Snow What?

So, Erie is expecting 8-12 inches of snow starting any minute. We have had an early morning snow of 2-3 inches, which is totally normal for Erie.

Everyone is in some sort of panic.

The City of Erie declared a state of emergency starting at 8 a.m. Saturday and continuing until Monday, before any significant snow had fallen.  One commentator observed that this enables them to write more tickets.

Meanwhile, our governor has also declared a state of emergency, which limits speeds on interstates and bans commercial vehicles starting at noon today.  (If you drive a truck, you are out of luck.)  The declaration even enables the National Guard to be called out.

Guys, this is 8-12 inches, or maybe 10-15 in the worst case predicted, and it is far less in the southern parts of the state.  This is not the 48″ Snowmaggeddon of last year.  This weather would not even normally shut our schools down.  And since Monday is MLK Day, schools are already closed.

Who has decided that we are such incompetent weakling wusses that even the prediction of a foot of light, fluffy snow will confine us shivering to our warm houses, waiting for our Governor to give us the “all is safe, you may come out” sign?


To my surprise, I have not written anything here in a year. I know that blogging is such less popular than it was 10 years ago, but still, it is surprising that the creative juices have failed to flow.

But 2018 was quite a year.

In 2017, I changed jobs, after 20 years at one place. The new job is with a better company, but it does come with a long commute. So I do not have as much spare time to write, especially since writing comes slowly to me. (Blogging helped me a lot with increasing writing speed.)

Combined with the job change and the long commute was a rather awful winter, which sometimes doubled my commute time.

But also, media like Facebook are bad for creativity. They discourage complex thoughts, and encourage a quick quip, or reacting to the latest madness in the world. (Twitter is even worse, which is a good reason not to Tweet.)

But on the plus side for this year, the nest is a bit emptier, and all residents of the household now have their driver’s licenses. And my commute leads me to listen to many audio books which leads to thinking, which is a necessary prerequisite for writing.

So, let’s see if 2019 will be a bit more inspired.

Missionary Stories about Marriage

It is good to hear the stories of missionaries, and find out how people in the rest of the world do things differently.

A few years ago I was traveling and visiting another church (if you are a Christian, and traveling on Sunday, you should do this – I have never regretted it), and we heard a report from missionaries who worked among Muslim refugees somewhere in southern Europe. As these Muslims became Christians, the question came up. Was their Muslim marriage valid? Many of these marriages were arranged based on the desires of their parents, and the terms of Muslim marriages frequently give few rights to the woman. (For example, in many Muslim countries, the husband may take up to 4 wives. This is uncommon, because it is expensive, but it can happen.)

The solution arrived at by the missionaries was for the newly Christian couples to renew their vows in a Christian marriage ceremony. They did not deny the validity of the Muslim marriage, but they re-affirmed the marriage in new, Christian terms. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…”

A pastor I know teaches in Africa, and he reports on a strange (to us) marriage custom:

How many cows is she worth? The bride price is a culturally embedded practice that has prevented many in the church from marrying. Unless the uncles of the bride are given their determined amount of cows, or the equivalent value in cash and gifts, they do not grant permission for a young woman to marry. They receive these gifts and the couple makes promises to one another and to their families at the very colorful event called the Kwanjula. The Christian churches have added to this by requiring that the couple then have a “white wedding” in the church building to bind the couple before God. This, too, is a very costly and extravagant event. Many couples put off this white wedding, but they live together without rings on their fingers, having children and grandchildren.

We have the custom of giving gifts to the new couple. In Africa, somehow the uncles have managed to make marriage into a way for THEM to profit. (If anything, the cows ought to go to the bride’s father, to be held in trust for the bride.)  Some churches, unfortunately, have added another layer of expense, so that many couples want to be married, and they live as married couples, but they have a load of guilt because they are not certain of their real status.

This pastor recognizes that these couples are married before God once they have taken their vows, and that they should wear rings and feel no shame. But to make matters clear, and put their fears to rest, he presided over a simple church wedding service for some couples in this situation, with a simple party.

We Americans may be tempted to look at other customs and feel superior, but how would other nations look at our customs?  Undoubtedly, our super-expensive wedding customs deter some people from marrying.

This Silly “Pride” Reaction

One of these things is not like the other.

On Facebook, you have several options to “react” to a post or comment. You can like it, with a smile. You can love it, with a heart. You can be sad, or angry, or laughing, or just “wow.”

And now you can react with a little rainbow “pride” icon.

Note that in all the previous reactions, you are expressing your reaction to the post or comment.

In the new reaction, you are making not reacting to the comment, but you are making an out of context statement about yourself.

It is rather like walking into a discussion of yesterday’s baseball game at the company water cooler, and commenting upon the size of the zucchinis you are growing.

Let’s hope this thing fizzles (it doesn’t seem to be catching on very much), and that no one else thinks it is a bright idea to develop, for example, a “donkey” reaction (for Democrats), or a “crosshairs” (for NRA members), or some other such nonsense.

Sassing Back at Senator Sanders

Senator Sanders, fresh from losing to Hillary Clinton, has decided to take up theological arguments in the middle of a Senate hearing for a position in the Office of Management and Budget. (BTW, we could use Dave Ramsey in the OMB, but he was not the nominee.) Apparently believing what most Christians have believed for the last 2,000 years, and having the audacity to publish opinions based on this belief is enough to get the socialist Senator extremely angry. (Watch the video here. Senator Sanders acts shamefully starting at about 24:00, and then at 40:00.)  Russell Vought, unfortunately, was not expecting this treatment, and so this exchange quickly devolved into verbal mud-wrestling.

We Christians need to get used to this sort of treatment, and be ready to respond quickly. So here are some proposed improvements to Mr. Vought’s responses:

Sen. Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. “Phobia” means irrational fear, and in the long run, there is nothing to fear even from Islamic terrorists. Even though they currently kill gays, Jews, and Christians, they will all, just like you, Senator,  bend their knees before King Jesus. Unfortunately, in the short term they seem to be causing some problems, such as blowing up gay nightclubs and pop-music concerts. And that is why I practice concealed carry, Senator. Do you?

Sen. Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

Vought: Are you asking me if I believe that Muslims will not go to heaven when they die?

Sen Sanders: Yes, that is a fair restatement of my question.

Vought: I assure you that on that point, I am in complete agreement with the position of the American Atheists Society.

Sen. Sanders: What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Don’t you mean “we”? If you are concerned about where you will go when you die, then perhaps can talk in another place.  May I remind you that, even though I am a Christian, I am nominated for a job in the Office of Management and Budget, not a job in the National Cathedral.

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals, including those who constantly interrupt me in the middle of a sentence.

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought:  I said that I strive to respect all individuals, even if they have beliefs that I disagree with.  So for example, I try to respect even people whose holy book tells them they can have multiple wives, and that Jews would be turned into monkeys and pigs.  I even try to respect people who call themselves socialists, and who own 3 houses that they don’t share with others.

Sen. Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

Chairman: Perhaps you should look up the beliefs of the people who sailed on the Mayflower…

A Modest Proposal for the Rioters in DC Protesting Inauguration Day

So, Donald Trump was inaugurated today, and there was much rejoicing. Winners are supposed to celebrate, so that is good.  There was also a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  That’s OK, too.

And then there was this.  (Like idiots, they smashed the windows in a Starbucks.  Starbucks, as a business, is as far left as they come.)


And this.  (Destroying an unused limo only hurts the driver, if he is inside.  Morons):


and this:


There is plenty of video too, of protesters setting fires, smashing windows, and occasionally hurting policemen.  Here is one:

The DC riot police are now Trump’s to command, and he faces some choices.

If the riot police use the force that is needed to end this quickly (which arsonists, rioters, and vandals deserve), we will never hear the end of the complaints about police brutality.  If he lets them get away with it, that is also very bad.  They will just go burn down another city the next time they get mad.  And there are an awful lot of people to arrest and prosecute, so even with their best efforts they will only be able to punish a small number of these criminals.

So here is an idea that should be pursued in aditional to any criminal charges.

The riot police should use their batons and shields and firehoses and teargas to herd these protesters  (or at least a large portion of them) into a confined area, like they were preparing to arrest them.  And then they should wait.

For hours.

In an area where the protesters have no food.

Or water.

Or bathroom facilities.

Just let them stew in their own juices for maybe 12 hours.  Or 24 or even 36 if they are being real jerks.

They won’t be able to complain about brutality, and there won’t be any video generated that will discredit the new administration.  There will just be a bunch of pathetic, cold, filthy, hungry vandals and arsonists.


I Shouldn’t Wine About this, But…

In the Christmas season, our office is full of gifts from vendors.  As expected, the Purchasing Department gets the most stuff, because, well, they buy the most stuff.  And most of it is food.  So if I visit that department enough, I don’t even need to buy lunch.

But sometimes even us engineers get a present.  Like this bottle of local wine a vendor sent me, as a token of appreciation for buying his equipment. It is called “Duct Tape Red”.  Unfortunately, this vendor is not from a place known for its wines, so our family of wine snobs did not give it the greatest reviews.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t write a blurb for it.  So here goes:

“Like its namesake, this red wine fixes everything, at least for a few hours, if used in large enough quantities.  With hints of its namesake, cranberries, and Gatorade, it is best enjoyed in a Red Solo cup, over ice, in large quantities, after a nasty break-up, the death of one’s favorite ‘Walking Dead’ character,” or despair over the results of the last election.”

I think it will be OK if we add some juices and make sangria out of it.

Why is Christmas on December 25?

Many people will say that December 25 (or January 6, if you are Eastern Orthodox) is a made-up date for Jesus’ birthday. They will say that Christians chose the day, not because it was Jesus birthday, but because it was the same time as Saturnalia. The idea is that Christians picked the date either to replace the pagan feast day, or to be able to celebrate something on that day in order to evade persecution. So, when was Jesus really born?

In Luke’s gospel, there are some hints at the real date of Jesus’ birth. Luke is the gospel writer who is most detail oriented, and the most likely to tie events to secular history. For example, in Luke 2:1-3, we know that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem as a result of a census. If we knew from Roman history when the census was, we would at least be able to place the date of Jesus’ birth within a season. Lacking this, however, we can begin to work backwards.

The people at that time believed that it took nine months (270 days) from conception to birth. This is not exactly right (at least these days), but it is fairly close.

Luke 1:26-38 records Gabriel’s message to Mary. There are two chronological clues here. One is that this event happened “in the sixth month” (v. 26). I have two commentaries (William Hendrickson and Matthew Henry) that say this is referring to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but it could also mean the sixth month of the year. The other clue is that Elizabeth is in her “sixth month” of pregnancy when Gabriel spoke to Mary. For this to work, we need to assume that Mary conceived very shortly after Gabriel appeared, it is sixth months from Elizabeth’s conception of John the Baptist to Mary’s conception of Jesus.

So we know that John the Baptist was conceived 15 months before Jesus was born.

If we continue backwards, we note that John the Baptist’s father was Zecharias, a priest of “the division of Abijah.” This means almost nothing to the modern reader, but for a reader in Luke’s time this meant a lot. There were many priests by this time, and they had to take turns ministering in the temple. If you knew which division a priest came from, you could figure out when he served at the Temple. It was believed that a priest ended his service in the Temple at the end of a Jewish calendar year.

There is another assumption at work here. The calculation assumes that Zecharias, shortly after his vision, went home, and that John the Baptist was conceived shortly thereafter. This is not a bad assumption.

So if we follow these dates, working backwards from December 25, we get:

Gabriel appears to Mary (March 25)

Angel appears to Zecharias (September 25 of previous year).

There is an ancient church document (“De Solstitiis”) which works with the assumption that Zecharias completed his term of service in the Temple on this date (which is also when the Jewish year changes over.)

Here are some notes from a lecture by Dr. Jack Kinneer (Origins of Christmas) that explain how and when Christmas originated, and how the dates were calculated. This focuses on how the date was derived using biblical data.

Here is another article (Calculating Christmas, by William J. Tighe) which looks at other ways that the date of Christmas was calculated.

In conclusion, the date of Christmas that we celebrate may not be right, but it was a good educated guess by teachers in the Ancient Church. It was not a date picked because of its association with a pagan holiday. (In fact, the reverse may be true.) To get this date, they used information from the Bible, plus knowledge of Jewish practices, plus some assumptions that were common at the time.

Sympathy for the Debbie (Wasserman Schultz, That Is)

Poor Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla). In a recent New York Times interview, she made a remark about younger women, who are apparently not so excited about Hillary:

Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide? Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.

For this comment, a number of conservatives are annoyed, but fragile young leftist women, feeling hurt by her comments, are now screaming for her head.   Sometimes the revolution eats its own.

Like most Floridians, she can sense when the sharks are in the water, so she quickly backtracked with a few tweets like this, where she tried to identify herself with this younger generation:

I want to be clear about this: Many in *my generation* got complacent after Roe, thinking the fight for safe, legal abortion was over. 1/6

What she said in the New York Times interview and what she said in her Tweet can only both be true if she is less than 43 years old.  Which she obviously isn’t.

As a conservative who is amused by her stumbles, and as a father of young ladies, I am happy to help explain this “complacency” among young women.  It is not so much “complacency” as it is a sharp division of opinion.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz is surely aware that children tend to be like their parents.  This may be why, in a moment when her Jewishness trumped her liberalism, she was caught on tape saying that intermarriage was “a problem” for Jewish people.  Children of interfaith marriages tend to leave Judaism because they were not fully raised in it.  She is right about this, though her thought is hardly original, and when confronted, she backtracked again.  Heck, Moses, Ezra, and Nehemiah said that it was a bad idea for Jews to marry non-Jews, unless they converted first.

Now, if children tend to grow up sharing the beliefs of their parents, then let’s apply this thought to the issue of beliefs about abortion.  If you attend a pro-life event, you will typically see a lot of young people and moms pushing strollers.  This is because, on average, pro-life people tend to have more babies (this is not just a Catholic phenomenon), who have a good chance of growing up to be pro-life.

In contrast, while some of the children of strongly pro-choice parents hold their parents’ views, many of the children of strongly pro-choice parents are not politically active at all.  In fact, they are not active at all, because they were never born.  And so there is evidence that the younger generation, despite being more liberal on most social issues, is more conservative on abortion than the generation before it.

So Debbie, lighten up.  The problem is not complacency, it is that your side is making yourselves extinct by putting your views into practice.  This is unfortunate, but you cannot say that we pro-lifers failed to warn you.


Gunshots in Mom’s Neighborhood, Again

How did you react to the title of this post?

Some of you had an immediate negative reaction.  Maybe you just don’t like guns.  But more likely, you formed an image in your head of where my mom lives.  If she lived in the city, like I do, gunshots would obviously be a very bad thing.

It is true that the last time we went to visit my mother, we heard the sound of gunshots in her neighborhood, again.

But my mom lives way out in the country.  She and my stepfather have 50 acres of land, with two farm ponds, 3 gardens, chickens (sometimes), some farmland, and some woods.  Their “backyard” borders state game lands, so in the fall there are hunters, and that includes family members.  On many Saturdays, some of the neighbors will be target shooting.  Perhaps my brother will be giving shooting lessons to my son.  And if a groundhog shows up near the garden, we have ways of discouraging it.

If you hear gunshots at their house, it is just a normal part of life, and it is not a sign that anyone is up to no good, or that anyone is in danger.

City life and country life are different, and thinking people have realized this ever since there have been cities.  It has always been the case that the people in the city make the laws, and the people in the country make the food.  Most of the time, the people who make the laws have been able to appreciate the difference between the lifestyles.

However, we currently have an increase in tensions between city and country, and gun laws are a symptom of that tension.  If you are from the country, you will think of guns in terms of their recreational and practical uses.  If you are from the city, you are more likely to associate guns with crime.  In at least two states (New York) and Colorado) the urban majority has passed gun laws that the rural areas are just plain ignoring.  Our urban-minded President’s latest executive orders, which may be harder to ignore, will still face court challenges for the remainder of his term, and they will be wildly unpopular in rural areas, where murder rates are low.

Ironically, despite his stated intentions, these orders will primarily affect law-abiding rural and middle class gun buyers while leaving urban criminals’ gun-buying habits untouched.