unexamined, that modern art merely is has a steeper learning curve than real art. Once you get all the in-jokes and palindromes and Irish and Classical references in James Joyce (so the Tailors say) you can read ULYSSES with the same pleasure that a student, once he learns Latin, reads Virgil. And as long as you are in sympathy with the effort at destruction and deconstruction, this modern art has the same fascination as watching a wrecking crew tear down a fair and delicate antique fane with fretted colonnades and an architrave of flowing figures recalling forgotten wars between giants and gods. What child will not cheer when he sees a wrecking ball crash through the marble and stained glass of old and unwanted beauty? How he will clap when the dynamite goes off, and squeal, and hold his ears! I am not being sarcastic: there is something impressive in such acts.

Let us add a second observation: great novels and great paintings, symphonies, even great comic books, are ones that reward a second rereading or heeding or viewing. A book is something you read once and enjoy and throw away. A good book is one you read twice, and get something out of it a second time. A great book is one that has the power to make you fall in love, and each time you reread it, it is as new and fresh as Springtime, and you see some new nuance in it, the same way you see more beauty each time you see your wife of many years, and will forever, no matter how many years you see her face. (Those of you who are not in love, or not happily married, or who have never read a truly great book, will not know whereof I speak. Alas, I cannot describe the colors of a sunrise to a man born blind.)

Let us assume that there is no beauty in art, no objective rules. If that were so, how do we explain the two observations noted above, first, that some art must be learned before it is loved, and second, that some art rewards additional scrutiny indefinitely, a fountainhead that never runs dry. The explanation that the learning is not learning but merely acclamation, an Eskimo learning to tolerate the tropics, a Bushman growing to enjoy the snow, would make sense if and only if any art or rubbish would reward equal study with equal pleasure.

If the pleasure I get out of a work of art I had to grow and learn to like was merely due to me and my tastes, and the learning was not learning at all, but merely an adjustment of taste from one arbitrary genre convention to another, then the outcome or result could not differ from artwork to artwork, as long as I were the same.

If I can see more rich detail each time I reread Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and if indeed there are beauties that piece like swords, and if this were due to me and only to me, and not due to something in the work, I should be able to study a pile of rocks besmirched with stains of oil and offal in a rubble heap, and with the same passage of time and effort, force myself to see equal beauty within.

But I cannot, nor can any man. Therefore the sublime is not just in me the observer; logically, it must be in the thing observed. There must be something really there.

If this argument satisfies, it tells us, with the clarity of a Deist argument, that there is an objective beauty in the world, but not what it is.

As in theological argument, in aesthetics we can only know more of the beauty of the universe if it comes to us in the artistic equivalent of revelation. We have to look at beauty in nature and see what is there, and what its rules are, before we look at beauty in human handiwork.

This requires a leap of faith. To my atheist and agnostic readers, I apologize, for now the discussion leaps across a gulf you cannot, with unaided human reason, cross. Only to my fellow theists can I make the next step and draw the next conclusion. Again, my apologies, but to you, aesthetics will always remain a branch of philosophy either of no interest, or the source only of frustration.

Jews and Christians, Heretics, Heathens and Pagans, you know we live within a living work of art, the handiwork of heaven. If there is a Platonic Form or Idea of beauty, all art is art which correctly reflects this, and the same author who established the Form in its place in the hierarchy of true ideas, also created the cosmos with cosmic beauty in it, and created our hearts so that they leap with joy and recognition when that beauty is revealed.

Beauty is the emotional apprehension of truth and goodness in the same way that truth is the rational apprehension of what fitting and perfect, and in the same way that goodness is apprehension by the conscience of what is true and fair. A beautiful thing that has a piece missing is imperfect in the same way a truth that hides part of the truth is a lie, or a virtue exercises in service of vice is vicious. We are dealing with three different types of integrity or perfection. If there is One divine author or fountainhead of Truth, Beauty and Goodness, there can indeed be, and perhaps must be, a integrity between them: if there is no God, there is no explanation of any coherence between the three, nor any reason why we humans should just so happen to be able to apprehend the same, and no reason why, given a choice, we should.

Skeptical Deists like Thomas Paine do not think God wrote scripture, but do think the Creator wrote creation; and even skeptics such as this will look to nature to see what the rules of art and beauty are.

In general, beauty reflects integrity and perfection; a nude figure otherwise well featured who has a hook for a hand, or whose one breast is larger than the other, or a symphony with one theme in jarring disharmony with itself, or a landscape painting of a factory with dead fish heaped above a polluted shoreline. Even a woman who is outwardly fair to the eye and inwardly vain and shallow and cruel is repulsive because of the imperfection, the disharmony, the lack of symmetry between her physical and spiritual appearance. There are exceptions, of course: the Venus di Milo, or unfinished symphonies or poems, can be beautiful, perhaps in a melancholy way, but the perfection is those cases in implied; these are not works deliberately meant to be marred, nor meant to praise and draw the soul toward imperfection.

The rules of drama found there are roughly what we discussed above. In the cycle of the year, for example, we see the elements of plot drama. Spring is filled with love stories, Summer with war and work, Autumn with Harvest, Winter with the still coldness and frozen beauty that reminds us of the graveyard or the inhuman beauty of Elfland; and then, as all great drama must, the plot turns to themes of redemption, salvation, transformation, and the world is saved from the grip of monstrous winter by the heroic yet fragile armies of spring, green twigs, twittering birds returning from far exiles like Elves returning to the Blessed Isles, while the white knight who saves the maiden Mother Nature and ends her snowy woes rides in his triumphal car in heaven, Apollo, too bright to look upon.

What drama do we see in nature? That depends on the insight of the onlooker. Let us list them from least to most.

Those dull-eyed and scientific people who see nature merely as a battlefield of infinite battle, red in tooth and nail, the meaningless and remorseless struggle for survival of selfish genes manipulating hypnotized beasts to carry out their blind and mindless program of endless Xeroxlike self-repetition, pointless as wallpaper, do not see the drama or the melodrama.

The pagan view of the world is like an island of joy in a melancholy sea of chaos. The bright armies of Spring, the rose with her thorn, array in battle against the hosts of Winter, icicles like spears, and the Summer King dies and is reborn, and Demeter walks the Earth hooded and weeping, seeking her daughter in Hell, who in due season will rise again. One eyed Odin roars with laughter, hearing the japes of Loki who will soon betray him, and he needs no other food aside from his horn of mead and the mystic waters of the well of wisdom, in which he sees the visions of the Twilight of the Gods, from which nor man nor god shall rise again. The worm Ouroboros eats its own tail, the very world serpent himself, and the endless cycle of endless sorrows endlessly return.

The world view of the Orient reflects this theme of endless return, and submission to cosmic law and order. Confucius, eminently practical, speaks only of the order that must obtain among gentlemen, if a life of virtue and a virtuous rule is to be maintained. Lao Tzu places his finger on his smiling lip, and says that the truth when spoken of is not the truth, but this truth guides the way of the world. For the Hindu, as for the ancient Egyptian, the Sumerian and the Chinaman, the beauty of the world is in the cosmic order: karma, ma’at, me, tao.

All of Asia might agree, with the one exception of the Buddha, the Enlightened One, who lifts a lamp from the windless sea beyond the edges of the world, from Nirvana, and tells of a place where all sorrows are dissolved in selflessness, and one can become one with nothingness. The stoical resignation to fate and cosmic law is mingled with the hints of an escape into a perfect void, where mourning ceases because there is no mourner.  For the Buddhist, the beauty of the world is part of the illusion of the world, therefore the Buddhist sage closes his eyes when he meditates.

The Jew is a rebel to all this. They are a people apart, for they were told the great secret. The world was created, and the creator pronounced it very good. Light and heaven and earth and sea, the green growing things, fish and fowl, and all that creeps and walks and runs, all are good and very good, and the crown of creation who walks upright is made in the very image and likeness of God: a work of art that is also the self portrait of the Divinity.

The religion of Abraham, like the religion of Odin, ends in the cosmic war, except that, unlike Ragnarök, in the battle of Armageddon, the forces of heaven are promised victory and joy unmeasured, and not glorious sorrow in glorious defeat. The final winter of the world is ended, and the endless Springtide rules.

Here is the element of drama, the great story, in which the numberless lesser stories are woven like the curls of a Celtic knotwork: the great tale begins with a sympathetic protagonist, Love Himself, brighter than Apollo, encountering the challenge of the Fall, an obstacle as terrible and final as the tears of Demeter when she found her daughter lost from the fields of Enna. The Messiah descends as the main act in the plot, albeit Christians say this happened already, and Jews say not yet. Then salvation, judgment, the reward of the just, and the punishment long over due of the sneering mustachio-twirling villains, and all swords are bent into ploughshares and all tears wiped away, and all lovers reunited. Roll credits.

Tragedies are those tales that end, as Milton’s PARADISE LOST, or Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA, with the triumph of sorrow. Eden ends in exile from Eden, and as the dead body of sweet prince Hamlet is drawn away, Horatio stands aghast, and wonders at the death of the whole dynasty. To my fellow Christians I can tell you the secret that tragedies have such power to move us because we know in our souls that this world is tragic, and that Eve ate an apple as filled with poison as the cup Queen Gertrude raises to toast her son.

Comedies end in marriages. True comedy is not mere witty sarcasm, japery, or gallows humor: true comedy is joy. To my fellow Christians I can tell you the secret that comedies have the power to bring joy because we know in our souls that one day our prince will come, and the long exile in this land of death shall end, and the bridegroom shall marry his mystical bride the Church, and heaven and earth shall wed.

Adventure stories end in victory, and romances end in consummation. There are feminists who object to tales where knights and princes disguised as churls or shepherd boys rescue princesses chained to rocks from the leviathan in the sea, and carry her off on his white charger, or, better yet, carry her aloft in his winged shoes to a royal wedding.  The feminist called such tales, where the princess is merely the prize to be won, examples of male chauvinism. Blind vipers! Were only their eyes opened, they would call this female chauvinism, because this is a type or a shadow of the rescue of all the soul of the Church by our beloved Bridegroom. He saves us not to win us as a prize; He saves us because He prizes us, and knows us worthy to be won. Compared to Him, we are all women, our souls are female: they receive, like soil receiving a seed, the inspiration and infusion from which new life shall grow in us. Speak no more of Man’s search for God. Speak instead of God perusing and wooing Man, and carrying off our souls like Psyche in the arms of Eros. He first chose us.

In addition to comedy and tragedy and adventure and romance, this one grand true drama also contains the modernist elements of shock and rebellion. Nothing is more shocking to the Jew or Mohammedan that the thought of God Himself, pure and unstained and divine from eternity, entering into time in the womb of a mere woman. This is as jarring to convention as any mere cubist abstraction. And as for rebellion, Christ defied the Prince of Air and Darkness that rules this world, spoke back to Pontius Pilate, and not merely rebelled against the world system, but overthrew it.

Even you atheists and your dramas are not absent here. When the crucified Savior cried out on the bloody tree, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? surely he cries with your voice. Or perhaps you are an atheist because you rightly scorn the hypocrisies and lies of smug established churches and their niggling rules: when the Messiah faces the Pharisees and called them sons of vipers, hypocrites, blind fools, and he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, His anger and disgust at all the folly of false religion was as great as yours.

All the elements of great drama are present in the tragic world in which we are trapped, and in the heavenly comedy, adventure, and romance beyond the shores of this world reaching like a beam of starlight down to us, smiting the heart with hope that burns like cold iron.

Here we have the most likeable protagonist of all, whose suffering all men have alike in each his own life; the stakes are high, nothing less than the salvation or damnation of the world, or of each soul in the world; the foe is ferocious and mighty and dark, no less than death itself, and monarch over all creatures on earth, no less than Lucifer, the greatest and noblest and wisest of the archangels that fell; the plot is ripe with shocking surprises, almost to the point of absurdity, secret princes born in stables, mages following strange conjunctions in the starry sky, signs and wonders, blind men weeping with eyes once more opened to light. There is intrigue, betrayal, courtroom drama, torment and death. And then there is the one thing every springtide hints of.

And this is only the end of Act Two. Somewhere down the corridors of time rages the knightly battles of the Twilight of the Gods, and the clamor of the end of the world, and the roar of the last trumpet is so loud that prophets can hear the echoes from the future in their dreams, and haunt us with riddles and signs of things to come.

The setting is the infinite and infinitely precious world around us, the globe of Earth as an island of life in a sea of endless night, galaxies above so vast the numbers themselves must fail before the immensity. Do not wonder at the width of the universe: our Bridegroom must prepare a wedding gift as large enough to represent an endless love to give us when waiting is done. To human eyes the cosmos looks dark. In truth, it is filled with light.

The characters,  beloved readers, include you and include me. We are the players. (My role is comedy relief: Bottom with an asses’ head beloved of a bewitched fairy queen of supernal beauty.) Have any characters ever been so well drawn in any drama?  Are any villains as horrific as what human beings can be?

As to the style of the drama of creation, there words fail. You must consult both scientists and artists to see the intricacy and elegance of the laws of nature and the beauties of nature.

And the theme is the theme that makes for the most dramatic tales: we are living, all of us, even those poor atheists who cannot see it, in the middle of a desperate tragic drama with a possible ending, for some of the characters, of joy beyond immensity.

This life, and the life to come, is a tale of salvation and redemption and forgiveness, of transformation and reformation. It is a Divine Comedy. We are all the poet. We will one day see our beloved Beatrice again. First we must go through the pits and fires of Hell and climb the cornices of mount Purgatory.

Why did the Creator put creative people in His creation? Why did He give us, like Him, the power to speak Words, a power no beast shares? Why do poets exist?

Life is a Divine Comedy. We need a Virgil to lead us up as high as worldly art can reach.

Finally we can reach the final question. What is it about Superhero movies that make them better than mainstream Hollywood movies? But this will be explored in another installment.


Part VI — On Heroics and Superheroics

Finally we reach the question: Why Superheroes? What is it about the Superheroic genre that makes supermovies better than modern mainstream movies?

The answer is threefold.

First, older mainstream movies, such as GONE WITH THE WIND and WIZARD OF OZ did not follow the modernist and postmodernist tastes which have ruined so many recent movies. Those mentally empty and morally corrupt philosophies had not yet reached mainstream popular entertainment in those days.

So the first part of the answer is not that superhero movies grew better than normal, just that mainstream movies grew worse. This happened as nonconformists of the 1960’s and 70’s became the establishment in Hollywood. Their world view, which I here have called dehumanism, when consistently portrayed, lacks sympathy, drama, purpose, point and meaning; and therefore the films that win acclaim by accurately reflecting the dehuman world-view lose the ability to tell a tale in a dramatically satisfying way.  Dehumanity and drama are mutually exclusive. More of one means less of another; and it is a rare genius who can reconcile the two.

The modern movies that most obviously defy these corroded modern conventions are deliberately nostalgic homages to serial cliffhangers: STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. These are among the bestselling movies of all time, and they transformed the industry and the audience expectations: summer blockbuster tentpole movies spring from nostalgic roots.

Second, there have always been superhero movies, such as CAPTAIN MARVEL serial cliffhangers. Not until recently has the special effects been able to match what pen and ink portrays. The amount of suspension of disbelief needed to feel a real thrill untainted with cynicism when watching some feat of derring-do portrayed with cheesy special effects is rather high, and only small children have that much imagination to spare. We grown-ups need more realistic special effects before we will believe a man can actually fly. So technical advances, not any change in the manners and morals of the people, allow superheroics to appear on the silver screen in a fashion that they once upon a time could not.

Third, and most importantly, superhero movies, like homages to serial cliffhangers, are fundamentally nostalgic, fundamentally childlike. One of the conventions of nostalgia is that the audience is not allowed to scoff or look cynical at the simplistic purity of the drama. If someone says STAR WARS is simply too blatantly black-and-white, with its orphaned farmboy hero in a white gi, and evil warlock-knight villain in a black cape, black skull mask, black Nazi helmet, and black lung disease wheezing, that someone just does not “get” the film. The purity of the theme is not a bug, it is a feature.

The superhero movie, along with the crowd of science fiction and fantasy movies, was welcomed into the movie theaters only after STAR WARS made such genre films respectable (which it did by tallying up a respectable profit).

Now, mere nostalgia is not the selling point. GONE WITH THE WIND or MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS or CINDERELLA MAN or SEABISCUIT are all nostalgic movies, historical period pieces taking place in periods still within living memory (at the time they were made) of the older members of the audience. No, the rise of cliffhanger serial movies and superhero movies are a particular type of nostalgia: a longing not for our childhood, but instead for the stories from serials and comics of our childhood.

And this is for the most practical and obvious reason imaginable: stories from the serials and comics of our childhood were more decent, more entertaining, and, in their simplistic way, a better reflection of the Great Tale of salvation and redemption which makes all great stories great.

Childhood tales of heroes and superheroes are not tainted with deconstructive postmodernism. Tales of heroes are about salvation, saving people in the most literal sense of the word.

The only superhero comic that is deconstructionist, ironically, is one of the most famous: WATCHMAN by Alan Moore. The point of this tale is how spooky and creepy real superheroes would be, vigilantes and supergeniuses who take the law into their own hands, and who therefore take our lives and all human destiny into their own hands. The one character who believes in the stark contrast of black and white, Rorschach, even while being portrayed as a filthy psychotic nutbag, and whose fate is to have his head blown off by God Himself (or God’s stand-in, Dr. Manhattan), nonetheless ends up as the most popular hero of this antiheroic story. Irony upon irony.

That exception aside, what is the dramatic appeal of such unrealistic tales? The short answer is that the realism innate in real drama has been exiled by the postrational postchristian postmodern elite, and therefore real drama can only sneak back into the theatre in disguise, wearing a spider-mask, so to speak. Disguised as harmless boyish adventure stories, really good stories about good and evil can slip past the watchmen.

The appeal of superheroics is merely the appeal of heroics write large.

Satisfying drama stars a sympathetic protagonist with a dream or need or mission, who is facing an obstacle that presents a real challenge. Facing this challenge initiates the plot, whose resolution not only makes intellectual sense but also makes moral and emotional sense, and shows the cosmos the way it is or the way it should be. Characters, plot, setting, style and theme are the basic elements.

Comic books usually have quite sympathetic heroes. Keep in mind that nearly all the superheroes to appear on the silver screen were invented during or after World War Two, back when the nation still had some sense of decency and normalcy. In those days, writers were not embarrassed by patriots dressed in red, white, and blue.

Superheroes are never supermen in the Nietzschean sense of the term, creatures beyond good and evil. (Only Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan of Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN fall into this category, a villain and an antihero respectively).  The main point of superheroes is that they are masked men, and therefore they get no reward, not even thanks, for their deeds of derring-do: when Superman saves the planet from an asteroid or an invasion of robots or something, usually he gets is a snub from the alluring Lois Lane, or a browbeating from his irate boss Perry White.  Peter Parker’s boss J. Jonah Jameson is even more irate and beat his brows even more completely. Bruce Wayne might be a wealthy playboy, or Diana Prince an Amazon Princess, but even they are orphans or exiles. The more famous superheroes are the ones who, despite their strange powers or strange backgrounds, have human aches and pains all humans can sympathize with, and the power they have is never self-serving. Superheroes go masked for the same reason knights of old painted their shields blank before tourney: so that he deeds would be done for their own sake, not for praise or reward.

While it is true that Superman in costume might get a ticker tape parade, or a nod of thanks from the Warden, Clark Kent out of costume gets nothing; and Spiderman in or out of costume gets even less, since he gets blamed and called a menace even while he is saving people. Were it not for this meekness, superheroes would be insufferable.

This description does not describe the Fantastic Four, who, in a breach with convention, have no secret identities; nonetheless, the appeal of the Fantastic Four is that, in a second breach with convention, they squabble among themselves, and have problems with neighbors in the Baxter Building complaining about superexperiments exploding in Reed’s lab, or with the ghastly Ben Grimm he seeks only the return of his human face and form, and regards his distorted super-strength as a curse. The Fantastic Four have other means to retain their essential humanity and human appeal aside from disguises.

Superheroes face challenges commensurate with their powers. If heroes with superpowers fought mere crooks and gangsters, the tales would indeed be the merely adolescent power fantasies they started as. But Superman discovered kryptonite and Batman faces the Joker in order that the obstacles be proportional to their powers. For this reason, in many a superhero tale, the supervillain is as grandiose and memorable as the hero, or more so.

The plots tend to be refreshingly straightforward: the hero fights for truth, justice, and the American Way, or learns that with great power comes great responsibility, or hunts down criminals, who are a cowardly and superstitious lot, in an endless vendetta for parents slain before the hero’s eyes as a child. The supervillains seek wealth through crime or world power or merely want to see the world burn, because they are evil, or insane, or both. Even those supervillains who have an arguably noble motive, such as Magneto, the mutant master of magnetism, are placed clearly beyond the pale by the remorselessly evil means employed. The conflict is about as stark as can be, and this stark simplicity allows for a sharply dramatic plot.

The stakes are always high. Supervillains do not knock over curbside newsstands: all of Metropolis, all of Gotham City, the entire West Coast, the entire world, the universe, the multiverse, everything is at stake.

The setting is our real world, or something close to it, with the exception that, for some reason, lots of men tend to wear hats.

Such a setting places less of a burden on the imagination of the audience, because the expectations of a strange world need not be imposed nor explained.

The style is suited to the subject matter: superheroes rarely speak in poetry, and often speak in the direct, manly, laconic fashion of movie cowboys and action heroes, sometimes tinged with wit or wisecracks, sometimes with patriotic sentiment.

The theme is about as close to the great themes of myth, pagan epics of heroes in their agony, of even the self-sacrifice of Christ in His passion, as anything produced in this morbidly decadent modern age.

The reason why Luke turns off his targeting computer before making the thousand-to-one shot in the plasma exhaust basketball hoop that blows the armored battlestation to smithereens is because this is an act of faith. In the real cosmos, the real world the agnostics do not believe in, faith with eyes shut sees farther and more clearly than skeptical squinting. This kind of faith is by no means restricted to Christian faith, or even the sci-fi flavored Taoism of the Star Wars galaxy ; it is also the faith in oneself preached by the dominant religion of our times, pop-psychology, and witnessed in those holy books of our times, self-help manuals. Similar scenes and themes in superhero movies reflect similar values admired and loved by the audience, without being too obvious so as to drive away the customers.

There was many a ticket buying customer who enjoyed AVATAR for the same reason that I enjoyed LORD OF THE RINGS: the underdog were the weak and innocent and nice little hobbits being menaced by the scary mechanized might of Mordor. This was a film I did not get around to seeing only because several persons whose judgment I trust warned me that Mordor was me and mine, more or less. But the film did very well, not just for its dazzling special effects, but for the purity of the theme, where the meek (in this case, the Blue-skinned redskins) fend off the White Man and inherit the Earth. He is not to my personal taste, but Captain Planet is still a superhero, and films made by those in his camp have the strengths of superheroic films.

I notice I am talking about superhero films, but I used two examples from best selling science fiction films. I trust that where these genres overlap is clear enough. Heroes can use the Force or use the mystical bio-cybernetic unity of all life on Pandora to accomplish their Herculean labors or conclude their desperate wars against  overwhelming powers of darkness for the same reason capes can use their superpowers or super bat-gizmos attached to their utility belts: the theme is that nature, or supernature, or the fairy godmother will favor those who fight in the side of right.

The reason why supernatural or superhuman power always arrives to aid the hero, whereas merely a natural power is not quite as satisfying, is that supernatural powers have a hint that moral goodness or purity of heart is being rewarded.

When the Jedi were discovered in the first prequel to derive their fantastic powers from micro-organisms in their bloodstream, a collective groan went up from fandom. Why? While this made Jedi powers something more clearly science fictional, it robbed those powers of the dignity the moral virtue bestows. If the Force is just an energy field produced by mitochondria (or whatever) then there is no especial reason why the Dark Side of the Force is a Mordorian temptation that will always an inevitably dominate your destiny and consume your soul. If the Force is a biotechnological machine, there is no reason not to use it in wrath, or for selfish reasons.  An archangel might care if you pray, and try to use angelic powers for evil ends, but an arcwelder does not care. Power tools do not mind if you use their power for wickedness.

It is the moral component of the superpowers that makes the superhero dramatic. With great power comes great responsibility; For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.

To be sure, there are superhero movies that either failed in their execution (how can anyone manage to make a Catwoman movie unwatchable? That takes perverse genius) or intruded some modern and relevant theme (such as making Superman, of all people, a deadbeat Dad, who knocked up a girl without putting a ring on her finger) or just did not get what superheroes are really all about (Fantastic Four springs to mind) or so changed the character so as to rob the tale of point or appeal (I am not the only one who winces at the memory of the Cathy Lee Crosby version of Wonder Woman, or who recoiled with dismay at the trailer for the remake of Green Hornet).

Not to worry. There are bad versions of Hercules brought to film and cartoon also: but the essential mythic grandeur of the genre allows, despite our rather cynical and unheroic age, for larger than life heroes still to win the day.

It order to make a bad superhero film, the modernist writer or film-maker must sweat and work to intrude the cynical anti-heroic postmodern characters, senseless plots, ugly styles and nihilist themes which confirm the modern view of life.

It is easy to make a Western into an Anti-Western, where the Cowboys are the bad guys and the Indians the good guys, because the Indian were indeed the underdogs, outnumbered and outgunned; and it is easy to make a war picture into an Anti-War picture, because of the innate horror and inhumanity of war.

But it is hard to make a superhero film into an anti-hero film without violating so many conventions of the genre as to merely make it a horror film, or a film about vigilante revenge, or just some other type of story altogether.

Dehumanizing moral relativism, for the reasons given above, robs tales of drama and interest.  Superheroism lends itself easily to stories with drama and moral clarity. This is the moral clarity so utterly lacking in the modern world. It lends itself with difficulty to the dehumanizing moral relativism beloved of the elite.

And that is why superhero films are better than modern mainstream films.

by John C Wright at December 14, 2014 04:52 AM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Weekly review: Week ending December 12, 2014

This was a good week for programming and packaging. On my consulting gig, I got back into the swing of making small prototypes on the social business platform we use. I’ve been practising writing short Javascript functions, and they make my brain much happier. I also coached the other developer on our team over lots of instant messages and a few WebExes, and she’s picking up things nicely. I made progress on an annoying bug that has been plaguing us for a few months, too.

I’ve been working on getting more stuff out the door, too. I packaged the Emacs Chat transcripts as an EPUB/MOBI and sorted out a good workflow for publishing them. (Come to think of it, I should consider making a PDF version too.) While sketching a book, I noticed that “sketched book” is a fun way to refer to those visual book notes; since the domain was available, I registered and set it up.

I want to get the hang of publishing things in chunks that are larger than a blog post. Collections are easy to start with. The next step would be to work on things with outlines and chapters and flows.

My energy’s slowly starting to return, yay! Slept more than normal – average of 9.3 hours a day – but that was because I was in bed for about 17 hours (!) last Sunday. I should be back to my regular ~8.3 hours of sleep a night soon.

Blog posts


Link round-up

… good haul this week. =)

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (34.5h – 20%)
    • Earn (17.5h – 50% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (13.1h – 38% of Business)
      • Drawing (7.7h)
        • Sketch JFS book
        • Make cover image
      • Paperwork (0.3h)
        • Actually submit tax return
      • Packaging
        • Format Emacs Chat transcripts as EPUB and sort out Org to EPUB workflow
        • Set up mailing list for
        • Set up – temporary site for now
        • Set up proper redirection so that I can do clever things with the URLs
        • Figure out EPUB workflow for publishing Emacs Chat transcripts
        • Set up EPUB workflow for Read Lisp, Tweak Emacs
      • Set up Authenticator
      • Set up app password so I can read Gmail from Gnus again
      • Fix OAuth login for Google – Quantified Awesome
      • Add Javascript for locating a blog post in my outline
      • Clean up disk space
      • Re-enter comments into Disqus
    • Connect (3.9h – 11% of Business)
  • Relationships (7.3h – 4%)
    • Chat with Sahil Sinha
  • Discretionary – Productive (18.3h – 10%)
    • Emacs (4.4h – 2% of all)
      • Finish transcript for Emacs chat
      • Revise transcript for Iannis Zannos
      • Revise transcript for Emacs Chat: Karl Voit
      • Patch to mention :ensure t
    • Writing (10.1h)
      • Write about skewed notes
  • Discretionary – Play (6.6h – 3%)
  • Personal routines (29.9h – 17%)
  • Unpaid work (6.5h – 3%)
  • Sleep (64.9h – 38% – average of 9.3 per day)

The post Weekly review: Week ending December 12, 2014 appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 14, 2014 04:27 AM

CrossFit Naptown

Open Gym Sunday

Sunday’s Workout:

NapTown Rowing Class 10:00-11:00am at CrossFit NapTown

Open Gym 11:00-12:00pm and 12:00-1:00pm at CrossFit NapTown

NapTown Fitness at 922 N. Capitol Ave.

SWIFT Workout 5:00-5:45pm at NapTown Fitness Capitol

Donation Yoga at Practice Indie 6:00-7:15pm at NapTown Fitness Capitol



CrossFit NapTown Holiday Party!


You have until the end of this week to get your tickets for the CrossFit NapTown Holiday Party on Saturday December 20th! Do not miss out on this great community building opportunity while we celebrate friends and family during the holiday season!



by Anna at December 14, 2014 02:18 AM

December 13, 2014

The Frailest Thing

Saturday Evening Links

Below are a few links for your reading pleasure this weekend.

Researcher Believes 3D Printing May Lead to the Creation of Superhuman Organs Providing Humans with New Abilities: “This God-like ability will be made possible thanks in part to the latest breakthroughs in bioprinting. If companies and researchers are coming close to having the ability to 3D print and implant entire organs, then why wouldn’t it be possible to create our own unique organs, which provide us with superhuman abilities?”

Future perfect: how the Victorians invented the future: “It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.”

Robotic Rape and Robotic Child Sexual Abuse: Should they be criminalised? Paper by John Danaher: “Soon there will be sex robots. The creation of such devices raises a host of social, legal and ethical questions. In this article, I focus in on one of them. What if these sex robots are deliberately designed and used to replicate acts of rape and child sexual abuse? Should the creation and use of such robots be criminalised, even if no person is harmed by the acts performed? I offer an argument for thinking that they should be.” (Link to article provided.)

Enthusiasts and Skeptics Debate Artificial Intelligence: “… the Singularitarians’ belief that we’re biological machines on the verge of evolving into not entirely biological super-machines has a distinctly religious fervor and certainty. ‘I think we are going to start to interconnect as a human species in a fashion that is intimate and magical,’ Diamandis told me. ‘What I would imagine in the future is a meta-intelligence where we are all connected by the Internet [and] achieve a new level of sentience. . . . Your readers need to understand: It’s not stoppable. It doesn’t matter what they want. It doesn’t matter how they feel.'”

Artificial Intelligence Isn’t a Threat—Yet: “The trouble is, nobody yet knows what that oversight should consist of. Though AI poses no immediate existential threat, nobody in the private sector or government has a long-term solution to its potential dangers. Until we have some mechanism for guaranteeing that machines never try to replace us, or relegate us to zoos, we should take the problem of AI risk seriously.”

Is it okay to torture or murder a robot?: “What’s clear is that there is a spectrum of “aliveness” in robots, from basic simulations of cute animal behaviour, to future robots that acquire a sense of suffering. But as Darling’s Pleo dinosaur experiment suggested, it doesn’t take much to trigger an emotional response in us. The question is whether we can – or should – define the line beyond which cruelty to these machines is unacceptable. Where does the line lie for you? If a robot cries out in pain, or begs for mercy? If it believes it is hurting? If it bleeds?”

A couple of housekeeping notes. Reading Frankenstein posts will resume at the start of next week. Also, you may have noticed that an Index for the blog is in progress. I’ve always wanted to find a way to make older posts more accessible, so I’ve settled on an selective index for People and Topics. You can check it out by clicking the “Index” tab above.


by Michael Sacasas at December 13, 2014 10:55 PM

Doc Searls WeblogDoc Searls Weblog »

Listening to Serial? Remember the Edgar Smith case.

I’m now four episodes into Serial, the hugely popular reality podcast from WBEZ and This American Life. In it reporter Sarah Koenig episodically tugs together many loose ends around the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager, in 1999. The perp, said the cops and the proscecutor at the time, was former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted by a jury of first degree murder. They deliberated about as long as it takes for an afternoon nap. He’s been in prison ever since.

My provisional conclusion is that the court was right to find Adnan guilty. My case for that conviction (or vice versa) is an ad hominem one: the whole thing is eerily eminiscent (for me) of Edgar Smithedgar-smith, (that’s his mug photo on the right) who served a record length of time on death row before successfully arguing for a retrial, which resulted in a lesser conviction and his release — after which he kidnapped and tried to kill someone else, confessing as well to the original crime. He’s an old man now, serving time for the second crime.

While still in jail for the first crime, Smith earned a high degree of media attention and celebrity with his book Brief Against Death, which was a bestseller at the time. I read it and believed him. So did William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith, and was instrumental in getting Smith’s case reconsidered, by both the courts and the public. Buckley even wrote the introduction to Smith’s book.

Think of the media-intensive Smith case as the Serial of its time.

Back then a good friend of mine was studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and interviewed Smith. “He’s guilty,” my friend said. “The guy is brilliant, but he’s also a liar.” Later Bill Buckley said the same thing.

It haunts me that I was snookered by Smith, and comforts me none to know I wasn’t alone.

This of course makes no case at all against Adnan Syed. He might be innocent as a lamb. And I’d like to say he’s innocent until proven guilty. But his guilt has already been decided by a court of law, so now it’s the other way around: he needs to prove his innocence. Or at least raise the shadow of doubt to a height under which he can be sprung.

I worry about what will happen if all the current interest in this case results in Adnan’s release. What if he really did kill Hae — meaning he’s as remorseless and manipulative as Edgar Smith?

With the case headed to an appeals court, this now appears possible.

I’ll keep my mind open as I listen through the rest of Series. It’s outstanding radio. And I also invite the @Serial team to look at the Smith case as well — if they haven’t already.* It may not be relevant, but it is similar.

Bonus case: Jack Henry Abbott.

* (14 December) Have they? I’ve now listened through Episode 7 and so far they haven’t mentioned it.

by Doc Searls at December 13, 2014 08:57 PM

Don't Eat The Fruit

What Moby Dick Can Teach Us About What We Click, Read, and Post

“Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.”
“Whaling Voyage By One Ishmael.”
“Bloody Battle In Affghanistan.” [sic]
— Moby Dick, Herman Melville

My wife is a literature professor – but not the typical read-a-few-texts-and-give-a-quiz kind. She’s that rare gift to the world who can give students an experience in class so profound that it makes math majors want become English scholars. She even inspired me to start reading the classics, and when I finally cracked open a copy of Melvin’s masterpiece, I was surprised to find the above headlines in the first few pages.

I’ve been told that one of the marks of a work of great literature is that it captures something universal about the human experience, and Melville certainly did that with these headlines. At this point in the story, the character named Ishmael creates these three headlines as a way of imagining his whaling trip being a part of the major headlines that one might read in a newspaper on any given day.

It’s amazing and a bit eery to see how similar the typical events of 1850 were compared to the big news of our day. There are always wars in the Middle East, and there are always presidential controversies. I’m not the first to notice how tragically evergreen these headlines are, but I think Melville also offers us a chance to see something about our relationship to media itself.

If we think back over the links we click every day, does it seem as if they mostly to take us to articles and videos that rehash things we already know? Every once in a while something new happens, but in between we’ll settle for a “fresh angle” or a “new spin” that temporarily satiates our media hunger. Sometimes we know we’re just looking for fun GIFs and listicles, but even when we click on something that promises a serious exploration of a current issue, it’s often just a repeat of the same old things that get posted every year and every century: “Why the ‘X’ in X-Mas is a good/bad thing”  “10 reasons the guy from the thing is wrong about the deal” “Why Easter isn’t really about the thing the other article talked about” and so on.

But Ishmael’s thought exercise isn’t just about media consumption. I think it also tells us something about the media we produce.  Ishmael is engaging in a mental exercise not unlike modern social media, imagining his life as equally important as international events. Like many people today, I enjoy posting photos of my children and places I’ve been, but when I step back and consider what’s happening, it seems strange that modern media puts the everyday moments of my life alongside world events — very much like Ishmael imagined almost two centuries ago.

This Saturday, it’s worth thinking about the media we’ve consumed and produced over the past week, and asking ourselves, “Have I enriched my mind and soul with what I’ve consumed?” and “How have I portrayed my life and the lives of others?” The deeper we are immersed the the world of media and screens, the more we are encouraged to consume articles that say very little that is meaningful and to post things that make us feel significant for a few moments.

I’m encouraged by Ishmael to know that these are not necessarily new struggles for humans, but I also realize that the technology we have access to today affords actions that were once only possible in a person’s imagination. In Moby Dick, Ishmael eventually abandons the fantasy and choose to go on the whaling voyage. While you’ll have to read the book to get the whole effect, the result is that it reconnects him with the incarnate life and gives him a story that just might make the headlines.

Perhaps if we are a little more careful with what we click, read, and post, we might find the same in our own life.

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by John Dyer at December 13, 2014 07:51 PM

Greg Mankiw's Blog

After Obamacare

Republicans in Congress talk regularly about repealing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.  They have not, however, said much about what they will replace it with. One possibility is the plan described here.

by Greg Mankiw ( at December 13, 2014 07:34 PM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 12.14.14

SWIFT Workout 12.14.14: 4 rounds: 30 Deadlifts 15 Hand Release Push Ups 15 Banded Good Mornings 10 Calorie Row -OR- Burpees

by Anna at December 13, 2014 05:24 PM

Practically Efficient

OmniFocus outside of the GTD box

Hilton Lipschitz:

I do not use OmniFocus the GTD way (at least I do not think I do given that I have not read the book). I do use OmniFocus the way that works best for me.

So many great ideas in one post. One of my favorites:

Chase tasks are special tasks to remind me to chase people for information or deliverables.

by Eddie Smith at December 13, 2014 03:51 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Units of Momentary Happiness


“Everything we need to be happy is easy to obtain.” -Epicurus

I’ve long advocated that happiness is not entirely related to a feeling of a precise moment. Instead, it’s more closely related to the overall life we live, as well as the life we hope to have in the future.

If you quit smoking, you might still want a cigarette sometimes. And if you give into the craving, you might enjoy it at the time—but will you still feel good afterwards? No, real happiness is much better measured through meaning and fulfillment. It’s something to work for!

That said, I like the measure proposed by G. Richard Shell in the book Springboard. He calls it units of momentary happiness:

“No matter how you define success, momentary happiness should have some role in it…. happiness has also been thought of as having a larger, almost spiritual quality that goes beyond both momentary feelings and reflective thought.

Philosophers have talked about this third kind of happiness in terms of the fulfillment that comes from exerting the right kind of effort on the right kind of task (for you) or experiencing a sense of deep connection to loved ones, nature, or the divine.”

Over the past few years, I’ve been very future-oriented and have spent much of my time always looking ahead to the next thing. But thinking about these “units of happiness” is helping to change my perspective.

I still want to build for the future—I just also want to enjoy the macchiato, appreciate the walk in the park, and actually read (not skim!) the emails from my friends.


Image: Alice

by Chris Guillebeau at December 13, 2014 02:00 PM


nzbget: Heretofore unbeknownst to me

I had honestly never heard of .nzb files until this morning, when nzbget popped out of my vimwiki folder as the choice of the Fates for today.


I make my apology for not knowing about .nzb files as a corollary to my relative ignorance about Usenet in general. I think until I had configured slrn to work properly, that entire portion of the Internet was really just a gray area for me.

So .nzb files don’t appear on my radar until the end of 2014, which I suppose should embarrass me. I do like how nzbget handles them though.

Good use of color. Has an arrangement like most or mutt or some other console applications. Expands or contracts to fit your terminal size. The major key commands are on the screen and will update to show your choices at any given moment.

Configuration was a little tetchy, only because nzbget wants a .nzbget file (with some alternatives) as a configuration before it will start. I just gave it a blank file, a la touch .nzbget, and it started well enough after that.

As a bonus, if you’re one of those people who abhors stale software, I see by the home page that the stable version is dated November 27, and a testing version is only three days newer than that. So you rest easy in the knowledge that your software is only days, if not weeks, old. :roll:

Debian versions for Wheezy are quite a bit older, but the Arch version in community seems to be the newest.

I am curious to see what is available through .nzb files, that I can’t necessarily get through .torrents or traditional downloads. Owing to my meager experiences with Usenet readers, I must admit I have my doubts. … :???:

Tagged: download, manager

by K.Mandla at December 13, 2014 01:15 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Extracurricular Activities 12.13.15—Pauline Studies Shift, Donald Bloesh’s Soteriology, & Sexual Assault

McKnight Examines Major Shift in Pauline Studies: New Perspective on Paul vs. Apocalyptic Paul

Since 1977 there has been a regular conversation among those who study the New Testament, especially those studying the theology of the apostle Paul. In 1977 E.P. Sanders published his magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism and unleashed forces at work (from G.F. Moore to K. Stendahl) to form what my own professor, James D.G. Dunn, called the “new perspective on Paul.”

The debate has been with us for more than two decades, but that conversation is now radically shifting.

The old perspective Paul vs. the new perspective Paul is now over. The new debate will be between the new perspective Paul vs. the apocalyptic Paul.

Carlos Bovell on Inerrancy, Historical Criticism, and Slippery Slopes

It’s very hard for inerrantists to change their thinking about how their doctrine of scripture is related to the spiritual life.

The problem is that they don’t have an alternate model and so instead of jeopardizing their connection to God (which they see as being established via scripture), they cling to inerrancy and hold out for any argument that gives an inerrant Bible even the slightest possibility of being true.

I trace this to a rhetorically powerful visual metaphor that they use to help conceive of what happens to believers when they begin challenging inerrancy: the slippery slope.

Fred Sanders on the Soteriology of Donald Bloesch

Here’s a link to an article I recently published on the doctrine of salvation in the theology of Donald Bloesch: Saved by Word and Spirit: The Shape of Soteriology in Donald Bloesch’s Christian Foundations, in Midwestern Journal of Theology, Spring 2014 (13.1), 81-96.

Bloesch’s  system of theology, Christian Foundations, doesn’t actually have a separate volume on salvation: the seven volumes are on method, scripture, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, and eschatology. Nevertheless, salvation is central for this evangelical theologian. To pull together his soteriology, you have to read several chapters from the book on Jesus and several chapters from the book on the Spirit…

Justin Taylor Asks, “How Can Christian Historians Do History for Both the Academy and the Church?”

In an earlier post I summarized the perspective of six Christian historians who offered their take on the place of providence in historical interpretations.

In this post I want to look at what this means for the actual writing of history by Christians who want their works to be read in a largely secular academy.

Tim Challies Interviews Justin Holcomb About The Tragic Prevalence of Sexual Assault

Sexual asssault is all over the news today. Headlines in the United States tell of a long list of woman who have accused Bill Cosby of assault, and tell of college campuses where rape is shockingly common. Headlines in Canada tell of reporter Jiam Gomeshi and his ugly history of sexual violence. It is my sincere hope that these stories spark new and better discussions about the prevalence of sexual assault, how we can prevent it, and how we can respond to it…

Pastor Justin Holcomb has given a great deal of attention to this topic over the past few years, and I recently spoke to him about sexual assault in light of today’s headlines.

(Image: St. Paul Preaching in Athens; Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


Extra-Curricular Activities is a weekly roundup of stories on biblical interpretation, theology, and issues where faith and culture meet. We found each story interesting, thought-provoking, challenging, or useful in some way – but we don’t necessarily agree with or endorse every point in every story.

If you have any comments on these stories, we welcome you to share them here. We hope you enjoy!

–The Editors of Zondervan Academic Blog

by Jeremy Bouma at December 13, 2014 01:12 PM


smbc: Don’t take my word for it

I have a screenshot of smbc — a/k/a samba commander, a/k/a Simple Samba Commander — to share, but I’ll be honest when I show it: I haven’t any more to tell about smbc than what you see here.


Reason being, smbc crashed spectacularly every time I used it in Mint, about two seconds after I hit the Enter key. If there is more to smbc than just the interface I see there, I never had time to check it out.

It’s probably not fair to mention it in such a poor light though; things that fail like this are invariably my fault. I don’t have a lot of experience with samba on the whole, and so probably the explosive nature of smbc is due to my error.

As a side note, with so little experience with samba and with only about four seconds of experience with smbc, I can only wonder if this is just a “network explorer,” or if it’s intended to compete with other text-based file managers on the market.

Regardless, I don’t see enough of it to know if it’s necessarily better than, for example, ranger or Midnight Commander, or if it has some special feature special to samba that makes it preferable.

I leave it to you to explore, since it will probably require a proper network arrangement and configuration before it can be properly assessed. Don’t take my experience as any indicator.

I should note that the homepage listed on the Debian package page is wrong, and points to a dead site. The Arch version (which wouldn’t build for me) has the link listed above.

Tagged: explorer, file, manager, network, samba

by K.Mandla at December 13, 2014 01:00 PM

Light Blue Touchpaper

Curfew tags – the gory details

In previous posts I told the story of how Britain’s curfew tagging system can fail. Some prisoners are released early provided they wear a tag to enforce a curfew, which typically means that they have to stay home from 7pm to 7am; some petty offenders get a curfew instead of a prison sentence; and some people accused of serious crimes are tagged while on bail. In dozens of cases, curfewees had been accused of tampering with their tags, but had denied doing so. In a series of these cases, colleagues and I were engaged as experts, but when we demanded tags for testing, the prosecution was withdrawn and the case collapsed. In the most famous case, three men accused of terrorist offences were released; although one has since absconded, the other two are now free in the UK.

This year, a case finally came to trial. Our client, to whom we must refer simply as “Special Z”, was accused of tag tampering, which he denied vigorously. I was instructed as an expert along with my colleague Dr James Dean of Materials Science. Here is my expert report, together with James’s report and addendum, as well as a video of a tag being removed using much less than the amount of force required by the system specification.

The judge was not ready to set a precedent that could have thrown the UK tagging system into chaos. However, I understand our client has now been released on other grounds. Although the court did order us to hand back all the tags, and fragments of broken tags, so as to protect G4S’s intellectual property, it did not make a secrecy order on our expert reports. We publish them here in the hope that they might provide useful guidance to defendants in similar cases in the future, and to policymakers when tagging contracts come up for renewal, whether in the UK or overseas.

by Ross Anderson at December 13, 2014 12:25 PM

Doc Searls WeblogDoc Searls Weblog »

Is perfectly personalized advertising perfectly creepy?

The uncanny valley is where you find likenesses of live humans that are just real enough to be creepy. On a graph it looks like this:

So I was thinking about how this looks for advertising that wants to get perfectly personal. You know: advertising that comes from systems that know you better than you know yourself, so they can give you messages that are perfectly personalized, all the time. I think it might look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 11.40.56 PM

Traditional brand advertising — the kind we see in print, hear on radio and watch on TV — is fully familiar, but not at all human. It comes from companies, by way of media that also aren’t human. A little less familiar, but slightly more human, is old fashioned direct response advertising, such as junk mail. The messages might be addressed to us personally, and human in that respect, but still lacking in human likeness. Avertising that gets highly personal with us, because it’s based on surveillance-fed big data and super-smart algorithms, is  much less familiar than the first two types, yet much more human-like. Yet it’s not really human, and we know that. Mostly it’s just creepy, because it’s clearly based on knowing more about us than we feel comfortable having it know. And it’s only one kind of human: a salesperson who thinks we’re ready to buy something, all the time — or can at least be influenced in some way.

I’m just thinking and drawing out loud here, and don’t offer this as a final analysis. Mostly I’m metabolizing what I’m learning from Don Marti‘s thinking out loud about these very different kinds of advertising, and how well they actually work, or don’t — for advertisers, for the media they support, and for the human targets themselves. (Like Don I also dig Bob Hoffman’s Ad Contrarian.)

So there ya go. I welcome your thoughts.

[Later...] I was just reminded of T.Rob‘s excellent Escaping Advertising’s Uncanny Valley and Sara Watson’s pieces cited below (she’s a Berkman Center colleague):

What we see here is a groundswell of agreement about what’s going on. But do we see a reversal in the marketplace? Maybe we will if @rwang0 is right when he tweets “2015 is not the year of the crowd, it’s the year when the crowd realizes they are the product and they don’t like it.”

by Doc Searls at December 13, 2014 05:14 AM

The Brooks Review

PODCAST: Weekly Briefly for Holiday Photography

If you’ve missed me on a podcast, I joined Shawn Blanc on his to talk cameras and photography. How to shoot the holidays, and what to buy.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at December 13, 2014 03:43 AM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Sketched Book: Just F*cking Ship – Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman

Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman wrote, published, and launched Just Fucking Ship in 24 hours, using a Trello board and an outline to quickly whip up this short reminder to stop procrastinating and get something out the door. They’re halfway through editing it and will post updates through Gumroad, so if you buy the book, you can watch it evolve.

I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image to view or download a high-resolution version that you can print or reuse.

2014-12-12 Sketched Book - Just Fucking Ship - Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman

The principle I’m focusing on is #7: Start with atoms. I’m comfortable with making small pieces now: an outline, a blog post, a sketch. I’m working on getting better at assembling those pieces into molecules, and eventually I’ll be able to turn those molecules into rocketships. Eventually. But in the meantime, I can push more things out there.

I’ve been sorting out my EPUB/MOBI workflow by putting stuff up on Gumroad, like the Emacs Chat transcript collection. (Incomplete, but that’s what updates are for.) This will help me Ship More Stuff.

Today I noticed an opportunity for wordplay. The domain was available, so I jumped on it. Shipped.

Ship. Get your stuff out there, incomplete and in progress, because you’ll learn more from the feedback than you will from stewing on it by yourself. And if it flops? Don’t worry. You’ll do another one, and another one, and another one, and you’ll learn.

Want the e-book? You can buy it at Just Fucking Ship (Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman; 2004). You’ll get a PDF and updates. (Amusingly, no physical shipping involved.)

Like this sketch? Check out for more. For your convenience, this post can be found at Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

(Incidentally, I’ve quoted Amy Hoy before – see my post on Learning slack for another reflection on writing, productivity, and motivation.)

The post Sketched Book: Just F*cking Ship – Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 13, 2014 03:36 AM

CrossFit Naptown

Options, Options, Options

Saturday’s Workout:

16 minute AMRAP:
Alternate Partner WOD Ladder
Partner A does 1 of each
Partner B does 2 of each
Partner A does 3 of each

Pull Ups
Double Unders
Wall Balls (20/14)

A repeat of the same partner workout from one year ago….can you find your partner and improve your score?


NapTown Fitness Saturday Sweatortunities:


NapTown Barbell Club 9:00am at CrossFit NapTown

-lift heavy weights, work skills, drills, and accessory pieces to dominate the Olympic Lifts. New to Olympic Lifting? Then this is the place for you! The class accommodates members of all skill levels in a way that helps everyone improve in some way by the end of the day

CrossFit Classes 9:30 and 10:30am at CrossFit NapTown

-the same old CrossFit program that you all know and love. It is the back bone of the gym and the reason it all got started. Enjoy a fun partner workout today, perhaps branching out to meet and sweat with a member in the community that you do not already know!

Practice Indie Yoga 9:00am at NapTown Fitness Capitol

-join the yogi mermaid, Shannon Brasovan, for a fresh Saturday flow to get your weekend started off right!

SWIFT class 10:30am at NapTown Fitness Capitol

-get in a 45 minute glorious sweat if you are in a pinch for time on your busy Saturday! Check out the main blog page for today’s SWIFT challenge, where it is listed daily to inform you of your choices!

NapTown Running Club 11:30am at NapTown Fitness Capitol

-don’t let your summer running legs die in the wintry cold! There is still a chance to keep up your running during the winter months by joining the NapTown Running Club at NapTown Fitness Capitol



by Anna at December 13, 2014 02:31 AM

SWIFT Workout 12.13.14

SWIFT Workout 12.13.14: 21- 15 - 9 Box Jumps Kettle Bell Swings 2 Minutes Rest Then: 21-15-9 Wall Balls Get-Up-Get-Downs with Tuck Jumps

by Anna at December 13, 2014 02:29 AM

December 12, 2014

Front Porch Republic

Opening Night, Way off Broadway: Greater Tuna in Shiner, Texas


In this edition of Tales from the Kolache Belt, we celebrate community theatre. Not many rural towns of just over 2,000 souls can boast an institution like the Gaslight Theatre, but it is a testament to the people of…

Read Full Article...

The post Opening Night, Way off Broadway: Greater Tuna in Shiner, Texas appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by John Murdock at December 12, 2014 11:16 PM

CrossFit Naptown

Endurance Seminar May 2015

Friday’s Workout:

Open WOD 11.2:
15 Minute As Many Reps As Possible
9 Deadlifts (155/100)
12 Push-ups
15 Box Jumps (24″/20″)


Stretch/Mobility WOD
2 Rounds:
10 Inch Worms
10 Lunges with a Twist
10 Quadraped Stretches Left
10 Quadraped Stretches Right
10 Pass Throughs

CrossFit NapTown to Host CrossFit Endurance Seminar

We will be hosting a CrossFit Endurance Seminar here at CFNT May 23-24 of 2015. We are very excited to be hosting this event and hope that anyone who is interested in the endurance side of fitness sign up to participate. There is certainly an abundance of time before the seminar will take place, but space is limited so sign up sooner rather than later to guarantee yourself a spot.

Spend two full days with the CrossFit Endurance staff learning, studying and applying the principles of CrossFit Endurance. This course provides an introduction to CrossFit Endurance and other factors that impact performance. In addition to the material covered at the Athlete Course, attendees learn about CrossFit Endurance training, programming, nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention and care. By and large, the endurance community is prone to overtraining, and this seminar is an indispensable tool for learning how to effectively train others. ” Description of the CrossFit Endurance Course  



This is a unique and rare opportunity that is open to all members of every skill and experience level. Click here to register today to save your spot in the CrossFit Endurance classroom.


Screen shot 2014-12-03 at 10.02.35 PM


by Anna at December 12, 2014 10:59 PM

Caelum Et Terra

So…. He’s Not Living In Sin, Right?

Gen. Michael Hayden

General Michael Hayden

Tonight on the drive home, between CDs, I caught the tail end of an Al Kresta segment. He was making the case that because other nations dismembered or decapitated or poured acid into the open wounds of their enemies that the Senate report on CIA torture is not the damning thing that it is, that America is not as bad as the bad guys.

I flipped around the dial, where I heard arguments that it all, the cruelty and evil, the hanging from the wrists, the cold dark and nakedness, the anal abuse, the horror, was justified because it produced evidence that averted a terrorist attack. Or that it was all understandable, all this getting carried away, because dammit, it was in the wake of 9/11, the most traumatic thing that had happened to civilian America since what? The War of 1812? Or that hey, it was such a long time ago. Don’t we as a nation (‘United We Stand’) need to just let it go, forget it ever happened?

After all, we all meant well and we were scared.

The release of this document has meant a return to the spectacle of otherwise intelligent men in suits calmly defending the indefensible. Catholics for whom America is the true god explain again for us how the atrocities revealed therein somehow do not constitute torture.

Prominent among these is General Michael Hayden, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1999 to 2005, and then head of the CIA until he retired in 2009. General Hayden has publicly defended torture in the past and he is once again making the rounds as an apologist for cruelty in the name of nationalism.

General Hayden is also a Catholic. One would think that a Church which is  very publicly considering which sinners to allow to receive communion would have no difficulty stating that someone who has  overseen the torture of prisoners and who defends this publicly would be ineligible to receive the Eucharist.

But far from it. General Hayden in 2012 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the self-proclaimed ‘passionately Catholic’ Franciscan University of Steubenville.

And he delivered the commencement address.

I tried to raise a ruckus about this when it occurred but was met by widespread indifference. This is the piece I wrote when I realize that there was little outrage over Hayden’s honors:

But now, two and a half years later, with General Hayden again in the news and the depressing debate about torture reignited, there is a petition circulating for the University to rescind his honorary doctorate.

And you can sign it here:

by Daniel Nichols at December 12, 2014 10:30 PM

Weekend Reading






Venture Capital


by Jason Spinell at December 12, 2014 09:42 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Gamergaters Rally! To Arms, Citizens!

A request from the Dark Lord of the Evil League of Evil, whose signal I wish to boost:

#GamerGate crushed Gawker

Nero reports on the costs to Gawker of attacking #GamerGate:

The cost to Gawker Media of its ridicule and viciousness toward video gamers was “seven figures” in lost advertising revenue, according to the company’s head of advertising, Andrew Gorenstein. In addition, founder Nick Denton has stepped down as president and editorial director Joel Johnson has been removed from his post and will probably leave the company, reports Capital New York….

And now here is a chance to kick the SJW while he’s down. An Ilk suggests action:
A few of us were inspired by that stupid petition that got GTA5 banned to try to use the same tactic against Gawker’s biggest revenue sources. I figure it may be especially effective to kick them when they’re already reeling from the previous damage we’ve done, while Hulk Hogan’s suit and their insurance company threaten to bleed them further. The petition is here: Get Google and Amazon to stop advertising on Gawker Media.

by John C Wright at December 12, 2014 08:51 PM


Remote Reference Counting in Rapicorn

In the last months I finally completed and merged a long standing debt into Rapicorn. Ever since the Rapicorn GUI layout & rendering thread got separated from the main application (user) thread, referencing widgets (from the application via the C++ binding or the Python binding) worked mostly due of luck. I investigated and researched several [...]

by timj at December 12, 2014 07:29 PM

One Big Fluke

Feed: » stratechery by Ben Thompson

Podcast: Exponent Episode 028 – Squirrel!

On the newest episode of Exponent, the podcast I co-host with James Allworth:

We discuss the recent App Store controversy and how a person – or company’s – greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. Plus a special 2nd recording about the Harvard business school professor and the Chinese restaurant.


  • Cabel Sasser: Transmit iOS 1.1.1 [Updated] – Panic blog
  • Greg Gardner: Launcher Followup and Thoughts on the App Store Review System – Cromulent Labs
  • Ben Thompson: App Store Anguish, Old Apple’s Last Stand, Time for a Change? – Stratechery (members-only)
  • Ben Thompson: Why Doesn’t Apple Enable Sustainable Businesses on the App Store? – Stratechery
  • Ben Thompson: The Diminished iPad – Stratechery
  • Ben Thompson: Pleco: Building a Business, Not an App – Stratechery
  • Ben Thompson: Uber and Portland, Uber and India – Stratechery (members-only)
  • Ben Thompson: Best – Stratechery
  • Ben Thompson: What Steve Jobs Wouldn’t Have Done – Stratechery
  • Ben Edelman: Google’s Advertising Labeling in 2014 –
  • Ben Edelman: Facebook Leaks Usernames, User IDs, and Personal Details to Advertisers –
  • Who is Ben Edelman, Sheriff of the (Chinese Food) Internet? –
  • Making Delicious Cocktails with America’s Best Bartender – GQ

Listen to the episode here

Podcast Information: Feed | iTunes | SoundCloud | Twitter | Feedback

The post Podcast: Exponent Episode 028 – Squirrel! appeared first on stratechery by Ben Thompson.

by Ben Thompson at December 12, 2014 05:19 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Diamond Hard SF to Mushy Soft SF

I draw your attention to this handy chart devised by M Kazlev (I think) grading the realism of the science in SF stories. He is clear to emphasize that this is not grading the overall craft of the story, just the scientific plausibility of the props and settings.

I add this so that my compliment of THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir by calling it ‘Diamond Hard’ one can see what company he keeps. INTERSTELLAR, by contrast, is somewhere between ‘Very Hard’ and ‘Plausibly Hard.’

For the whole discussion (which I frankly thought was fascinating!) see here:

Major Categories Rating used here Common Tropes A few examples
Hard Sci Fi “Present Day Tech” Cutting edge Present Day Tech, some developments and speculation, but nothing major that has not been attained today (so no AI). Basic space exploration, very near future Technothrillers, Allen Steele’s Orbital Decay
Ultra Hard (Diamond Hard) Plausible developments of contemporary technologies – AI, Constrained Nanotech, DNI, Interplanetary colonisation, Genetically engineered lifeforms. Nothing that conflicts with the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc as currently understood William Gibson, Neil Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” Trilogy, Robert Forward
Very Hard Plausible developments of provocative contemporary ideas, bot nothing that conflicts with the known laws of physics, information theory, etc – Assembler Nanotech, Nano-Goo, Uploads, Interstellar colonisation, Relativistic ships, vacuum-adapted life Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Greg Benford’s Galactic Center series, Stephen Baxter’s Manifold Series, GURPS Transhuman Space
Plausibly Hard The above but with the addition of some very speculative themes, some of which may well turn out to be impossible, others may be possible. Requires some modification of current understanding, but nothing that is logically impossible, or has been conclusively proved to be impossible (so no FTL without time travel) – Wormholes, Reactionless Drive, Sub-nanotech (Femto-, Plank, etc), Domain Walls, exotic matter, FTL drive with time travel, etc Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee universe, Greg Bear’s Forge of God series, Orion’s Arm
Firm As realistic as the above categories were it not for unrealistic/impossible plot devices (e.g. FTL without time travel paradoxes), although these are kept to a minimum as much as possible Asimov’s “Foundation” Series, “Giants” series by Hogan, Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky
Medium Similar to the above but with a larger number of unrealistic plot devices; e.g. FTL without real explanation (ore with pseudo-explanation), alien biota in some instances very similar to terragen life, psionics, a great many alien civilizations. However still preserves plot and worldbuilding consistency, and the science is good and consistent. Niven’s “Known Space” series, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Banks’ “Culture” novels, David Brin’s “Uplift” series, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Traveller RPG
Soft Sci Fi Soft A number of unscientific themes – e.g. aliens as anthropomorphic “furries”, handwavium disintegrator guns, Alien Cultures and psychology all extremely uniform, and so on. However, still retains story consistency. Various TV series: Babylon 5, Farscape, Andromeda, Matrix, StarGate for the most part
Very Soft As above but either even more unscientific elements (humanoid of the week, lifeless planets with beathable atmosphere, etc), and story with less consistency Various TV and movie series; for the most part the Star Trek Canon and Star Wars Canon
Mushy Soft As above but even more unscientific (alien races never before encountered speak perfect English without a translator, animals too large to stand in Earth gravity (Godzilla), weapons that make energy beams without putting energy in, interstellar travel without FTL or centuries long voyage, mutants with super energy powers, etc) Godzilla, Comic Book Superheros, badly written TV sci fi, elements of some franchises

by John C Wright at December 12, 2014 05:11 PM

Englewood Christian Church: We Blog! » ERB

ERB Weekly Digest – Stanley Hauerwas, Scot McKnight, FREE Christmas Ebooks – December 12, 2014


Kindle Ebook Bargain:  A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the Theological Heart of Preaching By Stanley Hauerwas Only $2.99!!!


Give the Gift of Reading This Christmas!
*** Send our print magazine to all the readers on your Christmas list…



Reviews, etc. posted this week on The Englewood Review of Books website:

  • Disquiet Time – Falsani and Grant, Eds. [Feature Review]
    Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable?   A Review of Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant Hardback: Jericho Books, 2014 Buy now: [ ] [ ]   Reviewed by Jonathan Schindler   What happens when a group […]

  • Classic Christmas Stories [Ten FREE Ebooks!]
    Ten Classic Christmas Stories that are available as FREE ebooks! By authors such as Charles Dickens, LM Montgomery, L. Frank Baum (creator of Oz), George MacDonald, and MORE! These ebooks are available for pretty much any e-reading device… Load up your e-reader today with some of these classics and read these stories aloud throughout the […]

  • Elizabeth Dreyer – Accidental Theologians [Review]
    Deep Spirituality and Prayerful Reflection A Review of Accidental Theologians: Four Women who Shaped Christianity. Elizabeth Dreyer Paperback: Franciscan Media, 2014 Buy now: [ ] [ ]   Reviewed by Kyle A. Schenkewitz   Focusing on Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux, Elizabeth Dreyer forces her reader […]

  • Scot McKnight – Kingdom Conspiracy [Book Trailer]
    Scot McKnight’s latest book is a provocative exploration of the relationship of church and kingdom. Watch for our review by ERB Editor Chris Smith in our soon-to-be-released Advent print issue. (Not a subscriber? Subscribe now…) Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight Hardback: Brazos Press, 2014 Buy now: [ […]

  • New Book Releases – Week of 8 December 2014
    Here are a few new book releases from this week that are worth checking out: (Where possible, we have also tried to include a review/interview related to the book…) > > > > Next Book By Richard McGuire Read a review from NPR…

Digest powered by RSS Digest

by csmith at December 12, 2014 04:30 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Giveaway: North to South Messenger Bag by Tucker & Bloom

Friday is giveaway day. Comment to win!


This week’s giveaway is a fantastic messenger bag from Tucker and Bloom, a father and son company based out of Nashville. David and Case Bloom took their experience in travel wear and design and used it to establish this small business after the travel wear industry went into a decline after 9/11.

These guys know what adventurers need from a good bag—and they deliver!

What you need to know:

  • This bag can hold all your things! Dimensions: 12.5” Long X 13.5” High X 4.5″ Deep
  • Each bag comes with a lifetime warranty and is made in the company’s Nashville factory
  • The outer canvas is water-resistant (which is great if you live in a wet place like Portland, OR)
  • This giveaway is available to readers worldwide. Anyone can win!
  • Our cats and biased judges will pick someone on Sunday night at 6pm PST

Enter this week’s giveaway by posting a comment. Check back on Sunday night and we’ll announce the winner!


Update: Comments are now closed. Congrats to Gwen, selected by cats and a random number generator to win the bag! Everyone else, thanks for entering. We’ll have another giveaway soon.

by Chris Guillebeau at December 12, 2014 03:34 PM

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Workout: Dec. 15, 2014

Shaen trades a stroller for a sled!

Shaen trades a stroller for a sled!

Bulgarian split squat 12-12-12 (6 per leg)

3 rounds of:

10 pull-ups

10 chest-to-bar pull-ups

20 front squats (95/65 lb.)

by Mike at December 12, 2014 03:33 PM

Workout: Dec. 14, 2014

Today, we're adding a box to the burpees for ... fun?

Today, we’re adding a box to the burpees for … fun?

Push press 8-8-8

4-minute stations, partners working one minute on, one minute off:

1. Row for calories

2. Box-over burpees

3. Thrusters

4. Kettlebell swings


2-position snatch @ 70 percent of 1RM 1-1-1-1-1

One snatch from the hang, one from the floor. The load will be relatively light, allowing you to focus on positioning and timing.

3 rounds of:

10 power snatches (75 lb.)

15 wall-ball shots

by Mike at December 12, 2014 03:30 PM

Crossway Blog

Reflections on Christian Publishing

This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund, Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. His most recent book is Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God.

I've only been in the industry four years, but I continue to ponder what Christian publishing is.

Here are a few reflections I jotted down this week.

  1. We live in an age of blushing abundance of biblical and theological and churchly resources. Jonathan Edwards died with 300 books in his personal library; most of us surpassed that by the time we finished school. Not only in print but also, now, digitally, for a modest price, or often for free, I can learn about any point of doctrine or any passage of the Bible or any ethical issue or any point of church history or any theological development easily and promptly.

  2. This embarrassment of riches is both a great boon and a great challenge. It is a great boon because biblical and theological ignorance is now only a choice, not a necessity. Anyone can become an expert on anything—they need not travel to Rome or become a monk; all they have to do is get off Facebook and put down the remote. It is a great challenge because the richest are often the poorest: the millionaire lives off junk food and dies early, the pro athlete succumbs to substance abuse due to its sudden pervasive availability and torpedoes his career prematurely, the everyday Christian is overwhelmed at Barnes and Noble and stops reading anything at all, the budding scholar is paralyzed by the mass of secondary literature and retreats into hyper-specialization.

  3. What is the calling of Christian publishers in this golden age of publishing? (By "Christian publishers" I have in mind, quite generally, publishing companies in North America and around the world, whether for-profit or non-profit, that are not only operated by regenerate believers but also seek to publish resources that promote Christian faith as defined, at the very least, by Nicea and other early Christian creeds.) The calling of Christian publishers at the present time is to be a steward—that is, neither to wipe our hands off and close up shop because there’s already so much out there, on the one hand, nor to get caught up in frantically pumping out more resources just for the sake of activity, on the other. Instead we are to wisely discern what is most needed and publish it in a beautiful way.

  4. But what is most needed? Here is where different Christian publishers begin to diverge. Seems to me that what is most needed is that which will do the greatest good. And the greatest good in this miserable, exhausted world is Jesus Christ, the Friend of Sinners, and the good news of his reconciling work, through which the soul is delivered and sanity restored and peace descends and the entire created order is guaranteed eventual restoration. So what is most needed in Christian publishing is resources that give us that good news, not resources that dance around the periphery.

  5. But this gospel, as Kuyper and Schaeffer and others have taught us so well, while about a very specific thing, speaks to everything. How I write an email is informed by the gospel. How I treat my kids, what I do with my money, how I handle my body, everything. Our entire lives are now under the lordship of Christ, and the entire created order will one day be restored to Eden 2.0. Conclusion: Christian publishing appropriately centers on the gospel, but produces resources on everything, from art to technology to physical disability to mathematics to sports. The gospel is the sun of a Christian publisher’s solar system—the blazing center, but also shedding light on all else. For us at Crossway that means publishing the Bible (the book that gives us the gospel in God's own words) and a host of solid books and other resources grounded in the Bible (books that communicate the gospel in various authors' words).

  6. To come at things from a different angle: Christian publishing is doing a very specific thing: communicating heaven-sent truth. It is a truth industry. We are merchants with a ware, and this ware is not cell phones, or silverware, or paper, or contact lenses, or tractors, or vacations, or software, or shoes, but truth. Publishing is not even competing with preaching. Preachers are called to shepherd a specific congregation, to herald the gospel in the weekly event of pulpit proclamation. Christian publishers come alongside the local church and flood the believing community, both clergy and laity, with help in understanding truth. Christian publishing exists to take our perplexing, opaque lives and map those lives onto solid truth, making the opaque clear. It exists to enable sinners to make sense out of their lives; to bring truth to a truth-starved world, preeminently with the gospel and then to a thousand gospel-informed elements of life.

  7. From yet another angle: God created language. In the beginning, God spoke. Then he made us in his image, as speaking creatures. Then Christ came as the Word. Language is built in to this universe; language is at the very heart of the meaning of the universe. And of humanity: we are word-creatures. Christian publishing exists because of this. We seek to supply small, boxy objects called books that give people coherent, organized words that help them coherently organize their world, around the Bible’s revelation of truth, and supremely around Christ.

  8. Christian publishing, to be healthy, requires two things: healthy publishers and healthy authors. What is a healthy publisher? A publisher who functions essentially not out of desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian publishing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. What is a healthy author? An author who functions essentially not out of a desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian writing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. When an author driven by love partners with a publisher driven by love, that project will have the kiss of God upon it. Christian publishing is an act of love.

  9. Christian publishers and authors must hold justification by faith alone before their eyes in all their work. Publishers must remember they are justified not by number of employees or high-profile authors or respect among literary agents or visibility at conferences or annual net sales. They are justified by Christ alone through faith alone. Their okayness, their "matter-ing," is entirely alien to them. And authors must remember they are not justified by copies sold or glowing endorsements or rave reviews or big advances, but Christ alone. They too draw their total (total) significance from heaven, not earth.

  10. Just as with every human endeavor to lift up Christ and spread truth, so in faithful Christian publishing, Satan hates it. He will do what he can to mute our efforts. In the early church, Satan tried to stop the gospel first by inflation (an appeal to pride, Acts 3), then by persecution (the Jewish authorities, Acts 4), then by corruption (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5), then by distraction (squabbling widows, Acts 6). So too in Christian publishing, Satan would be delighted to inflate us when our books sell well, persecute us when we take a stand against (say) same-sex unions, corrupt us through immoral employees, or distract us by taking our eyes off the mission at hand. So one goal of Christian publishers, among others, is to infuriate Satan by publishing humbly, perseveringly, purely, and single-mindedly.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared at Dane Ortlund's personal blog.

Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is senior vice president for Bible publishing at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life and Mark: A 12-Week Study. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton, Illinois.

by Nick Rynerson at December 12, 2014 03:15 PM

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

204 Bootcamp Starts Jan. 5, 2015!


We started our bootcamps back in April 2010–and they’re back in 2015!

If you’re looking to get fit but aren’t quite ready for CrossFit, or if someone you know isn’t quite ready for the kettlebell snatch, we have a new option available.

Starting Jan. 5, 204 Strength and Conditioning will be offering a bootcamp at 9 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

These classes will feature expert coaching by certified instructors in our fully equipped 6,000-square-foot CrossFit facility. There are no prerequisites to join. The cost is $105 per month (GST included), and the program is open to anyone.

You’ll see many CrossFit movements, but classes won’t include more technical movements such as the snatch and clean and jerk. Each class will involve an instructional component, and you’ll receive all the coaching you need to get a great workout, but the emphasis will be on getting you moving. Expect to see body-weight movements, agility drills, muscular-endurance work, mobility training, prehab and stability training, circuits and intervals.

CrossFit 204

Our 6,000-square-foot facility,

These classes are open to people at any fitness level, and beginners are more than welcome to join.

Current CrossFit 204 members will have access to these classes for a monthly add-on fee of $15.75 per month (GST included). This is a separate program, and these classes do not count toward monthly attendance limits for members with once-, twice- or thrice-per-week memberships. Current 204 members may attend as often as they like for $15.75, and these classes are ideal for shift workers who can’t make our regular classes or those who want to fire up their engine before doing strength work later in the day.

If our bootcamp athletes would like to join CrossFit classes at any point, they may do so via a condensed On-Ramp. The exact length and cost will be determined on a case-by-case basis.


Coach Mike and Crystal (in red and purple) along with some of our original bootcamp members.

This program starts Jan. 5, 2015, and if you’re looking to kickstart the New Year with a new challenge, this is the program for you.

If you have any questions about this our any programs we offer, visit out Schedule/Fees page, email or call Crystal at 880-1001.

by Mike at December 12, 2014 03:09 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

The Ideal Resource to Help Leaders Teach Matthew’s Gospel — An Excerpt from “Matthew, Studies on the Go”

9780310516750This fall we were pleased to launch a new series of helpful resources for youth workers and small group leaders, called Studies on the Go.

The series gives volunteer leaders ready-made, creative, and engaging Bible studies that will challenge their people to think deeply, talk openly, and apply what they are learning to their lives. It also provides them with creative and engaging Bible study questions.

The first of two books is Matthew, by Laurie Polich-Short. Her concisely informative book on this first Gospel will help leaders equip, push, encourage, and challenge their students and adults to live lives devoted to our loving King—all with the goal that they would be changed.

The excerpt below illustrates how this resource will help volunteer leaders guide their people through Scripture and apply it to their lives. If you lead volunteer leaders, be sure to pass it along to them to help them better teach and lead.



Over the next three chapters, we are presented with the only sermon Jesus ever gave. And it’s clear from the start that he’s advocating a very different way to live. The “blessings” described in the Beatitudes are not blessings we normally hear about; they run counter to the culture we live. However when we live this way, we permeate our culture with the presence of God.

In this chapter, students will have a chance to reflect on their influence, for better or for worse. Jesus makes it clear that it is through our relationships with others that our relationship with God is shown. Perhaps the words of the simple song say it best: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” However, it is only through God’s strength that we can live this out.

So how do we do that? We’re the first to make up when it’s not our fault. We keep our commitments even when others haven’t. We don’t fight back when people deserve it. We love people who hate us. According to Jesus’ words, this is how our relationships should look when we want to point people to something greater than ourselves. Apparently God doesn’t want us to just talk about his love. He wants us to live it.


Warm- Up Questions

• Do you think the world defines blessing the same way God does? Why/Why not?

• If you had to sum up in one phrase how you treat others, what would it be? Does your faith impact the way you treat others?

• Which is hardest for you to do?

A. Share your faith with others,

B. Not take revenge

C. Not talk about people behind their backs,

D. Love your enemies.

Why is it hardest?


Observation Questions

• What are the eight traits Jesus calls “blessed” in the Beatitudes? (verses 3- 10) Why does he say we should rejoice when we are persecuted? (verse 12)

• What does Jesus say we are in verses 13 and 14? What is the result of letting our light shine in verse 16?

• What does Jesus say we are to do before we go to the altar to worship God? (verses 23- 24) How does Jesus sum up the way we keep our oaths to people? (verse 37)

• What does Jesus say about payback in verses 38- 40? What does he say about how we are to treat our enemies? (verses 43- 44) What reason does he give for why he says this in verses 46- 47?


Interpretation Questions

• How are the Beatitudes different from what the world calls “blessed”? (Give specific examples from verses 3- 11.)

• What does it mean to be “salt” as a Christian? What does it mean to be “light?” How are they different?

• Why do you think Jesus says we should make things right in our relationships before we go to him? (verses 23- 24) How do our relationships with others affect our relationship with God?

• What do you think Jesus means in verses 38- 42? Is he being literal? Why does he say we should love our enemies? (verses 43- 46)


Application Questions

• Which Beatitude in verses 3- 11 do you have the hardest time living out? Which is the easiest for you to live out?

• Are you better at being salt or light as a Christian? Which do you need to work on in your Christian life right now?

• Is there a broken relationship in your life that you need to make right? If so, what steps will you take to make that happen?

• When you read Jesus’ commandment to love your enemies, is there someone who comes to mind? Write that person’s initials next to that verse and pray for your relationship with them this week.


Optional Activity

Have popcorn or chips in three bowls prepared three ways: Without salt, with salt, and over- salted. After your students taste them, have them choose the one they liked best, and the one they liked least. Debrief the exercise asking what it means to be salt as a Christian, and what it looks like when we are “under- salted” or “over- salted.” Added bonus: Give students a saltshaker with the verse.


By Laurie Polich-Short

Buy it Today:
Barnes & Noble
Buy Direct from Zondervan

by Jeremy Bouma at December 12, 2014 03:01 PM

Crossway Blog

ESV Gift Guide

Looking for Some Gift Ideas?

If you're looking for affordable gift ideas this Christmas season, consider some of these unique ESV editions:

ESV Reader's Bible

The unique, fresh design of the Reader's Bible has made it a topseller since it's release in June of this year. Laid out in a single column format without verse numbers, footnotes, or section headings, the Reader's Bible is great for devotional reading, extended Bible reading, or for focusing on the narrative flow of the Bible.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

The Psalms, ESV

The Psalms, ESV is a beautiful presentation of this beloved section of Scripture. With each psalm presented in large, readable type on high quality paper, this is a wonderful edition for personal devotions, liturgical use, or as a gift.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

ESV Women's Devotional Bible

The 365 devotions scattered throughout this Bible are theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and helpful to women of any age. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and inspired to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

ESV Gospel Transformation Bible

This remarkable resource equips both new and seasoned believers with a gospel-centered reading of Scripture, enabling God’s people to see that the Bible is a unified message of God's grace culminating in Jesus. This Bible is available in a variety of cover options and prices.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

ESV MacArthur Drawing Near Devotional Bible

Many believers struggle with consistent Bible reading, or feel their time in God’s Word is not as effective as they’d like it to be. The MacArthur Drawing Near Devotional Bible was created for such believers, combining a reading plan with reflections from an experienced Bible teacher. It features devotional material from Drawing Near by Dr. John MacArthur.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

Journaling Bibles

Crossway’s Journaling Bibles are a great way for someone to record personal study notes, or get creative as they read and interact with Scripture. Available in single or double column layout and in a variety of cover options.

Learn More: Double Column or Single Column / Download an Excerpt

ESV Holy Bible for Kids

This highly affordable Bible made just for kids features twenty-four pages of illustrations interspersed throughout the full ESV Bible text that depict major scenes in the story of redemption. Kid-friendly maps are also featured in the back. Young children will love calling this Bible their own.

Learn More / Download an Excerpt

by Lizzy Jeffers at December 12, 2014 02:51 PM

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Holiday Hamper and Hours

Santa brings overhead squats and holiday cheer!

Santa brings overhead squats and holiday cheer!

As we always do, CrossFit 204 is organizing another holiday hamper to help out a local family. A sign-up sheet is on the door by the whiteboard.

Please take a look and put your name beside any available items. If all the items are crossed off, feel free to bring extra of something on the list.

Thanks for your help!

The holiday schedule is below. Please note all changes, sign in for all classes as usual, and do your best to get to the gym to maintain your fitness during the season of snacks and parties. Please email us if you have any problems signing in.

And Zenplanner has a mobile app to make signing in easier on your phone. Instruction can be found here.

Check it out here:

Dec. 24 – Open gym from noon to 3 p.m. All other classes cancelled.

Dec. 25 – All classes (including Legends and Yoga) cancelled.

Dec. 26 – 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. classes cancelled. All other classes remain as scheduled.

Dec. 26 – Yoga will happen at 10:45 a.m.

Dec. 31 – Open gym from noon to 3 p.m. All other classes cancelled.

Jan. 1 – Holiday workout at 10 a.m. All other classes (including Legends and Yoga) cancelled.

by Mike at December 12, 2014 02:48 PM

The Urbanophile

Talking Tuition With Mitch Daniels

This summer I sat down with Purdue University President Mitch Daniels to talk about his tuition freeze initative there for my City Journal article on the subject. Here’s the podcast of that conversation:

Here are some excerpted highlights. Daniels on what’s driving costs up:

Government has imposed a whole lot of this administrative cost on the colleges. Not all of it, but a lot of it. You know, administrative costs have soared in banks, too. And so there’s some validity in the response that many of the tasks being done on campuses now are simply trying to keep up with the avalanche of regulations and compliance that goes with it.

But when you shear all that away, it was just too easy for universities and colleges generally to decide what they wanted to do and what they wanted to spend – all the additional enthusiasms they might have had at a given time – and there was no elasticity in tuition payments, especially not when so much of it was being borrowed from third parties. And so they raised it. Purdue was hardly the worst offender. It’s more or less in the pack of what happened here, in fact, better than most. But when you roll it all together, it finally reached the place where I think the machine is going “Tilt,” and it should.

On whether the tuition freeze will be permanent:

We’re not promising to do it indefinitely, but I have said it wasn’t a one-time or even a three-time gesture. We do want to make a statement that Purdue cares about this subject. We’re a land grant school, remember. We were placed here in large part to open the doors of higher education beyond the elites, who were almost the only ones with access back when. And that’s still important. But this is not just a gesture. This will be a permanent policy, that is to say, affordability will be a permanent policy, and we’ll see how far we can press it.

On the potential impact of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs):

My sense is that there will be some sort of shake-out, you’re already seeing it. I think you’ll see some institutions that just can’t justify what they’re doing and what they’re charging. I think there will be others who adapt to it. And we are certainly using online education blended often with classroom instruction more and more aggressively here. We think we are ahead of every other university in the number of Purdue courses that have already been changed, such that, typically, the lecture is not in a hall with 300 other people. It’s on your handheld or it’s on your laptop. You watch it on your time, in your space. You watch it as many times as you need to to absorb it. When you go to class, you’re going to be either working on a project to see if you did learn it. In the best of cases, there will have been some interactivity, and the professor will know what Aaron got that Mitch didn’t, and vice versa. This is probably the right direction. So long answer, I’m sorry, but it is such a central question. But thank goodness for disruptive technologies. And whether they utterly rewrite the terms of trade in this sector, or simply force big changes, either way is positive. I’m betting it’s the latter.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at December 12, 2014 02:12 PM


What are You Prepared to Do?

The so-called “conservative” responses to the Senate torture report are now making their rounds, and they tell us quite a bit about what really matters to certain people. Thus far no one has denied that the most morally repugnant alleged practices actually took place. No one has said, “That’s crazy! We would never use rape as a weapon! We could never forcibly insert food into someone’s rectum! No way!” No. They have not said that. They have attempted to justify the practices by arguing that the practices produced important information, that the proper authorities knew about them, and that our enemies do much worse. But they are not denying those practices.

Tellingly, Dick Cheney declined to refute the charge of rectal re-hydration. He sidestepped the gravity of the question entirely by saying he had “no knowledge” of that specific practice, but then he went straight to a defense of its hypothetical use on the grounds that it would have been necessary: “What are you prepared to do to get the truth against future attacks against the United States?” It’s a good question. What are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to threaten to rape someone’s mother? Are you prepared to make that threat within a context where it is credible? Are you prepared to carry through with that threat? If the answer is NO!, which it should be, then Mr. Cheney’s justification fails.

It’s also worth pointing out that Mr. Cheney’s “rebuttal” to the Senate report actually heightens the moral culpability of the United States government, as he spends great time arguing that the President was fully aware of everything he needed to be aware of. He denies that the CIA acted alone or simply went off track. He says it was very well-executed and in line with what the authorities instructed. That might be a kind of political point scored, but for moral onlookers it makes things worse not better.

Let’s be clear about this. The “partisan” nature of the Senate report has nothing at all to do with the identification of the “techniques.” The partisan nature has to do with where the blame should be put and the level of functionality and efficiency claimed for the program. But thus far no one disputes the depraved actions used to obtain information. You cannot skip that point. Anyone who does is irresponsibly avoiding the primary moral issue.

This is actually not the first we are hearing of such practices. If this were 2007 or 2008 one might have reasonable grounds to wait for more information to come out. But the evidence has piled up since then. In fact, the making and revealing of this report was staunchly opposed by many of the defenders of the US’s torture practices. They didn’t want more information back then. But more evidence has been available for some time. Eric Fair was a party to the torturing. He has been writing about the effects torture had on him since at least 2007. On Tuesday of this week he wrote:

Today, the Senate released its torture report. Many people were surprised by what it contained: accounts of waterboardings far more frequent than what had previously been reported, weeklong sleep deprivation, a horrific and humiliating procedure called “rectal rehydration.” I’m not surprised. I assure you there is more; much remains redacted.

This also isn’t the first time defenders of torture have reserved the right to employ the most barbarous methods if necessary. John Yoo was a high-ranking legal counsel to George W. Bush, the author of the “Torture Memos,” and a principal legal architect of the policies and methods used as enhanced interrogation. In 2005, wholly in the open and with no shame, he acknowledged that crushing the testicles of a suspect’s child was within the bounds of what the United States ought to be permitted to do:

Under the logic of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo’s view of presidential power, the president, as Commander in Chief, could direct the torture of a detainee’s innocent child in order to obtain his cooperation, and no law can stop him. This is no exaggeration, nor is it a proposition from which Mr. Yoo would retreat. In a December 1, 2005, debate with Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassel, Mr. Yoo stated the president could lawfully order “crushing the testicles of a person’s child”:
Mr. Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?
Mr. Yoo: No treaty.
Mr. Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
Mr. Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.
(Reining in the Imperial Presidency pg. 117-118)

If John Yoo will publicly claim for the US the right to crush the testicles of an innocent child, then it is not at all difficult to believe that the US would threaten to rape someone’s mother. In fact, Yoo’s fiendish imagination almost makes what really happened seem a relief. At least it was only a threat. But it was a threat given in a context where it was believable and where its credibility was essential to its effectiveness.

We also have to face the reality that such torture debases and degrades the torturer along with the one being tortured. Remember Eric Fair. Or how about those lower-ranking soldiers who were arrested? Remember Lynndie England, Megan AmbuhlCharles Graner, and others. I have no problem saying that they were, at least for a time, moral monsters. But now we have to wonder how it was that they became moral monsters. It certainly seems as if they were molded into them. And make no mistake, their lives are forever ruined. They will never recover. They will never be “normal.”

In 2008, Michael Peppard showed that female serviceman degraded themselves sexually in order to degrade Guantánamo detainees. I won’t reprint the material here, for it is truly disturbing, but those who wish to read for themselves can find it towards the bottom of this essay. This week Mr. Peppard has again written on the subject, showing how the latest Senate Report demonstrates such methods were intentional and a consistent part of the program.

So again, back to the Vice President’s question. What are you willing to do? Are you willing to crush the testicles of a young boy? Are you willing to destroy the lives of American servicemen? Are you willing for your daughter to sexually degrade herself in an attempt to obtain information that a detainee may or may not possess? What are you willing to do? 

This all highlights the problem here for humans. Not for politicians. Not for abstract conversations. For humans with moral consciences responsible before a living God. There are some things that are off limits. These things are always evil. They are malum in se.

The Apostle Paul famously anticipates a certain sort of consequentialism in Rom. 3:8 saying, “And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.” Notice that Paul says any suggestion that he affirms such an argument is slander. If something is evil per se, then it may not be used in the service of good. That’s a basic Biblical principle. There are lots of things that are not evil per se which are still “bad” and ordinarily off-limits. The taking of human life is such an item. Murder is evil per se, but not all taking of human life is murder. Capital punishment, as well as the taking of life in defense of other life immediately threatened is not murder. But what of sexual assault? That’s what I keep coming back to. Can one engage in sexual assault in order to save a life? The question is hard to take seriously. One obvious reason is because it cannot reasonably be conceived as “necessary” to do such an act. But it’s also because sexual assault is a special kind of evil that can never be justified, not under any circumstance.

There’s a saying popular in the legal community that goes like this: “If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.” Conservatives right now who avoid the gravity of such immoral actions are currently pounding the table. They do not have the facts on their side. So they attack commentators. They do not even have the law on their side, certainly not the moral law of God. So they attack partisan motives or try to stir up competing emotions. They are pounding the table.

But this is a massive failure because this isn’t just an argument. We humans are not the only participants in this conversation. God is here. He is not mocked. He has eyes. He sees all. It does not matter if our enemies would have done the same thing to us. We are not judged by that standard. To suggest that the greatest existential need was to avoid the threat from those enemies is to actually miss the big picture. God is here. Fear Him.

Also, we have to remember that an immoral freedom is actually not freedom at all. It is a new kind of bondage. If we defeat our enemy only to discover that we have become very much like him, to learn that we are no longer honest and upright men, then we have not defeated the greatest enemy at all. We have succumb to his powers. To bend our wills and distort our consciences is not freedom.

What are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to sell your soul? Are you prepared to sear your conscience and forfeit your claim to justice?

And any Christian who is not worried about this fact right now needs to step away from the politics and draw near to their God.

by Steven Wedgeworth at December 12, 2014 01:51 PM


qrq: How little I really know

I found qrq by way of a brute search through the Debian archives for anything text-related, and even though I haven’t a clue what to do with qrq, I’ll show it here out of fairness.

2014-12-11-6m47421-qrq-01 2014-12-11-6m47421-qrq-02

That’s only partly true — I do have a small idea what to do with qrq. The home page is very helpful, and the program itself has more than enough help just in its startup screen to keep me from shrugging with complete bewilderment. And I imagine if you’re learning or use Morse telegraphy at all, it will be very interesting.

It’s also worth highlighting that qrq involves some sound support. Very few console applications take the time to incorporate an audio element, unless they’re specifically intended for audio playback.

At this point I should mention that I have no training whatsoever with Morse code aside from learning about it in primary school. Or maybe tinkering with morse. So properly using qrq is well beyond my ability.

On the other hand, I do like the interface, even if it is pinned to 80×24. qrq has no flags that I could find, and the man page gives only a little more information than you’ll get from starting the program.

I noticed that qrq is in both Debian and Arch, and the Arch version will pull in alsa-oss when you install it. That might suggest that qrq is a little beyond the most recent developments in Linux audio, but I had no problems with qrq’s sound playback.

Other than the fact that I have no clue what those beeps and boops mean. :\

Between this and yfklog, I’m beginning to expect more from text-only applications intended for the amateur radio demographic. … :|

Tagged: code, ham, morse, practice, radio, test, training

by K.Mandla at December 12, 2014 01:15 PM

xrestop: The irony is palpable

I am not surprised that there is a top-like tool for monitoring the X Window system. After all, there is a plethora of *top tools aimed at any aspect of your hardware or information flow, and X is not that special.


On the other hand, the fact that xrestop is intended to run in a console is ironic at the least. :\

I know it works, but I also think that most any text-based tool works smoother than something running under X, the slug. That’s just my generalized opinion, and I’m not bashful about it.

But a text-based tool that gives readouts on X system demands is far too ironic to leave alone.

xrestop itself is not in any way disappointing or flawed — in fact, it does a great job showing what is running, what is taking up time and what is most demanding on any particular display. It can accept specific display addresses and report on those, adjust its refresh delay and a few other options through command flags.

All in all, it’s at least as good as some of the other top-esque tools that are out there, aimed at other aspects of your computing experience.

Still … I would have expected something … well, graphical. :\ After all, doesn’t a graphical load monitor aimed at the graphical subsystem just … make sense? :???: Maybe not.

Tagged: information, system

by K.Mandla at December 12, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Building a better time machine

I’ve written before about how a blog is like a time machine, reflecting on my growth as a speaker or looking back over the past decade. It’s wonderful having all these notes. I often find myself referring to things from years ago – many of the technical posts are still useful, surprisingly – and then I bump into other memories nearby.

What can I do now to build a better time machine for me to use in another ten years or more? How can I tweak what I’m sharing and how I’m sharing it so that I can make the most of it? Let me think about how this has worked in the past, so that I can build on what’s been working well.

People like the tech posts, the workflow posts, the reflection posts where they recognize something they’ve been thinking about themselves. So those are all good. I also like point-in-time descriptions to help me remember what it was like. Maybe I’ll take those process journal entries and copy them in periodically so that they’re available somewhere.

I wonder: what other people have learned about writing for their futures? Here’s a snippet from Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing (2014):

p98. In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook”, [Joan] Didion describes what her notebook isn’t. It isn’t “an accurate factual record” because our recollection of an event might be vastly different from someone else’.s It isn’t to “dutifully record a day’s events” because that task inevitably becomes boring, and such a record conveys little or no meaning. Nor should we necessarily expect that we might one day open our notebooks and find “a forgotten account” of an event we can pluck for our work.

Instead, Didion believes that the notebook’s value lies in its record of “How it felt to be me” at a particular time. This, she says, is the notebook’s truth. Although we might imagine using it to fix our impressions of others, instead, “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point” of the notebook. Part of a writer’s education is “to keep on noding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” Reading our notebooks helps us to keep in touch with those past selves, and a record of “How it felt to be me” can be extraordinarily useful in writing memoir, creating fictional characacters, or writing poetry.

p100. Didion remarks on the fact that we change over time but that we forget the people we were: “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be,” she says. Without a notebook record, these selves are lost to us. For a writer, “keeping in touch” with our past selves is helpful. … As Didion reminds us, “We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”

So, maybe the occasional snapshot of “How it felt to be me,” a way to remember that there are selves to remember. Otherwise the time blurs.

From that essay of Joan Didion:

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

I think that might be part of it, a little bit of that worry (not a lot, but it’s there, lurking in the background) that I might forget (no, will!) large chunks of my life, because even last month is a little fuzzy without notes and last year gets condensed into a few highlights. But no, that isn’t quite it either, since I don’t really hang on to the memories tightly even with my notes and my archive; I don’t reread, I don’t memorize.

Ah. I think this is it: my blog lets my past selves connect with other people who are looking for this stuff here and now (or in the future, as the case may be). So even if I am a different self–focused on other projects, learning about other interests–those past selves are there to nod at other people and share a little of what we’ve learned along the way. Mostly I leave things as snippets and blog posts, but on occasion, I consolidate things into summaries and documents – a clearer guide, a past self updated with a little present knowledge.


The post Building a better time machine appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 12, 2014 01:00 PM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

TGC Spotlight 12.12.14

TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed. 

Around the Web

Six Key Points from the C.I.A. Torture Report

report released this week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence discloses new details about the C.I.A.’s torture practices and claims the agency mislead the government and the American people on the effectiveness of the program.

Here are six key points from the report:

1. The report claims the C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal than had been previously admitted and that they were employed more extensively than the agency portrayed. The report includes details from C.I.A. documents that outline some of the torture detainees were subjected to:

  • Forced to stand on broken limbs for hours, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads (p. 130). One detainee had been chained to a wall in the standing position for 17 days (p. 79).
  • Kept in total isolation, complete darkness, and subjected to “auditory overload” (p. 83).
  • Deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours (7.5 days), sometimes standing and with their arms shackled above their heads (p. 119).
  • Subjected to “rectal feeding” without medical necessity. Rectal exams were also conducted with “excessive force.” (p. 102) (The report highlights one prisoner who was later diagnosed with anal fissures, chronic hemorrhoids, and “symptomatic rectal prolapse.”)
  • Detainees were stripped naked and doused in ice water “baths.” (p. 13)
  •  Subjected to mock executions (p. 85), Russian roulette (p. 453), and mock burial (p. 61).
  •  One medical officer observed that “in the new [waterboarding] technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings.” (p. 115)
  •  Threats were made to slit the throat of a detainee’s mother, sexually abuse another and threatened prisoners’ children (p. 13).
  •  One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on in part by being forced to sit in a cold room on a bare concrete floor without pants (p. 83).

2. The report uses the C.I.A.’s internal records to present 20 case studies to support its conclusion that the most extreme interrogation methods played no role in disrupting terrorism plots, capturing terrorist leaders, or even finding Bin Laden. (This week C.I.A. Director John Brennan said it was "unknowable" whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" yielded useful intelligence.)

3. The report claims senior C.I.A. officials — including former directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden — repeatedly inflated the value of the program in secret briefings both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and in public speeches.

4. The report claims many C.I.A. interrogators were untrained, unqualified, or unfit for the duty. A legal advisor for the military even warned his superiors that because of the illegal torture tactics being used military participation in the interrogation of some prisoners would “involve risks for the U.S. military.” (p. 82)

5. According to internal documents, some C.I.A. personnel reported being disturbed by the new tactics. As stated in one C.I.A. memo (p. 73),

“Today’s first session. . .had a profound effect on all staff member present. . . it seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further. . . everyone seems strong for now but if the group has to continue. . . we cannot guarantee how much longer.”

“Several on the team profoundly affected. . . some to the point of tears and chocking up.”

6. The report claims C.I.A. officials asked officers to “compile information on the success” of the program to be shared with the news media in order to shape public opinion. The C.I.A. purportedly also mischaracterized events and provided false or incomplete information to the news media in an effort to gain public support.

See also: 7 Things Christians Should Know About Torture

Quick Takes

• "We hire our pastors and staff to do that," and nine other troubling statements church leaders and members make.

• Hannah Anderson considers fidelity and romance in the Digital Age.

• Let chef Gordon Ramsay show you how to make perfect scrambled eggs.

• NFL star gives it all up to be a farmer and feed the poor.

(For even more links, see the "Remainder Bin" at the end of this post.)

Featured TGC Articles

The Missionary Life: No Shortcuts | Evan Burns

I would soberly admonish any missionary candidate that the mission field is not all romance and radical adventure; it is also mingled with heartbreak, loss, and self-denial.


Eve’s Daddy Issues and Ours | Jasmine Holmes

Ultimately our trust issues don’t stem from daddy issues, broken families, or broken hearts, but from a lack of submission to the Father.


The Role of Singing In the Life of the Church | Rob Smith

Congregational singing is a gift to treasure dearly, engage in regularly, use wisely, and protect carefully.


Romantic Love is Not Enough | Dave Dunham

Our celebration of marriage is a good thing, but it can easily become an idolatrous thing.


How Education Can Serve a Divine Purpose for Human Culture | Bethany Jenkins

It is imperative that a warmer, bolder interest in learning should awaken among God’s people, in order to get scholarship back on its God-given track and to refute the lie that faith hates scholarship.


Featured TGC Contributor Articles

A 20th Century Classic: “The Master Plan of Evangelism” | Justin Taylor

In 1963 Coleman published his book on The Master Plan of Evangelism, which boasts over 3.5 million copies sold.


Is the State of Michigan Considering a “License to Discriminate”? | Kevin DeYoung

In the last few days, we’ve seen a lot of local news (and some national press attention) about the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MiRFRA). The bill has passed the Michigan House of Representatives and now heads to the Senate for consideration.


Time to Move Beyond “Defending” Marriage to “Rebuilding” Marriage | Trevin Wax

There is an ever-deepening divergence between the church’s understanding of marriage and the culture’s understanding. With the rise of no-fault divorce, common cohabitation, and same-sex marriage, many evangelicals are wondering what we do next.


8 Suggestions for Applying the Gospel in Light of Brown, Grant, Gurley, Rice and Others | Thabiti Anyabwile

Yesterday following the morning service a dear and faithful brother approached me at the door. In his customarily intense way, he looked me in the eyes and thanked me for the sermon. He expressed his appreciation for how the gospel was present throughout the exposition. Then he moved from appreciation to loving critique.


Strength in integrity | Ray Ortlund

The word “integrity” is the key word in Proverbs 10:9. A secure walk is not a matter of clever politics but of personal integrity. But what is integrity?


An Advent Prayer: Knowing and Treasuring Jesus | Scotty Smith

Dear Lord Jesus, this Scripture is crammed so full of holy mystery and immeasurable grace. You, the very God who created and sustains all things, who feeds birds and clothes the fields—you drew nourishment from a young maiden’s breast.


Coming Next Week at TGC

The Darkness of Christmas | Courtney Reissig

Christmas is a time of joy for many people, but Courtney Reissig points out that it is a time of deep grief for others.


The Sacred-Secular Divide is Pure Fiction | Bethany Jenkins

Martin Luther tears down the sacred-secular divide in our vocations.


Must All Regulative Principle Churches Look the Same? | Trip Lee

Trip Lee asks, "Must all regulative principle churches look the same?" The answer is very simply, yes and no.


Upcoming Events

Albuquerque Regional Conference (March 20-22, 2015)

Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and Christ. Speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and David Helm.

2015 National Conference (April 1-15, 2015)

Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others.

Remainder Bin

American Culture

Why Pastors Should Pay Attention to the Torture Report
Steven Dilla, OnFaith

Three ways forward for leaders of Christian communities.

Time’s Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters
Nancy Gibbs, Time

They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved. Editor Nancy Gibbs explains why the Ebola Fighters are TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014.

U.S. Sees Decline in Births for Sixth Year
Tamar Lewin, New York Times

The number of women in the United States who gave birth dropped last year, according to federal statistics released Thursday, extending the decline for a sixth year.

Chimpanzees Are Not Entitled to Human Rights, New York Court Says
Elizabeth Barber, Time

The chimpanzee at issue is not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus allowing him freedom from his cage.


Most American Agree With Right-To-Die Movement
Dennis Thompson, Healthday

An overwhelming 74 percent of American adults now believe that terminally ill patients who are in great pain should have the right to end their lives, the poll found. Only 14 percent were opposed.

Abortion Is Out; Single Moms Are In
Nicole Russell, The Federalist

New data show fewer abortions and marriages, meaning many more single moms.Those who love life should start supporting good marriages and parenting.

Making Super-Mice: First, You Take an Aborted Human Baby
Susan E. Wills, Aleteia

The ever-shifting boundaries of research ethics.

Christianity and Culture

Church Giving Tops $50 Billion A Year In U.S.—And Its Future Is Not A Collection Plate
Ruth Graham, Fast Company

“Churches are no different than any other operation in that they need to be relevant and convenient,” said RaeAnn Slaybaugh, editor of Church Executive magazine, who has reported on new giving options. “The difficulty is in capitalizing on a moment of generosity.”

9 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Persecution of Christians
Rick McDaniel, OnFaith

Is discrimination against Christians an acceptable form of prejudice?

Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion?
Jason Stubblefield, First Things

Teaching our children a particular form of religious expression may seem something like teaching them to eat only one kind of cheese on a smorgasbord of limitless options. With so many religious alternatives, how can we help our children choose?


Body Cameras Worn by Police Officers Are No ‘Safeguard of Truth,’ Experts Say
Vivian Yee and Kirk Johnson, New York Times

No consensus has emerged about when officers should turn on their cameras, which could leave departments open to accusations of selective recording. And tapes do not always lead to universally shared conclusions.

Not Just a Rape Culture: The University’s Rape System
Greg Forster, Public Discourse

Only political reform can fight the system that protects rapists on college campuses.

Officer Fatally Shoots Man After Stabbing at Brooklyn Synagogue
Marc Santora and Joseph Berger, New York Times

A New York City police officer shot and killed a man who stabbed an Israeli rabbinical student at a Brooklyn synagogue early Tuesday morning, according to the police.

The Tragic Prevalence of Sexual Assault
Tim Challies,

Sexual assault is all over the news today. Headlines in the United States tell of a long list of woman who have accused Bill Cosby of assault, and tell of college campuses where rape is shockingly common.

Drugs and Alcohol

Why Colleges Haven’t Stopped Binge Drinking 
Beth McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education

Despite decades of research, hundreds of campus task forces, and millions invested in bold experiments, college drinking remains as much of a problem as ever.

Family Issues

To Fight Child Homelessness, Strengthen Families
Alysse ElHage, Family Studies

The link between single mothers and child homelessness is one more reason the decline of marriage should alarm us.

Five Things I’ve Learned from Kids with Autism
Cameron Doolittle, Desiring God

Here are five things children with autism have shown me about the Christian life.

What Do Employers Owe Pregnant Employees?
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, Family Studies

To what extent must employers accommodate pregnant workers’ limitations? The Supreme Court is mulling that question.

Health Issues

Obese lose up to eight years of life
James Gallagher, BBC

Being severely obese can knock up to eight years off your life and cause decades of ill health, a report says.

Patients Prescribed Narcotic Painkillers Use More of Them for Longer, Study Finds
Katie Thomas, New York Times

While a major public health campaign has had some success in reducing the number of people who take potentially addictive narcotic painkillers, those patients who are prescribed the drugs are getting more of them for a longer time, according to a new study.


Here Are The Federal Government’s New Guidelines Against Police Profiling
Colin Campbell , Business Insider

Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled updated guidelines on Monday that directly prohibit federal agents from profiling members of the public except when necessary to identify a suspect.

International Issues

American, South African hostages die in rescue attempt in Yemen
Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf, Reuters

U.S. special forces stormed a walled compound in a remote Yemeni village early on Saturday in an attempt to free Western hostages held by an al Qaeda unit, but an American journalist and a South African teacher were killed by their captors, officials said.

As Ebola Rages, Poor Planning Thwarts Efforts
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times

Half of the patients in some front-line Ebola clinics do not even have Ebola, but their test results take so long that they end up lingering for days, taking beds from people whose lives hang in the balance and greatly increasing their own chances of catching the virus in such close quarters.

64 countries have religious symbols on their national flags
Angelina Theodorou, Pew Research

A third of the world’s 196 countries currently have national flags that include religious symbols, according to a new Pew Research analysis. Of the 64 countries in this category, about half have Christian symbols (48%) and about a third include Islamic religious symbols (33%), with imagery on flags from the world’s two largest religious groups appearing across several regions.

Marriage Issues

Time to Challenge No-Fault Divorce
Thomas F. Farr and Hilary Towers, First Things

State laws on divorce began to be implemented in the late 1960s, but today have been absorbed into the legal and cultural mainstream nationwide.

Religious Liberty

In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban
Laurie Goodstein, New York Times

Maryland and six other states still have articles in their constitutions saying people who do not believe in God are not eligible to hold public office. Maryland’s Constitution still says belief in God is a requirement even for jurors and witnesses.

The Case for Religious Freedom

“Where any of these fights on religious freedom are going to go, will in great part depend upon whether people of faith will stand up and speak now, or will they sit in silence. The outcome is up to you”

Sexuality Issues

The New College Counterculture
Ryan Shinkel, First Things

When I first heard of Anscombe Societies, I recalled another generation of students: the ’60s counterculture student radicals. What formed their habits was a warlike refusal of silence. The dominant university culture of their time consisted of a form of technocratic liberalism.

The rape culture that everyone ignores
Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week

While many are eager to put a spotlight on the problem of campus rape, fewer are concerned about a prison system that all but encourages sexual assaults.

Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew About My Homosexuality
Jean Lloyd, Public Discourse

May I make two requests? Love me, but remember that you cannot be more merciful than God. It isn’t mercy to affirm same-sex acts as good. Don’t compromise truth; help me to live in harmony with it.

by Joe Carter at December 12, 2014 08:01 AM

Table Titans

Tales: Forward Thinking


I have had many adventures in gaming in a variety of systems, but my favourite character of all time was, Vertinni the Green. A small Kender swashbuckling Thief (ahem treasure hunter) who thought he was a Fighter and hero!

He was off exploring ahead of the group as I was often doing. He…

Read more

December 12, 2014 07:00 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles


Abraham Kuyper. Scholarship: Two Convocations on University Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2014. 53 pp. $4.99.

The Acton Institute does the kind of work that would have been almost unimaginable in a single organization two or three decades ago. Here we have a think tank that teaches economics and political theory to seminarians and other students of religion, maintains an office near the Vatican, and publishes translations of the works of Abraham Kuyper, one of the most illustrious Reformed thinkers in Christian history. If one ever needed evidence of positive rapprochement for the church in the wake of the Reformation, Acton provides a giant serving.

While Acton has published—through the Christian’s Library Press—some contemporary authors (including yours truly), the big headliner is Kuyper and his translated works. Many American Christians have read his Stone Lectures delivered at Princeton, but most of his output has remained inaccessible. Acton is changing that.

Scholarship: Two Convocations on University Life offers an easy way to experience Kuyper’s thought. Here, in about 50 pages, readers can take in the voice of a man who was a pastor, theologian, newspaper editor, university president, and prime minister of the Netherlands. The two addresses were given at the beginning of two school years, 11 years apart. Though today the Free University of Amsterdam is a massive institution receiving heavy state funding and boasting more than 20,000 students, the university of Kuyper’s day was small, and its degrees lacked what he called effectus civilis. In other words, a degree offered a basis for licensure in neither law nor teaching. (The “Free” in the school’s title referred to independence, not zero cost.) 

Eschew Elitism

Many recall Kuyper’s notion of sphere sovereignty. In the first lecture, he teaches about Economica (the life of the household), Politica (the life of the state), and Scolastica (the life of the mind). Kuyper reminds the students of their calling to this third field of endeavor. They have joined an army of the intellect. Their professors are superiors but also “distinguished comrades, fellow conscripts.” And with this calling come special duties and privileges.

Kuyper also displays an admirable attitude regarding the relationship of town and gown. Noting the hard life of labor in which the great majority of people are engaged, he instructs his young listeners that “the real man of science does not look upon this with contempt.” Indeed, he hopes that these budding scholars will avoid the “academic leprosy” of pride and will instead be like the “genius of real gold” that “does not know its own beauty.” The scholar, just like the laborer, has work to which he is called, and he must approach it carefully and learn the virtues of doing it well. Kuyper’s advice along these lines goes into some detail and would be useful for the student just going off to college today.

Joy in the Finding

The second lecture, delivered more than a decade after the first, reads like a natural continuation of a conversation already in progress. Kuyper begins with a beautifully descriptive meditation on the joy involved in seeking. He talks about hunters and fishers—men of means who could easily afford to purchase richly prepared fish and game for their dining pleasure. But they want something more. They want the thrilling experience of seeking.

Kuyper, though, enjoins his young charges not to settle for mere seeking. An overdedication to the search can spoil the appetite for something better, which is the finding. He critiques scholars who, in refusing to accept any answers as sufficiently revealing of the truth, are committed to a never-ending project of deconstruction. Clearly, Kuyper’s concern has been vindicated by the subsequent movements of the academy. He calls these permanent seekers the “real children of Pilate” who are “left with not one fixed starting point for their thinking, not a single pillar in their temple of justice, not one firm rule for their moral code.” 

Investment and Excellence

Kuyper’s vision of the university expressed in these two convocational addresses should be revisited in our time of tremendous upheaval in higher education. All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers. The change is not the fault of the students so much as it is a consequence of the extraordinary rise in tuition prices during the past quarter century. Instead of seeing education as a good that enriches lives and provides learners with tools and habits useful to making a career, we’ve embarked on a course in which students all but demand to know which career and exactly how much money. I don’t blame them. The investment is large. Concerns about the return naturally follow.

At the same time, a flood of new entrants have joined the project of providing higher education. In the beginning, they were for-profit online providers. The University of Phoenix and others demonstrated that they could radically improve the convenience of seeking a degree and reaped massive financial rewards in the process (much of it in government aid, I should add). At first slowly, but now in increasing numbers, public and private non-profit traditional colleges have joined the rush to collect dollars online. Without singling anyone out, I don’t think I’d go too far in suggesting that many of the online efforts are of a lower quality than most comparable traditional offerings. Motivated students will continue to make much of the chance, but for many others the “just getting by” may be getting only easier. There is a sense in which higher education may be jumping tracks from offering students an opportunity to demonstrate excellence to engaging in something more like a transaction that would occur at a large store.

Consumerism Lurks

Kuyper has much to say to both students and institutions in these century-old addresses. He would resist the transformation of the university into something more like a business. In light of his idea of sphere sovereignty, I think he’d say a school is a different kind of endeavor than a profit-making business—and I think he’d be right. Universities (including Christian ones, especially Christian ones) must find a way to reduce the market-driven nature of their activities. They must find a way to diminish the dominating influence of tuition dollars. At the same time, students must place more emphasis on developing scholarly (in the best sense of the word) habits and less on simply progressing toward a credential.

After first completing the book, I thought about the many different little volumes Christian universities distribute to students at the beginning of their first year in order to help form their thinking. We do this because we want them to understand the real joy in learning and to connect their studies to their walk with Christ. I originally thought it would be good to have students read this work, but as I think further, it would be good for all of us in university leadership (and our boards) to contemplate Kuyper’s challenges. 

by Hunter Baker at December 12, 2014 06:01 AM

Howell Harris and the Evangelical Revival in Wales

This year evangelicals around the world are rightly remembering the tercentenary of the birth of the transatlantic evangelist George Whitefield. However, in most of the commemorations, another anniversary is in risk of being overlooked. Howell Harris, who with Daniel Rowland and William Williams Pantycelyn led the evangelical revival in Wales, was also born in 1714.

Situated on the western side of the British Isles, with England along one border and the Irish Sea on the other, Wales has long been overshadowed by its much larger and more powerful eastern neighbor. Ever since the Victorian compilers of the Encyclopedia Britannica included as their entry for Wales, "See England," Welsh historians have struggled to make their voices heard outside their own country. Few know that Wales has its own distinct spiritual story.

Harris was born at Trefeca, a small village near Brecon in southeast Wales. While working as a schoolmaster for Griffith Jones, Harris experienced a profound evangelical conversion. That experience, during Easter 1735, was soon eclipsed by what he called his "baptism of fire." He recorded his experience recorded in minute detail in a diary he began to keep during these months. He continued to write it for the rest of his life: almost 280 diaries survive—a unique, often excruciatingly honest account of Harris’s inner life.

Almost immediately after his conversion, Harris began to visit his neighbors, reading to them from godly books. He was driven, he wrote in his diary, by "some insatiable desires after the salvation of poor sinners; my heart longed for their being convinced of their sins and misery." Before long he had stopped reading from other people’s books and begun preaching himself, or what he preferred to call "exhorting." By 1736 he had organized his first group of converts into a small seidau ("societies"), what we would call cell groups, and within a few years he had established a network of more than 50 such groups throughout southeast Wales.

Unknown to Harris, Daniel Rowland was undergoing a similar conversion experience at the same time. An Anglican curate at Llangeitho, a small west Wales village, Rowland was transformed, and he was soon attracting larger than average congregations when he preached in his parish church and the surrounding area. In 1737 Harris and Rowland met for the first time and began pooling their resources, effectively creating the Welsh Methodist revival. At this first meeting they shared their thoughts on their reading of Jonathan Edwards’s recently published account of the 1735 Northampton revival, and Harris excitedly declared, "Surely the time here now is like New England!"

Partnership with Whitefield 

Soon, others joined the Welsh revival. Some sympathetic dissenting ministers were drawn in, and with the addition of Howell Davies and William Williams, the latter converted while listening to Harris preach from the top of a gravestone, the four Anglican leaders of the revival were all in place. At the end of 1738, Harris received an unexpected letter from George Whitefield, written as he was traveling back from the American colonies. Harris replied with a letter packed full of details about the revival underway in Wales, and within a couple of months, Whitefield was in Wales witnessing events for himself. Wales, he said, was a "noble soil for Christianity," and the Welsh seemed "much readier to receive the gospel" than the English. Impressed with Harris, Whitefield jealously wished "to catch some of his fire." Before long he was preaching regularly in the open air just like his new friend.

So impressed was Whitefield with Harris that he took him back to London, where Harris stayed for the next few months. Whitefield taught him basic Calvinist theology, plying him with Puritan books, while Harris made the acquaintance of the Wesley brothers and some of the leading Moravians, all at that time still held together in fragile unity at Fetter Lane. It was the start of a new pattern; for much of the 1740s Harris divided his time roughly equally between Wales and England. In England he played an enormously influential role, not least acting as a peacemaker as the various factions of the English revival—Wesleyan, Calvinist, and Moravian—began to fragment. 

Flaws Surface

Harris was especially skilled as an organizer. As the initial fervor of the revival in Wales began to wane in the early 1740s, Harris devised an organizational structure to manage the 70 societies that had been established in south Wales by that point. It marked the height of Harris’s influence as he formally linked Welsh Methodism to the English Calvinistic Methodist movement, which had come into being following the division between Whitefield and John Wesley over predestination in 1741. Whitefield was appointed moderator of English and Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, and Harris was "General Superintendent or Father of all the work in Wales," effectively Whitefield’s deputy. It was a well organized and rigorously managed movement, Presbyterian in all but name, and for a time it proved to be a realistic alternative to the Wesleyan Methodist movement. Harris was its chief architect.

Harris took on the heavy burden of the leadership of English Calvinistic Methodism, especially while Whitefield traveled to America between 1744 and 1748. Yet he was not able to prevent its fragmentation, and soon there was also disquiet about Harris himself. By the end of the 1740s he had been traveling incessantly for more than a decade, preaching numerous times a day and shouldering the burden of the English and Welsh revivals. He was close to complete exhaustion and breakdown. And he was sounding more and more like a Moravian, using almost erotic language about the blood and wounds of the crucified Christ, and confusing language about the Trinity. He began referring to the death of God at Calvary.

Relations in Wales were also under increasing strain. Harris and Rowland had always been rivals, and Harris labored under a sense of inferiority because he was not an ordained clergyman. To compensate, Harris claimed primacy in the movement. At times his working relationship with Daniel Rowland reached a breaking point. The final crisis arrived in 1749 when Harris became friendly with Sidney Griffith, the estranged wife of a squire from Caernarvonshire in north Wales. Confiding in his diary that God had revealed to him the imminent death of his wife, clearing the way for his marriage to Griffith, Harris began to invest her with prophetic gifts and insight. With rude songs being sung about him in parts of Wales, Harris began bringing Griffith to Methodist Association meetings, demanding that she be given a place of special prominence. At that point a parting of the ways was inevitable. Whitefield was the first to act, dismissing Harris from the Tabernacle Society in January 1750. Rowland, with the assistance of William Williams, kept the majority of the movement under his control, while Harris with a small group of his most devoted followers retreated to his home at Trefeca.

Awakening Wanes and Waxes 

Without Harris the Welsh revival experienced a temporary hiatus. The 1750s were quieter for Harris. Reconciled to his longsuffering wife, Anne, after the death of Griffith in 1752, Harris devoted himself to rebuilding his home at Trefeca and creating a religious community similar to that founded by August Herman Francke at Halle in Germany. Called Y Teulu ("The Family"), it included about 100 of "Harris’s people" at any given time, all living a highly regulated and disciplined life under Harris’s ever-watchful eye. The site included a large house, chapel, orchards, bakery, print shop, and various workshops. Harris’s innovative experiments in agricultural improvement earned him election as an honorary member of the Breconshire Agricultural Society in 1756. During the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) he joined the county militia and traveled throughout much of East Anglia as a recruiting agent for the Protestant struggle against Catholic France.

Harris’s reintegration into the Welsh revival followed the outbreak of another wave of revival in Wales in 1762. This revival, centred on Llangeitho and sparked by the publication of a new hymnbook by William Williams, was more powerful than the revival of 25 years earlier. For a time the old camaraderie between Harris and Rowland returned, but in reality the Welsh Methodist movement had moved on without Harris. It was now under Rowland and Williams’s control; Harris was a shadow of his former self. There were a number of important developments in these years, however, which owed much to his efforts; Wesley, Whitefield, and the Countess of Huntingdon began to revisit Wales once again. Harris worked closely with the countess on the founding of a college to train Calvinistic Methodist preachers at Trefeca in the late 1760s.

Harris's Legacy 

As he never tired of telling people, Harris was the first Methodist leader to experience an evangelical conversion, the first to witness God moving powerfully in revival under his preaching, and the first to preach outdoors. Charismatic and pioneering, Harris was the father of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist denomination that finally seceded from the Church of England in 1811, long after his death. The structures Harris had put in place in the early 1740s were the foundation of a denomination that in the 19th century became the largest in Wales. There were a number of national revivals, 1859 and 1904–05 being the best known. Indeed, there were few years in 19th-century Wales where some community somewhere did not experience a religious awakening. The Calvinistic Methodist church, shaped in Harris’s image, was the chief beneficiary.

Yet Harris was a deeply flawed leader. Authoritarian, arrogant, and belligerent, he brought the the Welsh revival into widespread disrepute and almost to a standstill in the 1750s due to his relationship with Griffith. For the last 25 years of his life he cut a slightly forlorn figure. Harris represents all of the strengths and weaknesses of the evangelical movement. While his personal failings might have ruined the Welsh revival altogether, the structures Harris put in place ensured that the movement continued without, and perhaps even in spite of him. He has much to teach the contemporary evangelical movement, both captivated and hampered by charismatic and powerful leaders.

Editors' note: For those interested in knowing more about Harris, Geraint Tudur’s Howell Harris: From Conversion to Separation, 1735-1750 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000) is indispensable. For the wider context, see David Ceri Jones, Boyd Stanley Schlenther, and Eryn M. White, The Elect Methodists: Calvinistic Methodism in England and Wales, 1735-1750 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013).

by David Ceri Jones at December 12, 2014 06:01 AM

Eat the Law and Live

Editors' note: This series analyzes perplexing passages of the Bible. Previously:

Psalm 19 has been on the Top 40 charts for a couple thousand years. Understandably. It’s a classic. It’s short, but loaded with theological goodies (vv. 1-2, 13), great imagery (vv. 4-6), and zippy one-liners (vv. 9b-10, 14). But if you’re like me, you breeze past these rich passages in a bleary morning state during devotionals. So we often need an exercise in sitting with the depth of a passage to be nourished, instead of rushing along. Psalm 19 is the perfect place to start.

Psalm 19 has three sections.

  1. Psalm 19:1-6: The psalmist lyricizes creation with fabulous imagery, depicting the cycle of each day as a “strong man” running his course (v. 5).
  2. Psalm 19:7-10: The topic switches to God’s law (tôrāh), which along with God’s judicial features is perfect, sure, right, pure, and so on.
  3. Psalm 19:11-14: The psalmist moves toward application, exhorting the reader to keep the law, asking that God remove temptation, and praying for mercy.

Biblical themes are strewn through it all. Which almost makes it easy to totally miss the most surprising and important message of Psalm 19: the law gives life.

Timeout: What?

Okay, it’s only a small part of the psalm, but that is what I am going to zoom in on. The kicker comes in verse 7, all too easy to overlook in our familiarity. It says: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul" (ESV).

Hang on. Paul says the law that was intended to bring life actually brings death (Rom. 7:10). And we know, as card-carrying Protestants, that Paul is usually right (and the Old Testament is usually confusing). Right? Even more jarring to theologically Reformed ears, the King James Version says that the law “converts” the soul. What’s going on here? The law most certainly does not revivegive life to—the soul. Only the gospel does that. Right?

Don’t throw out your copy of Calvin’s Institutes just yet (or ever, for that matter). The phrase can be translated in other ways. The word translated as "reviving" (měšîbat) basically means “to cause to return.” So the NASB says that the law “restores” the soul, and the NIV says it “refreshes” the soul. Obviously we’re dealing with something that doesn’t neatly fit into a single English word.

The question, then, is: cause to return to where, and from where? From spiritual death to life? From disobedience to obedience? Or something else? The Hebrew word for soul here (nepeš) can also mean different things, depending on context: life, person, soul, inner being. But in terse poetry, context is just what we lack.

Gaining Our (Hebrew) Bearings

Thankfully, God has given his Word profound unity that always qualifies its diversity. So we ought to let clear Scripture explain less clear Scripture. Where else do we find these two words, “to cause to return” and “soul/life/person” together? That will help.

The particular phrase only occurs in about a dozen places by my count. “Cause the soul/life to return” is what Naomi says Ruth’s son will do now that she has “life” through offspring (Ruth 4:13). It is what Elijah prays that God would do for a dead child (1 Kg. 17:21, 22). It is what Elihu tells Job that God does for men to spare them from the pit (Job 33:30), and what David says his divine Shepherd does for him beside still waters (Ps. 23:3). So both spiritual and physical life is often in mind, whether metaphorically or not. In Psalm 23, David is of course speaking of his spiritual well-being, although he does so using the image of himself as a weary sheep in need of life-restoring drink.

But the phrase occurs most frequently in Lamentations 1, where the deserted city of Jerusalem figuratively reflects on the Babylonian siege. It was horrifying. In a siege, the food slowly depletes and the people starve until they die or surrender (1:11; 4:4; 5:6, 9). In verses 11 and 19, the inhabitants groan from hunger, asking God for food to restore their lives (lěhāšîb nāpeš) and revive their strength, using the same wording as Ps. 19:7. The narrator also asks God for mercy to restore his soul (v. 16, mašîb napšî). Lamentations makes it clear that these dire circumstances are a consequence of the people’s sin (cf. 1:8, 14, 18, 22, etc.). The pending physical death of God’s people is a result of their spiritual death, a condition accented by expulsion from the promised land.

Eat Torah or Starve

Bringing this back around to Psalm 19:7, it seems that the NIV may do well with “refresh” here. Many commentators agree that the sense is one of enlivening a nearly dead person. But I want to go a bit further to suggest that the phrase is metaphorical, and is evoking food imagery. In other words, the law (tôrāh) is something to eat. Perhaps: “the law of the LORD is perfect, reinvigorating the famished.” Certainly to a physically starving Israelite facing the spiritual starvation of exile from God’s covenant blessings in the land, the law is the precise “food” needed to rejuvenate and survive. Of course, if the law is food, then the reverse implication of the food imagery in verse 7 is that disobedience leads to starvation.

That kind of image is not unprecedented. After all, God’s words had been long considered spiritual food for Israel, especially in times of suffering. As the nation wanders in the wilderness, they are called to remember that “man does not live by bread alone,” but by “everything that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3, NASB). God’s Word, his law, gives nourishment to the spiritually starved after disobedience and amid suffering. It revives the spiritually anemic (cf. Jer. 15:16; Ps. 119:103; Ezek. 3:1-3). Eat the law, Psalm 19 says. Consume the words of God, and live.

True Torah Gives Renewing Life to the Hungry

Someone else knew that man does not live by bread alone, even in his worst suffering and weakest physical moments (Mt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4). Indeed, he himself is the true Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus Christ does not abolish the law, but he fulfills it (Mt. 5:17). In doing so he is the perfect law of God incarnate. And he is the one whose perfect sacrifice and obedience has given spiritual life to God’s people in every age.

Only Jesus Christ can truly revive the inner man. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:53-54). Are you spiritually malnourished? Is your soul fatigued by wilderness? Or perhaps you have been eating the food of death—anger, pornography, sin. Consume him, and be rejuvenated. Feed on him by faith, be truly satisfied, and live.

by William Ross at December 12, 2014 06:01 AM

Infrequently Noted

PSA: Service Workers are Coming


This post describes the potential amplification of existing risks that Service Workers bring for multi-user origins where the origin may not fully trust the content or, in which, users should not be able to modify each other’s content.

Sites hosting multiple-user content in separate directories, e.g. /~alice/index.html and /~bob/index.html, are not exposed to new risks by Service Workers. See below for details.

Sites which host content from many users on the same origin at the same level of path separation (e.g. and may need to take precaution to disable Service Workers. These sites already rely on extraordinary cooperation between actors and are likely to find their security assumptions astonished by future changes to browsers.


Service Workers are a new feature that are coming to the Web Platform very soon.

Like AppCache, Service Workers are available without user prompts and enable developers to create meaningful offline experiences for web sites. They are, however, strictly more powerful than AppCache.

To mitigate the risks associated with request interception, Service Workers are only available to use under the following restrictions:

  • Service Workers are restricted to secure origins. E.g., can never have a Service Worker installed, whereas can. If you do not serve over SSL/TLS, service workers do not impact your site.
  • Service Worker scripts must be hosted at the same origin. E.g., can only register a Service Worker script if that script is also hosted at Scripts included by the root Service Worker via importScripts() may come from other origins, but the root script itself cannot be registered against another origin. Redirects are also treated as errors for the purposes of SW script fetching to ensure that attackers cannot turn transient ownership into long-term control.
  • Service Workers are restricted by the path of the Service Worker script unless the Service-Worker-Scope: ... header is set.
    • Service Workers intercept requests for documents and their sub-resources. These documents are married to SW’s based on longest-prefix-match of the path component of the script which is registered with the scopes.
    • For example, if registers a SW hosted at, it cannot by default intercept requests for
    • This example may, however, respond for more-specific document requests like
    • If the script is instead located at, the registration will allow interception for all navigations at
    • This means that sites hosting multiple-user content in separated directories, e.g. /~alice/ and /~bob/, are not exposed to new risks by Service Workers.
    • Sites which host multiple user’s content in the same directories may wish to consider disabling Service Workers (see below).
    • Servers can break this restriction on allowed scope by sending a Service-Worker-Scope: ... header, where the value of the header is the allowed path (e.g., /). This feature will not arrive for Chrome until version 41 (6 weeks after the original release which adds support for Service Workers).
  • Service Worker scripts must be served with valid JavaScript mime types, e.g. text/javascript. Resources served with marginal Content-Type values, e.g. text/plain, will NOT be respected as valid Service Worker scripts.

In addition to these restrictions, Service Workers include features to help site operators understand Service Worker usage on their origins. The most important of these is the Service-Worker: script header which is appended to every request for script files which are intended for use as Service Workers.

This feature allows site owners, via logs and server-side directives, to:

  • Audit use of Service Workers on an origin
  • Control or disable Service Workers, either globally or by enforcing whitelists

Disabling Service Workers is straightforward. Here’s an example snippet for an Apache .htaccess file:

<IfModule mod_setenvif.c>
  SetEnvIf Service-Worker script swrequest
    Require all granted
    Require not env swrequest

For Nginx the recipe might be:

location / {
  if ($http_service_worker) {
    return 403;


If you run a site which hosts untrusted third-party content on a single origin over SSL/TLS, you should ensure that you:

  • Disable Service Workers at your origin by blocking requests which include the Service-Worker: script header. This is easily accomplished using global server configuration (e.g. httpd.conf directives).
  • If you wish to allow Service Workers, Begin auditing use of Service Workers on your origin as requests which include Service-Worker: script may indicate other problems with content hosting (e.g., if you do not mean to be hosting active HTML content but are doing so incidentally).
  • Move to a sub-domain-per-user model as soon as possible, e.g. instead of The browser-enforced same-origin model is fundamentally incompatible with serving content from multiple entities at the same origin. For instance, sites which can run on the same origin are susceptible to easy-to-make mixups with Cookie paths and storage poisoning attacks via Local Storage, WebSQL, IndexedDB, the Filesystem API, etc. The browser’s model for how to separate principals relies almost exclusively on origins and we strongly recommend that you separate users by sub-domain (which is a different origin) so that future changes to browsers do not cause harmful interactions with your hosting setup.

Thanks to Kenji Baheux, Joel Weinberger, Devdatta Akhawe, and Matt Falkenhagen for their review and suggestions. All errors are mine alone, however.

by alex at December 12, 2014 03:34 AM

512 Pixels

Apple updates 'Made for iPhone' standards for case makers →

I was only at the Genius Bar a few months past the launch of the iPhone 3G, but even then, it was awkward to tell customers that they had to pay to have their damaged phones replaced, even if they were in cases purchased in the very same store. While no case is perfect, I'm glad to see Apple working to improve what earns the MFi program badge.


by Stephen Hackett at December 12, 2014 02:33 AM

December 11, 2014

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Free Trial Classes By Appointment


Make an appointment to visit us and learn more about CrossFit!

To make it easier for you to try CrossFit, we’re now offering free trial classes by appointment on select weekdays at 8 p.m. We can also accommodate some other times by appointment if needed.

We require an appointment so we can schedule a coach to greet you, talk about your training history, find out about any mobility issues or injuries and answer your questions. We want you to feel comfortable.

To book an appointment, please email and let us know which weeknight at 8 p.m. would work for you. Please do so at least 24-48 hours in advance, as we spend most of our time training in the gym and wouldn’t want you to show up before we get a chance to respond. You can also contact Crystal, our manager, at 204-880-1001.

After we hear from you, we’ll confirm a time, send you some paperwork and eagerly await our chance to meet you.

For our complete guide to starting CrossFit, visit our Start Here page.

by Mike at December 11, 2014 10:32 PM

Workout: Dec. 13, 2014

"Learn and play new sports." --Greg Glassman

“Learn and play new sports.” –Greg Glassman

Romanian deadlift 12-12-12-12

Immediately following each set, 1 lap of dumbbell/kettlebell farmer carry

Every minute on the minute for 11 sets

25 double-unders


Toes-to-bars numbers will be assigned by your coach.

by Mike at December 11, 2014 10:30 PM

Workout: Dec. 12, 2014




21-15-9 reps of:

Power cleans (135/95 lb.)

Ring dips


21-15-9 reps of:

Front squats (135/95 lb.)

Chest-to-bar pull-ups

Rest as needed

Not for time: 8 legless rope climbs

by Mike at December 11, 2014 10:23 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

Release the Correia!

Another must-read too-good-to-miss fisking and public flogging by Larry Correia against the forces of darkness, or, at least, the forces of nagging nattering nonsense about nothing.

As usual the original article is in italics and my responding comments are in bold.

Move over HP Lovecraft, fantasy writers of colour are coming through.

A stupid title. If you are so desperate to prove racism in sci-fi you’ve got to dig up somebody who has been dead for 77 years, your argument might be a little weak. 

By Daniel Jose Older.

Normally when the Guardian tries to prove how horrible racist/sexist/misogynist/homophobic sci-fi or fantasy is they trot out village idiot Damien Walter. This time they’re using somebody who has actually published something. Good for you, Guardian. Way to step up your game.

Non-white readers and writers are falling in love with speculative fiction in increasing numbers –


which is why we need to remove its racist figurehead

You’ll note that almost all SJW articles start like this. Here is a good thing, but here is why you are actually racist because of it.

Last month I walked through the crowded corridors of Javits Center with tears in my eyes.

Maybe it is just because I’m a manly cismale gendernormative fascist who is required by the patriarchy to keep my feelings bottled up, but the only thing that made me cry at the Javits Center was the line at the food court.

It was New York Comic Con and around me flourished a sea of black and brown faces, many partially concealed beneath goggles, prosthetic zombie wounds or masks.

I was also at this very same convention. I gave out a couple thousand free paperbacks and talked to people for three straight days. But since I’m not a SJW I didn’t feel the need to keep a tally of what color, religion, or sexual orientation every single person I talked to seemed to be.

The people I talked to were people who liked to read books. If you are an author and you feel the need to subcategorize much beyond that, you are setting yourself up to fail.

For one of the first times since I started writing speculative fiction five years ago, I felt at home in my own genre.

I started seriously writing speculative fiction seven years ago so I’m assuming we’re about the same age and we’re dealing with the same industry. This statement is either horseshit or Older hasn’t been to very many sci-fi conventions.

I’ve been to dozens of them all over America. I attended thirteen in 2014 alone. Cons and fandom are usually about the most inclusive bunch you’ll find anywhere. Hell, they accept Furries… FURRIES. Your argument is invalid.

But SJWs love to look for invisible micro aggressions at cons. Here is one where I fisked a SJW who tried to make GenCon sound racist (short version, it isn’t).

Earlier this summer, the old guard of fantasy got very uncomfortable over a petition I started asking for the World Fantasy Award to remove the bust of HP Lovecraft as its statuette and replace it with Octavia Butler.

Uncomfortable? I don’t think that is a synonym for WTF.

A few things for those not in the loop. HP Lovecraft is one of the most famous authors in history, who basically created a whole genre. Authors commonly use the word Lovecraftian today to describe themes and elements that he popularized. Among the creators who list Lovecraft as a major influence are Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Alan Moore, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, Guillermo Del Toro, H.R. Geiger, John Carpenter, Mike Mignola, and Neil Gaiman. Plus thousands of other authors, artists, and film makers.

Have you heard of Cthulhu? Yeah. That guy.

Lovecraft has influenced video games, movies, comics, and more heavy metal bands than you can count. Almost eight decades after his death every nerd in the world knows who HP Lovecraft is. There have been thousands (not an exaggeration) of stories set in Lovecraftian worlds.

And hell, Lovecraftian is actually a word!

Octavia Butler was also an author. She passed away in 2006. I think I read a couple of her books as a kid but don’t remember anything about them. I’m certain she’s had some influence, but Lovecraft influenced orders of magnitude more.

Butlerian isn’t a word.    

Read the whole thing.

I actually used the word Butlerian in a novel of mine (JUDGE OF AGES) in total shameless ripoff respectful homage to Frank Herbert, but as I rushed to make the snarky comment on the blog, some machine intelligence beat me to it! Darn those machine intelligences! The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood should do something about them — if only I could think of what —

by John C Wright at December 11, 2014 09:02 PM

512 Pixels

Inside the Mac Pro →

I'm usually not one to link to patents, but Apple's applications for the Mac Pro include some beautiful imagery and this abstract:

Apple's Patent Abstract: An internal component and external interface arrangement for a cylindrical compact computing system is described that includes at least a structural heat sink having triangular shape disposed within a cylindrical volume defined by a cylindrical housing. A computing engine having a generally triangular shape is described having internal components that include a graphics processing unit (GPU) board, a central processing unit (CPU) board, an input/output (I/O) interface board, an interconnect board, and a power supply unit (PSU).

I mean, just look at that thing. Mama.

via Apple Spotlight



by Stephen Hackett at December 11, 2014 08:40 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

512 Pixels

Connected 17: On Principle, I Shunned These Ideas →

This week on Connected:

This week, Federico, Myke and what’s left of Stephen discuss some Evernote follow-up, recent App Store drama and what’s going on with Twitter clients.

It was made possible by:

  • iStat Menus 5, by Bjango: An advanced system monitor for your Mac’s menubar. Get 25% off with code CONNECTED.
  • Harry's: An exceptional shave at a fraction of the price. Use code CONNECTEDHOLIDAY for $5 off your first purchase.
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by Stephen Hackett at December 11, 2014 08:08 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

6 Discoveries from Near and Far: Volume XXIII


I. Around the World

Things I found on long walks in foreign cities, or perhaps when someone posted them on Twitter.

II. On the Blog

A few posts you may have missed on the blog this week.

III. A Blast from the Past

Something from the AONC archives.

  • The Calling — Bob Dylan’s advice on finding your calling


Image: The Guardian

by Chris Guillebeau at December 11, 2014 08:00 PM

Zippy Catholic

Usury FAQ update

I did a pretty significant update to the Usury FAQ based on recent discussions at several web sites, adding several questions, revising a few, and improving the format a bit.

And a number of updates on on 12/13 and 12/14.  At this point any significant revisions/additions will probably be a result of additional feedback that comes in, rather than me adding things that I am aware of having been left out of the original draft. I think the FAQ has a pretty solid foundation now.

by Zippy at December 11, 2014 06:29 PM

The Brooks Review

PDF Office

Interesting new app from Readdle called PDF Office. This sits alongside PDF Expert 5. I haven’t had much time with the app, but two things that are very interesting to me:

  1. This is a subscription based app, $4/mo or $39/yr. (PDF Expert users get a year free if you get the app, well, now.)
  2. Creating PDFs. I’ve tried making a lot of PDF forms before, but nothing was as easy as what this app is doing — perfect use case for the iPad.

I’ll have a review of it once I’ve played with it more.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at December 11, 2014 06:17 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

The Torture and Martyrdom of the Apostles

I thought today would be an edifying time to review the fates of Apostles, which at one time, all Christians knew, in these days inexcusably forgotten. I list them here in order tradition assigns:

St James the Greater preached the Gospel in Judaea and Samaria, and also in Spain.  He is the first of the twelve Apostles who suffered Martyrdom, which event occurred when Herod Agrippa entered into the government of Judaea, who, to please the people, beheaded St James at Jerusalem, AD 44.

3 St James the Greater

St James the Greater

St James the Great is usually represented in Ecclesiastical paintings with the staff, scallop shell, and gourd of a pilgrim. The Festival of St James the Great is on the 25th of July.

Saint James the Apostle Italian Print 2009

St James the Greater, as Pilgrim

St Philip preached the Gospel in Upper Asia and that towards the latter part of his life he traveled into Phrygia, where in AD 52, he suffered martyrdom at Hierapolis. He was whipped and scourged and afterwards crucified, being the second of the Apostles who suffered martyrdom. He is represented holding the cross of his crucifixion and trampling the dragon he overcame. This is commemorated on May 1st.

5 St Philip the Dragonslayer

St Philip the Dragonslayer

St Matthew preached the Gospel first in Judaea, and afterwards in Ethiopia and Parthia. He suffered martyrdom at Nadabur in Ethiopia about AD 60 but in what manner is not recorded. The Festival of St Matthew is on the 21st of September.

8 St Matthew the publican

St Matthew the publican

St Matthew is usually represented in Ecclesiastical paintings holding a Purse in allusion to his original vocation of a publican and sometimes also with either a Halberd or Sword, with one of which instruments he is believed to have been martyred.

James the Less, also called James the Just, refusing to deny Christ, was cast down from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem (the same where the devil stood with Jesus during His temptation), and, surviving the 100 foot fall,  then was stoned, and when that failed to kill him, he was beaten to death with fuller’s rods.  This event took place in AD 62 during the Procuratorship of Albinus. He is depicted in ecclesiastic art holding the fuller’s rod of his martyrdom. This is commemorated on May 1st, sharing the day with St Philip.

9 St James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus

St James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus

St Matthias suffered martyrdom in Galilee. He was seized and carried before Ananias, the high priest, which Ananias had the year before been concerned in the murder of St James the Less. St Matthias was first stoned and finally beheaded, AD 63.  The Festival of St Matthias is on the 24th of February

12 st matthias

St Matthias

He is shown with the beheading ax in hand.

St Peter suffered martyrdom at Rome, AD 68,  during the first general persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Nero. After nine months imprisonment, he was taken out scourged and then crucified. By St Peter’s own desire, he was crucified with his head downwards, considering himself as unworthy to suffer in the same posture in which his Lord had suffered for him. (It is an irony that the reversed cross is regarded by Satanists as a mocking blasphemy and symbol of their rebellion, when it is in truth the cross of St Peter, and so depicted in ecclesiastic art.)  The Festival of St Peter is on the 29th of June.

1 St Peter

St Peter

He is depicted in ecclesiastic art holding the keys to paradise.

St Andrew preached throughout  Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Epirus, and Achaia, in which latter country, at the city of Patrae, he suffered martyrdom in AD 69. He was seized by the Proconsul Ageas, who condemned him to be scourged by seven lictors, and then crucified. To make his death more lingering and painful, St Andrew was fastened by cords instead of nails to a square cross, which cross being in the shape of the letter X or a cross decussate has since been known by the name of St Andrew’s cross. In this state, he remained two days exhorting and instructing the populace in the faith of Christ. His martyrdom is commemorated on November 30th.


2 St Andrew his brother

St Andrew

Bartholomew preached the Gospel in the Northern Provinces of India and Northern and Western Asia, in Lycaonia and Armenia. He suffered martyrdom in AD 72 at Albanople in the latter country  by being flayed alive and then crucified with his head downwards. For this reason he is often represented in ecclesiastic art with flaying knife in hand, holding his own skin. His feast is August 25th.

6 St Bartholomew

St Bartholomew

St Thomas suffered martyrdom in AD 73 at Melapur in India, from a Prince of that country, by being struck with darts and stones, and finally pierced with a lance. The Festival of St Thomas is on the 21st of December.

7 St Thomas

St Thomas

He is shown in Ecclesiastical paintings holding a lance which was the final instrument of his martyrdom, but, more frequently, with a carpenter’s square in one hand. This is in allusion to an ancient legend of his having engaged to build a palace in the Roman fashion for Gundafur, King of India. The tale goes that the king, returning after an absence of two years, and finding nothing done, was enraged; but the apostle assured him that by using the moneys to tend the poor and convert the gentiles, the palace had indeed been built in heaven, and awaited him.

St Simon the Zealot suffered martyrdom in Persia by being sawn asunder, AD 74, in the same year as St Jude.  The Festival of St Simon is on the 28th of October.

11 St Simon the Cananite

St Simon the Cananite

He is depicted in ecclesiastic art bearing the saw by which he was slowly cut limb from limb.


St Jude preached the Gospel from Judaea to Mesopotamia, and afterwards also in Persia, in which last country he suffered martyrdom by being beaten with a club, and then being hung upon a fruit tree, about AD 74. His feast is on the 28th of October.

6 saint Jude

St Jude

The Golden Legend gives a different account, saying Saints Simon and Jude were slain by pagan magicians enraged over the destruction of their idols. They ran upon the apostles and hewed them to death. Hence, St Jude in ecclesiastic art is depicted with a club, or halberd.

St John was sent to Rome, where he is said to have been cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, from whence, by the interposition of Divine Providence, he miraculously escaped uninjured. He was then banished to the island of Patmos, in the latter part of the reign of the Emperor Domitian, where he remained for some years, preaching the Gospe,l after which he returned to Ephesus in the reign of the Emperor Nerva, and governed that Church until his death (or, as another tradition has it, his bodily assumption). This event took place in the reign of the Emperor Trajan, about AD 101. St John was the only one of the Apostles did not die a martyr’s death, but departed the world when aged above one hundred years.

4 St John of the Apocalypse

St John of the Apocalypse

The Festival of St John the Apostle and Evangelist is on the 27th of December. St John is usually represented in Ecclesiastical paintings with a Cup in one hand, from which a Serpent is seen rising, in allusion to an ancient tradition that he drank venom unharmed.


St John, the Beloved Disciple

It would not be right to end this recitation of horrors without mentioning the wounds of Our Lord, who was tormented with scourge, thorns, beatings, cross, nails, and lance.


The PIETA of Michaelangelo


To turn from eternal things to small concerns, so soon to pass away, I here must pause to remark on the contrast recent news hold up to our eyes.

In order to distract and bewilder the simpletons in our press corps from the devastating testimony of one Mr Gruber, the architect of Obamacare, regarding the ongoing and universal fraud surrounding that signature piece of unconstitutional and irrational legislation, the Democrats yesterday released a slanderous report accusing the United States government of torturing captured terrorists.

For the record, I firmly and unyieldingly adhere with utmost loyalty to the teaching of the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic Church when it comes to torture. Here is what her catechism teaches:

2297  Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

So, I am not one of these many frightened and bloodthirsty newly-converted ex-liberals who holds that torture is morally permissible in certain farfetched make-believe scenarios involving abductees smothering in coffins or ticking time bombs. I reject all such argument absolutely, without even dignifying such devilry with the courtesy of a hearing.

Nor am I a libertarian of the purist (if not paranoid) school that holds to the argument that permitting the state to use cruel interrogation tactics in time of war against combatants not in uniform attacking random civilian targets is the same, or is likely to lead to, their use by police against our own children. Or, rather, to be precise, I hold that danger is less than the danger that springs from a dithering and halfhearted prosecution of the current war, or halfheartedness in gathering useful intelligence.

My fellow Republicans who say, “Waterboarding is not torture, and, anyway, we should torture the terrorists because the ends justify the means” — I am sad to report that they are running, eyes closed and fingers in ears, straight toward the open mouth of hell.

Right underneath the big sign on the dark gates that says ‘Abandon ye all Hope who enter here’ is a smaller brass plaque reading ‘Those who say The Ends Justify the Means — press bell and enter. Your place is prepared for you.’  I pray only they repent in time, lest the poor souls will see the hellish ends to which hellish means must lead.

To me the question is simple and binary. If waterboarding is torture, then it cannot be used at any time for any reason, ticking bombs or no. If it is not torture, to call it torture is a lie, and muddies the water of our moral contemplations just at the time when we needs must be the most calm, clearheaded, and dispassionate, if we are not to suffer the condemnation of candid history and the damnation from sovereign heaven.

At first, since many sober men, whose judgment I do not take lightly, treated these allegations not merely as serious, but as damning, I took the accusations to be reasonable, and expected there would be serious evidence to back it up.

For many years, for example, I had thought that waterboarding consisted of affixing the victim at such an angle that water could be poured in his nose could not reach his lungs, hence would produce the sensation of drowning with no possibility of actually drowning. I had thought the whole point was to deceive the victim into thinking he was about to die, telling him he was about to die, but actually he was in no danger. To me this seemed tantamount to torture.

Just yesterday I learned that the three terrorists who were waterboarded were each informed before the interrogation that there was no possibility of death. At which point, only the physical discomfort is present, which is the same or less as our own soldiers endure without complaint in their training to resist these techniques. So, once I knew the truth that a deceptive press had kept from me, did I realized that not only is this not tantamount to torture, it is not even close.

Then, after reading the report, I learned that the other things being called torture included: being slapped in the face or punched in the stomach; being thrown against a wall designed to flex so as not to hurt the prisoner but instead to make a loud noise and startle him; being stripped nude and put in a diaper; being deprived of sleep for days; being subjected to cold showers and cold air; being kept in the dark; being locked in a small box for hours or days on end; being dragged down a corridor with a dirty floor; suffering thirst and hunger; being manacled; being forced to maintain stress positions, which causes painful muscle cramps; and, when a prisoner tried to starve himself to death during a hunger strike, a feeding tube was inserted up his anus threw to his stomach.

I do not mean to make light of this, for one man died while in custody. These is due cause for sober men to condemn these practices and call for them never to be used. Such arguments are fairminded: for these are not kind techniques, not pleasant, and indeed are carefully calculated to be as unpleasant as possible. It would not be licit to treat civilians, police suspects, or soldiers captured in uniform or covered by the conventions of war in this rough and cruel fashion.

But to call these third degree tactics, cruel as they are, and cruel as they are meant to be, by the name torture is a strained metaphor, an unconscionable exaggeration, or a lie.

Perhaps it is a credit to the comfort of our lives that some of us cannot imagine what the whip, the scourge, the hooks, the saw, the boot, the choke-pear, the chair, the red-hot pincers, the red-hot branding iron, and the thumbscrew can do to a person, or the Judas Chair, the flaying knife, the estrapade, the Heretic fork, the Iron Maiden, the disemboweling spindle, the impaling pole, the abacination bowl, or the iron hoops of Skevington’s Daughter, or the grisly death known as Scaphism, or Two Boats.

Whoever calls an anal feeding tube, a slap in the face, a day in the cold, a week in the dark, or being dragged down a dirt-floored hall while naked by the word torture, and means this literally, simply knows nothing whereof he speaks, and perhaps the fool should be envied for his innocence ignorance.

Envied, perhaps, but not heeded during a serious national debate over matters of war and peace, right and wrong, just and unjust.

Let us by all means eschew any lies and exaggerations, hysteria or propaganda, which has surrounded this issue, and, yes, on both sides of the debate.

The one side who calls enhanced interrogation torture, I believe is making a grave error in judgment, and wish them to recover a sense of proportion: and yet, in all fairness, this is a matter needing a delicate nicety of judgment, and reasonable men can differ, so you have my respect, even though I cannot agree.

The other side, which in no wise do I consider to be my side, who says that enhanced interrogation is indeed torture but that torture is excusable because it is necessary, and who then hint it pleases them, you can go to to the devil, your father. Necessity is the tyrant’s plea. I would rather lose the war and keep my soul.

My side is that which comes, after careful and unemotional consideration, to the conclusion which are in nowise torture, nor can be called such by any candid and clearminded judge.

I freely admit to having grave doubts before I read the report and the minority report, because advocates, allegedly on my side, would scoff at the idea that enhanced interrogation was torture, but then would clear the throat and roll the eyes, and say that torture would be justified nonetheless. If they thought it was not torture, why add this caveat?

Read again what my Church teaches on such matters: she heeded such glosing lies and temptations and surrendered to them, and learned, too late, that the stain on our honor will never be sponged away.

But one had better be damned sure one it right on this point, lest one be damned.

That being said, one might wonder why I am so sure.

All I can say is that the contrast painfully clear between what is being called torture, and what is torture in truth.

I want you to imagine the same statues pictured above, but with the apostles having suffered fates no worse than what is alleged here: so instead of the flaying knife, St Bartholomew holds the anal feeding tube that saved rather than ending his life; St Peter is shown doubled over, as if struck painfully in the stomach; St Andrew is shown shivering in the cold; St Matthew, instead of a money bag, is depicted with bags under his eyes, as sign of not having slept for days; St Simon, instead of a saw that dismembered him, displays the manacles that chained him to a wall for many hours, very uncomfortably; St Andrew, instead of the cross where he hung for two days, is shown with a very painful leg cramp from being forced to squat for a long time; St Thomas is pictured next to a small box where he was confined for a time; St John, instead of a cup of poison, is shown with water being poured up his nostrils; St James the Greater is being dragged down a very dirty corridor, or perhaps gnawing the scallop shell on his hat because he missed a few meals; St James the Lesser is show being thrown roughly against a noisy wall.

Who among us, given the choice, would not give everything he owns, to avoid the real torments the real Apostles suffered and in return endure only these discomforts and disquiets, bruises and humiliations, but then to emerge unwounded, unmaimed, discomfort passed, life in no danger?


Martyrdom not only continues to the present day, Christians perish for the faith in greater numbers than ever before in history.

At about the same hour when I wrote the column above, Canon Andrew White, the Christian Vicar of Baghdad, reported that followers of Mohammed broke into a church, beheaded the priest, demanded that four children, all under 15, recant their faith and deny Christ — the same demand made of St James.  These brave Christian children all refused, saying “No, we love Jesus.”

The Muslims cut off their heads.

This is in the same area of the world where Yazidi boys are murdered by these barbarians and sold into slavery, and dozens of boys had their throats cut and were then burnt alive in their school for wanting an education, by these same followers of the Religion of Peace.

To those of you who cannot see the difference between this and squirting water up someone’s nose to induce a choking sensation, but where there is no danger and no harm, are blind because you wish to be blind. Your words and deeds give aid and comfort to the enemy, and abets and obscures their crimes, and you accuse those charged with our intelligence and defense, devoted, brave, and innocent.

May God have mercy on your souls. Saint James Matamoros, pray for us.

by John C Wright at December 11, 2014 05:54 PM

Front Porch Republic

The End We Imagine

I recently had a chance to watch the film The Giver. Sometimes we get films early, sometimes late, sometimes at the same time as they are released in the United States. The Giver was one of the ones that had been out for some time stateside, but in a way, this movie and genre have been playing for years now.

Starting with The Hunger Games, continuing with Divergent, and now in The Giver, theater-goers have been treated to a winning formula in the “young adult fiction” genre: dystopian world controlled by shadowy authorities, featuring some idealistic and attractive young protagonists, mixed together with coming of age tropes shot through with love and romance. In the end our young people triumph and a film franchise is (or isn’t) successfully established. In a nod to the Harry Potter model that in part started started these types of movies, the studios take built-in avid readership committed to a series (usually a trilogy) of books and then bring these readers to the theaters (N.B: If possible, split third book of the trilogy into two parts, engendering even more income).

Winning business model aside, there seems to be something terribly attractive in these films to our post-modern society. Despite having rid ourselves of God and His Church, despite having dispensed with the obvious reason of the natural law, despite treating animals as if they were cogs in a factory, despite using those factories to make utter garbage, and despite having accepted all of this as part of life in the second millennium since the Son of God redeemed mankind, we still know, deep down in our bones, that something is horribly wrong. We know that the way we are currently living – both with each other and with the precious Creation God has gifted us with – will lead to utter catastrophe. It is so terrible that none of these films really address it beyond implying that something “really awful” happened in the past and start us in medias res.

While The Hunger Games treats us to gladiatorial games to the death – with children no less (an irony perhaps missed by an abortion-happy West) – both Divergent and The Giver neatly weave threads prevalent in the zeitgeist: NSA-style total surveillance, the power of “good government,” and the angst of what the young are to do with their lives. They pose their own secular answers to a problem they distill as “human choice” but that problem can only be properly examined when you accept a sine qua non long dismissed as Medieval quackery: Original Sin.

What am I supposed to do with my life?

Conveniently both Divergent and The Giver take this choice out of the hands of our young people. In the former you take a test, in The Giver the elders decide for you (based on, among other things, creepy 24/7 surveillance from test-tube conception until the age of majority). As is the case with all dystopias, we are really using the future to talk about the present. Today’s youth have seen the attacks of 2001 and the financial collapse of 2008; they hear more and more about student loans (indeed, in America the aggregate student loan bill tops $1 trillion, with a T) and the waning effectiveness of a degree in guaranteeing you a future and a job. Past the halcyon days of the 1950s where one obtained a job, got married to someone of the opposite sex, settled down, and had a family (how incredibly dull!), we now only see the bleak future of the job world and are confronted with the growing momentum of the spirit of entrepreurism. Hence, in a world in which high school or college students code a smartphone app and become billionaires months later, it’s no wonder that the youth agonize about “what I want to do with my life.” These films take us one step further in that the way one’s life calling is presented also coincides with a public event and the power of a coming of age ceremony – experienced by the Jew in a bar mitzvah or the Catholic in Confirmation – and this makes the event even more dazzling (unless you’re in The Hunger Games, where if you get picked, you get to fight to the death on a reality TV show. Congratulations!).

Both of the featured ways of choosing your future have their logic: a test that grades your aptitude and the observance of those around you (who ostensibly love you and wish you to succeed). But they omit the vivifying catalyst: human choice. It is that choice that gives impetus but also allows us to change or leave that choice behind. Our careers (outside of the religious life) are what we do, not who we are.

Indeed, it is that problem of choice, placed in the hands of flawed humanity, that informs how these respective societies construct themselves. Humans cannot be trusted to do the right thing and hence if choice is removed or controlled and “good government” is given free reign, all will be well. Divergent, a world of five factions, does this by allowing the semi-monastic “Abnegation” faction, the selfless, to rule (although we soon find out that our brains, the “Erudites” have had just about enough of that, thank you very much, and have enlisted the military faction, “Dauntless,” in a coup. Remember – this is about the future, not the present, right?). The Giver has taken our emotions by medicating us daily (we saw this in Equilibrium many years ago, before Christian Bale was Bruce Wayne, or Moses, for that matter, but when Sean Bean was still getting regularly killed in movies).

As I left the theater I realized that it might indeed be the subtlest strand in these stories, the reality of 24/7 surveillance by our loving masters, that is responsible for the dull dread in the back of our brain that leads us to tell these stories. “So what if they read my email?” is the insouciant penseé of the thoughtless class, too obsessed with sports or other First World preoccupations to think long and hard about the choices that have made our lives. “What’s the worst that could happen?” These films are our clumsy answers.

Entertaining in their own way, the films do get one thing right: tribes matter. Humans in any age want to belong to a group of people – with the family as the atomic level of that construct – that love them and wish them to be fruitful and multiply. But even this nugget will be lost to a society that claims “inclusivity” is our future. In embracing everything we have come to stand for nothing.

Why these films fail, or are at best, incomplete solutions, is because they fail to accept the truth of St. Augustine: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.” We are flawed and we often make terrible mistakes. But it is His grace that aids us to do better, not a secular government, and love of Him and a desire to be with Him that gives our life purpose, not progressive social controls that tell us that our three cardinal virtues are health care, education, and employment. If we accept that our future is what we do right now, perhaps we would live with more urgency.

The Jeff Bridges character, towards the end of The Giver, croaks, “There is so much more that is possible.” Indeed. If we first know where we are truly, metaphysically going, how dazzling those possibilities become.

Stephen Heiner makes his home in the bustling 2nd arrondissement of Paris, France. When he’s not showing tourists around or writing, he travels around Europe admiring the ruins of Christendom and breathing in the incense of centuries. You can read some of his writing at

The post The End We Imagine appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Stephen Heiner at December 11, 2014 04:13 PM

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 12.12.14

SWIFT Workout 12.12.14: Accumulate: 3 minutes of an L Sit Hold 3 minutes of a Hollow Hold 3 minutes of MAX Push Ups 3 minutes of MAX Pull Ups 3 minutes of Calorie Rowing 3 minutes of Hang From Bar 3 minutes of Plank Hold 3 minutes of Handstand Hold 3 minutes of Bottom of the Squat Hold

by Anna at December 11, 2014 03:50 PM

The Urbanophile

Belt Tightening 101 at Purdue

My latest piece is online at City Journal. It’s called “Belt Tightening 101” and is about Purdue’s recent tuition freeze. Here’s an excerpt:

Erica Smith, a recent communications graduate from Michigan City, says that the tuition freeze was long overdue. She financed her education with loans she’ll be repaying for at least 25 years. “I feel hopeless almost,” she says. “But most of my friends have as much debt as I do. We joke about paying it till we die.” Smith says that cost hikes while she was a student added between $4,000 and $6,000 to her overall debt. “If tuition continues to rise, Purdue will be out of reach for middle-class people, like my niece,” whom she hopes will one day follow her to West Lafayette.

Daniels wants to reassure those who worry that controlling tuition will drive high-quality faculty away from Purdue. “Nobody ever cut their way to success,” he concedes. “The top line matters a lot.” And he agrees that fund-raising remains as vital to his job as cost-cutting. “I want to grow this university, at least at the margins. We’re teaching things the nation really needs.” But Daniels understands what many of his fellow university presidents seem more reluctant to grasp: the status quo is not sustainable. That may not fit on a billboard, but it’s the truth.

Click through to read the whole thing.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at December 11, 2014 03:32 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Jonathan Moo Reflects on His Father & Pauline Parent Metaphors — An Excerpt from “Studies in the Pauline Epistles”

9780310494805At the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, we were pleased to present (and surprise) Doug Moo with a festschrift honoring his scholarly contributions.

Through a blend of sixteen former students, colleagues, and prominent Pauline scholars, Studies in the Pauline Epistles honors the contributions of a man by contributing to the ongoing scholarship in the two areas that most define Moo’s work: Bible translation and Pauline studies. Sections include: Exegeting Paul; Paul’s Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition; Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance.

Below we’ve excerpted a special essay by Moo’s son Jonathan. In it he reflects on Paul’s use of parent metaphors to describe his relationship with the churches he “fathered,” while reflecting on his own father’s relationship with his family.

Enjoy these reflections by a son on the work of his father, which not only give insight into Moo’s character, but 1 Corinthians 4:15–16, too. Then add to your reading list this outstanding collection of scholars writing “as a tribute to Doug’s valuable contributions to New Testament studies.” (18)

“Of Parents and Children: 1 Corinthians 4:15–16 and Life in the Family of God”

By Jonathan A. Moo

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor 4:15 – 16)

As a child, I loved traveling with my father on his frequent preaching visits to churches around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. It was a chance to spend time with my dad, to see the countryside along the way, and — if I was lucky — to get doughnuts before or after the service. But I was not necessarily excited about sitting through the service itself. During one visit to a large, formal church when I was around five, I got the idea, sitting by myself in the front pew, to pass the time by copying every hand gesture my father made while preaching. I began cautiously, but soon I was waving my arms and gesturing dramatically in exaggerated imitation of what I saw my father doing. I was not aware of the entertainment this provided to the congregation sitting behind me . . . or of the challenge it presented to my father, who tried with only limited success to keep his arms firmly by his side for the duration of his message.

It is natural for young children to imitate their parents. And the expectation that older children will follow in the steps of their parents, though stronger and more widespread in the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day, still endures. Growing up, I occasionally encountered those who assumed I would study Greek and the New Testament (and haven’t I shown them!), and in seminary I was more than once asked to defend my father’s views on “Paul and the Law” as if they were my own.

Such expectations may have grated on me as a teenager and a graduate student, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself again hoping to imitate my father. I could do no better than to emulate his careful, insightful, and humble attention to Scripture, the respect with which he treats those who hold views different from his own, his ability to articulate clearly and fairly opposing arguments, and above all his commitment not only to apply himself wholly to the text but always to apply the text wholly to himself (as an engraving that my mother made for his office, echoing the words of Bengel, has reminded him and visitors for as long as I can remember).

Above all, his love and care for my brothers and sisters and me has always made it clear that we were far more important to him than his work, his scholarship, or his status in the academy. I am immensely thankful that he never sacrificed family for ambition or relationships for recognition. This essay is therefore offered in appreciation for my dad, who has represented to me and my siblings — and, I trust, to many others to whom he is a spiritual father in the gospel — the sort of loving father whom Paul considers to mark life in the family of God.

Parents: Power, Authority, and Love

Paul’s use of parent metaphors to describe his relationship with the churches he founded has received a fair amount of scholarly attention in recent decades, although much of this has been focused on the interesting mix of images — mother, child, and father — that he employs to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians in 1 Thess 2:7 – 12. Trevor J. Burke’s monograph Family Matters: A Socio-Historical Study of Kinship Metaphors in 1 Thessalonians helpfully surveys much of this research up until 2003 and provides an extensive analysis of how parent, children, and sibling relationships were understood in the ancient world.1 What stands out in his examination is the unquestioned and nearly limitless authority that parents — fathers in particular — were expected to have over their children. Moreover, this expectation was as prevalent in Jewish contexts as it was in non-Jewish ones (as in the famous patria potestas enshrined in Roman law).

On the basis of such contextual evidence and his exegesis of 1 Thessalonians, Burke proposes that Paul’s use of parental metaphors serves preeminently, if not exclusively, to call attention to his unique authority over his churches.3 In a later essay, Burke argues that in 1 Cor 4:15, Paul understands himself as uniquely “father” to the Corinthians. The apostle not only “situates himself above his converts” but also “relativizes the position of all others (i.e., Apollos, Cephas) and asserts his own vital role.” Thus, Burke discovers a Paul who, from his earliest letter, assumes a hierarchal structure of authority within his churches, a structure modeled on traditional expectations of household and family relations.

In his assessment, “some form of hierarchy was there from the inception” of the Pauline communities, and so there is no obvious contrast between an original egalitarianism and a later patriarchal or hierarchical structure of the sort that seems to be reflected in the disputed Pauline epistles. To be clear, Burke’s portrait is not of an authoritarian Paul masquerading as a “loving father” and merely employing the parental metaphor and the corresponding call to imitate him as a power play against his opponents. This is how Elizabeth A. Castelli has interpreted Paul’s call to mimesis in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere.

The role of the parent metaphor, Burke stresses, is not limited to Paul’s assertion of authority over his converts; Paul’s fatherly relationship with the Corinthians includes his genuine affection for them. Yet Burke’s portrayal of Paul’s understanding of family life and its application to the household of God nevertheless emphasizes hierarchical authority structures and stands in some tension with what seems to be Jesus’ subversion of traditional hierarchal family structures (e.g., Matt 10:37 – 38; 23:8 – 12; Mark 3:31 – 34; Luke 14:26 – 27).

Studies in the Pauline Epistles

Edited By Matthew S. Harmon & Jay E. Smith

Buy it Today:
Buy Direct from Zondervan

by Jeremy Bouma at December 11, 2014 03:20 PM

Justin Taylor

What Is Liberal Theology?

dorrienGary Dorrien, the leading authority on American liberal theology, defines it in the first volume of his three-volume historical work:

Fundamentally it is the idea of a

genuine Christianity not based on external authority.

Liberal theology seeks to

reinterpret the symbols of Christianity in a way that creates a progressive religious alternative to atheistic rationalism and to theologies based on external authority.

Specifically, liberal theology is defined by

its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences;

its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience;

its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life;

its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and

its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.

—Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), xxiii.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

by Justin Taylor at December 11, 2014 03:20 PM

Crossway Blog

Video: Leaders on the Need for Study Bibles in Africa & Asia

Last week, Crossway President Lane Dennis announced a strategic ministry opportunity––supported in part by three generous matching grants––to distribute 250,000 free copies of the ESV Global Study Bible to church leaders in India, Africa and other parts of Asia, and to provide free digital access to the Global Study Bible on a massive scale.

Today we want you to hear directly from some of these church leaders.

Please take a few minutes to watch the following video as Rev. Dr. Paul R Gupta (Chennai, India), Professor Ephraim Mudave (Nairobi, Kenya), and Pastor Victor Anukem (Nigeria, currently ministering in Chicago) describe the encouraging growth of the church in Africa and Asia but also the great need for Bible study resources in these contexts.

View on Vimeo

We'd be grateful if you are able to help us in this strategic ministry opportunity to serve these leaders for the sake of the gospel and for our Savior’s glory alone.

Thank you for your prayers and support, as the Lord leads.

by Nick Rynerson at December 11, 2014 02:24 PM


bpm-tools: Music and … stuff

I think I might have mentioned in the past that I have an amazing, amazing lack of musical ability. I count myself lucky in some other departments, but talent with music is not one of them.

So I’m going to take it on faith that when bpm-tools tells me there are 94.196 beats per minute in Revolution Void‘s “Invisible Walls,” it’s telling the truth.


Because to be honest, I’d be at a real loss to prove it wrong. :(

I don’t have any real reason to doubt bpm-tools, even if the home page is a little vague on the exact formulas used to analyze a particular track. I’m sure if you dip into the source code, all will be revealed.

Of course, even knowing how it goes about its calculations wouldn’t do me much good, since tempo analysis is probably something that … well, requires knowledge about … music and … stuff. Which I have already admitted I don’t have. :\

bpm-tools includes the bpm executable, and comes with a tagging utility so you can insert the results of the bpm executable into a file, for future reference. If you moonlight as a DJ from your Linux admin job, it might make things easier when looking for interlocking tunes.

bpm itself built perfectly for me in Arch, and I only touched up the bpm-tag script so it would access the executable in the same directory. Other than that, bpm-tools was a completely hands-free experience.

bpm-tools is in Debian for Jessie. There is a PKGBUILD in AUR that will hold your hand while you build bpm-tools, but doesn’t seem to take into account that sox is necessary to make it run. And if you want to draw on the tagging feature, you’ll need the appropriate library to support that (vorbis-tools for ogg files, just so you know).

Tagged: audio, beat, calculator, minute, music

by K.Mandla at December 11, 2014 01:15 PM

citadel: So many things to explore

I am completely unfamiliar with citadel or its supporting community, but was told by a long-time reader of this site that it had a long list of console goodies tucked under one title.


This I find to be very true, although I suspect that my cursory efforts to get it up and running didn’t really expose me to more than a fraction of its potential.

citadel offers e-mail, messaging, calendar and other software bundled as part of a groupware project that has evolved through the 1980s and 1990s. This much I deduced from the descriptions on the Debian and AUR pages. If it looks like BBS interfaces from those decades, it did to me too.

I never connected citadel to a live system, so the image you see above is just looped back into my own address running the daemon in Mint (my Arch builds didn’t work). I did that partly because I am a shy and timid creature :\ , and I wanted a chance to explore without an information overload.

The downside of that being, as you can see above, there’s not much in the way of real data shown. I can navigate the “rooms” and “floors” of citadel and access a few of the features, but my safe little sandbox doesn’t do much in the way of real interaction.

I leave it to you to connect citadel and put it to real use; for what I see from elsewhere on the web, there are companies that use citadel or a variation thereof as a means of collaborating between developers in different geographic locations. So it may be that you use it already.

As a full-featured suite of tools all rooted in the console, I can only give a solid thumbs-up to citadel … even if my own experience was rather brief. :)

Tagged: address, bbs, calendar, e-mail, groupware

by K.Mandla at December 11, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Where am I in terms of design?

I’m working on learning more about design. I don’t think about it all the time, but sometimes I check out design blogs like Little Big Details and CSS Tricks. I’m getting the hang of sketching several variants instead of jumping straight into the first idea I have, and sometimes I even show those wireframes to other people before coding it up.

Someone asked me where I’d rate myself on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s hard to do that without thinking about what 1 and 10 are and what’s in the middle. Besides, I know that the scale will keep shifting anyway. I’ll never ever get to 10, and this is good. There’s always more to learn.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with. Which, on reflection, might be overstating it. Sometimes I feel like I’m still throwing everything in including the kitchen sink. But at least this gives me a map, a You Are Here, and more usefully, a sense of what the next step on the path might be.

2014-11-29 Where am I in terms of design

There are at least three components to this, I think. TECHNICAL SKILLS–the CSS and Javascript, the code and the fiddly bits–that’s actually the smallest part, and probably the easiest. I’m not too worried about that. I can learn it when I need to, following the tutorials that other people have written. For the few things that aren’t covered by Javascript polyfills and StackOverflow answers, I can use trial-and-error to bodge my way through (at least until I understand things better).

DESIGN SENSE–now that’s tough. I can read all the usability books I want. I can study the key principles of visual hierarchy or grouping. I can take a master’s degree in human-computer interaction. (Wait, I did!) I know I’m supposed to keep the end users in mind, either by talking to people directly or by keeping personas in front of me. I know I’m supposed to keep things simple and discoverable, with affordances that encourage you to use things in the right way.

I can mostly find my way down well-worn roads. (Want a real-time status update visualization? A mosaic of news items on the front page? A multiple choice survey? Gotcha.) I am often asked to come up with something new, though. Sometimes it’s just new to the group, so we figure out what people want after a little back-and-forth. Sometimes it’s new to me, and I have to do some research. Sometimes, I suspect, I’m trying to come up with something a little new to everyone. Or at least it requires a lot more translation to find something familiar to draw on.

But there’s still so much more to learn before I can confidently sift through conflicting feedback, before I can guide people from vague ideas to that flash of recognition: “Ah, yes, this is what I wanted.”

I don’t know if it’s just a matter of experience. I’ve worked with designers on web projects and I’ve disagreed with them. (Gradients? Really? And you want that to do what?) I’ve also worked with designers I got along really well with, especially the ones who weren’t coming from a print background and who knew the difference between what looked flashy and what was easier to do on the Web.

So. Design sense. This is the part that intrigues me the most. I’m working on developing opinions. It’s not just about memorizing a bunch of principles or applying the latest fads (from skeumorphic to flat, from static to parallax, etc.). I think it involves being able to see, understand, and recommend. Browsing through design blogs doesn’t really help me with this. I have to slow down and think about why something works, why it doesn’t, what other variants I might try, why I like something or another. And then, beyond opinion, there’s also measurement: revealed preferences often go against what we think we want.

This is where WORKFLOW comes in. I’ve been working on resisting the temptation to jump in and start coding things right away. Instead, wireframing possible designs means I can play around with how something looks and behaves, changing it with less friction. (It also means I can turn ideas over to team members in case they want to use that for development practice.) Getting the hang of wireframing will also help me try different variations while being less invested in them.

Research can help me quickly find different types of the same idea, so I can broaden my horizons. For example, looking at a few support communities (Adobe, Apple, and Skype) gave me a better sense of what I liked about each of them and why.

My main challenges for design and workflow are:

  • How can I apply what I’m learning within the constraints that I have? For example, it’s one thing to know that testing is good. It’s another to think about how I might do A/B testing without proper analytics and without hundreds of thousands of views.
  • In the absence of stronger metrics, how can I work with conflicting feedback? Can I get better at generating different variants to help people find something they agree on? Can I get faster at working with low-fidelity prototypes or in-browser code?
  • How can I recognize familiar aspects in new ideas, and get better at cobbling together well-tested ideas from different places? Hmm. Come to think of it, it’s a little like those Master Builders in the LEGO Movie, isn’t it? There’s something about that ability to look at something and say, “Oh, that looks unfamiliar, but it’s really like A and B and C.” I do this kind of connecting-the-dots outside design. I can learn how to do it here too. (Analogies are another way to practise this. =) )

I’ll probably be able to get the hang of the tech along the way, so I’m not worried about it.

I think this will help me learn the kind of design I want. I’m not really interested in the kind of design that involves following fairly well-sorted out paths making snazzy websites for other people, like WordPress theme customization or development or things like that. I can pick that up if I need to, probably.

I’m more curious about getting better at designing new(ish) things, the kind where I can’t just pick a few sites for design inspiration, the kind where I’m making something I haven’t seen before and I have to decide what to show and how it behaves.

Oh! Here is another version of that sketch, in case you want to fill it in yourself. =)

2014-11-29 Where am I in terms of design - blank

The post Where am I in terms of design? appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 11, 2014 01:00 PM

The Finance Buff

Expert Interview on Mint

As part of its Expert Interviews series, personal financial account aggregation and analytics site interviewed me. Among other questions I was asked what are some common misconceptions about investing I see floating around, and what are some ways people can save a little more that they don’t realize are out there.

Read more here:

Expert Interview with Harry Sit on Investing for Mint

Let me know where you agree or disagree with what I said.

See All Your Accounts In One Place

Track your net worth, asset allocation, and portfolio performance with FREE financial tools from Personal Capital.

Expert Interview on Mint is copyrighted material from The Finance Buff. All rights reserved. ( b87e8215d24496480249d6aaf20c77ea )

by Harry Sit at December 11, 2014 12:50 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

“50 Hourly Jobs in 50 States”: Alyssa and Heath Padgett’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

I met Alyssa and Heath Padgett when they joined our media team for WDS 2014. They arrived with an interesting story—as part of an unconventional honeymoon, they were visiting all 50 states in a used RV, working an hourly job in each one.

Tell us about yourselves.

Heath and I are from Austin, Texas. After graduating college and taking traditional office jobs like we thought adults were supposed to do, we realized we weren’t actually happy. So after joking that we wouldn’t get married until we’d visited all 50 states together (we had visited 14 in less than a year), we decided to take a 50 state honeymoon after our wedding.

But we wanted a mission for our 7 month trip. Heath came up with the idea to work an hourly job in all 50 states to shine a spotlight on people who followed a passion or skill, whether it be cupcake decorators or tae kwon do teachers.

We secured a sponsor for the trip who sent us film equipment to turn our journey into a documentary. I knew I’d be running the camera, with exactly zero hours of film experience, but we created this trip to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Caught up in the thrill, we instantly agreed.

Why did you decide to undertake your quest?

Somewhere along the line, it was decided that after your wedding, you take a honeymoon – probably to a beach. As wonderful as that sounded, a week vacation as newlyweds seemed anti-climactic. During our wedding, we pledged to give our lives to each other. Had we stayed in Austin, “our lives” would be everything outside of our 9 to 5. We wouldn’t be able to give each other the best versions of ourselves.

So, we ignored common sense, quit our jobs, bought a 20-year-old RV, and decided to travel to all 50 states. We wanted to challenge our marriage by forcing ourselves into a small space, with the stress of travel, while pursuing work that doesn’t exactly pay the bills. I suppose it isn’t very romantic living in a motorhome. But it allows us to endure every part of every day together, as a team.


How has this quest challenged your marriage? 

We are always together. Always. This causes fights, but moreover, it’s the most significant factor in solving problems. We have nowhere to run and we are forced to duke it out.

Also, and I think most married couples who travel would agree, 80% of the fights during our traveling are directly caused by GPS. Those things exist to create conflict. So often, we get frustrated with the RV or driving, or something else that is not about the other person. It is really easy to get upset with each other during those times, but we’ve learned how to recognize when we are actually mad at each other, and we’re just mad at our RV.

How do you two take care of yourselves individually, and as a team? 

Heath makes me coffee every morning without complaint. I’m naturally a type A person, so I take care of all the small but forgotten necessities like charging batteries and returning emails or knowing which state we’re in (it is SO hard to keep track of that).

Heath is a big-picture thinker, so he finds us additional income and thinks of ways to grow our documentary. We balance each other really well in that way. We both journal daily to help us as grow as individuals. It keeps us always improving.

We also started what we call “family time” to create quality time for us both. Even though we’re always together we spend much of it working separately. Heath created family time as a chance for us to talk to each other about what we are grateful for from each day, what we are looking forward to, and how we are growing as people. We ditch our laptops and distractions and just talk to each other. It’s always refreshing and brings us closer.

What are the costs associated with driving the country and working (and how do you cover them)?

While researching possible jobs we could do on the road, Heath found an online job board called Snagajob. He wrote to them, hoping they’d help us find gigs along the way. They wound up becoming our sponsor, not only to help us find jobs, but also wanted to help pay our way and make a documentary.

In addition to our sponsor, we write guest articles for RV related companies from the quarter-lifer perspective. Plus, instead of gifts, we asked our wedding guests to donate to our honeymoon fund.

Last month we spent roughly $2,000, which includes 30 days of travel, 11 states (Texas to Vermont, plus quick detour to Nashville to catch Chris’s book tour), a trip to the mechanic after our battery died, and a brake pad when, as the mechanic so gently said, it shattered.

Side note: someone should invent travel hacking for RVs!


Can you tell us a story from the road? 

Exactly ten days into our journey, we were taking a day off to enjoy the Grand Canyon when our engine sputtered and and the RV died. We turned it back on with just enough juice to roll into a mechanic’s parking lot next door. The young mechanic quickly diagnosed a dead fuel pump and took Franklin, our RV, into the garage for the evening.

There we were, two weeks into marriage, in the desert, with no vehicle and no home for the night.

We had no contingency plan for this. So we did what people do: walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant and ordered queso and drinks to help solve our problem (or at least to ease the pain). There, we met Jim and Karen, a local couple who bought us a beer. They owned a martial arts dojo and kindly invited us to the morning class figuring it would relieve our stress.

The next day we walked to the class, late since our hotel was a mile away, and there we broke our first boards—it was great!  As an added bonus, the mechanic shop we picked the RV up from was used as a model for the Disney movie “Cars.” Sometimes the obstacles thrown at us can make for the best memories that last over time.

What have you learned since departing?

I’ve watched the tweets of writers, photographers, and travelers scroll down my feed as I wished I had what it takes to be them. Heath and I have learned not to fear failure, and instead jump into new projects headfirst.

When we left Austin, we’d never been paid to write nor had we ever touched a camera aside from our iPhones. This afternoon, Heath was on a call with CNN sharing our story and explaining how this voyage began. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just in shock because I don’t think we are that cool.

Once we took the initial risk and jumped into our quest, opportunities rolled in. When you stand up and take action, people notice and want to work with you. It sounds corny, but sometimes you really do have to take a leap of faith that things might work out. No matter what your quest may be, someone out there will understand. Someone out there will see what you’re doing and want to be a part of it.


What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?

1. Plan awesome celebrations for the start and end of your quest.

Start of our quest: Wedding! End of our quest: Our first Christmas! One reason we recommend this is that there are always going to be “haters” when it comes to your quest – and it’s a lot easier to shush their voices from your mind when you have presents. Plus since we have a great end date, now when the going gets rough (and it does!), instead of looking forward to ending our journey, we look forward to Christmas. It keeps us positive.

2. Lock yourself into the process.

It’s too easy to quit something, and if you can, you probably will. We found a sponsor and signed a contract, so we had the pressure to start. We told everyone we knew that we were doing this and bought a motorhome. We put skin in the game. We took enough action to ensure that we couldn’t back out when things got hard.

What’s next?

We finally made it back to the south! We will be driving from the Carolinas to Disney World for Thanksgiving, and then west to Texas for Christmas. Then we’ll fly to Hawaii and Alaska sometime this winter (the RV hasn’t been modified to float the Pacific … yet). 

Keep up to date on Alyssa and Heath’s quest at their individual sites or find them on twitter @alyssapadge and @heathpadgett.


by Chris Guillebeau at December 11, 2014 12:21 PM

Table Titans

Tales: A Rousing Speech


This was at the penultimate game of a three year long campaign with ten players. A logistical headache I am not likely to repeat. The players at my table had gathered every army, mercenary, and ally they had to band together to march on the enemy Citadel and stop their universe ending ritual.

Read more

December 11, 2014 07:00 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

If John Piper Rapped

Jackie Hill’s debut album doesn’t sound like a debut album. The 25-year-old St. Louis native, already known for unleashing raw, in-your-face truth through the medium of spoken word poetry, has now released a mature and stirring album from Humble Beast Records titled The Art of Joy. From the first song (“Argument”) to the last (“The Art of Joy”)—which together, she has pointed out, act as thematic “bread slices” bookending the 12-track project—The Art of Joy is a work of art. 

I recently corresponded with Hill [Twitter] about her transition to rap, the meaning of the album title, how John Piper influenced the project, and more. 

Your background as an artist is primarily in spoken word poetry. Why the transition to rap?

Rap just kind of happened. About three years ago, I was part of a cypher with some of my poet friends who could rap. They were all performing some dope 16-bar verses and I was left there with only a poem in my arsenal. Which made me feel some kind of way. So I went home and said to myself, If they can do it, then I can too. So from then I just started to write raps as something to do on the side. Nothing I really had interest in doing publicly or professionally, until people like Kareem Manuel and Shai Linne (among many others) encouraged me to use the gift for God’s glory and not just for my own enjoyment.

What's the significance of the album title The Art of Joy?

When we hear “The art of __________” we automatically expect a guide or map on how to accomplish or do something well. Whether it’s Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War, which has taught many about military tactics, or Outkast’s song “The Art of Storytelling,” which showcases two skilled lyricists telling a story over a beat, these projects paint pictures about things that help the listener step into the author’s shoes. So for me, we can look around and see a culture with a inherent desire to be happy and satisfied, but because of our sinful nature we seek fulfillment in everything under the sun except God. So the title The Art of Joy is a small artistic attempt to give people a map for how and where this soul satisfaction can be found. And that is in Christ alone.

What song did you most enjoy making and why?

That’s a difficult question to answer because all of the songs on the album had their joys and difficulties. But if I had to choose, it would be “Ode to Lauryn” (a tribute to Lauryn Hill). I got a stool and sat in the booth and just rapped. The vibe of the song created a feel for me that was really enjoyable. Another thing was seeing the final product of that song come to life. I recorded the vocals on one beat that I wasn’t really satisfied with, then Beautiful Eulogy and Daniel Steele came together to try to create the sound I was looking for until, finally, they captured the perfect sound to support the lyrics. That process was beautiful.

You got married—and then suddenly pregnant!—almost a year ago. How did your perspective on life as a wife and soon-to-be mom practically shape this album?

This year has been full of new experiences, to say the least! Being a wife and preparing to be a mother gave me a different outlook on the goal of what may or may not happen as a result of this album. As a single person, I was pretty free to take any and all ministry opportunities thrown my way. Then when marriage came, my husband became my priority and also the person I had to consult before making huge ministry decisions. Adding a child to that equation continued to redefine my identity. It wasn’t “I am Christian who happens to be an artist” anymore. Now it was “I am a Christian who’s called to serve her family before she’s called to be an artist.” So I went into the project knowing that it is a means to glorify God but not something that should take precedence over my first ministry.

How did John Piper's Desiring God shape this project? Were there any other influential books?

Desiring God and the concept of Christian hedonism was the skeleton for this album. Piper’s teaching and books on finding pleasure in God have completely revolutionized my view of God, self, and sin. You can hear the whispers of Christian hedonism in songs like “Educated Fools,” “Better,” “Dead Preacher,” “The Solution,” and so on. Though Desiring God was the main source of inspiration, the writings of C. S. Lewis were a huge influence as well.

by Matt Smethurst at December 11, 2014 06:01 AM

How Education Can Serve a Divine Purpose for Human Culture

The following excerpt comes from Abraham Kuyper’s 1889 convocation speech in Amsterdam at the Free University, which he called an “Opposition School” because of its commitment to seek out a divine purpose of scholarship for human culture as a viable alternative to the reigning paradigms of the day. Throughout his speech, he uses the term wetenschap—an inclusive term in Dutch that includes the arts and humanities as well as the natural and social sciences. Depending on the context, this translation renders the term as science, scholarship, knowledge, or learning. 

There are three wonderful things about scholarship: it brings to light the hidden glory of God; it gives you joy in the act of digging up the gold that lies hidden in creation; and it grants you the honor of raising the level and well-being of human life. So whatever made you think that you can become a scholar merely by studying and cramming for exams? No, I tell you, even if you had stuffed your brain full of facts and theories and had passed every examination summa cum laude, you will still be no more than a hewer of wood and a drawer of water in this elite corps of scholars if you had not entered that world of God’s thoughts with all your heart and all your mind. . . . 

Every man of learning should be fired with a zeal to battle against the darkness and for the light. The glow of gas lay hidden for centuries in the dark coal mine, but not until that coal was dug from the mine and processed by human art did it reveal its luster. Similarly, it is your high calling to wrest the light of God’s splendor from the recesses of creation, not in order to seek honor for yourself, but honor for your God.

Mark of the Eternal

To be sure, God has caused light to rise in our darkness also along avenues other than science. His is not the cruelty of our age that allowed generation after generation to wander in darkness until at last in this 19th century the lights could go on—and then only for the aristocracy of the intellect. 

God is gracious and compassionate, and by means of his revelation and the founding of his church he had from the beginning ignited a glow that faith imbibed and that enriched an Abraham and a Moses far beyond what any 19th-century learning is capable of—rich in their heart, rich in their soul, rich in their more tender sensations that bear the mark of the eternal. And scholars, far from being able to do without their faith, must begin by being rich in that faith if they are ever to feel their heart stir with the holy impulse that drives them to engage in true scholarship. 

Investigate the Logos

Still, scholarship is something all its own—not something higher, but a work of our minds whereby the minds travel along other paths. Even if there were no salvation for sinners and if God’s wrath plunged us all into eternal perdition, even then our race would not be absolved the obligation to investigate the Logos that God has hidden in his creation and to bring it to light. God must not be robbed of this honor. 

Science is bound to religious belief only to the extent that an unbelieving man of science causes science’s beehive, as much as depends on him, to degenerate into a wasp’s nest. He does this unintentionally, simply because he cannot act otherwise, in order to rob God of that Logos and pass it for a product of its own thoughts. That defines the school of science in this century, which wants to be something outside of God, apart from God, in opposition to God, and to seek its glory in ridiculing the Christian faith. 

But even this derailed science brings gain, for what it correctly observes is observed and what it properly investigates is investigated. Nevertheless it contains a dangerous element by wandering off into materialistic science or else by setting its hypotheses in opposition to the thesis of God’s revelation. Either way, it deviates from its sacred calling to be God’s minister, God’s priest in his holy temple.

Endure in Brokenness

The suggestion that men of faith for this reason would have to flee from the world of science can only be maintained by the unscientific person. For that would amount to forsaking one’s duty, abandoning science to unholy secularization, and personally forfeiting the influence that men of faith must exercise on the thinking of our generation. 

Instead, given this state of affairs, it is imperative—and this will give you a clue as to why the Free University was founded—that a warmer, bolder interest in learning should awaken among God’s people, in order to get science back on its God-given track and to refute the lie that faith hates science.

This excerpt is adapted from Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life by Abraham Kuyper. Translated by Harry Van Dyke. Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Christian's Library Press,

Editors' Note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

by Bethany Jenkins at December 11, 2014 06:01 AM

God’s Justice in the Land of Canaan

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. (Deut. 7:1-2).

This is one of the most morally troubling passages in all of Scripture. It also happens to be one of the most frequently heard objections to the Christian faith today. God spoke these words to the Israelites as they were encamped on the plains of Moab and about to cross the Jordan River into Canaan. God had promised this land to their ancestor Abraham around 500 years earlier (Gen. 15:18-21), but it would be their responsibility, under the leadership of Joshua, to clear out the local inhabitants and take possession of the land. And it’s not simply forced eviction we are talking about here; it’s the slaughter of entire nations, down to the last man, woman, and child. Bible scholars call this ḥerem warfare. The Hebrew word means “to devote something to total destruction.”

Law and Lawgiver

Non-Christians often point to the Old Testament’s ḥerem laws to reject Christianity altogether. A God of love and justice, they say, could never command genocide, and therefore he must not exist. Ironically, the unbeliever’s moral criticisms presuppose a transcendent source of morality. It makes no sense to say that the ḥerem laws are unjust unless there is an objective standard of justice to which they must conform. But this is precisely the thing that the unbeliever loses in denying the existence of God. You cannot have moral laws without a moral Lawgiver.

Even so, many who acknowledge God’s existence still have trouble accepting the morality of Scripture. Some Christians have responded by driving a wedge between the Old Testament and the New, claiming that Jesus’s ethics improved upon the brutal practices of ancient Israel. But this sort of response does not fit with Jesus’s own view of the Old Testament. After all, he spoke approvingly of the destruction of Sodom, a pagan city that also included men, women, and children (Luke 17:28-29). Further, he said that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

So for those of us who confess the authority of both the Old and New Testaments, we are faced with a number of challenging questions: How do we reconcile the ḥerem laws with the rest of Scripture’s teachings on justice and compassion? And how are Christians supposed to apply the ḥerem laws today? What place should they have in our preaching and practice?

Slaughter of Innocents?

To answer these questions, we must understand the place of the ḥerem laws in the history of redemption. Israel had a unique calling as God’s chosen covenant people. Their task was to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah. Therefore, Israel’s own mission foreshadowed Jesus’s mission in a number of ways. Their purity laws pointed to the holiness demanded by God. Their sacrificial laws pointed to our need for atonement. And their laws concerning ḥerem warfare pointed to God’s just judgment against sin. In all of these respects, Israel’s laws were signposts to the spiritual realities behind Christ’s redemptive work for us.

This is why it is so important for us to get our doctrine of humanity right. If we see humans as being basically good or innocent, then of course we will react with indignation to the Bible’s ḥerem laws. However, if we take the Bible on its own terms, we will recognize that all humans are born guilty and corrupt. This was especially true of the Canaanite societies steeped in abominable practices like child sacrifice and cult prostitution. OT scholar Tremper Longman summarizes this point well:

We must point out that the Bible does not understand the destruction of the men, women, and children of these cities as a slaughter of innocents. Not even the children are considered innocent. They are all part of an inherently wicked culture that, if allowed to live, would morally and theologically pollute the people of Israel.[1]

Longman goes on to cite OT scholar Meredith Kline, who proposes a theory of “intrusion ethics.” Scripture tells us that the punishment for all sin is death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23), and ultimately every unrepentant sinner will have to face God’s judgment. However, according to Kline, sometimes we get snapshots of God’s final judgment “intruding” into the flow of history, foreshadowing the reality to come. The ḥerem laws of the OT were an example of this intrusion.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

Although these laws express God’s judgment, they also show us God’s mercy in several important ways:

  • It was merciful for God to protect the Israelites from idolatry. In Deuteronomy 20:18, God gave Israel an explicit reason why it was necessary to wipe out the Canaanites: “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.”
  • It was merciful for God to limit the scope of the ḥerem laws to only those pagan nations within the borders of the promised land, rather than extending to all nations, including Israel. All mankind is equally guilty in God’s eyes. We are only alive due to God’s grace, and every breath we take is a merciful gift from him. 
  • It was merciful for God to allow the Canaanites to remain in the land as long as they did. In Genesis 15:16, God told Abraham that his descendants would have to remain slaves in Egypt for 400 years before taking possession of Canaan, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” So God was patient in dealing with the Canaanite nations, waiting until they reached the point of no return.
  • It was merciful for God to allow individual Canaanites to repent and join the people of God. The classic example is Rahab, the prostitute who helped the Israelite spies in Jericho and swore allegiance to the Lord (Jos. 2). Rahab was later held up as an example of faithful obedience in the New Testament (Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25) and even included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).
  • It was merciful for God to bring an end to the ḥerem laws (as originally applied) with the coming of Christ. In Matthew 15:21-28, we read the story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Scholars generally agree that Matthew wrote his Gospel to a Jewish audience. Any Jewish reader would have recognized that this Canaanite “dog” didn’t have a right to live; in fact, her very existence testified to Israel’s failure to submit to God’s law. And yet Jesus showed her grace. He even commended her for her faith! This was just a glimpse of the full inclusion that Gentiles would enjoy in the church post-Pentecost (Acts 10-11).

Now that Christ has come, the way in which we understand and apply the ḥerem laws has radically transformed. The judgment that they foreshadowed was demonstrated decisively on the cross of Christ, who received the full measure of God’s wrath for the sins of his people. Thanks to his obedience unto death, our own sins are forgiven, and we can now stand in God’s favor by faith alone.

Continuing Herem

But the war is not over. God’s enemies were dealt a crushing blow through Christ’s victory on the cross, but they will not finally be defeated until Christ returns to establish everlasting justice on earth. In the meantime, we are still called to do battle, but not as Israel did. Longman writes:

The war against the Canaanites was simply an earlier phase of the battle that comes to its climax on the cross and its completion at the final judgment. The object of warfare moves from the Canaanites, who are the object of God’s wrath for their sin, to the spiritual powers and principalities, and then finally to the utter destruction of all evil, human and spiritual.[2]

So the ḥerem laws still apply, but in a spiritual sense rather than a physical sense. Our enemies are the demonic forces that hold the world in captivity to sin, and our weapons are now prayer, preaching, and evangelism. The apostle Paul described this spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The battle may be fierce, but we remain confident that God’s justice will ultimately prevail.

[1] Tremper Longman, “The Case for Spiritual Continuity,” in Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 173-74.

[2] Ibid, 185.

by Kyle Dillon at December 11, 2014 06:01 AM

Bearing the Cross of Christ in Pakistan

As a little boy I used to play in a small field in front of my home, part of the largest mosque in the area. With huge speakers installed on the minarets of the mosque, the sound was so loud that it felt as if the speakers were installed inside my house. Early in the morning I’d wake up at the Muslim call to prayer. Though I never had any fear of being in the mosque field, I was often instructed to be careful. But I didn’t really understand; getting up at call to prayer and playing in the field were regular parts of my childhood.

When I started schooling, I was surrounded by a vast majority of Muslim students. During recess some boys would grab me tightly, put a stick sword to my neck, and force me to recite Kalima, the Muslim creed. I wouldn’t say it, but I could see the anger in their eyes. With each new day, my realization became stronger and stronger that they treated me like this because I am Christian.

With time I only sensed more rejection, hatred, and discrimination because of my Christian faith. Walls were being constructed around the field, the minarets were getting higher, and the call to prayer became louder than ever. It felt strange to see things change so rapidly. Even people on the street were stern toward me, turning every conversation to religion and posing questions like “Is the prophet of Islam mentioned in the Bible?” I’d answer, and then they’d throw me on the ground. They’d shout “Isai” (a follower of Isa, the name given to Jesus in the Qur'an) and make remarks used to insult Pakistani Christians’ ethnicity and roots.

Out of concern, some of my extended family members said I should keep my distance. Of course, this is impossible; 98 percent of the country’s population is Muslim. Shopkeepers would ask my name and add Muhammad before it, assuming I was Muslim simply because of my name. One day a Muslim technician came to fix the electrical cable in our home. He appeared thirsty and exhausted, so my mother offered him a glass of water. First, though, she informed him we were Christians so that he wouldn’t get angry if he later discovered he drank water from a Christian home. For some reason, I started feeling inferior to people in the majority community. It became an intense struggle in my heart and mind.

Hanging Sword

In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the blasphemy law is implemented with full force. Believers in Christ regard this law as a hanging sword, liable to fall on anyone at anytime. Hundreds are behind the bars because of it. A few weeks ago, a local court upheld false blasphemy charges against a Christian lady named Asia Bibi. An equivalent of $5,000 is on her head while she’s in prison for four years. A liberal Muslim governor expressed sympathy to this lady; he was then shot by his own security guard. The murderer became a hero, and his posters are now visible in marketplaces throughout Pakistan.

In addition, radicals gunned down a Christian leader after he suggested dialogue on the blasphemy law. Some Christians under accusations of blasphemy have been killed in the courts’ premises, with their murderers never even facing trial. And then a young girl named Rimsha Masih with Down syndrome was falsely accused of burning pages from the Qur'an. A local imam unhappy with Christian presence in the area planted the evidence. Thankfully, his assistant exposed the plan to the media. The Christians who fled their homes fearing a mob attack never returned, but the imam was freed from jail after a few months and is now back in the area. It’s normal for Christian-owned localities to be set on fire and for people to be burned at the stake. Not long ago a double suicide attack on innocent Christians during Sunday morning worship resulted in more than 100 Christians being martyred. Just a few weeks ago, a young Christian couple was beaten and burned in a brick kiln after being falsely accused of blasphemy. The wife was five months pregnant.

Disparity and Danger

The constitution of Pakistan and its laws do not give equal rights to all citizens. Christians are easy targets, and thus profoundly vulnerable. Radicals threaten believers in some parts of the country to either convert to Islam or pay jizya (taxes to protect non-Muslims). However, this dhimmi status (recognizing non-Muslims in an Islamic state) makes little sense, since Pakistani Christians were not conquered by Muslims, and they did not migrate to the country. In fact, they were there even before the creation of Pakistan, and ended up in Pakistan only as a result of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Despite being local, though, they are routinely treated as strangers and foreigners because of their beliefs. Especially in rural areas it can be dangerous for Christians to eat and drink in public places since they are considered untouchables.

Needless to say, Pakistani Christians are the victims of brutal mental, emotional, and physical persecution. Every day Christians are reminded that they aren’t following the right religion and that they should forsake the faith. Such invitations to conversion are often offered politely at first, but if one refuses to convert it will turn into a threatening forceful conversion before long.

Amazing Grace

My family had to flee on the account of our faith upon receiving serious death threats. Three Muslim women had converted to Christianity after lengthy discussions with my wife. Conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited, and these women brought shame on their families. Changing locations within the country didn’t help; radicals discovered our hidings. They attacked our home and followed us.

By his amazing grace the Lord made it possible for us to escape to the United States, and at some point I’d like to share the story of God’s wonderful provision through intense conditions. It is important to mention that, regardless of the brutalities I’ve mentioned, the church in Pakistan is growing. Despite difficult circumstances, Christians are proud of their faith and wherever possible share it with others. They are not ashamed to call themselves Christ’s. Pakistani believers identify with the apostle Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (Rom. 8:35).

Please pray that the Lord would strengthen Pakistani believers who continue to witness in extreme situations and, most of all, that the name of Christ may be glorified in and through his persecuted body in that land.

Editors' note: TGC International Outreach has Urdu-language copies of John Piper's The Passion of Jesus Christ available in Pakistan. We donate the resource. You cover shipping cost to your in-country address. Order here.

by Y. S. at December 11, 2014 06:01 AM

Beeminder Blog

Code and Catholicism: Beeminding Praying and Integrating Beeminder on iOS

Assumption of Mary; Asunción de la Virgen (c 1670), Juan Martín Cabezalero, Museo del Prado

Last week Leah Libresco blogged about beeminding rituals. This week we’re continuing the Catholic theme with a guest post by veritable Renaissance man, Pedro Paulo Oliveira Jr. [1] Pedro Paulo has a popular iPhone app for praying the rosary and has used the Beeminder API to include beeminding one’s praying as part of the app. It’s the holy grail, so to speak, of making one’s app sticky! In this post Pedro Paulo describes how it works, first for users of the app, and then for iOS developers who may want to similarly integrate Beeminder. There’s also an insightful philosophical/behavioral-economic detour about intrinsic, extrinsic, and transcendent motivation. (See also the open source Beeminder iPhone app.)

App development is a very rewarding activity. I’m not talking about the monetary aspect, although it maybe rewarding on that front too, but the impact you can have in other people’s lives. With more than 5 million people using our apps I feel we have the responsibility to constantly improve their experience.

Our popular Electronic Rosary app helps people to pray the Rosary with voice guidance, beautiful images, and variable pacing. It’s especially useful in places or situations where you’d have trouble keeping count or need a companion.

“In 2011, instead of praying a special devotion, I wrote code that would help me pray better in the future.”

Actually I developed it for myself. Praying the rosary while commuting, I’d constantly lose track of the Hail Marys. I wrote the first version in 9 days, during a time of the year numerous Catholics live the devotion of the novena to the Immaculate Conception. In 2011, instead of praying a special devotion, I wrote code that would help me pray better in the future. Noticing that the experience had been positive I donated the code to the company I work for so they could build it into a product and make it available to other people. Now more than 10k users pray the rosary daily using Electronic Rosary for iOS.

One feature users asked for constantly was a mechanism to help them to pray this devotion every day. In iOS, we can set daily notifications but the downside of notifications is guessing correctly what time to display the notification. That’s where Beeminder comes in.

I was introduced to Beeminder by Leah Libresco’s Unequally Yoked. I strongly recommend it. Even if you don’t agree with everything the author says you can’t dispute her honesty and intelligence in exposing ideas. Leah has used Beeminder for multiple purposes from getting to sleep on time to writing a book (Arriving at Amen).

Motivation, Spiritual Practice, and Beeminding Your Way to the Rosary

In the previous post, Leah Libresco asks and answers a question. It’s a very interesting consideration but I’d like to dissent somewhat.

Prayer is supposed to come from the heart, so is there something weird about graphing it and setting up my own penalties if I don’t measure up? My answer is, yes, it’s a bit weird, but so is most of my prayer life. I’m a convert (…)

My answer is no, it’s not weird. It’s the way, with variations, a fair share of people successfully lead a life of prayer. Romans 7:18-19 illuminates why it’s not weird: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”

“As Leah Libresco describes, it can happen the other way around, using extrinsic motivation (Beeminder) as a tool to reach a transcendent goal.”

A model of motivation I first heard from IESE Business School, expands the extrinsic, intrinsic model to accept a third category: transcendent. The transcendent in this case would be the “prayer is supposed to come from the heart”, the intrinsic “I need to pray more, as I understand it is important for my spiritual life,” and Beeminder (or other tools Catholics have used for centuries, ring a bell?) the extrinsic. Therefore, in this layered framework, each level supports the adjacent in order to achieve an ultimate goal.

Inserting a poetic touch, I cannot resist the temptation to quote Henri Guillaumet which Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes in the book “Wind, Sand and Stars”:

Tu résistais aux tentations. « Dans la neige, me disais-tu, on perd tout instinct de conservation. Après deux, trois, quatre jours de marche, on ne souhaite plus que le sommeil. Je le souhaitais. Mais je me disais: ‘Ma femme, si elle croit que je vis, crois que je marche. Les camarades croient que je marche. Ils ont tous confiance en moi. Et je suis un salaud si je ne marche pas’. »
You resisted temptation. “Amid snow,” you told me, “a man loses his instinct of self-preservation. After two or three or four days of tramping, all you think about is sleep. I would long for it; but then I would say to myself, ‘If my wife still believes I am alive, she must believe that I am on my feet. The boys all think I am on my feet. They have faith in me. And I am a skunk if I don’t go on’.”

Guillaumet used his transcendent drive (“the concern about the future of his wife”) to enable his intrinsic motivation (“find an elevated place to die, so his body could be located and insurance claim easier”) to empower the extrinsic (“take one step after another so he could rest”), in order to overcome the urge to sleep in the snow. However, on numerous occasions, as Leah Libresco described, it happens the other way around, using extrinsic motivation (Beeminder) as a tool to reach a transcendent goal.

How Beeminder Works in Electronic Rosary

If you plan to use Electronic Rosary to beemind your praying habits, here’s what you do.

In the sliding menu, select the Beeminder icon.

Sliding menu to open Beeminder

If you have not authorized the app to access your Beeminder account yet, you’ll be redirected to Beeminder’s website to get the appropriate permission. After granting access you’ll be redirected to Electronic Rosary.

The next step is to select among your goals which one the app will update at the end of the rosary.

Goal Select Screen

Now we are ready to go. For every rosary you finish, the app will send a +1 to your Beeminder goal and you’ll see a popup confirmation.


——— Non-Nerds: Jump To The End ———


Now I’d like to share how easy is to integrate Beeminder with any iOS app.

iOS SDK and Beeminder: A Brief How-To

The Beeminder API documentation covers the first step of registering your app.


To get the user’s goals and to add a datapoint to a particular goal you must first authenticate using OAuth2. In the iOS SDK it’s easy to do that without any external library:

static NSString * BackendBaseURL = @"";
static NSString * OAuth2Path     = @"apps/authorize";
static NSString * ClientId       = @"client_id=mysupersecretwithbeeminder";
static NSString * RedirectURI    = @"redirect_uri=iterco://beeminder-callback";
static NSString * ResponseType   = @"response_type=token";

- (void) beginOAuth
  if([[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults]
      stringForKey:@"beeminder_token"] == nil)
    NSString * auth = [BackendBaseURL stringByAppendingFormat: @"%@?%@&%@&%@",
    [[UIApplication sharedApplication] openURL:[NSURL URLWithString:auth]];

It will redirect you to Safari where the user will authorize Beeminder to let your app have access to your account. No login credentials are entered in your app.

The redirect_uri you should set at CFBundleURLSchemes in the Info.plist of your project.

Safari will redirect you back to your app and you’ll listen for it in your App Delegate and store the access_token to access Beeminder on behalf of the user:

-(BOOL) application:(UIApplication *)application handleOpenURL:(NSURL *)url
  if([ isEqualToString:@"beeminder-callback"]) {
    NSArray * comp = [url.query componentsSeparatedByString:@"&"];
    for(NSString * st in comp) {
      NSArray * twoComp = [st componentsSeparatedByString:@"="];
      if(twoComp.count == 2) {
        if([twoComp[0] isEqualToString:@"access_token"]) {
          [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] setObject:twoComp[1] 
          [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] synchronize];
        } else 
        if([twoComp[1] isEqualToString:@"username"]) {
          [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] setObject:twoComp[1] 
          [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] synchronize]; 
  return YES;

Requesting the Goals

Since Beeminder’s API is pure JSON I suggest a library like AFNetworking to make things easier.

- (void) refreshGoalsWithCompletion: (void (^)(BOOL, NSInteger))completion
  id success = ^(AFHTTPRequestOperation * operation, id JSON) {
    NSMutableArray *l_goals = [NSMutableArray arrayWithCapacity:[JSON count]];
    for(NSDictionary * goal in JSON) { [l_goals addObject:goal]; }
    _goals = [l_goals copy];
    completion(YES, 200);
  id failure = ^(AFHTTPRequestOperation *operation, NSError *error) {
    completion(NO, [operation.response statusCode]);
  NSDictionary *params = @{ @"access_token" : [self getToken] };
  [_client getPath:@"/api/v1/users/me/goals.json"
           parameters:params success:success failure:failure];

In the above function _client is a variable of our helper class initialized as:

_client = [AFHTTPClient clientWithBaseURL:
*[NSURL URLWithString:@""]];
[_client registerHTTPOperationClass:[AFJSONRequestOperation class]];
[AFNetworkActivityIndicatorManager sharedManager].enabled = YES;

Adding Datapoints

The last step after the user selects which goal will be updated when he prayed the rosary is to add a datapoint.

- (void) addOneUnitToGoal:(void (^)(BOOL, NSInteger))completion
  id success = ^(AFHTTPRequestOperation * operation, id JSON) {
    completion(YES, 200);
  id failure = ^(AFHTTPRequestOperation *operation, NSError *error) {
    completion(NO, [operation.response statusCode]);
  NSDictionary *params = @{
    @"access_token": [self getToken],
    @"comment": @"Added by Electronic Rosary by Netfilter",
    @"value": @"1"

  NSString * path = [NSString stringWithFormat:
                     [self getSelectedGoal]];
  [_client postPath:path parameters:params success:success failure:failure];

We’ll be releasing in the next few weeks the full code of the helper class to integrate Beeminder in your iOS app (we need to refactor the code decouple it from our libraries, although a work in progress is already available).


Thank You, Leah and Beeminder!

To thank both Beeminder and Leah Libresco, I’ll be making Electronic Rosary [2] free for download for the next five days. Maybe you can use it to pray for me once in a while. :)

Electronic Rosary logo



[1] Pedro Paulo graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering from PUC-Rio. He also graduated, years later, with a PhD in Medicine from USP. He spends most of his time at Netfilter but some days he teaches, advises students, and does medical research (Alzheimer’s and Autism) at the hospital. In his spare time he reads, plays soccer, and organizes volunteer work sometimes involving improvised medicine. And fun fact: he was one of the first Lua programmers.

[2] There are versions of Electronic Rosary for Windows Phone and Android as well, but they are far less polished than the iOS version.


by Pedro Paulo Oliveira Jr. at December 11, 2014 04:27 AM

Nicholas Nethercote

Cumulative heap profiling in Firefox with DMD

DMD is a tool that I originally created to help identify where new memory reporters should be added to Firefox in order to reduce the “heap-unclassified” measurement in about:memory. (The name is actually short for “Dark Matter Detector”, because we sometimes call the “heap-unclassified” measurement “dark matter“.)

Recently, I’ve modified DMD to become a more general heap profiling tool. It now has three distinct modes of operation.

  1. “Dark matter”: this mode gives you DMD’s original behaviour.
  2. “Live”: this mode tracks all the live blocks on the system heap, and lets you take snapshots at particular points in time.
  3. Cumulative“: this mode tracks all the blocks that have ever been allocated on the system heap, and so gives you information about all the allocations done by Firefox during an entire session.

Most memory profilers (including as about:memory) are snapshot-based, and so work much like DMD’s “live” mode. But “cumulative” mode is equally interesting.

In particular, unlike “live” mode, “cumulative” mode tells you about parts of the code that are responsible for allocating many short-lived heap blocks (sometimes called “heap churn”). Such allocations can hurt performance: allocations and deallocations themselves aren’t free, particularly because they require obtaining a global lock; such code often involves unnecessary initialization or copying of heap data; and if these allocations come in a variety of sizes they can cause additional heap fragmentation.

Another nice thing about cumulative heap profiling is that, unlike live heap profiling, you don’t have to decide when to take snapshots. You can just profile an entire workload of interest and get the results at the end.

I’ve used DMD’s cumulative mode to find inefficiencies in SpiderMonkey’s source compression  and code generation, SQLite, NSS, nsTArray, XDR encoding, Gnome start-up, IPC messaging, nsStreamLoader, cycle collection, and safe-browsing. There are “start doing something clever” optimizations and then there are “stop doing something stupid” optimizations, and every one of these fixes has been one of the latter. Each change has avoided cumulative heap allocations ranging from tens to thousands of MiBs.

It’s typically difficult to quantify any speed-ups from these changes, because the workloads are noisy and non-deterministic, but I’m convinced that simple changes to fix these issues are worthwhile. For one, I used cumulative profiling (via a different tool) to drive the major improvements I made to pdf.js earlier this year. Also, Chrome developers have found that “Chrome in general is *very* close to the threshold where heap lock contention causes noticeable UI lag”.

So far I have only profiled a few simple workloads. There are all sorts of things I haven’t tried: text-heavy pages, image-heavy pages, audio and video, WebRTC, WebGL, popular benchmarks… the list goes on. I intend to do more profiling and fix things where I can, but it would be great to have help from domain experts with this stuff. If you want to try out cumulative heap profiling in Firefox, please read the DMD instructions and feel free to ask me for help. In particular, I now have a good feel for which hot allocations are unavoidable and reasonable — plenty of them, of course — and which are avoidable. Let’s get rid of the avoidable ones.

by Nicholas Nethercote at December 11, 2014 02:26 AM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

The Martian by Andy Weir — Short Review

Simply the best novel I have read all year, and easily the best Hard SF novel I’ve read in five years, maybe ten. The science is harder than rock hard: it is diamond hard, so much so that I am unable to detect if he made anything up.

In days to come, I hope to post a real review, but I just finished the book, and am so elated, that I had to tell the world.

First INTERSTELLAR and now this. Hard SF is making a come back.

Away, sexually ambiguous sparkly vampire were-seals with moody emo girl problems! Give me astronauts who do not raise their voices during emergencies, who can change a tire on the moon and grow a potato on Mars! Give me a hero who knows how to patch a leaking spacesuit, and navigate using Phobos to measure his longitude! Give me protagonist who know how to make a bomb with pure oxygen, sugar, and a stoppered jar! Give me astronauts, I say!

by John C Wright at December 11, 2014 12:48 AM

December 10, 2014

CrossFit Naptown

SWIFT Workout 12.11.14

SWIFT Workout 12.11.14: Agility Ladder Workout: 4 rounds: 100 Double Unders -OR- 200 Backwards Singles 20 Meter Ox Carry 20 Bar Facing Burpees

by Anna at December 10, 2014 10:54 PM

Lurong Living 2015 Resolution Challenge

Thursday’s Workout:

Back Squats: (3 Second Pause)
4 sets of 5 Reps


Workout of the Day:
100 Jumping Jacks
10 Burpees
80 Jumping Air Squats
10 Burpees
60 Jumping Lunges
10 Burpees
40 Hollow Rocks
10 Burpees
20 Get Up Get Downs
10 Burpees


2015 Resolution Challenge

Presented by Lurong Living


We all know that the new year is a time of change, it provides an entirely new, uncharted calendar to fill with memories and successes. Most people use this time of year to make a positive change in their life. Perhaps that means going to the gym more, getting more sleep, eating healthier foods, or practicing more gratitude. Sometimes those commitments are lived out and sometimes we fizzle out around January 8th. The Resolution Challenge is designed to help people commit entirely to getting the new year started off right. If improving your diet and gym lifestyle is part of your 2015 goals, then perhaps the Lurong Challenge is right for you!

What’s new to the 2015 Resolution Challenge?

  • 3 diet levels to meet your nutritional needs and goals
  • Track key lifestyle markers
  • New benchmark workout
  • Track your new year’s resolutions
  • Surprise weekly challenges
  • New exclusive blog articles, tips, and resources
  • First challenge in our 2015 Lurong Living Challenge Series

More Details:

  • Starts January 19th, 2015
  • 5 Week Challenge
  • Participate as an individual and for your affiliate team
  • Stay tuned for more details- check your email in the coming weeks
  • Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


Register Here! 


by Anna at December 10, 2014 10:18 PM

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Workout: Dec. 11, 2014

The way-down-in-the-hole face.

The way-down-in-the-hole face.

4 rounds of:

15 back squats (185/135 lb.)

3 rounds of Cindy (5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 squats)

by Mike at December 10, 2014 09:31 PM

One Big Fluke

Excited to be giving a talk at PyCon 2015: "How to Be More Effective with Functions". Plus, Effective Python will be published by then! Hope to see you in Montréal.

by Brett Slatkin ( at December 10, 2014 09:14 PM

Dustin Curtis

Nick Denton's Crisis Letter to Gawker

Nick Denton runs Gawker Media, one of the last bastions of truly independent online media in the world. And despite healthy traffic growth during the past year, Denton thinks 2014 was a year of vague regression for Gawker: not true growth, but rather a slow devolution of voice and rigor. Denton wants to see Gawker as the leader of truth and honesty in online media, but his competition is Top Ten Nip Slips from Buzzfeed. When your product is ostensibly intellectual, how do you compete with hits of cocaine? Gawker finds itself today in a tough place, where the challenges are new and unusual.

The letter below, which Denton sent to all Gawker Media employees today, faintly reminds me of the ones sent by Jeff Katzenberg to Disney in 1991 and John Walker to Autodesk in 1983. Every once in a while, you have shake things up. And the announcement has to be as inspiring as the shakeup itself. I think this one definitely qualifies as inspiring.

Source of the letter: Re/Code.

2015: Back to blogging

“I have some important news.” Usually, that’s how I start a conversation with someone who is being promoted, or fired. This time, that conversation is about me: my solo leadership of this company, and the collective management that is going to replace it.

Here are the highlights: I am announcing the formation of a managing partnership of seven people which will make key decisions together. Among them, Heather Dietrick will take over my position as President. Having helped lift gross commerce revenues to $60m, Erin Pettigrew will head Strategy, including responsibility for the Kinja software product. Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs is the new Executive Editor over all eight flagship titles. And we will return to our mission: more linebackers with fictional dying girlfriends; less pandering to the Facebook masses. In 2015, Gawker will be the very best version of itself; I will be the best version of myself. We will be bloggers again.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not stepping down as CEO. And department heads will continue to report into me. I am proud of my management track record of the last decade. I am proud of what we have made together.

Gawker Media is the only truly independent media company to achieve lift-off on the web. Even this year, not one of our best for stories, our U.S. monthly audience has grown healthily, up a fifth, a growth rate that many media companies would be thrilled with. We have plenty of momentum.

Our business became profitable without venture or corporate capital. Our writing style has permeated the English-writing online world. Manti Te’o and Rob Ford: those scoops are of legend, and they are ours. Our blogs are read by 1 in 3 of those readers that tackier media companies would lump together as millennials, a demographic to be traded by advertisers, capitalists and dealmakers. By contrast, we think of them as individuals with interests as unpredictable as our own. We are beholden to no one. That is a precious thing.

That independence is guaranteed by me. I am the largest shareholder in the company. I choose to stay, and I believe we can be better. I am excited for 2015. I believe you still need me, to set a broad direction, and shake the company up if it’s drifting (but to leave it alone when it’s humming).

We are transparent by virtue of what we do, opinionated journalism. Of course this memo will be leaked, and it will likely cause us some problems. The truth hurts. And though most of the criticism is self-criticism, I’m sure I’ve said something that will offend, inadvertently. But the needs of open internal communication trump external messaging and internal quiet. I’d rather be slightly embarrassed, and open with you. By our natures, we can’t stay quiet.

The problems I’m going to identify are common. Excellence in software development is elusive; no online publisher has yet succeeded in transforming itself into a platform. As a company grows — Gawker is approaching 300 employees in New York, Budapest and around the globe — an upgrade of management is inevitable. The thing that marks us out from more tightly controlled corporations: we’re able to recognize our handicaps, and address them. This organization is more than ever designed for continuous improvement.

I feel free to show vulnerability here because of my overwhelming confidence in our company’s underlying strength and mission. Yesterday’s sensational emails between the head of Sony and Scott Rudin: that’s how good our editorial can be every day. We will be the first online media company to create its own technology, rather than be reduced to a content provider subject to someone else’s algorithm. And our Sales team is the best in the business, defying market trends to lift up revenue per page for the third year in a row.

Our future opportunity — to host the most lively and informative conversation on the web — is too great to fumble. Boldness is required not just of me, but of the organization. And the excellence of our execution is directly related to the honesty of internal communications.

This memo is long. If you’re in a hurry for the full set of names and promotions, you can skip ahead to the bullet points. But there’s a lot to go through. The organization has long made most big changes at the end of the year, to start the new one with maximum energy and a clean slate. Better to get changes out the way in one fell swoop. (And yes, this will wrap up the swoop for 2015.)

So many of you are here in New York this week for the all-hands and the company party; it’s a good chance for you all to meet the new team in person. And you know me: I’m a showman; I do like to make a splash.

But before we fill in the rest of the news, here’s the story behind the story.

The eight flagship blogs — Gawker, Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Kotaku and Lifehacker, oh, beloved Lifehacker — are fearless and uninhibited, dedicated to putting truths on the internet and out to the world.

Yet in our internal communication, as a company, we didn’t act that way. The current principles of software product development hold that candid conversations–with developers, designers and users–lead to a better web experience. We lacked that necessary candor. We left too many opportunities on the table, too many known problems unresolved. And in our external communications, in our stories, we sometimes shied away from controversy, fearful of online critics. We weren’t ourselves.

We all understand how this works. Editorial traffic was lifted but often by viral stories that we would rather mock. We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm. The story of the year — the one story where we were truly at the epicenter — was one that caused dangerous internal dissension. We were nowhere on the Edward Snowden affair. We wrote nothing particularly memorable about NSA surveillance. Gadgets felt unexciting. Celebrity gossip was emptier than usual.

We pushed for conversations in Kinja, but forgot that every good conversation begins with a story. Getting the stories should have come first, because without them we have nothing to talk about.

And the development of Kinja itself was a challenge. Our Tech department proclaimed a new era of multi-disciplinary cross-functional teamwork and collaboration. The reality: the best tech teams in online media in both New York and Budapest, with too many developers grinding away at re-factoring (thankful though we’ll be next year for that prep work). And a product manager on the 2015 design refresh had barely talked to the consultant who had driven the other major new project of the forthcoming year. Open collaboration in theory; the opposite in practice.

Who raised the alarm? Would I have even heard it? For a good 12 months from the summer of 2013 I was variously betrothed, distracted, obsessed by Kinja, off on honeymoon, obsessed by Kinja, off on sabbatical. I’m not sorry for that. For ten years, I’ve danced with this octopus. That’s what one person on Twitter calls Gawker: an octopus armed with chainsaws. I deserved a break.

When I was disengaged, I didn’t leave any real authority in place. In my absence, the company ticks along nicely; with the challenge of Buzzfeed and Vox, ticking along nicely is no longer enough. Even when I’m here, if I’m obsessed by something, other parts of our common project can spin off in unpredictable directions, causing me to overlook developing risks and opportunities. As Joel said, I am the company’s greatest asset — and it’s greatest liability. To be saved from myself, like many of us, I need partners in the fullest sense of the word, to take up the slack or keep me on focus. And I didn’t have them.

During this period I made a mistake in Editorial, hiring a talented guy whose voice and vibe I loved, who represented nerd values, and whom I thrust into a job which changed under his feet: he was competing with Lockhart Steele of Vox and Ben Smith of Buzzfeed, two of the most effective editorial managers in the business, each with the funding to go after the very best talent. I was so obsessed with the design of Kinja discussions, I didn’t even think to warn that Gawker is always first about the story. I took that for granted. I was in so much in a hurry that I didn’t even look at other candidates, a cardinal sin. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry to Joel, and I’m sorry to those to whom he is a friend.

And during this time too, we embarked piecemeal on a software project whose eventual scope we barely imagined. Tom told me years ago he did not want to run the department beyond 30 people, that he wanted to get back to coding. Tech is now at 55 people. Tom didn’t push me. I didn’t want to mess with what was comfortable, the best relationship with a CTO by far that I’ve ever had in my career. And no other views were solicited.

So we attracted impressive technical talent — with our culture, audience testbed, and idea — and then we let those people down. We embarked on the Kinja expansion before we’d recruited the management; each major hire was reactive, each to fix a problem created by the last. Hire engineers. Now manage engineers. Oh no, we need product people. Lean, what’s that? I had to learn fast. It wasn’t quite that bad; but not that far off.

That was down to me. Tom and those who didn’t speak up: them too. But mainly me, because not only do you have my mistake, you have the silence of others, and that too is my responsibility. If people are afraid to be candid, that is my responsibility. I need you each to point out my errors, or at least to throw in your own idea without fear it might be impolitic, and I need you to do that with your manager, too. (You’ll have your first chance of many at the Q&A that Annalee Newitz will moderate this afternoon at the Sunshine at the end-of-year all-hands.)

And if the organization depends so heavily on my full presence for action, then that’s on me too, for failing to recognize and fix that. Until now.

It’s okay for all of us to make mistakes, especially when we’re moving fast — so long as we learn from the experience, and we don’t repeat the same one twice. That’s all we’re doing here: iterating endlessly, through words and software, to make the world a more open, hopeful and tolerant place. This is my new iteration.

First, I recognize that I need a backup. I intend to be fully engaged next year — in the helpful-to-others-at-work sense, rather than about-to-get-married and distracted. But you don’t know that absolutely for sure. I need someone who can act with my authority if I’m not contactable at least by video call.

Now there will be a permanent deputy, someone who can represent the company in public and who sits above the big departmental interests — the barons, I call them. This person must be universally regarded as fair. A tall order, but I think we have the candidate.

Second, I need to share power more broadly. I need a team, a group I can trust to act in the best interests of all of us. I need to be edited. I need advisors with whom I can be fully candid, and who can be candid with me, even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m told seven is the perfect number for a team (or an online conversation, for that matter).

So I am naming the first six managing partners — seven, with me included — with whom I will consult on major matters such as tech investments and the reassignment of department heads. The partnership will make decisions by consensus, or majority vote if any managing partner dissents. We are collectively committed to the company’s independence. Alphabetically, ending with myself:

Executive Editor: Tommy Craggs

Tommy inadvertently sparked this whole reshuffle, but not out of any personal ambition. If anything, I feared he wouldn’t take a position that a friend had so recently occupied. It’s only because of his sense of obligation to colleagues that he’s accepting the appointment.

What Tommy did was simply to set me thinking, through something he said during a conversation just as Gamergate was subsiding. “I just want to break a fucking story.” Or maybe it was “I just want to fucking break a story.” One of the two.

Anyway, it got me thinking. Yes, that’s exactly it. That editorial freedom we’re so proud of: just do something with it. Something meaningful, more meaningful than a toxic flame war that showed only the internet’s capacity to divide, and none of its capacity to reconcile.

Then I went off the rails, as I do, and asked myself: damn, is Gamergate really our story of the year? You are only as good as your last story, that’s what they would say on Fleet Street. Yes, we do need to break a fucking story, or fucking break a story, whichever it was. And we need to grab hold of our own company narrative, change the conversation in the only way we know how, through sensational scoops and unfettered opinion.

Anyway, the only person telling me this is Tommy, and then comes the realization that we’d have a better chance of being great, of breaking fucking stories, with his inspiration. Even Harry Potter reads Deadspin, for God’s sake. What more endorsement do you need?

Supporting Tommy will be Lacey Donohue as Managing Editor and John Cook running Investigations. Other appointments will be made before Tommy starts officially on January 1.

Editorial management’s mission for next year is simple. Here’s your budget. Break some stories. Expose the story behind that story. Say what others cannot or will not. Make us proud. This is the one of the greatest editorial openings of all time. Don’t fuck it up!

President: Heather Dietrick

Heather will be my deputy. She’s perfect for this, a much better official representative of the company than a half-Hungarian homosexual could ever be. Heather will arbitrate, especially when I’m out of the office. And she will propose decisions to the managing partners. That’s what few people understand about Heather: she’s about the most decisive person at the company. Also, there’s this: she prepares most of the documents that I sign; I’d rather she be the one signing off on them too.

Heather will retain responsibility for legal affairs. She will take on internal and external communications. For programming of the new space on 2 West 17th Street, to turn it into a hub of real-world and video-ready discussion to complement Kinja’s online, Heather has tapped someone from within the company: James Del, who will be joining her as head of programming. Moving with James to Heather’s department: Victor Jeffreys, who will handle events for all departments.

President, Advertising & Partnerships: Andrew Gorenstein

A promotion for Andrew Gorenstein. Richly deserved: Andrew has grown revenues by more than 30%. Actually, Andrew would never say that. Let me get that right. We have grown revenues by more than 30%. With Andrew, it’s always a We. Go, team!

And I have to thank Andrew too for warning me we were headed in the wrong direction — gently, artfully, menschily. Not just in the wrong direction, but toward an iceberg, with the captain in his quarters, and that was actually the dream he had that set all this off. Andrew is the very best head of advertising sales and e-commerce that I could possibly imagine for Gawker; he is my business partner. He has made us all better. Andrew will stay until he has enough money to retire; I am happy he has expensive tastes. Among those reporting to Andrew will be Michael Kuntz of Sales, ascending head of Business Development Ryan Brown, and starting this week as head of Studio, Paul Sundue from the agency world, specifically DDB New York.

Chief Operating Officer: Scott Kidder

Scott is essential. Nothing would work without him, from finance to people and culture to facilities. (The gorgeous buildings we’re moving into next year, in both New York and Budapest, are his projects.) Beyond overseeing these key functions, Scott works with me and the other Managing Partners on our most important initiatives — Scott knows everything. And everybody knows that Scott knows everything. That is all. Scott is being promoted to COO.

Chief Strategy Officer: Erin Pettigrew

Erin has been at this company, and immersed in online media, almost as long as I have. By the testimony of her staff, she is the most respected unit head in the company: scarily organized, scrupulously fair, and wholly logical. Even before she’s formally started, it’s clear Erin will have a transformative effect on product strategy and management, which will fall under her. The mood on the second floor is palpably more light. Erin will be a more open partner to the engineers; that will be eased by shared palinka in Budapest, which Erin knows as well as any other American at the company.

CTO: Tom Plunkett

As the Tech team learned on Monday, once Tom has helped identify a suitable replacement, he will be shedding the CTO role to lead a product innovation team of five people. Tom and I have shared a vision — intimacy at scale — for better discussions on the internet for half a decade. We can keep talking, but it’s time to do so as a group, including others, and it’s time to actually build.

It is my hope Tom will join the Gawker Media board and he will be a permanent member of the Product steering group, which decides on priorities. He continues to be vital to the culture: Tom was the one who got us all to read Ed Catmull’s book on his light-touch management techniques at Pixar, a book that had a powerful effect on my thinking.

But he may now finally have the time and the resources, the managerial support and the freedom from administrative distractions to fulfil our longstanding dream: such filtering and personalization that discussions feel like a friendly debate or exchange of information.

No, headhunters: he is not in the job market. As I said, Tom wants to write code, he wants to keep together this Tech family we’ve built. The culture of our development teams — both pleasant and talented — reflects Tom and Keki’s character. I think of them like a couple, and in a sense they are, both essential to the connection between Budapest and New York. We will all retire together to Lake Balaton.

CEO: Nick Denton

Yep, I end up with a title I don’t even like. For the longest time I called myself Publisher. I was once a magazine guy, and I liked the archaic ring. CEOs seemed like such douches. If I was going to be a douche, I’d be a douche with a different title.

The fact is that I would like to end my career as a behind-the-scenes powerbroker, a Deng Xiaoping of Gawker Media, exerting discreet influence through obscure committees. It’s more my style. Or maybe I can merge with the benign AI that will evolve from Kinja discussions.

But my fellow partners won’t let me do that just yet. The chainsaw-wielding octopus scares off not only potential acquirers; it scares even the most competent of executives. Just look what happened to Pierre Omidyar when he wrestled with John Cook and company at First Look. Or that accidental Facebook founder so injured by The New Republic, a lightly-armed squid, if that.

Anyway, I’ve negotiated a compromise deal. I will continue my duties as CEO. I will be relaxed and confident in the knowledge that I have a capable deputy. I will be able to participate in editorial, product and advertising brainstorms, without so overpowering the conversation. I really hope that. And in the new year, give me a few days, I want to resume the activity that brings the best out of me: blogging.

As a company, we are getting back to blogging. It’s the only truly new media in the age of the web. It is ours. Blogging is the essential act of journalism in an interactive and conversational age. Our bloggers surface buried information, whether it’s in an orphaned paragraph in a newspaper article, or in the government archives. And we can give the story further energy by tapping readers for information, for the next installment of the story, and the next round of debate.

The natural form of online media is the exchange, not the blast. Tommy’s ethos gives us the best chance of recapturing the honesty of blogs, before their spirit was sapped by the tastes of the Facebook masses. “We put truths on the internet.” That’s Tommy’s motto. I can subscribe to it. Dauntingly, it’s down to our writers to provide a constructive but critical voice in an American culture. And it’s down to our product managers, designers and developers to encourage a similar tone in the discussions sparked by stories.

This company was founded by a gay man and two women. I have never been comfortable with the role of a traditional CEO. And for obvious reasons I have never been comfortable in a company dominated by territorial men. I hope I have made space for others who don’t fit the mould. And I pray that my information networks are still good enough to identify those leaders too busy being capable to promote themselves. At Gawker, despite the reputation of our journalism, nice guys finish first. And women.

I have now a balanced team of partners whose capabilities are widely acknowledged. These are six people I can confide in. I am happy to share power with them. We will be candid with each other. The drift this year: it will never happen again.

And you should be straight up with us, too. If you know something’s wrong, if you’re not proud of the work you’re doing, or if you have an idea that’s not being recognized, bring it to your manager, and then if need be, your manager’s manager. Or just tell someone.

Speak up. It’s what we do. Do it today at the all-hands; do it at the bar at the party on Friday. I started Gawker, a blog which read like a conversation between journalists, because I learned at newspapers that the best story was the story behind the story. And the real story, the deeper truth, that you were most likely to hear at the bar with colleagues, after deadline. I’ll be by the bar. See you there.

Most of my motives in making these changes are for the good of us all. But I am being selfish in one respect: just as Tom wants to spend more time with his code, I want to spend more time with my blog.

It’s a little daunting. The last time I was writing regularly was 2008, when I ran Gawker, and I’m out of practice. I’m sure any blogger knows the feeling.

But I still believe that writers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I am a politician, just not the analog kind. I could never win election. But I can play the system. And I can exercise most influence now through writing on my blog, and in the comments on others.

The way out of every mess is candid exchange of opinion and the search for the common ground. Truth and reconciliation. That’s what this memo is all about, all the conversation that led up to it, and the conversation that will continue between us this afternoon, and for the broader conversation we’re sustaining on the platform. My goal as a blogger for next year: the radical transparency, . Live what we preach. Show, don’t tell. But regular posting would be a first step. Hold me to it.

I will be a user of our platform. User-in-chief. My feedback will be from real experience. Our software should be what we want ourselves to use. I am going back to blogging. As are we all.

In the New Yorker profile in 2010, Anil Dash said. “Who has more freedom in the media world than Nick Denton?” I haven’t always felt that, this last half decade. I do now. I hope you share that feeling. Let’s make use of it.

December 10, 2014 07:48 PM

John C. Wright's Journal » John C. Wright's Journal

SUPERVERSIVE: Why “Realism” Isn’t

As part of the world-storming Superversive Literary Counterrevolution, my beautiful and talented wife describes the fundamental unreality of so called realistic literature:

I have never liked dark, gritty, ‘realistic’ stories—the kind that are unrelentingly grim. The kind where there’s no hope, everything is covered in dirt, and terrible things are happening one on top of another like a stack of pancakes. (Sometimes, these stories have a lot of blood or sex, sometimes not.)

For a long time, I could not put my finger on why.

Friends would say, “Oh, I understand, they are too dark for you.” Or “They don’t bother me, I don’t find them scary.” But that did not seem to put into words the impression I suffered when reading/watching such stories.

I wasn’t scared. Something else was wrong.

Oddly, it was a funeral that finally solved the mystery for me.

by John C Wright at December 10, 2014 04:45 PM


Jesus Died For Torture Apologists

Discussions of torture and the United States’s use of it in the “War on Terror” are not new. Many thinkers, including Christian theologians, have considered the matter before, and there are some legitimate qualifications and discussions to be had. However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.

Writing for The New Yorker, Amy Davidson summarizes the report explaining:

The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.

This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”

These ought to be shocking and disgusting revelations. The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief. Yet sadly, many of these very practices were not surprises just revealed this week. Taxi to the Dark Side documented several of them 7 years ago. The new revelation is that they were not episodic offenses carried out by individuals but were rather intentional parts of official strategy.

Americans ought to be upset. Americans ought to be sad. Americans ought to be driven to introspection.

And this should be especially true for Christians.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, it is not a true generalization to say that Christians, conservative Christians especially, currently oppose the use of torture. I was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary during some of the initial torture revelations. In an ethics class with Dr. Derek Thomas, a few students defended the use of torture as a necessary means to an end, and Dr. Thomas rebuked them sternly, stating that he held torture to be an offense against the image of God. What was disheartening, however, is that some explained Dr. Thomas’s response as evidence of a lingering British liberalism. American Christians, it was thought, were simply tougher and more willing to do the dirty work. Since that experience, I have also been a direct witness to Christian pastors in churches very similar to my own (both theologically and culturally) defending torture, including some of the grosser violence listed in the Senate Report, on the grounds that it is a part of the reality of war and a necessary step to save American lives. Thus, there is still a very real need to address this issue.

As I said at the very beginning, there are legitimate distinctions to made in this discussion. Joe Carter explains that the official definition of “torture” has a clear but rather broad range of applications, including lesser and potentially defensible actions and procedures. Thus the name “torture” itself is not a definitive argument. And yet, even with that being the case, there is a definitive moral line along the spectrum (even if we argue where it precisely is), and utilitarian defenses can never justify crossing that line. It does not matter if an action or policy “works” if it is truly evil. It does not matter if an action or policy “promotes American interests” if it is truly evil. It does not matter if an action or policy is associated with a particular political party or patriotic sentiment if it is truly evil. It is never right to do wrong. Surely sexual assault and threats against a suspect’s family cross the moral line and are wholly out of the question for reasonable people to consider.

Jeffrey Goldberg is not quite careful enough in his terminology, as he makes no distinction between personal revenge and legal retribution, but he still highlights a very important point in saying a desire for revenge was the primary justification for America’s actions following September 11th. This desire is something the Bible speaks about often. We are not to “avenge ourselves” because vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:19). This means that earthly justice is always limited and we are not permitted to attempt to bring about perfect justice through our own works. And while the civil magistrate is the appropriate minister of wrath, it cannot discard the demands of justice in the fulfillment of human passion because, as James tells us, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Legal “vengeance” and retribution must still be just. It also does not follow that if a government has the right to capital punishment then it also has the right to all other physical punishments short of death. “Cruel and unusual” is still a meaningful prohibition (with a Biblical analogue in Deut. 25:3), and punitive actions are not the same as preventative or interrogative ones. This is the case because punitive actions are grounded in the demands of justice. Prior to those demands being rightly identified, they cannot be rightly satisfied, and they certainly cannot be satisfied apart from moral rectitude. To do so would be a blatant self-contradiction.

A final response one encounters is the venerable maxim salus populi suprema lex esto. This saying is only true if “the supreme law” is itself contextualized as being always already under divine law, and it must also take into account more than simple pragmatic concerns. “The health of the people” also includes their moral and spiritual health, as well as their perceived moral standing abroad. As John McCain has ably argued, America has compromised its integrity with the use of enhanced interrogation and thereby weakened the health of the people.

Now, there are many potential political and legal considerations and responses. I lack the expertise to propose them or comment on various alternative policies which could have been implemented or should be implemented going forward. But I can speak to Christians who have failed to notice the severity of this issue in the past or have even defended it on such spurious grounds as I have listed. Take this matter to heart. Ask yourselves if you really can and should be defending “rectal hydration.” Why are you not morally shaken by such a practice, or, if you are, why are you still able to overcome that moral compunction?

This issue also highlights a more basic one. If you have ever defended an evil action because it satisfied personal revenge or gave you a limited opportunity to indulge violent and bloodthirsty passions, then you must repent. This is not a trifling matter. The torture revelations are but a macro-level version of what goes on in every human heart. Only, in this case, the hateful desires were not suppressed or denied but rather fed. Murder begins with unchecked anger in the heart. Torture comes from elevating hatred, or a false sense of moral entitlement, over the inherent dignity of the image of God. We close our eyes to an obvious evil because we are serving something we deem greater. But in this instance it is not God we are serving but our own image, an idol leading to destruction.

The good news, though, is that Jesus died for torturers. And he died for torture apologists. There is forgiveness, even for the most heinous sins, and therefore there is also forgiveness for failing to see or admit those sins. Nothing is greater than the love of God. But once those sins are brought to light, they must be let go. Repentance is not defeat. It is the only way for sinners to avoid defeat.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

by Steven Wedgeworth at December 10, 2014 04:35 PM

Mr. Money Mustache

Case Study: Average Everyday Complainypants Seeks Redemption

Average consumer's daily commute vehicles
Average consumer's daily commute vehicles

Average consumer’s daily commute vehicles

Today’s case study is a classic, because it addresses a problem suffered by tens of millions of families: the chronic time shortage caused by a double income, double commute, kid-raising lifestyle. While some practitioners of this game do it by choice, many other would rather have more free time … if only they could afford it.



Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

I am new to your blog but have been seriously enjoying this new found financial porn on a daily basis. I think I have the basic principles down. Bike good; car bad. Mindful spending good; mindless consumer orgy bad. Early retirement good; endless wage-slavery bad.

Instead of sitting in my beige 8×12 government cubicle daydreaming about how cute I would look with a new red Guess bag and tall leather boots from the mall across the street…I am now in my beige cubicle fantasizing about a simpler life with a smaller home, more time at home with my tiny humans and more time to read.

At the risk of being labelled a complainypants, I genuinely do not understand how to move from this wageslavery to being a Mustachian. It seems to me to be bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. How do I live on 50% or less of my income while still being stuck in said cubicle with all the expenses that it incurs?

The Basic Stats:

  • I am a fellow Canadian and as such am exceedingly polite
  • I live in one of the coldest winter cities in the world (temperatures in January and February routinely dip to -40 degrees)
  • Aside from the extreme temperatures in which I live, I am otherwise average in virtually every way.
  • Average height, average weight, average number of kids (2)
  • Average home (1200 sq feet), average mortgage (260K, worth about 420K in today’s market)
  • Average income (75K/year, 165K/year household…although according to you…I have already made it big)
  • Average cars (2 –one 2006 Honda Odyssey mini van and one…wait for it…2011 Ford F-150 Eco-boost Extended cab truck)you saw that coming from a mile away didn’t
  • you?…but amazingly both are paid off)
  • Average commute time (20 minutes direct, 45 minutes if you include the kids daycare/school drop time. My husband works 15 km in the opposite direction so we can’t even car pool.)
  • And last but not least, average amount of consumer debt ($12000 on a line of credit).
  • We have an average amount of savings (120 000 in RRSPs and $12 000 in a few different savings places)
  • And best of all I am in 15 years into a 30 years sentence with Her Majesty the Queen to be given my golden hand shake at the age of 55 (ie 70% of my income for the rest of my life…or if I cashed it in today 280K)…which as you might guess, I am starting to think isn’t worth the next 18 years of my life.


A basic sampling of our current overall monthly budget is below:


Take-Home Pay$7500
Retirement accounts, emergency fund, etc$500
Debt Paydowns$500
Property Tax$325
Home Improvement /maintenance$300
Groceries and Personal care$1200
Insurance (home, life, van, truck)$475
Kids' sports (hockey/swimming)$100 (we're Canadian - hockey is a fixed expense)
Miscellaneous (birthday parties, lunches out, hair cuts,
gifts, golf, hobbies, entertaining)
Total Spending$6500

My days and nights consist of rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off.  How do I get from here to retirement and more time enjoying life with tiny humans?

Interestingly my husband is a structural engineer, who does carpentry and custom wood working on the side, which is his passion that he would like to make his career, he is not interested in ‘retirement’ he would just like a career change.

Whiny in Winnipeg

Mr. Money Mustache Responds:

Dear WW,

While your situation sounds horrific to me, it is of course the standard situation for most two-jobs-plus-kids families. Let’s begin with the end in mind: getting you some freedom ASAP.

Right now, you earn $75,000 before tax or 45% of your family’s gross pay. Since you listed take-home pay at $7500, let’s assume you are bringing in $3400 of it.

Out of that, the following monthly costs might be byproducts of your job:

  • Gas and direct/indirect car costs for almost 2000km/month of driving around in a van: $1,000
  • Parking: $95
  • Daycare: $1200
  • Convenience foods and services that show up in your grocery and miscellaneous bills: $200

    Total: $2495

This leaves only about $1000 per month of “profit” from your job. So, including commuting and shuttling kids around to child care, are spending about 250 hours a month to earn $1,000 – or four bucks an hour. If you can think of better things to do than working for well under half of Manitoba’s minimum wage, you should quit immediately. Since this is what you wanted anyway, congratulations!!!

But it gets even better than that. Since it sounds like properties increase in price as you move towards your job downtown, they might well decrease as you move towards your husband’s job. If so, you could find a new place close to his work, and eliminate his commute as well – potentially saving the $600 per month he is currently burning up commuting in the opposite direction.

The savings from owning a less expensive house might free up an additional $200 per month in interest, since the equity from your current house would easily wipe your debts and you’d also have a lower mortgage payment.

So far we have only addressed basic strategy – the simple choice of where to live and work. There’s even more wealth on tap as soon as you activate a bit of Mustachian frugality.

For starters, since this is the MMM blog we’ll need to fix your insane choice of vehicles.



You have two kids, and yet you drive around in a BRAND NEW GAS GUZZLING LUXURY RACING BUS. The 2006 Honda Odyssey is not a vehicle for an indebted mother to use to drop the kids off and then head downtown. It is something a hopelessly spendy multimillionaire might use to shuttle around six pampered passengers on a cross-country roadtrip while hauling a giant trailer full of supplies. For two kids, you use a Toyota Yaris or similar. That will cut your gas bill down by 50%.

Your husband appears to be driving alone and not even a multimillionaire himself, and yet he has a TWIN-TURBO SIX PASSENGER RACING FARM TRUCK!!! Holy shit, brother, how many heads of cattle and pigs are you hauling on that roundtrip, while simultaneously carrying international heads of state in the stately cabin? That is a fucking ridiculous vehicle for ANYONE to drive except the rarest breed of Farmer/Diplomat, and I’m betting none of them also hold jobs as Structural Engineers.

So you’ll be selling that, and walking to work. For those rare times you drive, you can ask to borrow the wife’s manual transmission Yaris hatchback. You are also permitted to buy a used mountain bike, and if you’re REALLY getting serious with the carpentry, a 2001 Ford Ranger pickup, 2 wheel drive 4 cylinder manual longbed. You may weld a 12-foot lumber rack to it in order to outperform your current clown truck.

The savings on depreciation, fuel, and insurance will compound an additional $86,000 per decade into your family’s wealth.

Once you have these big wins in place, you’ll have much more time and energy to go after the medium-sized ones: your grocery bill can easily be cut in half, according to most Canadian Mustachian 4-person families. Restaurants and other takeout frivolities may drop as well, depending on your priorities.  Another $1000 per month is possible in this area, which will go directly to your financial independence fund.

When you add in Mrs. WW’s outstanding windfall of a $280,000 early pension payout, all my calculations indicate that you will be further ahead than you are today, even after ditching the government job. In fact, after a year of making these changes, Mr. WW may even start getting the itch to scale down his own job and do exactly as he sees fit as well. And that would be nothing to whine about at all.

Best of luck!

Do YOU see any parallels to your own life? It is almost always possible to avoid the two-commute family with kids if you make it a priority.


by Mr. Money Mustache at December 10, 2014 04:06 PM

512 Pixels

Twitter clients in 2014 →

Federico Viticci:

I started using the official Twitter client as my main Twitter app on my iPhone and iPad.

For the past six months, I’ve been reevaluating my entire Twitter experience based on the apps I use to read tweets and interact with people. The idea made a lot more sense once I stepped out of my preconceptions: I wanted to understand what 2014 Twitter was like and if that meant sacrificing my nerd cred and use a Muggle’s Twitter app, so be it. But at the same time, I’ve gone back and forth between Twitter and third-party clients, primarily out of habit, but also because they still offer powerful features and design details that I appreciate.

If you care about Twitter at all — as a company, as service or as an app — you should read this.


by Stephen Hackett at December 10, 2014 03:58 PM

Front Porch Republic

Grateful to be a Teacher


“It’s no easy task—indeed it’s very difficult—to realize that in every soul there is an instrument that is purified and rekindled by such subjects [liberal studies] when it has been blinded and destroyed by other ways of life, an instrument that is more important to preserve than ten thousand eyes, since only with it can the truth be seen.”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic VII

Yesterday I finished teaching yet another semester of Philosophy. If the power of reason outweighs ten thousand eyes, then how do I measure the worth of forming that instrument, by teaching the subjects to which Socrates refers?

Never easy, often discouraging, always seeming to require more than I can give. Priceless.

To ask myself how I have deserved to be in such a position misses the point; I do not deserve it. Gratitude must be the fundamental response. What can compare with the moments I’ve shared together with my students? Maybe no one will ever know, but us.

And perhaps the central truth that we have come to see together, is the transcendent importance of seeking the truth, together. It is a treasure beyond measure.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

Image: the library at Christendom College

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

The post Grateful to be a Teacher appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by John Cuddeback at December 10, 2014 03:56 PM

Metaphysics as a Guide to Porters

God Damn PBJ Pigeon Porter

Now you’re in the region of a woman’s fury.

Read Full Article...

The post Metaphysics as a Guide to Porters appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Jason Peters at December 10, 2014 03:50 PM

Keeping Busy

My Undoing as an Advisor

During my time at Mentor Graphics, I was always looking for technologies and technology companies that could be integrated into the product lines for which I was responsible. In a start-up, one generally looks to build new things; in an … Continue reading

by Mark Mitchell at December 10, 2014 03:30 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

The Belief That Career Success Can Make Us Happy Is the Central Illusion of Our Time


From David Brooks in the Times

“The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.”

Wow. Deep breath.


Image: Luciano

by Chris Guillebeau at December 10, 2014 03:28 PM

Crossway Blog

10 Benefits of Reading the Bible - Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

6. The Word of God Is the Key to Answered Prayer

The Word of God that wakens desire to read and ponder and memorize Scripture is the role it plays in answered prayer.

Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The words of Jesus must abide in us if our prayers are to be effective.The best way to see what it means for the words of Jesus to abide in us is to look at what Jesus says about abiding a few verses earlier. In verse 5 he says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” Letting the words of Jesus abide in us means letting Jesus himself abide in us, to us. It means that we welcome Jesus into our lives and make room for him to live, not as a silent guest with no opinions or commands, but as an authoritative guest whose words and priorities and principles and promises matter more to us than anything does.

The reason the abiding of Christ’s words in us results in answered prayer is that it changes us into the kind of people who love what he loves, so that we ask for things according to his will. This is not absolute. It is progressive. The more we know the living Christ by communion with him in his Word, the more our desires become spiritual like his desires, instead of just worldly. This is what David meant when he said in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of
your heart.” The desires of the heart cease to be merely natural desires when the heart delights above all else in the Lord. Delighting in the Lord—in the hallowing of his name and the seeking of his kingdom and the doing of his will—transforms all natural desires into God-related desires. That is what happens when the Word of Christ abides in us.

7. The Word of God Is the Source of Wisdom

It is a great advantage to be wise. Wisdom is different from the mere knowledge of facts. Some very wise people have little formal education. And some very educated people, who know many facts, are not wise. Wisdom is the insight and sense of how to live in a way that accomplishes the goals for which we were made: the glory of God and the good of man. And since glorifying God involves delighting in God, and the good of man involves sharing our joy in God, therefore wisdom is the only path to deep and lasting joy.

8. The Word of God Gives Us Crucial Warnings

If we had perfect sight of what is wrong and right, and if we could know the future and the consequences of all behavior and all events, then perhaps we would need no warnings. But we are blind to many things and do not know the future, as God does. We need to be warned often that the step we are about to take is folly. Oh, how many joy killing choices we are spared when we heed the warnings of the Bible! Mercifully God has given us a book that not only points us to the right path but sounds warnings when we are about to take the wrong one.

9. The Word of God Enables Us to Defeat the Devil

The devil is real and terrible. He is much stronger than we are, and he aims to deceive and destroy. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Yet he has been decisively defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible teaches that Christ took on himself human nature so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The destruction was decisive, though not final. Because of Christ’s shed blood for our sins, the devil cannot destroy those who are in Christ. The reason is that his accusations are no longer valid. The only thing that could sentence us to eternal destruction is unforgiven sin. But the cross obtained complete forgiveness. Therefore, the devil can only kill us, but not damn us.

10. The Word of God Is the Source of Great and Lasting Joy

We have seen at least nine reasons why this is so. Now we see that God, in the Bible, simply says it is so. The wise and godly man turns away from the counsel of the wicked with all their promises of pleasure and finds that “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2-3). The lovers of God’s Word praise the preciousness of the Bible and the pleasures it brings. They say that it surpasses the most valuable earthly things, gold and silver; and they say its taste on the tongue of the mind and heart is sweeter than honey, and that its richness is like the finest food.

The great conclusion is: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

*This excerpt was adapted from *When I Don't Desire God: How To Fight For Joy by John Piper.

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the teacher and founder of and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He served for 33 years as pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Don’t Waste Your Life, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?

by Nick Rynerson at December 10, 2014 02:38 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Linguistics Is Not Prescriptive, Says Doug Moo

we_still_dont_get_it_cover-198x300At the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Zondervan held a special event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the NIV. That evening , Doug Moo, current chair of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), gave an impassioned presentation and reflection on not only the impact of the NIV, but also the relationship between evangelicals and Bible translations. We shared a link to the BibleGateway live-blog, as well as some highlights of Moo’s insights.

While most of us couldn’t attend the event and listen to Moo’s presentation, fortunately it was packaged as a small booklet and PDF download, called “We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr.”

Not only is it a fascinating glimpse into the translation philosophy of the CBT, which stewards the NIV, it’s also a challenging, insightful read with regards to lingustics, modern translating, and the evangelical relationship with Scripture.

We’ve excerpted part of this presentation and booklet below. It covers developments in modern translating and an important linguistic principal: “linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise.” (3)

Read it and then download and read the full essay, here.

The NIV carries the DNA of another hallmark of the evangelical movement five decades ago: the growing academic sophistication of evangelical biblical scholars. one area of particular significance for the NIV and, of course, all Bible translations is linguistics. James Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Language served as a key initial conduit from modern linguistics research to biblical studies. Barr’s book was published in 1961 and so, with a little arithmetic liberty, we may celebrate the golden anniversary of a new sophistication in biblical linguistics along with the 50th anniversary of the NIV. It is the confluence of these two that will be the focus of this paper. While the 1960s-era documents that set the parameters of the new translation we call the NIV make no explicit reference to modern linguistic theory, their translation guidelines clearly betray the influence of this movement. In God’s providence, the NIV was conceived at just the time when those principles were being brought into the realm of biblical studies. of course, translations both before and after the NIV are also built on the foundation of these linguistic principles. Indeed, they have been communicated to decades of students in our basic exegesis classes. The problem, however, is that we have not consistently honored these insights in discourse about translation. In 2011, Stanley Porter claimed that “ … Barr’s insights are still, I believe, widely ignored in much language-related biblical research.” I would extend his criticism to translation. Specifically, I highlight three basic and generally agreed- upon linguistic principles that have too often been ignored in modern Bible translation. First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty proclaims, “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” ah, if only it were so! If I were the english language dictator, I would decree that we resurrect the second-person number distinctions from the elizabethan period, bring the archaic word “unto” back into circulation so that I could more effectively translate the Greek preposition eis, and create a gender-neutral third-person pronoun that could refer to human beings. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—language does not work like that. no one person or committee of persons prescribes what words will mean or how they will be used in combination. The users of a language determine meaning and usage. Linguists study a given language at a certain point in time with the hope of describing just what is going on. as John Lyons puts it in his standard book on modern linguistics: “The linguist’s first task is to describe the way people actually speak (or write) their language, not to prescribe how they ought to speak or write.” rules of usage are simply generalized summaries of usage that never apply to all users of the language and that change over time. We who work in the biblical languages know this well. HALOT, BDAG, Waltke-O’Connor, and Dan Wallace describe what is going on in biblical Hebrew and Greek. and when we want to go further, we access resources such as the TLG database to provide us with a window into the way the broad spectrum of speakers and writers actually use their language.

Translators, of course, make use of just these tools, trying their best to understand what, for instance, the prophet Isaiah might have meant by almah in the eighth-century BC or what the combination pistis Iesou Christou could have meant for Paul the apostle in the first century AD. But it is insufficiently appreciated how important the descriptive principle in modern linguistics is for the other side of the translators’ task: putting the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew into english.

Translators must work with the language as it is; wishing it were otherwise is vain, and forcing into our translations english meanings and constructions that are no longer current is a betrayal of our mission. Humpty Dumpty may choose to invest words with whatever meaning he chooses. But translators who try to impose a meaning on an english word that it no longer has in common speech run the risk of failing to communicate with the audience. We who translate the Bible run a particular risk here. We are so immersed in the forms of the biblical languages that we can forget that those forms may not, in fact, be good english. I doubt that CBT coined the word, but we often warn ourselves about the danger of translating not into english but into “biblisch”: that is, a form of english so indebted to biblical idiom that it sounds unnatural in the ears of the typical modern speaker of english. “daughter of Zion” is a good example. People familiar with the Bible can probably unpack the phrase accurately enough; but the average english-speaker would surely be wondering who the offspring of the city of Zion might be.

by Jeremy Bouma at December 10, 2014 02:35 PM

Crossway Blog

Midweek Roundup - 12/10/14

Every Wednesday we share some recent links we found insightful and helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.

1. Ray Ortlund on money and revival

We are accustomed to the biblical message that we should trust God. But here is another — smaller and subordinate, but still important — category: that God would trust us. If we are not faithful (pistoi) with money, which is unrighteous and not worth much, who will entrust (pisteusei) to us the true riches of spiritual wealth and power? In other words, if we can’t handle cheap things wisely, why would God put far more precious things into our hands?

2. Tony Reinke on pride, depression, and God’s grace

Hardly are we aware of the thickness of the darkness and the degree of our desperation. In a broken world of conflicting emotions, the chaos of self-motivation, and the depressing powers over our lives, we cannot escape. We cannot escape ourselves. We find ourselves bound to our limits, confined by the self. The deck is stacked against us.

To find any hope, God’s sovereign grace must reach into the darkness of a world of despair. God’s sovereign grace must find exiled sinners, who pursue self-glory, who live in a “confusion of permissions,” who obscure evil for good. Every one of us must be freed from ourselves.

3. Tim Challies on facing temptation

Temptations can be like the waves of the sea as they break along the beach—they rise and fall, they ebb and flow. Yet temptations are not entirely unpredictable, and there are certain times in life in which they are more likely to press hard than in others. Here are 4 times or seasons in which you need to be especially vigilant against temptation.

4. The role of singing in the church

Christianity is a singing faith. It’s one of the chief things followers of Jesus are renowned for, both down through the ages and now all around the world. While the proportion of singing has varied from time to time and from place to place, most churches today devote about a third of their gathering time to congregational singing and invest a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy into the musical side of church life.

But why do we sing? What does our singing accomplish? What purposes does it fulfill? According to Scripture, God has both created and called us to sing for three principle reasons: to help us praise, to help us pray, and to help us proclaim.

5. Justin Holcomb on the legacy of Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper has been called “a churchman who aroused many to their high calling in a society which had drifted far from its historical Christian moorings.” Kuyper’s ideas have important ramifications for Christians as we think through our place in a secular society and culture, and for that reason it is worth learning from this 19th-century Dutch Reformed theologian today.

by Nick Rynerson at December 10, 2014 02:24 PM

The Urbanophile

The Future of the Urbanophile

In my very first post in this at first pseudonymously published site almost eight years ago, I laid out a high aspiration saying:

I’ve often said the measure of a newspaper column is, having seen the title and the author, whether or not you even need to read it. So often there’s no point. You already know what the person in question is going to say and there’s nothing new to be gained. I’m going to strive to be judged by that standard. Over time, you will no doubt come to know my opinions and principles, which will allow you to predict my opinion on a subject. But I hope you’ll always find the posts worth reading because there is something in there you didn’t know and didn’t expect.

My goal is no less than to change to course of history. Or failing that, to at least cause people with an open mind to at least think and ponder on points of view they may not have considered before.

I hope you feel that I’ve lived up to my goal of creating and curating original, thought-provoking, unique, and compelling content about the places we live.

As I’ve been saying, there are changes afoot. And I’m glad to be able to tell you about them today.

As of the new year I’m excited to be joining the Manhattan Institute as a Senior Fellow and as a Contributing Editor to City Journal, where as you know I’ve already been writing pieces.

Thanks so much for coming along on this journey with me. Without your readership, support, and in many cases active help over the years, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this news today. My heartfelt appreciation to all of you.

What does this mean? It means I’ll be able to do more and have a greater impact than before. However, there are going to be some changes here at

I’m not shutting down the site, but I do plan to scale back posting here considerably after the holidays. Keeping a site like this going is a huge undertaking as you can probably guess. The first question I usually get from people is, “How in the world do you find time to write so much stuff?” It’s a challenge to be sure. And honestly after keeping this up for years, I need a break from such an intense posting schedule.

What’s more, I think the platform in its current form has pretty much reached its potential, and so requires reinvention. So I’ll be thinking about how to do this and will no doubt seek your input, but for now I am planning to dial back a bit.

But I’m not dead yet. I hope you’ll continue reading here as there will be new content. And as always, I’ll keep linking to things I write elsewhere right here, so you won’t miss it.

But as I said earlier this week, I am also going to be providing some content on a free but exclusive basis by email. So once again I’ll ask you to sign up this week, and if you do I’ll send you a free PDF copy of my ebook The Urban State of Mind.

Email is also the best way to get every single post delivered right to your inbox as it rolls off the presses. No need to keep checking. So just set the radio button in the form below if you want that and sign up today.

We respect your email privacy

For those who prefer reading through an RSS reader like Feedly, my feed is (I will be migrating away from Feedburner within a week. If your feed seems to go away, check back here for details. I’ll try to redirect but you might need to resubscribe).

You can also follow me on Twitter. I tweet out links to the best articles in the urban internet that I come across, representing a cross-section of views. My Facebook page is now officially retired.

With that out of the way, I thought you might like to read the official announcement about my joining the Manhattan Institute, so here it is:

Aaron Renn Joins the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Institute is pleased to announce that urban affairs analyst Aaron Renn is joining the Institute as a senior fellow and contributing editor to the Institute’s quarterly magazine, City Journal, beginning January 2015.

“Aaron is constantly producing innovative ideas on cities and telling their stories in a compelling and accessible way,” remarked Manhattan Institute President Lawrence Mone. “His excellent pieces for City Journal are refreshing and thoughtful. We’re excited to put his great talents to work at the Institute.”

In 2006, Renn launched the urban policy website, The Urbanophile, where he created an effective outlet for his love of cities. Renn has spent his personal and professional life learning how cities work and searching for answers to the socioeconomic problems that have beset many of them since the latter half of the last century. Hailing from the Midwest, Renn has focused on metropolises dotting America’s heartland. His sharp insights on urban issues are regularly featured in such outlets as the New York Times, Time, Economist, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Washington Post, and London’s Daily Telegraph. Aaron’s writings have appeared in publications such as the Guardian, Governing, Forbes, The Oregonian, Providence Journal, and City Journal.

“Aaron Renn is obsessed with cities” remarked City Journal editor Brian Anderson. “What helps them flourish or drains them of vitality, where they’re going and where they’ve come from, how they compare—these are the kind of questions he asks and answers in his illuminating work, rich in reporting and policy analysis, which we’ve been honored to feature in City Journal. Several of his pieces have been among our most talked-about of the last two years. I’m thrilled he’s joining our all-star team of urbanists.”

Joel Kotkin, author and nationally recognized expert on demographic trends and cities noted, “Aaron Renn is one of the keenest, and most impartial, observers of America’s urban scene.”

Renn, a graduate of Indiana University in Bloomington, worked for many years as a management and IT consultant at Accenture, where he served as partner. He is a native of Laconia, Indiana, a town of 29 people along the Ohio River. Renn grew up fascinated by those larger places known as cities, and made it his life’s preoccupation to learn what makes them tick.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at December 10, 2014 02:12 PM


tagfs, xtagfs, dhtfs and more: Tag, you’re it

For some reason, the last file tagging utility I mentioned, tagsistant, touched off a flood of suggestions on tagging titles. Four or five came from just one contributor alone, and I got e-mails about two or three more from other counties.

I didn’t know file tagging tools were so prolific. I’d always just relied on directory trees as the simplest way to arrange things, but now it seems I am living in 1988. :|

Anachronistic me aside, I’m terribly grateful for all the suggestions. But the sheer volume — and the time it would take to build, set up, learn, playtest and evaluate all of them — means I must go the short route, and list them here as potentially interesting to you, the reader.

I don’t like doing this because there are undoubtedly some very useful tools in here, and it levels the field between the truly genius and the truly jejune. It’s hard to spot a real winner in a crop this dense though, so if you can attest to any one of these, please give us a steer.

  • Dantalian: By the home page’s admission, a “multi-dimensionally hierarchical tag-based transparent lightweight file organization system.” This struck me as closest to tmsu, which I liked best of what I’ve used.
  • debtags: If I understand correctly, debtags is the Debian solution for tagging the tens of thousands of titles in their collection, and that’s quite a testament. tagcoll, if I read the wiki right, is the go-to tool for manipulating the tags. I don’t know (but perhaps you do) if debtags or its underlying structure are applicable beyond that project itself.
  • dhtfs: A tagging system that sports “dynamic directory hierarchies based on tags associated with files.” That suggests to me that the directory structure will evolve as the tags are applied, which is either attractive or horrifying, depending on you. Personally I’m curious in a morbid kind of way, because I like to manage the way things are arranged on my system. Perhaps I shall set up a dummy system and try it out, just for kicks.
  • django-tagging: Kevin sent this one by e-mail, but I don’t have any experience with django, and I think this might go way beyond what I could investigate.
  • flickerfs: This one might be oddball of the group: I believe this latches on to your flicker account and allows you to work the tags in use there. But I don’t use flicker, and so I might be way off base with this one. Thanks to Lars for suggesting it though.
  • pytagsfs: I see this in Debian with the description, “arranges media files in a virtual directory structure based on the file tags,” which might mean it works something like dhtfs for audio files. I might give this one a try later. The home page listed on the package page doesn’t seem to be related to the project, though.
  • stagfs: A “proof-of-concept non-hierarchical FUSE file system deriving structure from independent tag files.” The term “proof-of-concept” says to me that it wasn’t intended for actual use, but it might be a viable product, so don’t take my word for it. I am quite frequently wrong. :(
  • tag-fs: I have my doubts about this one, only because the downloadable source file is all of 36.7Kb, and the trunk is suspiciously concise. Also, it doesn’t appear to have seen updates since 2008, which is not necessarily a bad sign, only a little worrisome.
  • tagfs: Not to be confused with the previous project, this has seen more recent updates and appears to be (have been?) a more complete effort. It also seems to have an approach like tmsu or tagsistant, and I can see where it might have inspired those two titles. Another of Eric Davis‘s suggestions from a month ago.
  • tracker: tracker confuses me a little bit: Apparently this is a plugin for Nautilus, but I also see that there are things like tracker-utils in Debian, so maybe there are text-based tools that can run it too. If you use GNOME :\ you may want to investigate further. If they can’t be split off from the graphical component, then. … :( Thanks to Jonas for the note.
  • xtagfs: I have a strong suspicion this is intended as a tool for Macs, but I won’t discount it out of my relative ignorance about Mac-related software. And sometimes I see where tools written for Macs are implantable in Linux systems. You probably know better than me. … :|

Of course, like I implied earlier, I simply don’t have the time right now to work with every title here, and so there may be one or two in there that are not only incapable or inappropriate, but impossible. My apologies if you stumble across something so useless as to be laughable. I feel obligated to share the information I receive, since people are kind enough to pass it my way. Just remember, as always, your mileage may vary. Happy tagging. :)

Tagged: database, file, information, search, tag

by K.Mandla at December 10, 2014 01:15 PM

speedpad: The advanced typing tutor

Some typing tutors I’ve seen were oriented toward specific letter combinations, or as touch-typing coaches with the ability to swap out dictionary sets. Quasi-gamelike programs such as banihstypos aside, software like gtypist or typespeed primarily work on a word-by-word basis, ostensibly as a way of building fundamental proficiency.

So what should you be using if you’re beyond single-word exercises? What if ryryryry is getting a little boring?

Perhaps it’s time to step up to more practical typing exercises.

2014-11-10-jsgqk71-speedpad-01 2014-11-10-jsgqk71-speedpad-02

That’s speedpad, which works as a python tutor for advanced typists, and leans more toward speed and accuracy than building basic skills.

speedpad is not a game, and I had to remind myself of that and not throw it in with the last round of game-y titles. speedpad is deadly serious, offering a pacing bot, accuracy and word-per-minute counts, and accepting input from external files or things like fortune.

What that means is, speedpad is angled more toward practical typing practice, as opposed to just pulling in special and unique words or dictionaries, for single-word practice. And if you’re an advanced typist, you’ll either relish the practice, or brood hatefully over its unforgiving nature.

speedpad is not in Arch/AUR or Debian, which is a shame because I happen to like this interface much more than the gamelike approach of either typespeed or banihstypos, and the staid presentation of gtypist. speedpad knows its audience, and intends to keep it happy.

speedpad is a python program though, so chances are it will run on your system, provided it can access version 2.7. I tried it with the current python version in Arch, and got a few errors. Your system may behave better.

And don’t forget that speedpad alone usually doesn’t do much; you have to feed it a text file to get some serious typing action out of it. Find some problematic texts for you to practice, or grab fortune and let it pick for you.

speedpad stands above the other typing tutors I know of, if only for its interface and real-text approach to practicing typing. And considering it has an overabundance of color and a serious feel about it, I’m going to give this one a gold star: :star: :) Enjoy!

Tagged: practice, tutor, typing

by K.Mandla at December 10, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Emacs: M-y as helm-show-kill-ring

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Emacs Kaizen

After realizing that I barely scratched the surface of Helm’s awesomeness (really, I basically use it as an ido-vertical-mode), I made a concerted effort to explore more of the interesting things in the Helm toolkit. helm-show-kill-ring is one such thing. I’ve bound it to M-y, which I had previously configured to be browse-kill-ring, but helm-show-kill-ring is much cooler because it makes it easy to dynamically filter your kill ring. Also, Kcode>M-y works better for me than C-y does because I know when I want the last thing I killed, but going beyond that is a little annoying.

That said, browse-kill-ring does make it easy to edit a kill ring entry. Maybe I should learn how to modify Helm’s behaviour so that I can add an edit action. There’s already a delete action. Besides, I haven’t used that feature in browse-kill-ring yet, so I can probably get by even without it.

ido fans: you can use helm-show-kill-ring without activating helm-mode, if you want.

On a related note, I like how rebinding M-x (execute-extended-comand) to helm-M-x shows me keybindings as I search for commands. You do have to get used to the quirk of typing C-u and other prefixes after M-x instead of before, but I haven’t had a problem with this yet. This is mostly because I haven’t dug into just how many commands do awesome things when given a prefix argument. I know about using C-u C-c C-w (org-refile) to jump to places instead of refiling notes, but that’s about it. I haven’t gone anywhere close to C-u C-u. Does anyone have a favourite command they use that does really smart things when given that prefix? =)

This Helm intro has animated GIFs and a few other useful commands. Check it out!

The post Emacs: M-y as helm-show-kill-ring appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 10, 2014 01:00 PM

Random ASCII

Hidden Costs of Memory Allocation

IMG_8410 croppedIt’s important to understand the cost of memory allocations, but this cost can be surprisingly tricky to measure. It seems reasonable to measure this cost by wrapping calls to new[] and delete[] with timers. However, for large buffers these timers may miss over 99% of the true cost of these operations, and these hidden costs are larger than I had expected.

Further complicating these measurements, it turns out that some of the cost may be charged to another process and will therefore not show up in any timings that you might plausibly make.

In this (Windows specific) post I’m going to explain what these hidden costs are, how they hide, how to measure them, and what you should do about it.

Quick test

Which of these do you need to measure to fully record the cost of freeing and reallocating memory rather than reusing it?

  1. Time spent allocating and freeing the memory
  2. Time spent using the memory
  3. CPU time consumed in the system process
  4. All of the above

Spoiler alert, the answer is #4. For sufficiently large blocks of memory the time to allocate and free memory is only part of the CPU cost associated with the allocation. Details to follow.

I like big blocks and I cannot lie

In this post I am exclusively focusing on allocating large blocks of memory – those that are large enough that the heap delegates the allocation to the operating system. I am ignoring the low-fragmentation heap, heap contention, and heap fragmentation in order to focus on the operating system issues of allocating large blocks of memory. This is a real issue that I have encountered multiple times, and fixing it can give an easy performance win, but I don’t want to try to account for all memory allocation issues in one post.

Measuring allocating and freeing

Measuring the cost of allocating and freeing memory seems easy. Just call new[]/delete[] in a loop for various sized blocks of memory and measure how long they take. In my tests, for sizes ranging from 8 MB to 32 MB, the cost for a new[]/delete[] pair averaged about 7.5 μs (microseconds), split into ~5.0 μs for the allocation and ~2.5 μs for the free. For the large allocations I was testing the size of the allocation did not seem to significantly affect the results.

Freeing is about to get slower

I thought you said 'freezing'Allocating memory without using it is a bit artificial, so the next thing to do is to write to the entire block of memory before freeing it. Pause for a moment to think about what effect this should have on the cost of allocating and freeing memory. I’ll wait.

The cost of allocating the memory goes up slightly in this scenario, presumably because writing to the memory flushes all sorts of useful data from the CPU’s caches, making subsequent allocations slightly slower. This effect adds about 8.0 μs to the allocation cost.

Freeing the memory gets a lot more expensive. When the memory is written before freeing the cost to free the memory is about 75 μs per MB – a huge jump from the ~2.5 μs to free unused memory. This means that it takes about 2,400 μs (2.4 ms) to free 32 MB of memory that has been used!

Memory, on demand

The reason for this seemingly peculiar behavior has to do with the laziness of the Windows operating system. For large allocations (a MB or larger I believe) the Windows heap (new/new[], malloc/HeapAlloc) will use the system VirtualAlloc function (with MEM_COMMIT | MEM_RESERVE) to request memory. This will reserve address space and allocate commit charges, but doesn’t actually commit any pages. The pointer returned by VirtualAlloc is basically just a promissory note – the operating system promises that when pages are touched there will be memory there but, as the documentation says “Actual physical pages are not allocated unless/until the virtual addresses are actually accessed.” This is often a good thing because applications that allocate more memory than they need may end up being less wasteful than intended, and Linux behaves similarly.

So, when memory is allocated and freed without being touched the free operation has to do very little. However if the memory has been touched then the pages have been faulted in and when the memory is freed they actually have to be removed. Removing those pages from the process’ address space is what takes 75 μs per MB.

Faulty towers

If removing the pages from the process’ address space takes 75 μs per MB then presumably it also takes some time to bring the pages in to the address space. This is more difficult to measure because it happens on demand, whenever a page is first accessed. The easiest way to measure this is to measure how long it takes to write to a freshly allocated block of memory, and compare it to how long it takes to write to a previously written block of memory.

This is a perilous measurement. There are many different effects that you can end up measuring. If the memory blocks are too small then you may mostly measure cache effects. Beyond that you may be measuring TLB effects. If you don’t have enough memory then pages may be removed from your working set and then need to be paged back in, and other processes can easily interfere with the results. CPU frequency changes can distort the results.

But, I did my best. My CPU’s L3 cache is 6 MB so I tested with buffers from 8 MB to 32 MB to avoid cache effects. I have lots of memory, and I shut down as many processes as possible to avoid interference. I ran the tests multiple times. I used the high-performance power profile and ran a background busy thread to keep the CPU frequencies consistently high. I also recorded ETW (xperf) profiles and examined them to identify sources of error.

The result was pretty clear. Faulting in the pages for first-time use costs a minimum of ~175 μs per MB. In some situations the cost is a lot more, for reasons that I don’t understand, but for allocations of 8+ MB you should assume a minimum cost of ~175 μs per MB when memory is first used.

Page faults, soft versus hard

Memory is minor/soft and fastThere is a difference between a soft/minor page fault and a hard/major page fault. A soft page fault is when a page is faulted in from memory. This happens when a freshly allocated page is first referenced and it also happens when a page is faulted in from the standby list – perhaps a page that was trimmed from the working set, or perhaps a memory mapped file that was in the system disk cache. Soft page faults, while expensive, in this context, are still quite cheap.

Hard disks are major/hard and slowA hard page fault is a page fault that requires going to disk, perhaps to page in a memory-mapped file or to retrieve data from the swap file. These are more expensive because, you know, disks are slow. Hard faults can easily cost over a second per MB. But those are hard faults and this post is entirely about soft faults, which are much cheaper.

(for more details see

Zero this

But wait, there is yet another cost of allocating memory that we have not accounted for.

For security reasons it is critical that freshly mapped pages be zeroed, since otherwise information would leak between processes – all modern operating systems do this. Zeroing pages isn’t super expensive, but it isn’t free.

On Windows the OS tries to keep a pool of zeroed pages available. These pages can then be quickly faulted in to the processes that need them. But this pool must be replenished by taking free pages and zeroing them. What this means is the System process has a low-priority thread that zeroes pages when they are freed. If it is able to keep up then all of the zeroing of memory after freeing will be done outside of your process, and the true cost is thoroughly hidden.

(see for more information on the life-cycle of a memory page)

However nothing can hide from the all-seeing eye of ETW (xperf) traces. The CPU Usage (Precise) graph shows my test process in red and the system process in green. At the end of each test loop when my test process frees memory you can see the system process spring to life:


This means that the only way to measure the true cost of your inexpensive memory allocations is to record a trace with WPT and look both in your process (for KiPageFault) and in the system process (for time spent in the zero page thread in KeZeroMemory).

If the zero-page thread can’t keep up then the pages may be zeroed on demand in the context of your process, in which case KeZeroMemory may show up. This is more likely to happen on machines with fewer CPUs.

The CPU Usage (Sampled) data tells you what the zero page thread is doing. Then, once you know that thread 8 is always the zero-page thread, you can use the CPU Usage (Precise) data to measure exactly how long that thread wakes up each time it finds work. This works out to ~150 μs per MB of memory that is touched and then freed.

Total costs

In conclusion…

imageA naive measurement of the cost of allocating and freeing large blocks of memory would conclude that it costs about 7.5 μs for each alloc/free pair. However there are three separate per-MB costs for large allocations. As the chart shows these add up to approximately 400 μs per MB. So, allocating an 8 MB buffer every frame (perhaps to hold a 1080p RGBA image) can easily waste 3.2 ms (3,200 μs) of CPU time per frame. Some of this will be hidden in the system process where it won’t hurt performance on many-core developer machines, but will harm frame-rate on dual-core customer machines.

It’s worth mentioning that most of these numbers are minimum costs. In particular the time to fault in pages is sometimes much higher, for reasons that I don’t understand.

Real-time zero-page monitoring

Recording an ETW trace is the most accurate and reliable way to find out what is going on, performance-wise, in your process. I record a lot of traces and I learn a lot. Lately I’ve made a habit of looking for KiPageFault in my processes, and looking for heavy activity in the zero-page thread.

But this is tedious and time-consuming. It can be very helpful to monitor the zero-page thread’s activity in real-time. Activity in this thread is a proxy for heavy usage of freshly allocated memory and makes it easy to correlate this with the actions I am taking.

It turns out that this monitoring is easy.

The information I am about to supply makes use of undocumented Windows details that may change in future, present, or past versions of Windows. This information should only be used for diagnostic purposes. It works for me, for now, but if you ship a product that uses this information then I will ask Raymond Chen to form a vigilante group with me to hunt you down and corrupt random bytes in your compiler.

I have observed (see disclaimer above) that in my tests the zero-page thread always has thread ID 8. Therefore we can easily monitor the activity level of the zero-page thread by:

  1. Using OpenThread to get a handle to thread ID 8
  2. Using QueryThreadCycleTime to get the cycles used by this thread
  3. Sitting in a loop calling Sleep(1000) and printing the zero-page cycles consumed in the last second.

That’s it. The program has to run as administrator and it is clearly a horrible hack, but it has helped me identify code that is reallocating memory far too frequently. If the zero-page thread gets significantly busier whenever your code is running then it might be worth recording a trace and looking for KiPageFault.

Test setup

All tests were done on my four-core eight-thread Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-2720QM CPU @ 2.20 GHz (Turboboost up to 3.3 GHz) with 8 GB RAM, running Windows 7 SP1. Spot tests were run on Windows 8.1 and the results were similar.


Crudely designed test code available here.


I did some spot tests on Linux but I was unable to cleanly measure the cost of mapping pages in and out of memory. I did see the kernel zeroing memory as it was mapped in after first being written – watch for clear_page_c_e or similar functions when you run perf top. A bit of searching shows that developers have noticed the cost of clear_page_c_e before. Linux seems to clear pages on-demand instead of in a dedicated thread, which has pros and cons.

Related posts

Making VirtualAlloc Arbitrarily Slower

64-Bit Made Easy

If you want to know more about how to use ETW to do this type of deep investigation of Windows performance then I recommend the xperf series of posts, which include tutorials and documentation. In particular the Wintellect Now training videos which I created are probably the best resource, and you can watch them for free by following the instructions here.

by brucedawson at December 10, 2014 09:12 AM


Hands-on with Remodel: a new Python ODM for RethinkDB

This week, Andrei Horak released Remodel, a new Python-based object document mapping (ODM) library for RethinkDB. Remodel simplifies RethinkDB application development by automating much of the underlying logic that comes into play when working with relations.

Remodel users create high-level model objects and rely on a set of simple class attributes to define relationships. The framework then uses the model objects to generate tables and indexes. It abstracts away the need to do manual work like performing join queries or populating relation attributes when inserting new items. Remodel also has built-in support for connection pooling, which obviates the need to create and manage connections. In this brief tutorial, I'll give you a hands-on look at Remodel and show you how to use it in a web application.

Define your models

To start using Remodel, first install the library. You can use the included in the source code or you can install it from pip by typing pip install remodel at the command line.

For the purposes of this tutorial, let's assume that we want to build a Starfleet crew roster that correlates crew members with their starships. The first step is to define the models and create the tables:

import remodel.utils
import remodel.connection
from remodel.models import Model


class Starship(Model):
    has_many = ("Crewmember",)

class Crewmember(Model):
    belongs_to = ("Starship",)


In an application built with Remodel, all of the model classes must inherit remodel.models.Model. In this application, there are two models: Starship and Crewmember. The has_many and belongs_to class attributes are used to define the relationships between objects. In this case, each Starship can have many Crewmember instances and each Crewmember instance belongs to only one Starship.

The create_tables and create_indexes methods will, as the names suggest, automatically generate tables and indexes based on your defined models. Remodel pluralizes your table names, which means that the Starship model will get a starships table.

The framework instantiates a connection pool, accessible at remodel.connection.pool. You can use the pool's configure method to adjust its behavior and specify connection options, such as the desired database name, host, and port.

Populate the database

Now that the models are defined, you can populate the database with content. To create a new database record, call the create method on one of the model classes:

voyager = Starship.create(name="Voyager", category="Intrepid", registry="NCC-74656")

Remodel doesn't enforce any schemas, so you can use whatever properties you want when you create a record. The create method used above will automatically add the Voyager record to the starships table. Because the Starship model defines a has_many relationship with the Crewmember model, the voyager record comes with a crewmembers property that you can use to access the collection of crew members that are associated with the ship. Use the following code to add new crew members:

    Crewmember(name="Janeway", rank="Captain", species="Human"),
    Crewmember(name="Neelix", rank="Morale Officer", species="Talaxian"),
    Crewmember(name="Tuvok", rank="Lt Commander", species="Vulcan"))

The records provided to the add method are instantiated directly from the Crewmember class. You don't want to use the create method in this case because the add method called on the Voyager instance handles the actual database insertion. It will also automatically populate the relation data, adding a starship_id property to each Crewmember record.

To make the example more interesting, add a few more Starship records to the database:

enterprise = Starship.create(name="Enterprise", category="Galaxy", registry="NCC-1701-D")
    Crewmember(name="Picard", rank="Captain", species="Human"),
    Crewmember(name="Data", rank="Lt Commander", species="Android"),
    Crewmember(name="Troi", rank="Counselor", species="Betazed"))

defiant = Starship.create(name="Defiant", category="Defiant", registry="NX-74205")
    Crewmember(name="Sisko", rank="Captain", species="Human"),
    Crewmember(name="Dax", rank="Lt Commander", species="Trill"),
    Crewmember(name="Kira", rank="Major", species="Bajoran"))

Query the database

When you want to retrieve a record, you can invoke the get method on a model class. When you call the get method, you can either provide the ID of the specific record that you want or you can provide keyword arguments that perform a query against record attributes. If you want to get a specific starship by name, for example, you can do the following:

voyager = Starship.get(name="Voyager")

You can take advantage of the relations that you defined in your models. If you want to find all of the human members of Voyager's crew, you can simply use the filter method on the crewmembers property:

voyager = Starship.get(name="Voyager")
for human in voyager["crewmembers"].filter(species="Human"):
  print human["name"]

Perform filtering on an entire table by calling the filter method on a model class. The following code shows how to display the captain of each ship:

for person in Crewmember.filter(rank="Captain"):
  print person["name"], "captain of", person["starship"]["name"]

As you might have noticed, the starship property of the Crewmember instance points to the actual starship record. Remodel populates the property automatically to handle the Crewmember model's belongs_to relationship.

When you want to perform more sophisticated queries, you can use ReQL in conjunction with Remodel. Let's say that you want to evaluate Starfleet's diversity by determining how many crew members are of each species. You can use ReQL's group command:"species").ungroup() \
          .map(lambda item: [item["group"], item["reduction"].count()]) \

The table property of a model class provides the equivalent of a ReQL r.table expression. You can chain additional ReQL commands to the table property just as you would when creating any ReQL query.

Put it all together

Just for fun, I'm going to show you how to build a web application for browsing the Starfleet crew roster. The app is built with Flask, a lightweight framework for web application development. The example also uses Jinja, a popular server-side templating system that is commonly used with Flask.

In a Flask application, the developer defines URL routes that are responsible for displaying specific kinds of information. The application uses templates to render the data in HTML format. Create a route at the application root:

app = flask.Flask(__name__)

def ships():
    return flask.render_template("ships.html", ships=Starship.all())

if __name__ == "__main__":"localhost", port=8090, debug=True)

When the user visits the site root, the application will fetch all of the starships from the database and display them by rendering the ships.html template. The following is from the template file:



In the example above, the template iterates over every ship and displays a list item for each one. The list item includes an anchor tag that points to a URL with the ship's ID.

To make the application display the crew members of the ship when the user clicks one of the links, create a new /ship/x route that takes an arbitrary ship ID as a parameter:

def ship(ship_id):
    ship = Starship.get(ship_id)
    crew = ship["crewmembers"].all()
    return flask.render_template("ship.html", ship=ship, crew=crew)

Fetch the desired ship from the database using the provided ID. In a real-world application, you might want to check to make sure that the record exists and throw an error if it doesn't. Once you have the ship, fetch the crew via the crewmembers property. Pass both the ship and the crew to the template:



Now create a /member/x route so that the user can see additional information about a crewman when they click one in the list:

def member(member_id):
    member = Crewmember.get(member_id)
    return flask.render_template("crew.html", member=member)

Finally, define the template for that route:

  <li><strong>Rank:</strong> </li>
  <li><strong>Species:</strong> </li>

The template HTML files should go in a template folder alongside your Python script. When you run the Python script, it will start a Flask server at the desired port. You should be able to visit the URL and see the application in action.

Check out Remodel and Install RethinkDB to try it for yourself.


by RethinkDB at December 10, 2014 08:00 AM

Table Titans

Tales: Tripping Over Your Tongue


Have you ever started to say something, but half way you just stop, usually to effect of

"Hey guys I really enjoyed ahbraa-uh-hsendara..."

I do it all of the time and my DM knows it! The last and current adventure I went on I played a Drow Cleric named Zed Moor-Han, because why not? I however…

Read more

December 10, 2014 07:00 AM

Daniel Lemire's blog

The Smartest Kids in the World: stories from Finland, Poland and South Korea

I have always been interested in what makes us smart. So I read Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World in almost a single sitting. She is a good writer.

The core message of the book is simple and powerful. Entire countries can change how their kids rank in international academic competition within a few short years. For example, Poland (a relatively poor country) was ranked in 25th position in 2000 on mathematics, but in 13th position in 2009. Finland was the strongest democratic country in 2006, but Japan and South Korea have surpassed it in 2012. Meanwhile, the United States always does poorly despite outspending everyone on a per-student basis. Some Asian countries (e.g., Singapore and selected parts of China) put everyone else to shame, but she dismisses them as being too far from democratic countries.

She covers three education superpowers: Finland, South Korea and Poland. Beside the fact that they are all democracies, there is very little in common between these three countries, except that their 15-year-old fare well in academic tests. It is not clear whether there is any lesson to be learned from these countries.

To make things worse, her choice is somewhat arbitrary. For example, Canada (my home country) also does very well but she somehow decided that comparing Canada with the United States would not make a good story. Maybe Canada is not exotic enough by itself, but she could have consider the French province of Quebec. It is one of the poorest place in North America, but in the 2012 PISA test, Quebec scored 536 in Mathematics, which is as good as Japan and better than Finland (519), Poland (518), and a lot better than the United States (482).

The book is very critical of the Asian mindset. Kids in South Korea are drilled insanely hard, starting their school day at 8am, and often ending it at 11pm. Finland is a much nicer places in the book. Even Poland appears pleasant compared to South Korea.

To be fair, if half the things she writes about how kids are drilled in South Korea is true, I would never send my boys to school there.

Implicit in the book is the belief that the United States will pay a price in the new economy for its weak schools. American kids spend too much time playing football, and not enough time studying mathematics. Or so the book seems to imply.

This seems a bit simplistic.

My impression is that in some cultures, like South Korea, much of your life depends on how well you are doing at 15. So, unsurprisingly, 15-year-old kids do well academically. In the United States, people will easily forgive a poor high school record. You can compensate later on. So maybe American teenagers spend more time playing video games than doing calculus: who could blame them?

What is a lot more important for a country is how well your best middle-age workers do. The bulk of your companies are run by 40-something or 50-something managers and engineers. Only a select few do important work in their 20s. In my experience, you learn much of what you know by the time you are 40 “on the job”.

So I am not willing to predict bad times ahead for the United States based solely on the academic aptitude of their kids. I think we should be a lot more worried about the high unemployment rates among young people in Europe. Sure, French kids may earn lots of degrees… but if you do not have 10 years of solid work experience by the time you are 40, you are probably not contributing to your country as much as you could.

It is important to measure things. I am really happy that my kids are going to go to school in Quebec, a mathematics superpower at least as far as teenagers are concerned. But there may be trade-offs. For example, by drilling kids very hard, very early, you may drain their natural love of learning. This can lead to employees who will not be learning on their own, for the sake of it. Or you may discourage entrepreneurship.

As a general rule, we should proceed with care and avoid hubris because we may not know nearly as much as we think about producing smart kids.

by Daniel Lemire at December 10, 2014 06:08 AM

The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

Dispatches from Nepal

The missionary from North Dakota arrived safely in Kathmandu but then came down with a mild case of despair. The timing of his visit landed him in the midst of the autumn feast of Diwali, which honors the Hindu goddess of light and wealth. The annual celebration signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair. 

Michael Heitland should be getting used to the cultural divide between East and West. He travels to the South Asian country of Nepal on a regular basis as the director of Equipping Saints for Ministry (ES4M). But maybe there was something in the air during that week of bright lights, fireworks, and singing.

“This is nothing short of the prince of the power of the air,” Heitland observed. “Satan, masquerading as an angel of light.” From Nepal he posted regular dispatches to ES4M’s website and mentioned 2 Corinthians 11:14–15 as one of several scriptures that helped him understand and combat the despair he felt. 

ES4M teams make four to five trips yearly to countries where theological famine is prevalent. In Nepal they work with several partner organizations that come together for Mission Nepal, which includes pastoral training, discipleship, and evangelism. Their efforts are facilitated by SARA Church in Kathmandu. Heitland says the ministry’s vision is “to equip the next generation of leaders with sound doctrine and a thorough knowledge of the whole counsel of God.” 

Confounding Truth

Nepal is the size of Arkansas but with 10 times the population. More than 28 million of its people are considered unreached. It suffers from the spiritual darkness of either Hinduism, with millions of deities, or the self-deifying religion of Buddhism. But Heitland expresses hope: “The gospel is going out; the church in Nepal is on the move! Since 2007 alone, the number of Christians has increased exponentially to more than 2.5 million believers in more than 8,500 churches. Christianity is exploding in Nepal.” 

In a late October dispatch, Heitland explained the big challenge in Nepal’s Eastern culture: “Many times I have heard a Nepali say, ‘There are many ways to the top of the mountain.’ With this logic, both Christians and Hindus are correct. . . . Many approach religion like they would cake. Some like chocolate, others prefer vanilla.” 

ES4M works to prepare those who are called by God as ambassadors to their own nation. Heitland says that Westerners will fall short in reaching Nepalis, which is why ES4M is “devoted to equipping national leaders in this country, so that they can do the work of preaching, reaching, and teaching.” 

While some areas of Nepal are modern in comparison to other developing countries, few solid theological resources exist in the Nepali language. Heitland says that false teaching fills the void, because it’s easier to access prominent Christian websites that promote “strange doctrines that diminish God’s sovereignty and glory.”

Exponential Training

Heitland first partnered with TGC International Outreach (TGCIO) in 2011—the same year he gave up his engineering career to establish ES4M. He traveled to Malawi and Tanzania that year and took along a small box of books provided through TGCIO’s Packing Hope. He recalls the African pastors who traveled three days to reach him. They opened the box and wept at the sight of its contents. He saw a pastor’s shelf of ministry resources that consisted entirely of tracts from a mission agency. Heitland returned home with a burden to help pastors in need of theological support. 

“Remoteness is a challenge,” he says. “In Nepal, Christians are scattered among mountainous areas, and it can take a day through muddy roads to get to a village.” 

ES4M trains 40 pastors at each session at SARA Church. Attendees commit to making short- and long-term plans to share their training with others—family, friends, community, and church members. 

Before the end of a recent training course, the ES4M team handed each pastor two John Piper books provided through the efforts of TGCIO. The fully-funded Packing Hope projects were published in the Nepalese language and printed by a Christian partner in Kathmandu for easy and affordable access. 

Christ-exalting Truths

The trainees received Piper’s Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die and The Dangerous Duty of Delight. The first book shows God’s purposes in sending his Son to die, with the “reasons” serving as springboards for pastors to provide a wealth of solid teaching to their congregations—as well as foundational truths for evangelism. In the second book, Piper shows from Scripture that a Christian’s ultimate satisfaction is found in Christ and how this perspective changes our attitude about everything.

SARA Church Lead Pastor Tej says having these books in their language is great for spiritual nourishment and growth. His brother, associate pastor Karna, adds that other theological books they can find are mostly large textbooks, “and some of these do not even cite Bible verses. Having smaller resources that can be used to grow the believer is important.”

Another fully-funded TGC-IO Nepali project is also printed in Kathmandu. Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ looks at the Jesus of Scripture to impart “a spiritual beauty that speaks directly to our souls and says, ‘Yes, this is truth.’” 

All of these biblically-sound resources—ready and waiting—will benefit Nepal’s first-generation believers.  

Photos courtesy of Michael Heitland. Read more of Michael Heitland’s mission dispatches by visiting

by Patti Richter at December 10, 2014 06:03 AM

Serving a Generation in Search of Meaningful Work

Gregory W. Carmer serves as the dean of Christian life and theologian in residence at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He also directs the Christian Vocation Institute, a collection of programs, including the Elijah Project, which helps students explore the theological underpinnings and practical out-workings of vocation. Prior to assuming his current responsibilities, he served as the dean of chapel, and director of service-learning and missions. He was mentored into campus ministry while serving on staff with the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1986 to 1990. Greg holds a MA and PhD in philosophical theology from Boston College; his dissertation focused on theological rationality and the philosophy of science. He is also a graduate of Spring Arbor College. In early evening hours, he may frequently be found strolling along the Atlantic shore of Beverly, Massachusetts, with his wife, Laura.

How do you describe your work?

I spend about a quarter of my time working directly with a small group of honors students in a program called The Elijah Project, in which they consider issues like vocation, identity, and responsibility. I also run a weekly lecture series, Convocation, on Fridays. The rest of my time is spent working with faculty, as we grapple with what it means for faith to deeply influence our scholarship and teaching in ways that go beyond the mere delivery of content to our students.

How do you integrate vocational development into the students’ learning?

Sometimes we do it quite explicitly. For example, in their first year, students take a course called “The Great Conversation,” which touches on issues of calling and vocation. As they progress in their studies, though, it frames their studies in a less obvious, but nonetheless powerful way. We always want our students to be asking questions about opportunity and responsibility, wisdom and discernment, and engagement and service.

As a practical matter, our students do summer internships to their academic learning with their vocational exploration. Last summer, for example, one student did art therapy in Niger, another worked in Mississippi doing rural development, and another spent time in Romania working with youth in a community development organization.

How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?

At a micro level, I see it in the lives of individual students. Even academically sharp and competitive students are often wrestling with big things personally—broken relationships, latent eating disorders, mild mental health issues, and physical illnesses.

At a macro level, I see it in the world into which our students enter. This generation of students are entering a world full of potential but also racked with enormous challenges and brokenness. It will be up to them to form creative responses to massive environmental degradation, escalating class divisions, radicalized religion and dysfunctional government, in addition to sorting through ethical concerns related to advances in genetic medicine and human-machine hybridization and sharing of common global resources.   

In the middle of those two levels, I also see the brokenness in the university system itself. Rather than being a place that holds things together—that is, a university—we too often work in silos, creating a structural impediment to students seeking to gain a clear and coherent sense of who they are and what the world is about. We too often ask them to master content separately without rewarding integrative thinking.  

How do you see your work reflecting the work that God is doing in the world?

I seek to participate in cultural development by restoring and co-creating, as well as healing what’s broken and confronting distortions. I also want to be a hopeful witness to a different reality and future, so that my students better understand their world, imagine how they might connect with it, and be liberated from any wrong belief patterns that may limit their experience of God’s grace. I’ve actually found that most students of this generation want meaningful work. And they have a diffused sense of “doing good” that isn’t limited to faith-based nonprofits. These are encouraging developments to me.

Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.

by Bethany Jenkins at December 10, 2014 06:01 AM

Romantic Love Is Not Enough

I love my wife. She’s a remarkable, godly, and wonderful woman. I am thrilled to be married to her and to have spent these last ten years growing together. To expect her to meet all of my relational needs, however, would be incredibly unfair to her. Romantic love is a wonderful gift from God, but all of our relational needs cannot be met in one relationship. We need more than romantic love to be happy.

There are loads of clichés about love. “Love is all we need." "I married my best friend.” Songs invite couples into an “us against the world” mentality. But these clichés are misleading and will ultimately damage relationships. Romantic love serves a wonderful purpose, but it cannot do more than it was designed to do. It cannot replace the important role of other friendships.

We Need the Love of Friends: Five Reasons

At least five reasons ground my claim that romantic love is insufficient for a fulfilled life.

1. Marital relationships exist for something beyond themselves. Marriage is not meant to be a self-contained reality. In his article "Marriage for the Common Good," James K. A. Smith writes beautifully of the inherent selfishness of our modern conception of marriage:

Indeed, the myths we load into weddings almost doom marriages to fail. Weddings are centered around the romantic “coupling” of two star-crossed lovers, as if marriage was an extended exercise of staring deep into one another’s eyes—with benefits. But even then, my spouse is one who sees me, will meet my needs, will fulfill my wants, will “complete me.” Even our romantic coupling becomes a form of self-love. 

Too often, we reduce romantic love to self-interest. The spousal relationship is viewed, in this conception, as a whole community unto itself. But this reduces marriage to something far less significant, far less biblical. Smith proposes “households” instead of these idealized marriages. He writes:

“Householding” is crucial for social architecture, for it is in such families that we incubate not just love for one another, but love of God and neighbor, pushing out the door in pursuit of the common good. If we want to raise up a generation passionate about the common good, perhaps we should say “No” to the dress—and all of the spectacular trappings of Wedding, Inc.—and instead plan for a marriage with open doors, honest in its vulnerability, even eagerly dependent. “There ain’t no shame in reaching out for a friend.”

This is the model that the Bible gives us when it speaks of marriage as a symbol of the gospel. The union of a husband and wife is meant to speak to the beauty of Christ’s love for the church. How can it do this in isolation from the rest of the world? Marriage must exist for the greater good; it must exist for something beyond itself.

2. We are complicated individuals who need a diversity of relationships. To expect my spouse to meet all my relational needs is to expect her to be more than who she really is. She cannot share all my interests and hobbies. She can pretend to be interested in that sociological study I read, and I appreciate her efforts. But we all know the difference between genuine interest in a subject and more general interest in a person. My wife honors my interests, but she can’t enjoy them all. And I don’t need her to enjoy them all. I love her for who she is, and I love other people for who they are. 

3. Our spouses can’t teach us everything we need to know. This is blatantly obvious about marriage. We may often recognize the importance of spending time with couples who have more years behind their marriage, because obviously my spouse and I can’t teach each other everything about what it means to be married. We need the insights of people who have gone before us. This is also true about the wide swath of human, intellectual, theological, and professional experiences. As valuable as my wife is, and as brilliant as she is, her experiences and training are limited, as are mine. If she wants to learn how to be growing and diverse human being, she needs to interact with people beyond me.

4. There are certain things we simply can’t communicate with spouses. Most of us know this with regard to correction. There are certain things that my friends can say to me that tend to become grating and frustrating when they come from my wife. We do not receive some forms of criticism well when it comes from our spouses. Perhaps this is sinful. Perhaps it is owing to the sensitivity of our relationships. We need others who can come alongside us and help us grow through difficulties and failures. We also recognize that certain sin struggles need to be dealt with apart from the constant involvement of our spouses. A husband or wife who struggles with lust should not constantly share with his spouse his temptations and struggles in this area. Such a bombardment of information will discourage a spouse and weaken a relationship. There is a place for such confessions, but we should not rely solely on our spouses to help us with all our spiritual problems. They shouldn't have to handle that weight.

5. God has designed us to need friendships. The church is the clearest example of this truth. The church is a collective body of believers who love one another, bear one another’s burdens, instruct one another, and rebuke one another. The church is God’s ideal for human relationships. The church is his vision for transforming the world. Marriage is important, and God speaks highly of it. But it is the church that will exist into eternity, not marriage (Matt. 22:30). Jesus calls the church his bride, yes, but he also calls the church his friends (John 15:15). God has designed us to need friends, to be friends, to rely on friends. Romantic love is not enough.

Our celebration of marriage is a good thing, but it can easily become an idolatrous thing. It can be overemphasized. It can be made some unrealistic ideal for all people. It can be valued to such a degree that we lose sight of the significant importance and role of friendship. Romantic love is great, but we need more than romantic love to be healthy, growing, people.

by Dave Dunham at December 10, 2014 06:01 AM

How God Changes Hearts Through Open Adoption

I wanted to hold her in contempt, secretly inside my heart. Suddenly, I was responsible for her beautiful child's full-time care, and as I looked at him, all I could think was, Who could wrong a precious child in such a way? And as I was caring for him and trying to comfort him in his sleepless nights, amid an abundance of night terrors, I wanted someone to blame. The blame fell on her.

This child wasn't able to speak more than a handful of words, hadn't been exposed to enough sunlight, and couldn't walk well from always being pinned in. All he knew was darkness, small spaces, and neglect. Now I had the task of caring for him and helping him heal. It was probably the hardest job I had ever undertaken.

I was a Christian, so I knew I could not withold forgiveness from his mother. But I held my deep grudge anyway. No one could see this hidden contempt. Yet God sees all things. And God had a plan to start working the anger and bitterness out of my heart. He had a greater plan for healing. When the Holy Spirit indwells us, he never leaves us the same.

I Am a Mess Too  

Our job was simple: care for this child while his birth parents got their life back in order. As we entered the mess of their lives, more things came to light that made me harbor an even deeper bitterness. Yet God was also showing me the deep mess in my own heart. We are all messy, sinful in different ways. We are all desperate for a Savior.

I was not better than this child's mother; I had only received grace that prevented me from making the same choices. Only grace kept me from falling into the same lifestyle. I had my own sin that God was uprooting from the depths of my heart. But we serve a God who takes hearts of stone and makes them into hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:26), a God who searches hearts and makes them clean (Ps. 51:10). As we behold him, he changes us more and more into his image (2 Cor. 3:18). Our God is the redeemer and healer.

There are children who do not learn to trust, children who fail to learn the basic skill of attachment because those who were meant to be trusted are found wanting. This child struggled to attach to anyone. He resisted it with force. Rejection is a scary thing, and this little guy knew its pain. When we encounter those who resist love, we must continue to pursue in the example of Christ, the ultimate pursuer of the broken. He pursued to the point of laying down his life so we could be secure.

God's Agents of Change 

We are reluctant to leave our mess when it is all we know. Only when a greater enticement comes along will we be moved to change. I was trying to force this child to attach. I knew it was painful for him. As I held him close to my chest, I would stroke his cheek and speak Scripture and words of comfort to him. He would thrash. He would not make eye contact. Over time, he began to relax in my arms. He came to cherish this time. Watching this healing take place was a sweet miracle. It was painful for both of us, but those who have been rejected need to know that someone will enter into the mess and love us stubbornly to bring healing. God uses his people as agents of change to show that he is the ultimate source of trust and security.

This is what happened with us and our son's birth parents; that contempt I felt early in the process started to slowly dissipate. As we kept our eyes on Jesus and remembered what he had already done on our behalf, we were able to forgive. Through this process, my contempt actually grew into real love. We have a mutual goal together, a desire to see a young man grow into who God would have him be.

Lessons Learned 

In this process, I learned that many are different from me but no one is ever beneath me. Despite a person's circumstances, God, the healer of broken, sinful hearts, can redeem anyone he chooses. He is the pursuer and lover who continually pours out his grace. We can follow his example to do the same because his kindness brings forth repentance, not shame or intimidation (Rom. 2:4). You never know what that stubborn love will do. After all, love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).

One day when Christ's kingdom comes in all its fullness the Savior will clean up all our relational messes. So in the meantime love stubbornly as you remember what Christ did for you. God can redeem those seemingly hopeless situations for his glory.

We have an open adoption in which we work together with the birth parents of this child created in the image of God. Forgiveness has taken root. Love has replaced contempt. Competition and jealousy have ceased because of the blood of Christ. Do we struggle in these areas at times? Of course we do, but the overall pattern of behavior is a beautiful testimony to his grace. We are thankful, and we pray the life of one little boy is better for that environment of love and grace.

by Angela Parsley at December 10, 2014 06:01 AM

Expositional Preaching

David Helm. Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 128 pp. $14.99.

Preaching is, in a number of ways, a bit like driving. In our early days we are conscious of the serious responsibility of making sure we do it well: lives are at stake. We are conscientious in sticking to the rules we have been taught.

But over time bad habits can begin to form, often subconsciously. We find that we need to do things a little more quickly than the rules allow (we justify this as being more efficient). We are less conscious of the responsibility we carry, and more conscious of just needing to arrive at our destination. We might have the occasional near miss. But even this we can assume was their fault. The truth only really dawns if we’re pulled over by the police. There is no mistaking it; we have now officially become sloppy drivers.

Inasmuch as this can be true of preaching as well as driving, it’s vital for us to realize where we’ve become sloppy or blasé in our preparation. This might happen through a thoughtful colleague or church member who gives us feedback. Or it may be that we need to read David Helm’s recent book on preaching.

Blue Flashing Lights

At its heart, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is a wonderful primer on preaching. A new installment in 9Marks’s Building Healthy Churches series, the book doesn’t say everything that could usefully be said, but it outlines the essentials better than anything else I’ve read. This will now top the list of books I recommend for new and younger preachers.

But it’s also hugely helpful for the experienced preacher. If, like me, you are tempted to think you do not need a primer on the basics, then this is likely a book you very much need to read. I started reading Expositional Preaching thinking it would be good to know so that I could pass it on to others. I’ve been preaching expositional sermons most Sundays for more than 10 years. But what I expected to be a bit of a pat on the head turned out instead to be the equivalent of blue flashing lights in the rearview mirror. I was being shown that I’d allowed bad habits to creep into my preaching.

Drunks and Melodies

Top of the list of these for me is where Helm, pastor of the Hyde Park congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, begins. The book has four main chapters, and the first is where many (most?) of us instinctively want to begin as preachers: contextualization. We want to say something that feels relevant and powerful to our churches. We want our sermons to have an effect. Yes, and amen. But the danger is when we rush through our exegesis in order to get to the gritty application. We simply don’t spend enough quality time with the passage, just us and the text. And at our worst, we become the subject of Helm’s version of Andrew Lang’s famous quip: “Some preachers use the Bible in the way a drunk uses a lamppost—more for support than for illumination.” The fact is that our sermons can only have relevance and power if they are faithful to the biblical text itself. The part we easily skip over is that very part that fuels the power and relevance of our sermon: the meaning the biblical author intended.

The next section (“Exegesis”) is a wonderful and succinct overview of how we can get to the purpose of the text. As a British reader, it was gratifying to see Helm acknowledge the influence of Dick Lucas at a number of points. Lucas is well known to many in the UK as one of the great elder statesmen of expositional preaching (more commonly known as “expository preaching” in the UK). Through a long ministry at St. Helen’s in London and preaching conferences through The Proclamation Trust, Lucas has helped preachers get to the heart of a passage’s meaning. Talking about the text is not the same thing as faithfully preaching it. Helm shows us how we need to allow the context, structure, and emphasis of a text to shape how we arrive at its meaning. A gem is when he shows us Lucas’s principle of finding the “melodic line” of the book we’re preaching and understanding our passage in the light of this line.

The next two sections deal with “Theological Reflection” (seeing the message of the text in the light of the rest of the Bible and in the light of the gospel) and “Today” (drawing our insights together into a clear, applied sermon that will serve the congregation). Throughout, Helm peppers his writing with practical insights and asides. We’re reminded that “the great preachers are the clear ones,” and of how our congregations don’t exist to serve our word ministry (it’s the other way round).

Hone Your Craft

Throughout it all, Helm draws self-deprecatingly on examples from his own preaching where he’s made mistakes. This not only illustrates the points he’s making, but it assures us he’s improved by learning from such mistakes, which is encouragement indeed to flawed preachers like me.

We are blessed in these days to have many fine books on preaching. We are spoiled for choice. I’ve always tried to make it a habit to read at least one book on preaching each year (some years just happily re-reading John Stott’s classic Between Two Worlds). In recent years, to keep up with the stream of goodies coming our way, I’ve made it three or four. Mindful of such choice, Helm still deserves to be read by every preacher. It is short and punchy. It reminds us of what matters most. Those starting out will find few better introductions to the craft, and those more experienced will long to do it better. And, above all, Helm makes his principal point passionately and convincingly: through faithful expositional preaching we can speak God’s Word today.

by Sam Allberry at December 10, 2014 06:01 AM

Outsourced Bits

Applied Crypto Highlights: Restricted Oblivious RAMs and Hidden Volume Encryption


This is the first in a series of guest posts highlighting new research in applied cryptography. This post is written by Travis Mayberry from Northeastern University. Note that Travis is graduating this year and will be on the job market.

ORAM Background

Oblivious RAM is a very hot research topic right now. As Seny has written about here, it can be used to perform searches over outsourced encrypted data while maintaining the highest possible levels of security against a malicious storage provider. As noted in that post, however, in exchange for this security it imposes a very significant overhead on the client. In contrast, searchable encryption gives us almost as much security at a much lower cost. So, why should we care about ORAM then, and why is it so interesting to researchers right now? In this post I’m going to attempt to answer that question as well as highlight some advances in ORAM efficiency that I recently presented at CCS and a few interesting applications for it that you may not have seen.

Broadly, the answer to my question above is that the security you give up for improved efficiency might not be acceptable. The motivating example I usually give is one of a hospital that wants to outsource its patient records to the cloud. Of course, they are concerned about patient privacy and so they encrypt those records to prevent the cloud provider from learning sensitive information from those records. Unfortunately, beyond the data itself, a careful adversary can learn a lot of sensitive information from where, when and how often a client accesses their data. In this case, if the provider sees that a cancer doctor has accessed my records, they will learn that I have (or at least suspect I have) cancer, regardless of whether they can decrypt my actual records or not. The most dangerous aspect of these types of attacks is that they are cumulative. An adversary may learn only a small amount from any one access, but over time they can aggregate everything that they have seen with any side knowledge of the client they might have to reveal a surprising amount of sensitive information. With more data being outsourced to the cloud every day, this becomes a bigger and bigger problem.

Here is, of course, where Oblivious RAM comes in. Remember that ORAM can be used for secure searching, but it is actually a very general tool that can hide any access pattern a user wishes to perform from the server it is performing it on. An ORAM scheme provides an interface {(\mathsf{Read}, \mathsf{Write})}, which guarantees that the addresses a client reads and writes to are hidden from the server. Specifically, given any two sequences of accesses {S_0} and {S_1}, and a random bit {b \xleftarrow{\$} \{0,1\}}, there should not exist any probabilistic polynomial time adversary {\mathcal{A}} such that {\mathcal{A}(\mathsf{ORAM}(S_b)) \rightarrow b} with probability non-negligibly greater than {1/2}. Here we use {\mathsf{ORAM}(S_b)} to signify the series of accesses performed on the server by the ORAM algorithm when running {S_b}.

This is accomplished by continually shuffling and refreshing the data on the server so that each individual access is indistinguishable from random. Again, refer to the previous post for a good example of how an ORAM works, but there are a few things worth restating:

  1. ORAMs are highly stateful. Every read and write operation will change the data structure on the server, and every subsequent operation will depend on the current state of the storage device. This often means that the client has to keep additional auxiliary information beyond long-term secrets in order to correctly access the data on the server. We refer to this as the client memory
  2. Each access the client performs will require more than one (oftem many more) “raw” accesses on the storage device. This is a consequence of the fact that the client must hide which block of data they are actually interested in.

Efficiency: The main property which we evaluate ORAM algorithms on is their communication efficiency. For every operation the ORAM performs, how much data must be transferred to and from the server? This is very important for cloud scenarios because communication overhead translates directly to cost. Efficiency is expressed in terms of the number of blocks in the data store, {n}, and the size of each block {B}. Usually, however, {B} is left out and the cost is expressed as a multiple of {B}. This gives an intuitive notion of “overhead” compared to a normal access, which simply costs {B} communication. Additionally, we must consider the amount of client memory that a scheme requires. If the client needs a huge amount of memory then it would be counterproductive in a scenario meant specifically to alleviate the client’s storage burden.

Existing work: As I alluded to before, there has been a flurry of research lately on ORAM. The two most notable papers have been by Shi et al. [SCSL11] and Stefanov et al. [SDS+13]. The first paper introduced a new paradigm for ORAMs, constructing a data structure with a binary tree where each node is itself a smaller Oblivious RAM. This has inspired much of the subsequent research, and it would require its own post to do it justice, but suffice it to say that they achieve overhead of {O(\log^3{n})} with only {O(1)} client memory. Stefanov et al. introduced an improved tree construction with {O(\log^2{n})} efficiency and {O(\log{n})} client memory. Additionally, in a later revision of the paper, they were able to introduce a tweak which reduces the overhead of both schemes by a {O(\log{n})} factor. This, finally, gives us a scheme with constant memory and {O(\log^2{n})} overhead, and one with higher, logarithmic memory but only {O(\log{n})} overhead. In terms of efficiency, Path ORAM represents the state of the art for Oblivious RAM.

Write-only ORAM construction

Although tree-based ORAMs provide drastically improved efficiency over more traditional hierarchical or square-root schemes, they still impose a non-trivial overhead that makes many applications cost-prohibitive. As a simple reference, setting {n=2^{20}} (a modestly sized database) in Path ORAM induces an overhead of at least 80x, and potentially much more depending on the size of {B} and the security parameter. There is little known about ORAM lower bounds, but it has been shown that under certain conditions the best you can do is an overhead of {\Omega(\log{n})}[Goldreich87]. While there are some rather large loopholes in that proof, such as the requirement that the client have {O(1)} memory and the memory blocks be all of equal size, this level of overhead seems unavoidable when using a tree-based scheme simpy because the height of the tree will be {O(\log{n})}.

It is interesting, then, to consider whether a more restricted Oblivious RAM might achieve better efficiency. Consider an ORAM which attempts to hide not read and write accesses, but writes alone. Suppose for the time being that there is an alternative, secure way for the client to read from the storage device, and it only wants to hide updates. It turns out that this goal is achievable in a rather simple way that induces only {O(1)} overhead!

Setup: To start with, we initialize an array of size {2n} on the storage device to hold {n} logical blocks of data. Every location is initially empty, and the client has a local data structure which maps a logical block ID in the range {[0,n)} to a storage location in the range {[0, 2n)}. This way, the client always knows which location a block is in if they want to retrieve it.

Write{(id, data)}: Every write operation starts by choosing {k} unique positions in the array uniformly at random, {P = \{p_0, ..., p_k\}}. Since there are {2n} “slots’ for only {n} real blocks, if we choose {k} to be moderately large we will be guaranteed that for at least one {i \leq k}, {p_i} will be empty. The client then picks one of these empty blocks and writes {data} into it, reencrypting all blocks in {P} that are full already, and writing random strings into the free blocks of {P} that were not used. Finally, the client updates their map data structure so that the record for {id} points to the new location. The old location of that block will still hang around, with “stale” data in it, but if it is ever chosen again in a set {P} it will be considered free for the purposes of storing new data. In that way, we avoid having to touch the existing location of a block when we are updating its value, leading to more efficient hiding of the access pattern.

Security for this scheme follows from the security of the encryption. If it is indistinguishable from random (IND$-CPA), then the adversary sees {k} random blocks being filled with random strings. Since everything is independent of the IDs which the client is actually writing to, the access pattern is completely hidden from the server.

Efficiency: While we can achieve communication overhead of {O(1)} with the above scheme, there are two problems still 1) the map structure on the client is very large ({O(n \log{n})}) and 2) {k} needs to be rather large to guarantee an empty block is found. The first issue can be neatly solved by storing the map itself in an ORAM, recursively. This is a relatively common technique, and with a trick from [SDS+13], we can guarantee that this will induce only an {O(1)} overhead.

On the other hand, as described above, {k} needs to be {\Omega(\lambda)} where {\lambda} is the security parameter. Since any block chosen randomly has probability {1/2} to be empty, to make the failure probability {O(2^{-\lambda})}, one must set {k=\Omega(\lambda)}. Fortunately, we can take advantage of the fact that, although failure rate is only low enough when {k} is large, the expected number of empty blocks that the client will find is actually {k/2}. Instead of giving up when we don’t find an empty block, we can store a stash of blocks on the client which did not make it into the array, and when we find more than one empty block we can write out extras from the stash. This allows us to set {k=3} and, with some queueing theory analysis, maintain a stash of size {O(\lambda) = \Theta(\log n)}.

In conclusion, we can achieve write-only secure Oblivious RAM with only {O(1)} overhead, and in practice very small constants. This allows fully practical use of ORAM for the first time ever, in a reduced set of use cases.

Uses for write-only ORAM

Okay, so we have this write-only ORAM that is pretty efficient, but what does that really get us? In the example I gave above, you clearly need both reading and writing. Well, this idea is very new, but I do have a few ideas. If you want to write a lot more than you read, but still occasionally do some reads, then you can do something like is suggested in [LD13] and actually use PIR to independently read from the database. Of course, PIR is very inefficient, but if your writes outnumber your reads by orders of magnitude, then the savings from more efficient ORAM may outweight the inefficient PIR. This could be useful in data warehousing situations where you need to store files in case they are needed in the future, but the vast majority of them will not be needed.

A more useful, and practical situation would be for online backup or mirroring services. Consider Dropbox for example. Each client has a local copy of the storage device, so when they read from it Dropbox does not get to see these accesses. When they write, however, the client pushes the changes to the server, which then distributes them to the other clients. The adversary in this scenario is effectively “write-only”. Using this ORAM, you could have access pattern protection on Dropbox now at very little cost.

I leave the most interesting case for the end, of course. Think about encrypted hard disks. A common scenario is that a user wishes to encrypt their so that if their machine is ever lost of stolen, sensitive information on it cannot be retrieved without the encryption key. Just as in the case above, it might be that you leak more information than you think just through the access pattern you induce on your hard drive, and not the encrypted data itself. Particularly, if an adversary is able to compromise your disk on more than one occassion (every night when you leave your computer at your desk, for instance).

Hidden volume encryption

Now, I know this sounds really paranoid, but stay with me because it is pretty interesting. There is also a notion of “hidden volume” encryption, introduced by TrueCrypt. With this type of encryption, a user can have not one encrypted volume on their disk, but two. The second volume lives on the portions of the disk which are marked “free” on the first volume. This allows for a user to actually deny that this second volume even exists. Why would you want to do that? Imagine someone compromises your machine. They know that you have something encrypted on there, so they coerce you (through legal or maybe not so legal means) into revealing your password. If you have all of your really secret information stored on your hidden volume, you can safely give up the key to the outer volume and they will have no way of knowing whether you have any further information to give up or not. If the coersion you are facing is of a legal sort, they probably can’t continue to pressure you with absolutely no proof that you have any more information to give up at all. If it is of the less legal variety, then it might help you, depending on the incentives that they have to keep torturing you. There has been some game theory analysis of the situation, but it does not cover many situations.

Getting back to Oblivious RAM, the hidden volume approach that is incorporated into TrueCrypt fails spectacularly when someone has access to your machine on more than one occasion. It becomes obvious that the client is writing into a hidden volume when the adversary sees a “free” area spontaneously and repeatedly changing its value. The key weakness here is that the main volume and hidden volume are neatly separated from each other, and writing into a certain location reliably is a dead giveaway of the existence of another volume.

Fortunately, hiding access patterns is what ORAM was designed for. And, as I said before, hard drives require just “write-only” security, meaning that we can use our new, optimally efficient construction. Reference our CCS paper for the full details, or my talk at MSR, but the idea is fairly straightforward. The user initializes a number of different ORAMs on the disk, one for every potential volume that they might be using. They choose this number sufficiently larger than the number of volumes that they want to actually use, so that there is some uncertainty as to exactly how many are really being used. For instance, I could choose a maximum of 10 but only use 4. The goal is that, the user can give up {i < max} passwords, and an adversary should not be able to guess whether there is another volume greater than {i} in use, or if {i} is the last volume.

Every access, the user writes to the volume that they want to actually change, and they do a “dummy” operation on the other volumes, which looks identical to a real operation but does not change anything. So, upon compromising the machine, an adversary sees the number of operations that have been done, but not which volumes they were on. There are some subtleties that you will have to read the full paper for, but any access pattern that may have given away the existence of a hidden volume is effectively protected by the ORAM.

It is also worth noting, as a cautionary tale, that our original implementation made unfortunate use of RC4 for random number generation. We underestimated the existing attacks that were possible on RC4, and even though we used the “drop first bits” variation, Paterson and Strefler were able to show [PS14] that our implementation was vulnerable to an attack which revealed the existence of hidden volumes. Fortunately, this is not a problem with our protocol, just the implementation, and we were able to make a small fix in the code (changing to AES-CTR for RNG) which has since been done and posted to our website.


Hopefully I have convinced you at this point that Oblivious RAM is an interesting cryptographic primitive, and that it is on the verge of being practical in some key situations. When it comes down to it, if you don’t think that access pattern security is an issue, then the extra cost associated with ORAM will never be worth it to you. But if you are worried about adversaries that could aggregate accesses and potentially learn critical private information, then I highly encourage you to keep an eye on future research in the area.

by senykam at December 10, 2014 04:41 AM

Caelum Et Terra

Only in America…

…would this guy:


… be considered more of a threat than these guys:


by Daniel Nichols at December 10, 2014 02:34 AM

Jon Udell

Why shouting won’t help you talk to a person with hearing loss

I’ve written a few posts [1, 2] about my mom’s use of a reading machine to compensate for macular degeneration, and I made a video that shows the optimal strategy for using the machine. We’re past the point where she can get any benefit from the gadget, though. She needs such extreme magnification that it’s just not worth it any more.

So she’s more dependent than ever on her hearing. Sadly her hearing loss is nearly as profound as her vision loss, and hearing aids can’t compensate as well as we wish. She’s still getting good mileage out of audiobooks, and also podcasts which she listens to on MP3 players that I load up and send her. The clear and well-modulated voice of a single speaker, delivered through headphones that block out other sound, works well for her. But in real-world situations there are often several voices, not clear or well-modulated, coming from different parts of the room and competing with other ambient noise. She depends on hearing aids but as good as they’ve gotten, they can’t yet isolate and clarify those kinds of voices.

One of the best ways to communicate with my mom is to speak to her on the phone. That puts the voice directly in her ear while the phone blocks other sounds. And here’s a pro tip I got from the audiologist I visited today. If she removes the opposite hearing aid, she’ll cut down on ambient noise in the non-conversational ear.

In person, the same principle applies. Put the voice right into her ear. If I lean in and speak directly into her ear, I can speak in a normal voice and she can understand me pretty well. It’s been hard to get others to understand and apply that principle, though. People tend to shout from across the room or even from a few feet away. Those sounds don’t come through as clearly as sounds delivered much more softly directly into the ear. And shouting just amps up the stress in the room, which nobody needs.

Lately, though, the voice-in-the-ear strategy — whether on the phone or in person — had been failing us. We had thought maybe the hearing aids needed be cleaned, but that wasn’t the problem. She’s been accidentally turning down the volume! There’s a button on each hearing aid that you tap to cycle through the volume settings. I don’t think mom understood that, and I know she can’t sense if she touches the button while reseating the device with her finger. To compound the problem, the button’s action defaults to volume reduction. If it went the other way she might have been more likely to notice an accidental change. But really, given that she’s also losing dexterity, the volume control is just a useless affordance for her.

Today’s visit to the audiologist nailed the problem. When he hooked the hearing aids up to his computer and read their logs(!), we could see they’d often been running at reduced volume. On her last visit he’d set them to boot up at a level we’ll call 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. That’s the level he’d determined was best for her. He’d already had an inkling of what could go wrong, because on that visit he’d disabled the button on the left hearing aid. Now both are disabled, and the setting will stick to 3 unless we need to raise it permanently.

Solving that problem will help matters, but hearing aids can only do so much. The audiologist’s digital toolkit includes a simulator that enabled us to hear a pre-recorded sample voice the way my mom hears it. That was rather shocking. The unaltered voice was loud and clear. Then he activated mom’s profile, and the voice faded so low I thought it was gone completely. I had to put my ear right next to the computer’s speaker to hear it at all, and then it was only a low murmur. When there aren’t many hair cells doing their job in the inner ear, it takes a lot of energy to activate the few that still work, and it’s hard apply that energy with finesse.

I’m sure we’ll find ways to compensate more effectively. That won’t happen soon enough for my mom, though. I wonder if the audiologist’s simulator might play a useful role in the meantime. When we speak to a person with major hearing loss we don’t get any feedback about how we’re being heard. It’s easy to imagine a device that would record a range of speech samples, from shouting at a microphone from across the room to shouting at it from a few feet away to speaking softly directly into it. Then the gadget would play those sounds back two ways: first unaltered, then filtered through the listener’s hearing-loss profile. Maybe that would help people realize that shouting doesn’t help, but proper positioning does.

by Jon Udell at December 10, 2014 02:04 AM

Nicholas Nethercote

Better documentation for memory profiling and leak detection tools

Until recently, the documentation for all of Mozilla’s memory profiling and leak detection tools had some major problems.

  • It was scattered across MDN, the Mozilla Wiki, and the Mozilla archive site (yes, really).
  • Documentation for several tools was spread across multiple pages.
  • Documentation for some tools was meagre, non-existent, or overly verbose.
  • Some of the documentation was out of date, e.g. describing tools that no longer exist.

A little while back I fixed these problems.

  • The documentation for these tools is now all on MDN. If you look at the MDN Performance page in the “Memory profiling and leak detection tools” section, you’ll see a brief description of each tool that explains the circumstances in which it is useful, and a link to the relevant documentation.
  • The full list of documented tools includes: about:memory, DMD,, BloatView, Refcount tracing and balancing, GC and CC logs, Valgrind, LeakSanitizer, Apple tools, TraceMalloc, Leak Gauge, and LogAlloc.
  • As well as consolidating all the pages in one place, I also improved some of the pages (with the help of people like Andrew McCreight). In particular, about:memory now has reasonably detailed documentation, something it has lacked until now.

Please take a look, and if you see any problems let me know. Or, if you’re feeling confident just fix things yourself! Thanks.

by Nicholas Nethercote at December 10, 2014 01:59 AM

The Brooks Review

∞ Holiday Wallpaper

A little holiday wallpaper for you.

Download full sized image here.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at December 10, 2014 12:10 AM

December 09, 2014


5 Best Reformedish Books of 2014

The year of our Lord 2014 has been a great year of reading for me. I can only think of a couple of duds in the pile of books I’ve had the fortune of getting my hands on and cruising through. This means one thing: picking this year’s Top Reformedish books of 2014 was a difficult task. There were a great number that I thought of and considered for this. As it happened, though, there were a few standouts I would like to highlight and commend to you for your reading pleasure and edification.

A couple of notes before I proceed, though.

First, I am not including Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics here simply because I have an article coming out on it later this month, and because it sits in a category all by itself. It is not a book of 2014. It is a work that transcends the years and decades.

Second, it just so happens that all of the books I’m highlighting I have actually already reviewed. Where relevant, I will simply note, excerpt, and forgo any more summary.

Finally, this list is not in any particular order. I am a notoriously bad ranker and decision-maker. Just ask my wife.

faith speaking understanding1. Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer. I’ve reviewed Vanhoozer’s book at The Gospel Coalition. This is some of what I said:

Let me put it this way: if Drama of Doctrine and Remythologizing Theology had a child, it would be Faith Speaking Understanding. Though intended as a briefer, less intimidating introduction to and practical application of his theodramatic theology for pastors and serious students, it isn’t a mere rehash of the last two works. As Vanhoozer explains, Faith Speaking Understanding is “an upstart sibling with a swagger of its own, namely a full-fledged proposal for the role of theology in the church’s task of making disciples” (xv).

Swagger it may have, but it’s swagger mediated through Vanhoozer’s inimitable style, irenic tone, and jovial spirit. Vanhoozer’s prose is a joy to read—a seamless movement between biblical and theological reflection (as evidenced by the extensive and helpful indexes of Scripture and theology) that is robustly catholic and winsomely evangelical.

calvin2. Calvin on the Christian Life by Michael Horton. I also reviewed this for The Gospel Coalition. Here’s what I said there:

In the history of the church, particularly its Western Protestant wing, few theological lights shine brighter than John Calvin’s. The Reformer par excellence, he stands out for his theological acumen, systematic comprehensiveness, and care as a biblical exegete. Beyond Calvin the theologian and biblical scholar, though, there was Calvin the pastor—the man passionately concerned that all of human life be lived before God (coram Deo) and in light of the gospel. Though it’s often presented this way in history textbooks, the Reformation wasn’t simply an academic theological debate about justification and the thoughts we think on a Sunday morning, but rather a total restructuring of Christian life and practice. It was about, as James K.A. Smith puts it, the “sanctification of ordinary life.” For that reason Calvin was concerned not only with teaching doctrine, but also with the life of piety flowing from that doctrine.

This is the Calvin that theologian and Westminster Seminary (California) professor Michael Horton introduces us to in his new volume on Calvin and the Christian Life. With an engaging blend of biography, theology, and commentary, and with copious reference to Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries, tracts, and key secondary literature, Horton takes us on a whirlwind tour through the Reformer’s thought as a whole.

age of atheists3. The Age of Atheists by Peter Watson. There’s a bit of a theme here in that I also reviewed this for The Gospel Coalition. Here’s what I said there:

In The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God Peter Watson hopes to change the narrative by pushing back on Taylor’s impoverishment thesis. In this massive and thoroughly entrancing work of intellectual and cultural history, the prolific London-based author aims to recount hitherto-untold drama of the multifarious and rather “thick” ways we’ve tried to “live without God” ever since we discovered his death about 120 years ago.

Beginning with Nietzsche himself, Watson focuses on the lives, stories, and theories of those who haven’t merely lamented the loss of God but pushed through to find meaning—or rather “meanings”—of a more humble sort on the other side. Jumping from Europe to America to the Isles, Watson presents us with a cascading torrent of names (the back cover alone is plastered with them)—whether poet, philosopher, novelist, dancer, psychiatrist, or theologian—all of whom offered visions of life beyond traditional religious belief. The overall effect is to overwhelm you with the wealth of non-theistic options to meaning and fulfillment. To put it bluntly, Watson wants to show us we have more options than glum Dawkinsism or Jesus.

skeletons4. The Skeletons in God’s Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler.  And again, this is one I reviewed at The Gospel Coalition. Here’s some of what I said there:

The Skeletons in God’s Closet has the potential to be a game-changer for a lot of struggling Christians and skeptics. Thoroughly orthodox, Butler also speaks in a language and with the sensibility of someone who can still step out of his Christian shoes to hear, think, and feel the tension from the outside. In a lot of ways, it’s the book Love Wins tried to be but failed due to doctrinal drift. Instead, by helping readers walk through the difficult texts in Scripture, Butler sets out for them a broader vision for the beautiful character of a God who doesn’t give a doctrinal inch. Is it perfect? No. Would I have hit a couple of themes harder, or connected a couple of dots differently? Probably.

Still, Butler has done the church a magnificent service by showing a postmodern world that doctrines like hell and holy war aren’t about a God whose malevolence has to be restrained. Instead, The Skeletons in God’s Closet shows us a God who is good down to his bones, and utterly committed to loving and saving his world in Christ.

crucified king5. Tie: The Crucified King by Jeremy Treat and Atonement, Law, and Justice by Adonis Vidu.  I did not review these two at The Gospel Coalition. Still, I have already talked briefly about these two works here:

On The Crucified King:

In one sense, I found it to be a gravely disappointing book. It’s disappointing because Treat has written the book I wanted to write on the subject. Giving equal attention to biblical theology and systematic categories, Treat reunites what never should have been divorced in much modern theology: kingdom and cross as well as Christus Victor and penal substitution accounts of the atonement.

viduOn Atonement, Law and Justice:

Vidu aims to provide an account of the history of atonement theology down into the present that presents theologians against the background of the various legal and political theories dominant at the time. In this way, we can begin to appreciate better the way these theological concepts shaped and were shaped by their native settings. Five judicious, careful, and lucid chapters are devoted to the descriptive task, focusing on Patristic, Medieval, Reformation, modern, and contemporary periods…What’s more, along the way, he corrects a number of common misunderstandings and caricatures of historic positions.

If I went on to cite runners-up and honorable mentions, we’d be here for a while. It’s been a good year for books. I hope this list finds you in time for you to update your wishlist for last-minute purchases. If not, it ought to give you an idea of how to use your spare gift cash.

Soli Deo Gloria

by Derek Rishmawy at December 09, 2014 11:26 PM

Nicholas Nethercote


I just landed a new container type called mozilla::SegmentedVector in MFBT. It’s similar to nsTArray and mozilla::Vector, but the the element storage is broken into segments rather than being contiguous. This makes it less flexible than those types — currently you can only append elements and iterate over all elements.

Hoever, in cases where those operations suffice, you should strongly consider using it. It uses multiple moderate-sized storage chunks instead of a single large storage chunk, which greatly reduces the likelihood of OOM crashes, especially on Win32 where large chunks of address space can be difficult to find. (See bug 1096624 for a good example; use of a large nsTArray was triggering ~1% of all OOM crashes.) It also avoids the need for repeatedly allocating new buffers and copying existing data into them as it grows.

The declaration is as follows.

template<typename T,
         size_t IdealSegmentSize,
         typename AllocPolicy = MallocAllocPolicy>
class SegmentedVector
  • T is the element type.
  • IdealSegmentSize is the size of each segment, in bytes. It should be a power-of-two (to avoid slop), not too small (so you can fit a reasonable number of elements in each chunk, which keeps the per-segmente book-keeping overhead low) and not too big (so virtual OOM crashes are unlikely). A value like 4,096 or 8,192 or 16,384 is likely to be good.
  • AllocPolicy is the allocation policy. A SegmentedVector can be made infallible by using InfallibleAllocPolicy from mozalloc.h.

If you want to use SegmentedVector but it doesn’t support the operations you need, please talk to me. While it will never be as flexible as a contiguous vector type, there’s definitely scope for adding new operations.

by Nicholas Nethercote at December 09, 2014 11:17 PM

CrossFit 204: Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Workout: Dec. 10, 2014

If you don't see Debbie in classes, go see her at D.A. Niels for some gift ideas!

If you don’t see Debbie in our Legends classes, go see her at D.A. Niels for some gift ideas!

25 minutes: 1 power snatch + 1 full snatch



Row 2 km

Rest 8 minutes

Row 1 km

Rest 4 minutes

Row 500 m

by Mike at December 09, 2014 11:11 PM

CrossFit Naptown

Masters Functional Fitness League

Wednesday’s Workout:

Turkish Get Up Practice and Review
10 Minute As Many Reps As Possible
Turkish Get Ups Right/Left


Workout of the Day:
15 Minute As Many Rounds As Possible
25 Goblet Squats (1.5/1 pood)
25 Russian Swings
25 Front Rack Lunges w/KB


Master’s Functional Fitness League!



Master’s Functional Fitness League – December & January Edition:

When: Friday, December 26th – Monday, January 12th
What: 8 WODs (you only do the workouts you want)
Why: To work out with and compete against those your age.
Where: We will be hosting CFNT Master’s Sessions on two weekends.
• December 27th & 28th
• January 3rd & 4th
*We will be unable to offer sessions the 10th and 11th due to prior engagements*

Get in the game!!! Join the discussion here:
CrossFit NapTown Master’s Facebook Page


How much does it cost?
It’s free to come to CFNT for the Master’s Sessions and do the workouts.
To score for our team and the Central East Region, you must register on the official site: ($25)
(Strongly recommend you register)

Can I win things?
In order to be eligible for overall prizes you must complete all 8 WODs.
-OR- you can just try and win a specific workout and do one WOD.

This is intriguing but I need more convincing…
Email Coach Jared at with further questions. Or ask one of the individuals who took part in the October edition and had a blast doing so.


The October Master's Functional Fitness League participants from CrossFit NapTown

The October Master’s Functional Fitness League participants from CrossFit NapTown

by Anna at December 09, 2014 08:43 PM

Market Urbanism

On the Mixing of Incompatible Uses and Incumbency

houses-pollution-nuclear-power-plants-industrial-plants-factory-_557745-47I noticed an interestingly ironic thing today.

The usual argument for the necessity of use-based zoning is that it protects homeowners in residential area from uses that would potentially create negative externalities – ie: smelting factory, garbage dump, or Sriracha factory.

Urban Economics teaches us that such an event happening is highly unlikely in today’s marketplace. (nevermind the fact that nuisance laws should resolve these disputes) The business owner who is looking for a site for a stinky business would be foolish to look in a residential area where land costs are significantly higher.

However, as Aaron Renn pointed out in the comments of my last post on Planned Manufacturing Districts, the inverse of this is happening in many cities as residential uses begin to outbid other uses in industrial areas:

I think part of the rationale in this is that once you allow residential into a manufacturing zone, the new residents will start issuing loud complaints about the byproducts of manufacturing: noise, smells, etc. I know owners of businesses in Chicago who have experienced just that. They’ve been there for decades but now are getting complaints from people who live in residential buildings that didn’t even exist when the manufacturer located there. This puts those businesses under a lot of pressure to leave as officials will almost always side with residents who vote rather than businesses who don’t get to.

It’s clear this is a more relevant defense of use-based zoning than the one we usually hear. Of course, I’d argue that segregating uses through zoning isn’t a just way to resolve these disputes, and my last post discusses some of the detrimental consequences for cities.

It seems ironic, because it inverts the usual argument in-favor of zoning.  Residents are choosing to move near established industrial firms, and PMDs are a tool used to defend incumbent industries from residents.  Despite it’s lack of economic soundness, zoning is typically rationalized through an emotional appeal to defend incumbent residents from dirty industry.

This doesn’t decisively refute use-based-zoning in itself.  In-fact, I’m afraid it may bolster the case, but it does help expose the appeal to emotions used to defend zoning.

by Adam Hengels at December 09, 2014 06:01 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Traveling in a Financially Sustainable Way : On the Road with Nora Dunn

This is a travel hacking case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Long term traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it can actually be cheaper than staying in one place with rent, bills, and a home. Nora Dunn, originally from Canada and now from “anywhere,” has mastered the art of being permanently on the go without breaking the bank. 

Tell us about yourself. 

Hi there! I’m Nora, AKA The Professional Hobo. In 2006, I sold everything I owned in Canada (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my dreams of traveling the world—slowly, immersively, and intensively. I had no idea where I’d go, how long this “travel thing” would last, or how I would be able to financially sustain myself beyond my savings and the two years of income that selling my business kicked out.

I simply knew I had to go, and with that leap of faith … I went. I’ve been on the road ever since, having lived in and/or traveled through over 45 countries and counting.  Now, I teach other people how to travel in a financially sustainable way.


Okay then, best financially sustainable travel tips. Go!  

I have upwards of 120 tips on my site! Here are a few that stand out:

1. Try mystery shopping on flights.

You can book flights at 50% off (or more) as a mystery shopper on an airline.

2. You don’t have to pay for accommodation.

In my first five years of full-time travel, I saved over $63,500 in accommodation expenses, and accumulated a repertoire of experiences that I couldn’t possibly have paid for. In 2011 alone, I paid $173 for accommodation—for the entire year. It’s totally doable with Couchsurfing, home exchanges, and volunteering in exchange for housing.

3. Set parameters for your souvenir shopping.

Instead of traditional souvenirs, which are pretty useless, I choose items that both define an experience or place, and are practical complements to my one-bag traveling entourage. Ideally, my new item replaces something else that has worn out, so the new purchase isn’t an extra weight/bulk.

How do you pay for your travels?

Before I get there, I have to say that income is just one half of the equation. Expenses are the other. In my experience, full-time travel costs less than it ever did for me to live in one place. Part of the reason for this is that I travel slowly, and I choose immersive experiences that have the added benefit of providing free accommodation, such as house-sitting, volunteering, living on boats, and hospitality exchanges. 

As for how I pay: travel hacking. Freelance writing. And accidentally, my travel blog. I inadvertently launched an international NGO in Thailand to help the survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Burma in May 2008, and my site gained international attention.

Another natural disaster came my way in Australia (the Victorian Bushfires of February 2009), and my blow-by-blow chronicle of the events brought in more readers, and it was archived by the National Library of Australia as “a piece of history.”


What sorts of travel hacking do you do?

I was only a passive collector of miles with my credit card until Chris Guillebeau introduced to me the virtues of frequent flyer miles. After earning 150,000 miles on US Airways for doing $1,200 in online shopping, I was sold. I’m an active (but not obsessive) collector of miles, with a smattering of points across about half a dozen different airline programs. This also makes me an air travel snob; when flying long-haul, I only do it in business class.

What inspired you to travel? 

When I was 8 years old, my teacher showed us a documentary about world cultures. I was fascinated. I saw people, but I didn’t recognize their garb, the language they spoke, the food they ate, the markets they shopped at, or any part of the architecture or scenery. And I desperately wanted to know how the children my age played, and what daily life was like inside their homes. This was the very root of my literal life-long dream of travel.

As an adult, I discovered the paltry vacation allowance and limited funds that came with a full time job meant most trips were only a week long, and were often superficial attempts to escape Canada’s long winters rather than being culturally immersive experiences. I had to free myself up to actually live around the world.

Can you tell us about a person you met who helped you better understand a culture?

Sheralee was the ambassador of the Australian Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Australia. The Embassy is home to a 38-year protest from the Aboriginals to the Australian Government, and a fire that doesn’t go out. Having been warned by other Australians about the “dodgy” aboriginal population, and seeing Sheralee’s derelict appearance including only one boot, I was wary when we began talking.

But after spending an afternoon with her I realized she was educated, well-traveled, experienced, and well-spoken. My initial impression based on her personal appearance was mistaken. As a traveler, I’ve always prided myself on having an open mind, and yet here I had allowed pre-conceived notions and appearances to cloud my judgment.

It’s these qualities that (at least in part) led to aboriginal issues in Australia to begin with. And here we all were, standing around a 38 year old fire flickering with those memories. I had to confront my own judgements and prejudices head-on. 


The great debate: aisle or window?


Where are you headed next?

I’m currently writing this from the Sacred Valley of Peru, where I’ve set up a home base. After 8 years of roaming the world full-time, I’ve finally reached a point where I want to have a place to call mine, where I don’t have to abide by anybody else’s house rules, timetables, eating schedules, or share a bathroom.

It’s the best of all worlds: I have all the comforts of home I need, and yet every time I step outside my front door I’m in a totally different world to the one I grew up in, full of discovery and wonder. 

Follow Nora’s  journey on her site, The Professional Hobo, or via Twitter @hobonora.


by Chris Guillebeau at December 09, 2014 06:00 PM

The Brooks Review

How To Be Nice

Marc Hemeon:

Polite gestures are easy to do and make a real difference in the happiness of others.

Nice list, mostly just be aware of what’s going on. Let people in when they try to jam way ahead on merges, just realize that you really don’t care. I love letting people cut in lines if they are buying way less than I am.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

by Ben Brooks at December 09, 2014 05:53 PM

512 Pixels

Lost Generation of Sudan →

In May of this year, my brother, brother-in-law and several close friends got on a plane and flew to South Sudan to document the ravages of the war that has been smoldering there since 1989.

For the uninitiated, Sudan and South Sudan are ground zero for some of the worst humanitarian situations in the world. For 25 years, the government of Sudan has committed mass murder on a horrific scale supported international terrorist organizations with complete impunity. Omar al-Bashir and his government has been systematically bombing and starving entire people groups to death.

He's a monster, and he has to be stopped.

The International Criminal Court has an arrest warrant out for al-Bashir, but he is still at large, still murdering his countrymen and fellow human beings.

The fall-out of all of this is a new generation of "Lost Boys," children driven from their homes, often after seeing their parents murdered.

These children are the future of Sudan and South Sudan, but they are living in refugee camps, without hope of an education.

My brother's non-profit is trying to change that. His non-profit's latest film tells the story of Jargi Joseph, a 19-year old who had to flee his home when the al-Bashir's jet fighters started bombing his village. He is now in South Sudan, carrying the weight of a new generation of children without homes and parents.

With this film, Operation Broken Silence is launching Project Endure, a coordinated effort to put these kids — and their teachers — back in the classroom. It's a targeted program designed to bring change directly to the children Jargi Joseph cares for.

It was an honor to help plan and produce this film, let alone narrate it, but the need to educate and care for Sudan's 25,000 orphans is the world's responsibility. We should shoulder it together.


by Stephen Hackett at December 09, 2014 05:03 PM

The Urbanophile

Divergent Demographic and Economic Trends in Chicago by Bill Sander and Bill Testa

[ This week a post from Bill Sander and Bill Testa from the Chicago Fed’s Midwest Economy site, looking at the various trends affecting the city of Chicago – Aaron. ]

The fortunes of the city of Chicago have become clouded in recent years as concerns over its weakening finances and heavy debt obligations have grown. The tally for the unfunded public employee debt obligations of Chicago’s overlapping units of local governments (including those for public schools, parks, and county services) is now approaching $30 billion. Moreover, the city government has been criticized for its practices of funding current public services with proceeds from the issuance of long-term debt and the long-term leases of public assets (such as its parking meter system). However, faith in Chicago’s ability to address its debts has not fallen so far as that in Detroit’s, chiefly because the Windy City’s economic trends display more vibrancy.

Population change is a prominent indicator of the health of an urban economy because it reflects a city’s ability to hold on to its residents (as opposed to losing them to the suburbs or other locales). Over the past few decades, similar to other central cities, Chicago has experienced an erosion in its population share of the broader metropolitan statistical area (MSA);[1] in contrast, the surrounding suburbs have seen their share climb. According to the U.S. Census, Chicago held 38% of the MSA’s population in 1980, with this share falling to 35% by 1990; in the subsequent 20 years, Chicago’s population share of the MSA decreased another 3 percentage points per decade, reaching 29% by 2010 (see table below). During the 1980–2010 period, Chicago lost a total of over 300,000 residents. At the same time, suburban Chicago gained close to 2 million in population. Since 2010, the city of Chicago’s population and population share of the MSA have strengthened somewhat, though the (off-Census year) estimates are probably not as reliable.

While population trends can be telling for a city’s prospects, they can also belie changes in its residents’ wealth and income. Despite the city of Chicago’s population loss over the past few decades, its economic trends have been generally more encouraging.[2] Household income is an important indicator of Chicago’s fortunes relative to those of its suburbs. In 1990, median household income in the city was just 67% of the median household income in suburban Chicago. By 2010, this income ratio had climbed to 73% (see table below). Decomposing household income statistics by (self-reported) racial/ethnic group reveals that this trend was pervasive for the three largest groups: non-Hispanic white, black, and Hispanic. The ratio of city median income to suburban median income among white households experienced the greatest change; it rose from 77% in 1990 to 98% (near parity) in 2010.

These robust trends are echoed by Chicago’s rising share of adults aged 25 and older who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree. In 1990, among adults aged 25 and older, 19% of those residing in the city had attained a four-year college degree versus 28% of those residing in the suburbs (see table below). By 2010, Chicagoans in this age demographic had almost reached the same share in this regard as their suburban counterparts (33% for city residents versus 35% for suburban residents). The non-Hispanic whites again experienced the greatest change among the three largest racial/ethnic groups. In 1990, 29% of the white city population aged 25 and older had a four-year college degree—the same percentage as the white suburban population in this age demographic; however, by 2010, 55% of such white city dwellers had a bachelor’s degree, while 39% of their white suburbanite counterparts did. Between 1990 and 2010, the city’s black population also made substantial gains in education, as evidenced by the share of black adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree having risen from 11% to 17%.

By “drilling down” through the data to examine specific neighborhoods, we can see how geographically concentrated the city’s gains in college-educated adults aged 25 and older have been. These gains have been highly concentrated in Chicago’s central business district (“the Loop”) and the surrounding areas, as well as the neighborhoods west of Chicago’s northern lakeshore. As shown in the table below, dramatic gains in the college-educated population were seen in the Loop and the neighborhoods just south, west, and north of it. For example, the Near South Side saw an increase in the share of adults with a four-year college degree climb from 9% in 1980 to 68% in 2010. No less dramatic were such gains in Chicago’s neighborhoods west of its northern lakeshore: The shares of the college-educated population there typically doubled or tripled between 1980 and 2010 (in the case of the North Center neighborhood, this share increased sixfold—from 11% in 1980 to 66% in 2010).

As one might expect, many college-educated Chicago residents work in proximity to their residence. Of those living in the Central Area and Mid-North Lakefront, an estimated 57% work in the Central Area of Chicago and 79% work somewhere in the city.[3] Of those who do work in the Central Area, an estimated 19% travel to work by driving alone (as opposed to walking, public transit, bike, and carpooling); this percentage is much smaller than the nearly 70% of metropolitan Chicago workers who travel to work by driving alone.[4] The trends highlighted thus far point to the fact that the city of Chicago draws and retains many jobs. By one count, the city of Chicago’s Central Area is the domicile of over half a million jobs. As seen below, job counts in the Central Area have remained fairly constant over the past 13 years, even while job levels in the remainder of the city and in the remainder of Cook County have been falling.

Meanwhile, compensation levels per job have continued to climb in Chicago’s Central Area, reflecting a work force with greater skills and education. Annual compensation per worker on the payroll in Chicago’s Central Area exceeds that of the overall MSA by 50%.

Many of the trends shown here bode well for the city of Chicago, despite the fiscal challenges it currently faces. To be sure, many large central cities in the Midwest, including Detroit, are experiencing strong growth of both jobs and households centered around their central areas and downtowns. In this, the central Chicago area enjoys a strong start. ________________________________________

[1] Current and historical delineations of MSAs are available at (Return to text)

[2] This is not to say that all parts of the city have been on the economic upswing. Several Chicago neighborhoods have seen severe deterioration in wealth and income, as well as in living conditions, as evidenced by increasing incidences of homelessness and crime in certain areas in the past few decades; see, e.g., (Return to text)

[3] This statement covers 113,000 workers living in these areas as of the year 2000. Estimates were pulled from and are based on the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP), “which is a special tabulation of the decennial U.S. Census for transportation planners” and “contains detailed tabulations on the characteristics of workers at their place of residence (‘part 1’), at their place of work (‘part 2’), and on work trip flows between home and work (‘part 3’)” (see Workers who work at home are excluded. See also; this report ranks Chicago second among major U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of residents living within one mile of downtown who work downtown (figure 3 in the report), and ranks Chicago first in terms of population growth in the downtown area over the period 2000–10 (figure 4 in the report). (Return to text)

[4] Estimates are from and are based on the Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP). (Return to text)

This post originally appeared in Chicago Fed Midwest Economy on December 3, 2014.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

by Aaron M. Renn at December 09, 2014 03:17 PM

Zondervan Academic Blog

Pauline Studies: A Festschrift in Honor of Doug Moo

What’s the first clear message of Studies in the Pauline Epistles, the new festschrift in honor of Doug Moo?

Moo isn’t just a scholar. He’s also a gentleman.

In introducing the book, editors Matthew S. Harmon and Jay E. Smith quote 1 Cor. 4:1-2, where Paul outlines two categories he wants believers to use when thinking about ministers of the gospel: servants and stewards. “Doug Moo has proved himself to be a faithful servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries.” (16)

Harmon and Smith go on to list the countless ways he has proved himself: he has “prepared countless men and women for gospel ministry;” he is a “terrific mentor;” he “always push[es] his students to base their conclusions on solid evidence;” and Moo’s teaching and writing is distinguished by “the effort to present opposing views accurately and fairly.” (16)

A faithful servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries, indeed.

Perhaps the two most significant ways Moo has served and stewarded are in the fields of Bible translation and Pauline studies. Through a blend of contributions from sixteen former students, colleagues, and prominent Pauline scholars, Studies in the Pauline Epistles honors the contributions of a man by contributing to the ongoing scholarship in these two areas.

Here is but a brief sampling and interaction with this outstanding collection of scholars writing “as a tribute to Doug’s valuable contributions to New Testament studies.” (18)

Exegeting Paul

The first section honors Moo’s exegesis by gathering a collection of fellow exegetes: Ardel B. Caneday, Chris A. Vlachos, Jonathan A. Moo, Jay E. Smith, D. A. Carson, and Verlyn D. Verbrugge.

One role for which Moo is best known is as chair of the CBT, which stewards the NIV translation. In his essay, “Greek Grammar and the Translation of Philippians 2:12,” Verbrugge provides an interesting glimpse into not only Moo’s special role as CBT chair, but also some of the basic principles that have shaped the CBT’s translation work.

He summarizes these principles in this way:

translators must start with the specific words in the biblical text, then discuss what message these words communicated to the original audience, and finally put that same message into a contemporary Bible translation that communicates clearly and accurately with readers today. (115)

Verbrugge illustrates these principles through a passionate exegetical study on the grammatical use of the correlative conjunction οὐ μόνον/μὴ μόνον . . . ἀλλὰ καί—which mirrors Moo’s own passion for exegesis.

Paul’s Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition

The next section turns attention to Moo’s twin love of Paul and the gospels, honoring his scholarship through three voices: Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew S. Harmon, and Grant R. Osborne.

Bloomberg provides a fascinating examination of the quotations, allusions, and echoes of Jesus in Paul in his similarly titled essay. He begins by noting “The absence of direct quotations of the sayings of Jesus in the letters of Paul has fascinated scholars for generations.” (129)

After surveying the scholarship—with views ranging from nearly one thousand allusions to just three—he notes several passages with the clearest allusions to the Jesus tradition in the undisputed Pauline corpus: Rom 12:14, 17, 18; 13:7, 8-10; 14:14, 20; 1 Cor 6:2; 7:10-11; 8:13; 9:14; Phil 4:6; 1 Thess 4:15; 5:2; and 5:6. He goes on to explore possible echoes of the Jesus tradition, as well.

Blomberg notes Moo himself has commented on all of these passages in his commentaries, saying, “Moo’s comments are always cautious, judicious, and evenhanded.” (143)

Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance

The final section recognizes Moo’s contemporary contributions to Pauline scholarship with several Pauline heavyweights: Robert W. Yarbrough, G.K. Beale, James D. G. Dunn, Stephen Westerholm, N. T. Wright, Thomas R. Schreiner, and Mark A. Seifrid.

I can’t help but end this brief interaction with two essays outlining what’s right about the Old and New Perspectives on Paul by Dunn (former) and Westerholm (latter).

I chose these essays not only because the questions and respondents are unique, but because Moo is well known for his engagement with the New Perspective. While he is an advocate of the Old, “Doug has not been afraid to acknowledge points where the New Perspective has shed light on Paul and his letters.” (17)

As one of the most vocal proponent of the New Perspective, Dunn summarizes his answer to what’s right about the Old under three headings (214):

  1. Luther rediscovered the saving righteousness of God;
  2. He reasserted the fundamental role of faith in human relation with God;
  3. He reminded us that human beings cannot earn or achieve relationship with God by their own effort.

Dunn provides a cogent, concise discussion of these issues and their benefits, while providing analysis in light of NPP critiques, as well.

Westerholm follows Dunn by highlighting some of the virtues of the New Perspective by providing his own triplet:

  1. Sanders’ depiction of Judaism of Paul’s day;
  2. Increased awareness of the social context in which Paul’s “justification” language was articulated;
  3. Social and ethnic dimensions have provided greater reflection on practical application of Paul’s doctrine.

While Westerholm questions whether or not a clear “winner” will ever emerge in this debate, he believes critics of NPP can be “grateful” for the above results of new perspective reflection. (242)


This is a worthy collection of essays honoring a worthy man. As the editors write of Moo and this book, “this volume is a small token of our gratitude to God for you, your faithful service to Christ, and your model of careful scholarship.” (18)

Add it to your library today, and thank God for this faithful servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries.

by Jeremy Bouma at December 09, 2014 03:12 PM

Crossway Blog

10 Benefits of Reading the Bible - Part 1

The All-Surpassing Worth of God’s Word

Consider with me just ten of the benefits [of reading Scripture], and as you read them, ask God to give you eyes to see the worth of Scripture and to waken in you an unyielding desire for the Word of God. This is a fight for joy, and the weapon is a fresh sight of how the worth of God’s Word surpasses all things on this earth.

1. The Word of God Awakens and Strengthens Faith

The Holy Spirit does not awaken and strengthen faith apart from the Word of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The reason for this is that the Spirit has been sent into the world to glorify Christ. But Christ would not be glorified if the Spirit wakened faith in the absence of the revelation of the glory of Christ in the gospel.

“When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus said, “he will glorify me” (John 16:13-14). If the Spirit brought us to faith in the absence of the proclamation of Christ in his Word, our faith would not be in Christ, and he would not be honored. Therefore the Spirit binds his faithwakening ministry to the Christ-exalting Word. Which means that when we go to the Word of Christ, we put ourselves in the path of the Spirit’s willingness to reveal Christ to us and strengthen our faith. And in this faith is the taste and the seed of all our joy. Therefore, the Word that wakens our faith works for our joy.

2. Through Hearing the Word, God Supplies the Holy Spirit

The Spirit of God produces both a subconscious influence bringing us to faith, and a conscious experience of power and personal fellowship that come through that very faith. This explains two things: 1) This is why the Bible can speak of the Spirit blowing where he wills and having merciful effects in our lives before we were able to choose them (John 3:6-8; 6:36, 44, 65). In other words, by his unconscious influence he works in us to enable us to hear and welcome the Word. And 2) this is
also why the Bible speaks of the Spirit coming through our hearing the Word of God. In other words, conscious fellowship with the Spirit is given when we hear the Word of God with faith.

3. The Word of God Creates and Sustains Life

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). To that end he taught many things, and then gave his life so that we might have life, eternal and abundant. We are born again into new life by the Word of God. “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23-25). God makes the preaching of the gospel the occasion for creating new life in the soul of man. “The words that I have spoken to you,” Jesus said, “are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Therefore when John had finished recording the words and works of Jesus in his Gospel he said, “These are written so that you may . . . have life in his name” (John 20:31). The words of John’s Gospel—and all the Scriptures—lead to life.

Oh, how easily we are deceived into thinking that better life, or more life, comes from things that lure us from the Word. But, in fact, it is the Word itself that gives us life abundantly. The life we get from bread is fragile and short. The life we get from the Word is firm and lasts forever.

4. The Word of God Gives Hope

In more ways than we can imagine the Word of God gives and strengthens our hope. We get a glimpse of how many ways the Bible gives hope when we hear Paul’s astonishing assessment of the Old Testament alone: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Not just part of the Old Testament, but all of it—“whatever was written in former days”—
was written with the divine design to give us hope.

One of the things this teaches us is that we have not begun to know all the ways it is possible to get hope. We have very small experience in life compared to God’s wisdom.

Sometimes what we need from the Bible is not the fulfillment of our dream, but the swallowing up of our failed dream in the all-satisfying glory of Christ. We do not always know the path of deepest joy. But all Scripture is inspired by God to take us there. Therefore Scripture is worth more than all this world can offer.

5. The Word of God Leads Us to Freedom

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The truth of God’s Word works freedom in many ways and brings joy in all of them. But Jesus signals his focus in verse 34: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The freedom he has in mind here is freedom from the enslaving, destructive effect of sin. The truth sets us free from this. So Jesus turns this truth into a prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctify means to make holy, or free from sin.

The guilt of sin would bring down the wrath of God on us if the truth of the gospel did not set us free from condemnation through the blood and righteousness of Christ.

This excerpt was adapted from When I Don't Desire God: How To Fight For Joy by John Piper.

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the teacher and founder of and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He served for 33 years as pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Don’t Waste Your Life, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?

by Nick Rynerson at December 09, 2014 02:35 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Michael Hyatt Early Bird Offer Opens


Link: Early Bird Offer for “Best Year Ever”

It’s not New Year’s yet, but 2015 is on the way. Last week I went to Washington, D.C. for my final speaking event of the year, and I’m now preparing to wind down and spend some time planning next year.

I recently mentioned that Michael Hyatt is opening a course he started last year called Best Year Ever. It’s now open with Early Bird Pricing, which is only available for the next few days.

Michael does great work and this course is a worthwhile investment (I’ve seen some of what’s on the other side of the paywall), but if you don’t want to purchase the course, you can still learn a lot just by watching the free videos. If you join the list to get access to the videos, you can watch them and decide for yourself if the course is the right fit for you.

No matter how you do it, I think it’s helpful to reflect on how you spend your time and what you’re working for. I’m working on my own review in a somewhat modified format this year, and I’ll bring you along for the ride starting this weekend.

*Portland area: We’re having a party on December 28! Everyone is welcome, at least until tickets run out.


Image: Gidzy

by Chris Guillebeau at December 09, 2014 01:55 PM

Front Porch Republic

Free Yourself from the Telescopic Morality Machine

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There is one version of the history of modern media that is a story primarily about a drug, developed to make its users feel anger with delightful intensity. Refinement of this drug has made some great leaps in a very…

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The post Free Yourself from the Telescopic Morality Machine appeared first on Front Porch Republic.

by Adam Gurri at December 09, 2014 01:43 PM


Bonus: A score of games after a score of games

In fact it’s well over a score, which makes it a … high score. :lol: :| :roll:

Yes, kids, it’s partly sad and partly embarrassing, but here is another epitaph on games that for whatever reason — most likely my own ineptitude — didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t work for me. I’ve also sprinkled in a few that should work, but aren’t really much more than mathematical demonstrations.

Anyways … try them out and see if you have any better luck.

  • ad-astra: This is a turn-based space strategy game that I had to discount as “just not finished.” It looks cute and seems to have some exploration involved, but didn’t run nearly as it seemed it ought to. No help in the program that I could find, and no wiki pages on the site.
  • astwar: Supposedly a clone of the mythical Spacewar, which I can tell you I have personally played in its original-hardware cabinet version :D , this was neither in Arch nor Debian. The Savannah download folder is empty, but the CVS is up. I got “incompatible declaration of built-in function strcpy” errors when compiling though, and despite my meager efforts to correct it, it never would build for me. :(
  • Beyond the Tesseract: That’s the only link I have for this game, although I have seen … ahem, abandoned versions for DOS out there in the wild. Supposedly this was a text game with a mathematical theme, which makes me wonder if it wasn’t somehow inspired by parts of The Phantom Tollbooth.
  • doomrl: Compiled out of AUR, but had numerous errors when running — unhandled exceptions, access violations, no sound … nothing.
  • dpygames, mille and mw: A quick series of games that rely on dpy as a substitute for ncurses. My problem was that dpy wouldn’t build for me in Arch (something about needing a “tgoto” command), which means that the games were more or less inaccessible. :(
  • dungeon: Wikipedia calls this one of the earliest computer RPG games, apparently originally distributed by DECUS as long ago as 1975, if not earlier. I can convert this with f2c, but the resulting code won’t compile. Another sad face: :(
  • elegantoid: Won’t compile, says it can’t #include ncursesw/ncurses.h, which I find hard to believe. :???:
  • foursome: ibiblio properly brands this as an “amusement,” since it really just calculates pairs for sports brackets. It compiled and ran for me, but wasn’t really a game, and doesn’t really enthuse me. Perhaps it is something you can use.
  • freakout: I tried to compile this with fpc and failed in Arch. I tried again in Debian and failed too. A reader or two mentioned it wasn’t happening either, so I am willing to label this one as “obsolete.”
  • galactic-turtle: This sounds something like zis, but the source code wouldn’t compile for me, and apparently it saw its last update way back in 2008.
  • gnu-conquest: Is it GNU ncurses conquest? Just gnu-conquest? GNU conquest? I am not sure. I believe it might be another interstellar strategy game, but the source code as supplied by SourceForge wouldn’t build for me, and apparently its last update was in 2004. :|
  • gnupong: I’m still searching for that elusive Pong remake for the console. This one, dating back to 1999, wouldn’t compile … and so wasn’t it. (And yes, I have also played Pong in its original-hardware cabinet version. I am a living piece of history, ladies and gentlemen. … :D )
  • I made a note of this a month ago when someone mentioned that the libraries are navigable from a text-based browser. That is true, although some of the “games” will likely require a little more in the browser department to enjoy fully. A few of the titles there have already graced these pages. …
  • lotto: Another “amusement,” lotto calculates lottery probabilities and tries to convince you why you should not spend your money on legalized games of chance.
  • mmorl: A massively multiplayer online roguelike. I could compile this in Arch if I installed mono, but after a long command and a long wait, I got a “Client.exe” file, which would not run in Arch. Not that I expected it to, of course.
  • monoUSA: A Monopoly clone, if I’m not mistaken. It compiled for me, started, asked me one setup question, then crashed. Now that’s what I call a monopoly. ;)
  • popclk: A population clock that needs starting values and increments, and not really much of a game as an amusement. And not so enthralling that I felt it deserved its own post.
  • The Rougelike!: This looked very funny; if I understand it correctly, it’s a roguelike intended as a parody of Wikipedia. I thought I would have some luck with it since it appears to rely on clisp, but it complained of being unable to find libreadline in Arch, and more or less fell apart after that.
  • roulette: Runs out a roulette table to show odds and so forth, sort of like lotto above. I noticed that some keys don’t work, and so I wonder if it’s functional on the whole.
  • running: If this game does something other than show the message “Boom! Hahahaha!” over and over, I haven’t found it. Definitely one of the worst games I’ve ever seen.
  • sporkhack: I believe this is a long-defunct attempt to shore up nethack and make it a little more challenging for expert players. I could see no real differences between it and its predecessor, and so I’m not likely to pursue it.
  • sst2k: A Super Star Trek remake. I cloned this from SourceForge with git clone git:// sst2k-code, managed to figure out that it wanted xmlto, docbook-xml and asciidoc just to build, but still came up with errors when I tried to run it. Sigh. I really try, I do. … :(
  • tempest_for_eliza: I didn’t know if I should throw this in as a game, as an amusement, or just as the wacky Linux application of the decade. Believe it or not, this allows you to play music over an AM radio band by jiggling the display on a conventional CRT. I’ll give you a second to reread that. Now stop right there, and put down that 90-pound, 19-inch Princeton Graphics CRT. We’re putting it back into the fight. :shock:
  • tictactoe: On ibiblio as tictac-1.0.tgz, this just didn’t have enough kwan to make it as a proper game. Timestamped 1995 though, so maybe I should be more forgiving of 20-year-old software … except ox3d was so good, and it was twice as old. …
  • tt: One of the bijillion Tetris clones out there, this one couldn’t compile in Arch, but the title pages and README file show ASCII pieces and so forth. From 1992, judging by the timestamps.
  • vtetris: Not to be confused with the revered vitetris, this is a 1999 Tetris clone that complained because it couldn’t find ncurses4.

I think I can bring the games train to a halt for this year. I have a fresh crop of non-game, non-amusing titles to work through, and anything game-ish I have left on my list will last another month. And I have a feeling that a segment of the audience would prefer something a little more serious. … ;)

by K.Mandla at December 09, 2014 01:30 PM

The Art of Non-Conformity

Top 5 Credit Card Signup Bonuses for Miles & Points: December

Every year I earn well over one million Frequent Flyer miles and points. About 250,000 of them come through actual travel, and the rest come through travel hacking: the art of seeing the world on a budget.

One of the easiest ways to earn a lot of miles all at once is through credit card signup bonuses. This post contains the best current card offers as of Tuesday, December 9. If getting every card from this post, you’d earn 165,000 points or miles and $250 in cash. Happy travels!

In this edition:

Chase Sapphire Preferred. Our longstanding, overall “best card” recommendation. The card offers a 40,000 point signup bonus, no foreign transaction fees, double points on all dining and travel expenses, and has the annual fee waived for year one. You’ll get the 40,000 bonus points after spending only $4,000 in three months.

Why it’s good: It’s the gold standard! Or maybe it’s the Sapphire standard… but it’s definitely a standard of some kind.

Learn more or get the card


SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express. With no annual fee and a 3% rebate on the category of your choice, you can essentially get paid for shopping at your favorite merchants.

I usually value miles or points more than money, but in this case there’s an interesting signup bonus: as a limited time offer (if you apply before February 24, 2015) you’ll get a $250 statement credit after spending $5,000 on the card within the first six months of card membership.

Learn more or get the card

Kihei Sunrise

Chase Ink Plus. A great companion to the Sapphire Preferred. I wrote about this card more than once a few weeks ago because it had a brief mega-bonus of 70,000 points. That offer is gone, but the 50,000 point offer is still on—and for that one, there’s no annual fee the first year.

Why it’s good: You’ll earn a 5x point bonus on all spending at office supply stores and telecommunications (including your cell phone bill and internet connection). Points earned with the Ink Plus can also be combined with those you earn from Sapphire, and foreign transaction fees are also waived.

Learn more or get the card


U.S. Airways Mastercard. U.S. Airways is disappearing and becoming part of the new American Airlines. However, miles earned in the U.S. Airways program will magically become AA miles at some point in the next year.

Why it’s good: It’s essentially 40,000 miles for $89. I’d buy miles at that rate any day of the week.

Learn more or get the card

Stitched Panorama

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard. The new card offers 35,000 miles with a $1,000 spend in 90 days and a 50% off companion fare for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii and the continental U.S. You’ll also get a bonus $100 companion discount every year you have the card, and 5,000 additional miles every year that you spend $10,000 or more.

Why it’s good: well, you’ll get enough miles for a ticket to Hawaii. As winter approaches, it’s hard to top that!

Learn more or get the card


A few questions and attempted answers are below.

  • Does this really work?

Yes. I’ve been receiving regular signup bonuses for more than five years. Many of our readers have also had great success.

  • Is this bad for airlines and banks?

No. They are happy to have new customers, especially those who are responsible and trustworthy.

  • Isn’t it bad for your credit to apply for so many cards?

Not unless you don’t pay your card balances. Be diligent and you can earn signup bonuses to travel for nearly free for a long time to come.

Learn more about travel hacking in the archives. Join the list below and get regular updates!



Disclosure: Our partner site,, pays us a referral bonus for some of these cards. We always provide the links to the best possible bonus that we’re aware of, and you’re always welcome to apply directly from the card issuers if you prefer.

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4


by Chris Guillebeau at December 09, 2014 01:30 PM


cboard: I can quit my whining now

This is the last true “game” post I have, out of this recent run of nine or 10. And since I promised more than a few days ago to show something actually playable as a chess game for the console, I’m quite excited to finish with cboard.


Yes, for all the moaning and complaining I’ve done about chess “games” at the console, there’s a lovely, professional, complete chess client available.

Press “g” to start a game. Selection is via arrow keys, with the space bar selecting a piece to move. Potential destinations are highlighted at that point, and you can select one with the enter key. At that point the computer takes its turn, and voila — a proper console-based chess game.

I have cboard installed with gnuchess, and cboard will trigger gnuchess when it needs a move, so there’s no need for me to wrangle with the engine or send esoteric commands to the backend. gnuchess will eat quite a bit of your processor while the game is running, and of course on a weaker machine that will translate to delays while the computer picks its move.

But this is chess, and so you should be expecting delays like that. If you’re in a hurry, think about different hardware. ;)

cboard has quite a few other admirable features: Color, for one, is perfect. The game layout traps the board in the upper left corner, allowing the history and other information to spill down and to the right, making it fit most any terminal dimensions.

On-screen help is available with F1, and extended help is available too. You can peruse the history, edit the board and undo your moves, pause the clock and even set the computer to play against itself. Quite impressive.

I’m no chess genius, and in fact, I’m a bit of a dunce when it comes to the game. But I know a good interface when I see one, and even on my worst chess day, it would be a pleasure to work though cboard. I daresay it might even make losing delightful. :)

An honest, well-deserved gold star for cboard: :star: Enjoy! ;)

Tagged: game

by K.Mandla at December 09, 2014 01:15 PM

ox3d: Tic-tac-toe-tough

I wanted to point out a specific tic-tac-toe game today, for reasons which will be clear in a moment. This is from the author of sumeria, and is another program technically reaching its 40th birthday: ox3d.


I mention it mostly because I find it to be very tough. I am not the best at three-dimensional tic-tac-toe, and I think I’d do better to suffer through my meager chess skills than pursue a living as a professional 3D tic-tac-toe player. I wouldn’t starve as quickly with chess. :roll:

What you see in the image is a four-tier, four-by-four game board. Moves are declared by numbering the board from left to right as 1 through 4, then by the Y position on that board, and finally the X position. So 141, as shown, is board 1, far right column, first row.

Connect four in a line through any of the three dimensions represented there, and you’ve won. And if that happens, tell me what it feels like.

Because after a half-dozen games, I have a grand total record of zero wins and six losses. And given that the author describes it as an “aggressive” naughts-and-crosses game, I expected little else. ;)

As a note, I didn’t count my best result — a draw — because I took too many suggestions (press the “s” key at your turn) and don’t really count it as a game in my record. ox3d was really just playing against ox3d. :\

Which are both features of the program, by the way: Offering suggestions and playing against itself, a la WarGames. You can also surrender your side to the computer, and allow an erstwhile two-party game to run itself out with the computer playing both teams.

Games between the computer and itself seem particularly interesting, partly because the program apparently has enough foresight to recognize a forced win, and will declare a “check” game — sort of like chess. Perhaps I shouldn’t be impressed by that, but I am.

ox3d manages to bundle all this brainery into a meager 35Kb gzipped file, and the resulting executable on my system was only 27Kb. Perhaps I shouldn’t be impressed by that either, but I am.

And so, a tip of my hat to a bloodthirsty three-dimensional tic-tac-toe game that is quite formidable despite being nearly 40 years old. Perhaps I shouldn’t be impressed by that, but I am. ;)

Tagged: game

by K.Mandla at December 09, 2014 01:00 PM

sacha chua :: living an awesome life

Sketchnote Army Interview: Sacha Chua

Mauro Toselli sent me a few questions for the Sketchnote Army blog, which has been running a series on featured sketchnoters. Naturally, I decided to sketch my answers. ;)

2014-12-04 Sketchnote Army Interview - Sacha Chua

2014-12-04 Sketchnote Army Interview – Sacha Chua

If you’re curious, you can check out some of these relevant blog posts:

The post Sketchnote Army Interview: Sacha Chua appeared first on sacha chua :: living an awesome life.

by Sacha Chua at December 09, 2014 01:00 PM

Feed: » stratechery by Ben Thompson

Docker and the Integrated Open Source Company

It’s been a long time since an open source project has gotten as much buzz and attention as Docker. The easiest way to explain the concept is, well, to look at the logo of the eponymous1 company that created and manages the project:


The reference in the logo is to shipping containers, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Actually, the word “invention” is not quite right: the idea of putting bulk goods into consistently-sized boxes goes back at least a few hundred years.2 What changed the world was the standardization of containers by a trucking magnate named Malcom McLean and Keith Tantlinger, his head engineer. Tantlinger developed much of the technology undergirding the intermodal container, especially its corner casting and Twistlock mechanism that allowed the containers to be stacked on ships, transported by trucks, and moved by crane. More importantly, Tantlinger convinced McLean to release the patented design for anyone to copy without license, knowing that the technology would only be valuable if it were deployed in every port and on every transport ship in the world. Tantlinger, to put it in software terms, open-sourced the design.

Shipping containers really are a perfect metaphor for what Docker is building: standardized containers for applications.

  • Just as the idea of a container wasn’t invented by Tantlinger, Docker is building on a concept that has been around for quite a while. Companies like Oracle, HP, and IBM have used containers for many years, and Google especially has a very similar implementation to Docker that they use for internal projects. Docker, though, by being open source and community-centric, offers the promise of standardization
  • It doesn’t matter what is inside of a shipping container; the container itself will fit on any ship, truck, or crane in the world. Similarly, it doesn’t matter what app (and associated files, frameworks, dependencies, etc.) is inside of a docker container; the container will run on any Linux distribution and, more importantly, just about every cloud provider including AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Rackspace, etc.
  • When you move abroad, you can literally have a container brought to your house, stick in your belongings, and then have the entire thing moved to a truck to a crane to a ship to your new country. Similarly, containers allow developers to build and test an application on their local machine and have confidence that the application will behave the exact same way when it is pushed out to a server. Because everything is self-contained, the developer does not need to worry about there being different frameworks, versions, and other dependencies in the various places the application might be run

The implications of this are far-reaching: not only do containers make it easier to manage the lifecycle of an application, they also (theoretically) commoditize cloud services through the age-old hope of “write once run anywhere.” More importantly, at least for now, docker containers offer the potential of being far more efficient than virtual machines. Relative to a container, using virtual machines is like using a car transport ship to move cargo: each unique entity on the ship is self-powered, which means a lot of wasted resources (those car engines aren’t very useful while crossing the ocean). Similarly, each virtual machine has to deal with the overhead of its own OS; containers, on the other hand, all share the same OS resulting in huge efficiency gains.3

In short, Docker is a really big deal from a technical perspective. What excites me, though, is that the company is also innovating when it comes to their business model.

The problem with monetizing open source is self-evident: if the software is freely available, what exactly is worth paying for? And, unlike media, you can’t exactly stick an advertisement next to some code!

For many years the default answer has been to “be like Red Hat.” Red Hat is the creator and maintainer of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution, which, like all Linux distributions, is freely available.4 Red Hat, however, makes money by offering support, training, a certification program, etc. for enterprises looking to use their software. It is very much a traditional enterprise model – make money on support! – just minus the up-front license fees.

This sort of business is certainly still viable; Hortonworks is set to IPO with a similar model based on Hadoop, albeit at a much lower valuation than it received during its last VC round. That doesn’t surprise me: I don’t think this is a particularly great model from a business perspective.

To understand why it’s useful to think about there being three distinct parts of any company that is based on open source: the open source project itself, any value-added software built on top of that project, and the actual means of making money:

There are three parts of an open source business: the project itself, the value-added software on top of that project, and the means of monetization

There are three parts of an open source business: the project itself, the value-added software on top of that project, and the means of monetization

The problem with the “Red Hat” model is the complete separation of all three of these parts: Red Hat doesn’t control the core project (Linux), and their value-added software (RHEL) is free, leaving their money-making support program to stand alone. To the company’s credit they have pulled this model off, but I think a big reason is because utilizing Linux was so much more of a challenge back in the 90s.5 I highly doubt Red Hat could successfully build a similar business from scratch today.

The three parts of Red Hat's business are separate and more difficult for the company to control and monetize

The three parts of Red Hat’s business are separate and more difficult for the company to control and monetize

GitHub, the repository hosting service, is exploring what is to my mind a more compelling model. GitHub’s value-added software is a hosting service based on Git, an open-source project designed by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Crucially, GitHub is seeking to monetize that hosting service directly, both through a SaaS model and through an on-premise enterprise offering6. This means that, in comparison to Red Hat, there is one less place to disintermediate GitHub: you can’t get their value-added software (for private projects – public is free) unless you’re willing to pay.

While GitHub does not control Git, their value-added software and means of monetization are unified, making the latter much easier and more sustainable

While GitHub does not control Git, their value-added software and means of monetization are unified, making the latter much easier and more sustainable

Docker takes the GitHub model a step further: the company controls everything from the open source project itself to the value-added software (DockerHub) built on top of that, and, just last week, announced a monetization model that is very similar to GitHub’s enterprise offering. Presuming Docker continues its present momentum and finds success with this enterprise offering, they have the potential to be a fully integrated open source software company: project, value-added software, and monetization all rolled into one.

Docker controls all the parts of their business: they are a fully integrated open source company.

Docker controls all the parts of their business: they are a fully integrated open source company.

This is exciting, and, to be honest, a little scary. What is exciting is that very few movements have had such a profound effect as open source software, and not just on the tech industry. Open source products are responsible for end user products like this blog; more importantly, open source technologies have enabled exponentially more startups to get off the ground with minimal investment, vastly accelerating the rate of innovation and iteration in tech.7 The ongoing challenge for any open source project, though, is funding, and Docker’s business model is a potentially sustainable solution not just for Docker but for future open source technologies.

That said, if Docker is successful, over the long run commercial incentives will steer the Docker open source project in a way that benefits Docker the company, which may not be what is best for the community broadly. That is what is scary about this: might open source in the long run be subtly corrupted by this business model? The makers of CoreOS, a stripped-down Linux distribution that is a perfect complement for Docker, argued that was the case last week:

We thought Docker would become a simple unit that we can all agree on. Unfortunately, a simple re-usable component is not how things are playing out. Docker now is building tools for launching cloud servers, systems for clustering, and a wide range of functions: building images, running images, uploading, downloading, and eventually even overlay networking, all compiled into one monolithic binary running primarily as root on your server. The standard container manifesto was removed. We should stop talking about Docker containers, and start talking about the Docker Platform. It is not becoming the simple composable building block we had envisioned.

This, I suppose, is the beauty of open source: if you disagree, fork, which is essentially what CoreOS did, launching their own “Rocket” container.8 It also shows that Docker’s business model – and any business model that contains open source – will never be completely defensible: there will always be a disintermediation point. I suspect, though, that Rocket will fail and Docker’s momentum will continue: the logic of there being one true container is inexorable, and Docker has already built up quite a bit of infrastructure and – just maybe – a business model to make it sustainable.

  1. For the grammar nerds, I subscribe to the notion that eponymous can be used in either direction
  2. According to Wikipedia
  3. Security is one of the biggest questions facing Docker: is it possible to guarantee that apps cannot interact or interfere with each other? Currently the conventional wisdom is that containers shouldn’t be used for multi-tenant applications, but that security is good enough for multiple applications from a single tenant
  4. Technically, the source code is available, but any derivatives must strip-out all Red Hat trademarks
  5. Fun fact: Red Hat was the first version of Linux I ever installed. It did not go well
  6. BitBucket from Atlassian is similar; from a business model perspective the primary difference is that GitHub prices per repository while Atlassian prices per user
  7. In fact, one could argue that open source is the number one argument against there being a bubble: there are so many startups not because there is an inordinate amount of money available, but because it is so damn cheap to get off the ground. Moreover, the standards for gaining meaningful funding are now way higher: because it is so much cheaper to build, test, and iterate on an idea, a startup needs traction before investors will write a check
  8. It’s not precisely a fork; Rocket is new from the ground up but designed to do what Docker does and nothing more

The post Docker and the Integrated Open Source Company appeared first on stratechery by Ben Thompson.

by Ben Thompson at December 09, 2014 12:54 PM

One Big Fluke

brew install npm
npm install bower
bower install

by Brett Slatkin ( at December 09, 2014 10:27 AM

The ryg blog

From the archives: “Alias Huffman coding.”

This is precisely what the last post was about. So nothing new. This is just my original mail on the topic with some more details that might be interesting and/or amusing to a few people. :)

Date: Wed, 05 Feb 2014 16:43:36 -0800
From: Fabian Giesen
Subject: Alias Huffman coding.

Huffman <= ANS (strict subset)
(namely, power-of-2 frequencies)

We can take any discrete probability distribution of N events and use the Alias method to construct a O(N)-entry table that allows us to sample from that distribution in O(1) time.

We can apply that same technique to e.g. rANS coding to map from (x mod M) to “what symbol is x”. We already have that.

Ergo, we can construct a Huffman-esque coder that can decode symbols using a single table lookup, where the table size only depends on N_sym and not the code lengths. (And the time to build said table given the code lengths is linear in N_sym too).

Unlike regular/canonical Huffman codes, these can have multiple unconnected ranges for the same symbol, so you still need to deal with the range remapping (the “slot_adjust” thing) you have in Alias table ANS; basically, the only difference ends up being that you have a shift instead of a multiply by the frequency.

But there’s still some advantages in that a few things simplify; for example, there’s no need (or advantage) to using a L that’s larger than M. An obvious candidate is choosing L=M=B so that your Huffman codes are length-limited to half your word size and you never do IO in smaller chunks than that.

Okay. So where does that get us? Well, something like the MSB alias rANS decoder, with a shift instead of a multiply, really:

   // decoder state
   // suppose max_code_len = 16
   U32 x;
   U16 const * input_ptr;

   U32 const m = (1 << max_code_len) - 1;
   U32 const bucket_shift = max_code_len - log2_nbuckets;

   // decode:
   U32 xm = x & m;
   U32 xm_shifted = xm >> bucket_shift;
   U32 bucket = xm_shifted * 2;
   if (xm < hufftab_divider[xm_shifted])

   x = (x & ~m) >> hufftab_shift[bucket];
   x += xm - hufftab_adjust[bucket];

   if (x < (1<<16))
     x = (x << 16) | *input_ptr++;

   return hufftab_symbol[bucket];

So with a hypothetical compiler that can figure out the adc-for-bucket
thing, we’d get something like

   ; x in eax, input_ptr in esi
   movzx    edx, ax     ; x & m (for bucket id)
   shr      edx, 8      ; edx = xm_shifted
   movzx    ebx, ax     ; ebx = xm
   cmp      ax, [hufftab_divider + edx*2]
   adc      edx, edx    ; edx = bucket
   xor      eax, ebx    ; eax = x & ~m
   mov      cl, [hufftab_shift + edx]
   shr      eax, cl
   movzx    ecx, word [hufftab_adjust + edx*2]
   add      eax, ebx    ; x += xm
   movzx    edx, byte [hufftab_symbol + edx] ; symbol
   sub      eax, ecx    ; x -= adjust[bucket]
   cmp      eax, (1<<16)
   jae      done
   shl      eax, 16
   movzx    ecx, word [esi]
   add      esi, 2
   or       eax, ecx

   ; new x in eax, new input_ptr in esi
   ; symbol in edx

which is actually pretty damn nice considering that’s both Huffman decode and bit buffer rolled into one. Especially so since it handles all cases – there’s no extra conditions and no cases (rare though they might be) where you have to grab more bits and look into another table. Bonus points because it has an obvious variant that’s completely branch-free:

   ; same as before up until...
   sub      eax, ecx    ; x -= adjust[bucket]
   movzx    ecx, word [esi]
   mov      ebx, eax
   shl      ebx, 16
   or       ebx, ecx
   lea      edi, [esi+2]
   cmp      eax, (1<<16)
   cmovb    eax, ebx
   cmovb    esi, edi

Okay, all that’s nice and everything, but for x86 it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. I have a punch line though: the same thing works on PPC – the adc thing and “sbb reg, reg” both have equivalents, so you can do branch-free computation based on some carry flag easily.

BUT, couple subtle points:

  1. this thing has a bunch of (x & foo) >> bar (left-shift or right-shift) kind of things, which map really really well to PPC because there’s rlwinm / rlwimi.
  2. The in-order PPCs hate variable shifts (something like 12+ cycles microcoded). Well, guess what, everything we multiply with is a small per-symbol constant, so we can just store (1 << len) per symbol and use mullw. That’s 9 cycles non-pipelined (and causes a stall after issue), but still, better than the microcode. But… wait a second.

    If this ends up faster than your usual Huffman, and there’s a decent chance that it might (branch-free and all), the fastest “Huffman” decoder on in-order PPC would, in fact, be a full-blown arithmetic decoder. Which amuses me no end.

   # NOTE: LSB of "bucket" complemented compared to x86

   # r3 = x, r4 = input ptr
   # r20 = &tab_divider[0]
   # r21 = &tab_symbol[0]
   # r22 = &tab_mult[0]
   # r23 = &tab_adjust[0]

   rlwinm    r5, r3, 24, 23, 30   # r5 = (xm >> bucket_shift) * 2
   rlwinm    r6, r3, 0, 16, 31    # r6 = xm
   lhzx      r7, r20, r5          # r7 = tab_divider[xm_shifted]
   srwi      r8, r3, 16           # r8 = x >> log2(m)
   subfc     r9, r7, r6           # (r9 ignored but sets carry)
   lhz       r10, 0(r4)           # *input_ptr
   addze     r5, r5               # r5 = bucket
   lbzx      r9, r21, r5          # r9 = symbol
   add       r5, r5, r5           # r5 = bucket word offs
   lhzx      r7, r22, r5          # r7 = mult
   li        r6, 0x10000          # r6 = op for sub later
   lhzx      r5, r23, r5          # r5 = adjust
   mullw     r7, r7, r8           # r7 = mult * (x >> m)
   subf      r5, r5, r6           # r5 = xm - tab_adjust[bucket]
   add       r5, r5, r7           # r5 = new x
   subfc     r6, r6, r5           # sets carry iff (x >= (1<<16))
   rlwimi    r10, r5, 16, 0, 16   # r10 = (x << 16) | *input_ptr
   subfe     r6, r6, r6           # ~0 if (x < (1<<16)), 0 otherwise
   slwi      r7, r6, 1            # -2 if (x < (1<<16)), 0 otherwise
   and       r10, r10, r6
   andc      r5, r5, r6
   subf      r4, r7, r4           # input_ptr++ if (x < (1<<16))
   or        r5, r5, r10          # new x

That should be a complete alias rANS decoder assuming M=L=b=216.


by fgiesen at December 09, 2014 09:39 AM