Thursday, July 06, 2006

Our lives hang by a thread. Where do we store our treasure?

Enron CEO Ken Lay, 1942-2006

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me."

He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?"

Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."

Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.

He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?'

And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"

But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'

Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

--Luke 12: 13-21


Paula said...

Chilling.And true.

crystal said...

Jeff, this is off the subject, but I thought you would know about it ... did Thomas Aquinas write something about the lesser of two evils - that it's ok to do a lesser evil to avoid doing a greater evil? Thanks.

Jeff said...

Hi Paula,

It is true, but is it in poor taste? Too personal for a cautionary tale? Should I take it down?

Hi Crystal,

I'm not much of a Thomist. I don't know the Summa very well, but I think you pretty much have it right. You should always choose the greater, or positive good if you can, but if you can't, you can choose the lesser evil only for the purpose of avoiding the greater evil. Why, what do you have in mind?

crystal said...

Ha :-). It's just an argument I'm having with Matthew (Liberal Jesus). He's on Bonhoeffer's side in the argument of whether it's ok to kill one person to save many. I'm on the other side, but can't express very well why I think I'm right.

Jeff said...


Is this one of those arguments such as "It would have been better to kill Hitler than to let Word War II happen"?

I don't think we can always and easily reduce things down to that level. There is such a myriad and confluence of factors that go into such momentuous events, I don't think that we can always justify "pre-emptive" killing in that instance. Take the example of Saddam Hussein. We tried to kill him on the first day of the war and several times after, but it probably wouldn't have changed much of anything. We captured him pretty early on, and all hell has broken loose and continues to spread regardless. An argument may be made that it is justifiable to kill an Osama bin Laden, becasue he is a direct and definite threat to kill many more innocent people again, but the sanguine recognition needs to be in place that someone else (maybe even worse) is likely to replace him.... And then of course, the killing goes on and on, and you find yourself right in the same situation you were trying to avoid in the first place. Take the Israelis as an example. All of this selective, targeted killing doesn't appear to have made Israel any safer.

Paula said...

Nah, do not take it down. It is a passionate post.I like it. Poor taste? No. Even if some will think that is poor taste, so what?
We should dare to be passionate about our faith.:-).

crystal said...

Yay! Jeff agree with me :-)

Jeff said...

Paula and Crystal,


Thanks, I could use a little more steel in my spine these days.


Paula said...

You have enough steel in spine, in my opinion.:-).The righ amount I would say. If you get more you will be too rigid.:-)

Jeff said...


You know, I often wonder if the thing we equivocate about most with the Gospel is chasing after wealth and the acquisition of things. Jesus wasn't always sweetness and light when it came to the rich. I know some people see this like a tired cliche, but Jesus really did deliver his sternest warnings to the wealthy. He spent a lot more time warning about the danger of riches than he did about sex. We try to sugar-coat this all the time with equivocations like "Well, he was really talking about the poor in spirit, they are many ways to be poor, inclusding spiritually poor. It's OK to be rich as long as God is # 1 in your life", and "Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but he then followed up by saying that with God, all things are possible..."

All of that is true, but the drumbeat in the Gospel is constant and pretty clear. In this case, I think an honest reflection on the words of Jesus in the Gospel on this matter would lead you to conclude that WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get).

On the other hand, we were overdrawn $400 last month, and this month looks tight on paying the bills too. :-)

Paula said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paula said...

Jeff,agree with you.:-)
Those who are wealthy but detached from their material possesions (I mean really detached):-) they would use their wealth to help others and they would rather live a "normal" than a luxurious life.
The only example of a wealthy person living like this is Forrest Gump.:-)).

I think that spiritual poverty is not real when someone lives a luxurious or a really affluent life.A decent, balanced life based on satisfying the needs, reducing the wants and in sharing the surplus as much as possible is ideal for spiritual growth (my opinion).

Some people on my blog did not understood what I posted and commented about poverty I think.
No problem I will re-open the topic.:-)

About bills: my contract at University ended last October and since then I had to support myself while writing my thesis. It was not easy and even now it is not.:-). Fortunately my material needs are quite modest. I could take a poverty vow tomorrow :-) as long as they allow me as many books as I want.

Jeff said...


What are you writing your thesis on? Would a layman like me with a high-school level understanding of biology be able to understand what it is? :-)

Jeff said...

PS... I hear you regarding the books... They are my weakness as well. I love owning my own books. At least I wait for paperback most of the time...

Some women, when they can't find their husbands, worry about where they are. Are they in a bar, or someplace else?

Anne knows when she can't find me, that I'm either at the library or the bookstore with my cellphone turned off. :-)

Paula said...

My thesis is on protein folding. More exactly it deals with the folding of a protein from a common bacteria. The algoritm that makes any protein fold into a beautiful tridimensional strucrure is not known and this makes the general field of protein folding hot.:-).
What I do it is only basic research, nothing with practical application. Only adding a bit more knoledge to the field. It is good research training but involves a lot of hair splitting. There is my email at my profile, if you want a bit of material on my work drop me an email and i will send you some images (pretty nice).

I am addicted to books also.:-). I have always been.

Jeff said...


That's pretty cool. I googled "Protein Folding" and it sounds fascinating. On the Stanford site it says:


It's amazing that not only do proteins self-assemble -- fold -- but they do so amazingly quickly: some as fast as a millionth of a second. While this time is very fast on a person's timescale, it's remarkably long for computers to simulate.

In fact, it takes about a day to simulate a nanosecond (1/1,000,000,000 of a second). Unfortunately, proteins fold on the tens of microsecond timescale (10,000 nanoseconds). Thus, it would take 10,000 CPU days to simulate folding -- i.e. it would take 30 CPU years! That's a long time to wait for one result!

Wow. That's going to be one heck of an algorithm for you to crack. :-) The site listed some possible bio-medical applications. Someone was telling me not too long ago about how some people are looking at bacteria as a source of renewable and self-perpetuating energy. I wonder if that takes protein folding into consideration?

Paula said...

we do not deal directly with cracking the code (which is going to be tougher to crack than the genetic code). We (my group) deal with the kinetic and themodynamic aspects of the late stages of folding mechanism for several membrane proteins. If you google "outer membrane protein A" (OmpA for short) and "Konstanz" (the city where I live now) I think that you will find easy my group. :-).

I would love to work on bio-medical applications instead of what i am doing now.:-). It would make much more sense. As I told you already I had to do a lot of hair-splitting beside the interesting stuff. But I guess that this is the academical research.:-).

I have no idea right now how the protein folding would correlate with what you mentioned (energy).:-).

Jeff said...


Interesting stuff. Be proud of what you do. It may turn out to be more important and less mundane than you think. :-)


Paula said...

It is hair-splitting mainly. Belive me. Good training and nothing more.
Anway I have invested enough in this training. I will get my degree and find a job which will allow me more time to simply live. I do not want to be a career woman. I have been there, done that for few years, and like with postmodern dating :P, I have understood what it means actually.:-).
I am not going to get drunk with Kool-aid: career, success blah-blah-blah, money, "freedom and emancipation" more blah-blah-blah...:-).Nah.Thanks.:-)


joeh said...

"Take the Israelis as an example. All of this selective, targeted killing doesn't appear to have made Israel any safer. "

But Israel exists which it would not if they did not defend themselves. Does Israel have a right to life?
Iraq and many other extremist of the muslim distortion of religion have no use for you or your faith or your values. I recently saw a picture where a 7 year old boy caught stealing was being held by his father so his hands could be cut off. We are fighting a war which started centuries ago and is not over because some are to afraid to fight the war that needs to be fought to end it. How did Germany and Japan turn to peaceful nations? We firebombed their cities, dropped atomic bombs, and told them we would not stop until we had "unconditional surrender". You cannot negotiate with evil. Some would say that JP II ended the Soviet Union. I say he would have been dead without the clear backing of the US under a strong president in Reagan.

Jeff said...


Israel does have a right to exist and to defend itself, but it did not have the right to build settlements on occupied territories. It only made matters far worse for itself in doing so, and it weakened their own moral authority. A two-state solution is needed. Once that happens, they can defend their borders in good conscience.

Japan and Germany were intensely militaristic societies. After their defeat in WWI the Germans were placed under crushing punitive sanctions under the Versailles Treaty. All of the blame for the war was placed upon their shoulders. Rather than ameliorating their militarism, it caused bitter and simmering resentment which intensified their militarism and made the rise of the Nazis easier than it otherwise would have been.

You can make a strong argument that we plastered the German and Japanese cities so badly during WWII and devastated their countries so completely that we killed their taste for war and made them into pacifists.

A strong counter-argument can be made that all indications seem to indicate that in WWII and all other subsequent wars, aerial bombing consistently strengthens the resolve of a people to resist their attackers rather than to weaken it. The Germans fought for that fool Hitler to the last man-jack. The Japanese citizenry would have willingly accepted the a-bombs right into oblivion. It was the emperor who came to his senses and put an end to it. His generals wanted to keep on fighting. The counter-argument can continue by stating that the reason why the Japanese and the Germans are among the biggest proponents of non-violence today is because they were dealt with justly and magnaminously in a series of wise policy decisions after the war, and their countries were rebuilt in good faith in such a manner that they came to respect our freedoms and our way of life.

The Soviets tried to have JPII killed anyway, regardless of whether Reagan was behind him, and he wasn't afraid to die anyway.

There are a billion Muslims in the world. Do we need to nuke them all? Firebomb all of their cities? Kill them all? Is that the practical solution?

joeh said...

Israel built on lands that they won over after they were attacked by the surrounding countries not once but multiple times. Today the leadership of Iran has vowed to wipe them off the face of the earth. The world pushes Israel to come to peace table after peace table and make concessions to those who have not kept their word and who have seperate groups who use terror as their weapon. The bully on the school yard understands only one language especially if the rest of the world fails to bring the bully to justice.
WWI ended with a lot of issues to be negotiated rather than end with a clear concise victory. The result was a mess and not only the groundwork for WWII, but also created the mess in the middle east. I have no doubt that without the firebombing and nuclear weapons, we would not have seen an end with unconditional surrender. The Japanese in many ways are like the terrorist of today. They were willing to kill themselves with suicide to kill others. Without the firebombing and nuclear weapons, we would have lost thousands upon thousands of our soldiers killing women and children. Having been in VietNam, I can tell you that we would have won the war with the right bombing to the right targets rather than having the pols create known sanctuaries. We would be in a fight and arrive at a point of land where we could not go further and the enemy knew this. War demands that you do everything necessary to defeat the enemy or do not ask soldiers to go and risk their lives in the first place.

The terrorist today preach that America is weak and the polls show them they are right. We will not sustain a fight and will not use all means to win the fight. You are correct in that there are a lot of Muslims, but we are not doing those Muslims who do not want to kill us any good by not strongly going after the radical element in their so called religion. We also need to demand that those who do not want to kill us must help us or be considered colaborators. They should have a choice. If they choose to support the radical element with words or money, then they should have to leave our country.

That is the main difference now in the immigration issue. Those who came to our country in the past came here for a new life in a land they dreamed about and loved. They wanted to be Americans. Now we have people who come here wanting to use America, but somehow seeming to hate us at the same time and have no intention of every really becoming Americans. Those who came before or during the World Wars saw their sons go off to fight for American often against their old countries.

Jeff said...

Hi Joeh,

Technically, the 1967 war a pre-emptive strike by Israel, but yes, there were Arab plans afoot to attack them. In the 1982 incursion into Lebanon, the Shiites in southern Lebanon initially welcomed the Israelis, because they resented the violent presence of the Palestinians, but over time they came to hate the heavy-handed Israeli occupation, and Hezbollah and the nihilistic cult of the suicide bomber was born out of it. Israel had never encountered anything like this before. For the first time, after 20 years of occupation, they had to withdraw, because they realized that a prolonged occupation of a foreign country was having detrimental effects (beyond casualties) on their armed forces. Palestinian groups looked at the “success” of Hezbollah and copied their tactics. In Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, Israel faces more deadly, fanatical, and implacable foes than they ever did with Fatah and Black September. Even if Israel did occupy these Golan/Gaza/West Bank territories as a result of the wars they fought, that doesn’t mean that they had the right to build settlements on them. The original intent of holding onto those lands was:

1) To have as a military buffer zone in the case of a further attack.
2) To serve as a disincentive against further attack (“the more you attack us, the more ground you lose”).
3) To use as bargaining chips for a negotiated peace settlement.

Once Israel caved to pressure from their own right wing groups and started building settlements on those territories, they stopped acting like a a nation fighting for its own survival and started acting like an expansionist power. They wanted to present the Arabs and the western nations putting pressure on them with a fait accompli by “locking in” events on the ground with settlements. I believe the settlement policy was against the ethos and the moral stance of the founders of the state of Israel, and I think there are many Israelis who agree with me. I think even Sharon was coming around to the idea that the occupied territories need to be withdrawn from unilaterally if Israel is going to have any long-term chance of survival.

Now, as you’ve alluded to it, Islamic fundamentalism is fascism. The leadership in Iran today is indeed very dangerous, but here is a case where the consequences of our invasion of Iraq has actually served to strengthen and embolden them rather than to weaken them. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were their greatest enemies, and in the power vacuum they have been able to assert their military and political influence in Shiite cities like Basra, Najaf, and Karbala. The theocracy is Iran is actually quite unpopular, but the Iranians are a proud people who take pride in the antiquity of their Persian culture. They resist what they perceive to be American bullying. American saber-rattling pushes some people there into the arms of the theocracy who may not otherwise want to be there. The dictators in Iran stage these things to pump up their own support. By demanding that people in these nations abide by the binary choices that we present them with, we back them into a corner, and few people respond well when cornered. I don’t know what faith tradition you come from, but you know how people circle the wagons when they feel that their faith is being attacked. They band against the outsider. Someday this theocracy will collapse under the weight of their own brutality and incompetence. In the wake of WWII we didn’t panic when the Russians and the Chinese worked their way towards becoming nuclear powers. We didn’t use preemptive stikes to wipe them out. We used a policy of containment. It looks like there is going to be a sort of Shiite super-state across Iran and Iraq. In a way, that might not be the worst thing, because it will be a power that can be held accountable. Nuclear weapons technology is over 60 years old now. It can’t be kept under wraps forever. It might be time to brush off those containment books and use them again. We don’t have any patience with anything anymore. We need to re-learn how to take a longer view of things.

You point out the mess after WWI. In the case of Germany, there was really no ambiguity or negotiation. The Germans were told the way it was going to be. As for the Middle East, you are very much correct. In fact, a lot of the origins of the world’s 20th century and 21st century troubles can be laid at the tips of the pens of Winston Churchill and his colonialist friends in the nonsensical lines they arbitrarily drew in Ireland, the Middle East, Africa, the Near East, and the Indian subcontinent.

As far as WWII was concerned, the A-bomb did end the war, but not because it broke the Japanese people. It broke the Emperor. I believe it was because emperor Hirohito knew that he was just a regular man and not a god, as his people supposed. He knew damned well that he wasn’t the “Son of Heaven” even if his people thought that he was. I think he had enough of an inkling of a conscience not to let his people be destroyed for the purpose of keeping up that scam for the sake of tradition. He’d kept the scam going for far too long as it was. A lot of people debate upon whether or not the decision to drop the A-bomb on Japan was immoral or not. I agree with you that the bomb saved not only American lives, but Japanese lives as well. A point that is often overlooked in the discussion, however, is that WWII had already long stopped being fought by any Just War criteria. Specifically, the firebombing of cities like Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo violated the principles of discrimination, proportionality, and minimum force, particularly taking into consideration that the Axis powers were clearly losing the war by 1945. There were other things that were problematic too. Before the Normandy landing for example, we killed many French civilians by bombing Pas De Calais in order to make sure that the Germans remained convinced that the landing would occur in Calais and not in Normandy. I understand the thinking behind it, but I can’t see how it fits under the Just War criteria.

You are a Viet Nam vet? I’m glad that you made it home. How are you doing? I have worked with a number of Viet Nam vets over the years. One that I work with now was in the 101st Airborne, and a couple of others were in the 25th Infantry Division (the “Electric Strawberry”). I’ve heard some differing opinions. Some say that we could have stood shoulder-to-shoulder and just moved north, rolling the country up like a carpet (I heard one tell the story of how the VC would leave the hamlet at dusk by way of the schoolyard to go and set up their night ambushes, and laugh at the American troops because they knew they couldn’t be fired at because of the rules of engagement – So I hear what you are saying). Others say that the more resources we poured in, it only served the purpose of increasing casualties on all sides, and that we were going to be waited out no matter what we did. They also question the basic morality of our involvment and the pretenses we used to enter the conflict. Whether there were known sanctuaries and no-fire zones, the Vietnamese people suffered enormously regardless, with huge numbers of civilian casualties.

America may be weak, or it may not be weak, I can’t say for sure. We seem to be more of a collection of individuals now than a united body. What I can say in confidence is that this president and this administration do not have this country on a war footing. Whether one agrees with the morality of this war or not, I think we can all see that no one is being asked to make any sacrifice for this effort other than the volunteers themselves and their families. All the president is asking the rest of us to do is to keep on shopping, keep on running up credit card debt, and keep on concentrating on consumerism and mindless television entertainment while our industries are gutted and sent overseas by trans-national corporations. With the way this economy has been hollowed out over the last couple of decades for the sake of this Republican sacred economic cow of globalization, it is amazing to me that anyone signs up to risk fighting and dying in a foreign land as it is... Which leads to the last point. I believe that the immigration that you decry is driven by the needs of business, and the needs of business run the agenda in this country. My take on immigration here.