Journey of the Magi

Consider this poem, Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different: this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Go here to listen to a recording of Eliot himself reading his poem: Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot – Poetry Archive.  (And notice what happened to his St. Louis accent after going off to England!)

Now, class:  What is the meaning of these images in the second stanza: the three trees on the low sky; the vine leaves on the lintel; the hands dicing for pieces of silver; the empty wine-skins?

What is the meaning of this statement in the third stanza:  “I had seen birth and death,/But had thought they were different”?

Baptists debate alcohol

Two decades after declaring victory in the war over biblical inerrancy, Southern Baptists are battling about booze.

Seeking to remain relevant in today’s culture, many Baptists have abandoned former taboos against social activities like dancing and going to movies. Now some are questioning the denomination’s historic position of abstaining from alcohol, prompting others to draw a line. . . .

The ruckus — and the post-convention blogs that kept the argument alive — prompted Peter Lumpkins, a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 20 years before turning to a writing ministry, to pen his first book: Alcohol Today: Abstinence in an Age of Indulgence, in 2009.

“One would be hard-pressed to locate a belief — outside believers’ baptism by immersion itself — which reflects more unity among Southern Baptists than abstinence from intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes,” Lumpkins said in an e-mail interview.

Lumpkins, who blogs at SBC Tomorrow, said younger Southern Baptist leaders do not appreciate that history and instead view teetotalism as extra-biblical and nothing more than “Pharisaical legalism.”

Lumpkins is among Southern Baptists who view relaxed attitudes about social drinking as the biggest controversy facing the Southern Baptist Convention since the “conservative resurgence” debate over Scripture in the 1980s. . . .

Lumpkins describes “a cataclysmic moral shift away from biblical holiness expressed in biblical Lordship toward the relativistic, postmodern norms of American pop culture, including its hedonistic obsession with fulfilling desires.”

Unless the “Christian hedonism” trend is halted, Lumpkins fears “the largest Protestant voice for abstinence soon will succumb to the ominous lure of an age of indulgence. We will forfeit our biblical heritage to the whims of an obsessive pop morality that wildly sniffs the wind but for the faintest scent of pleasure fulfilled.”

Lumpkins, a binge drinker in his youth, says the church has “conceded its historic role as the moral conscience of our culture, particularly as it forfeited its once-strong position on abstinence from intoxicating beverages for pleasurable purposes.” . . .

He also lays out a biblical case for abstinence. While there are verses that seem to praise wine, he says, there are others that condemn wine, a point overlooked by those who argue the Bible only condemns drunkenness and not drinking.

His final hurdle is the story in the Gospel of John about the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. Lumpkins says the Greek and Hebrew words translated “wine” don’t distinguish between fresh and fermented grape juice, and he doubts the Son of God would “manifest forth his glory” by sprucing up a party that had run out of alcohol.

via Baptists debate social drinking | The Christian Century.

Isn’t the argument that Jesus didn’t create alcohol because he wouldn’t rather circular?  And since when do Jewish weddings serve grape juice?  Making abstinence from alcohol a matter of Biblical teaching just cannot be done.   I’m curious where Baptists are coming down on this debate.  I’d like to hear from you Baptists out there.

Regulation vs. Legislation

Charles Krauthammer shows how the Executive Branch can get its way even when the Legislative Branch votes down its plans:

Most people don’t remember Obamacare’s notorious Section 1233, mandating government payments for end-of-life counseling. It aroused so much anxiety as a possible first slippery step on the road to state-mandated late-life rationing that the Senate never included it in the final health-care law.

Well, it’s back – by administrative fiat. A month ago, Medicare issued a regulation providing for end-of-life counseling during annual “wellness” visits. It was all nicely buried amid the simultaneous release of hundreds of new Medicare rules.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), author of Section 1233, was delighted. “Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated ‘a quiet victory,’ but urged supporters not to crow about it,” reports the New York Times. Deathly quiet. In early November, his office sent an e-mail plea to supporters: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists . . . e-mails can too easily be forwarded.” They had been lucky that “thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it. . . . The longer this [regulation] goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

So much for the Democrats’ transparency – and for their repeated claim that the more people learn what is in the health-care law, the more they will like it. Turns out ignorance is the Democrats’ best hope.

And regulation is their perfect vehicle – so much quieter than legislation. Consider two other regulatory usurpations in just the past few days:

On Dec. 23, the Interior Department issued Secretarial Order 3310, reversing a 2003 decision and giving itself the authority to designate public lands as “Wild Lands.” A clever twofer: (1) a bureaucratic power grab – for seven years up through Dec. 22, wilderness designation had been the exclusive province of Congress, and (2) a leftward lurch – more land to be “protected” from such nefarious uses as domestic oil exploration in a country disastrously dependent on foreign sources.

The very same day, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that in 2011 it would begin drawing up anti-carbon regulations on oil refineries and power plants, another power grab effectively enacting what Congress had firmly rejected when presented as cap-and-trade legislation.

via Charles Krauthammer – Government by regulation. Shhh..

Win a prize from the government

The government is offering prizes to get people to innovate and to solve problems.

“Inducement prizes” (as opposed to “recognition prizes,” like the Nobel or the MacArthur or the Pulitzer) make up a major part of the Obama administration’s grand Strategy for American Innovation. Last year, outlining its vision for a more competitive America, the White House said the government “should take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside” Washington by using “high-risk, high-reward policy tools such as prizes and challenges to solve tough problems.” . . .

In 2009, the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress, published a thorough survey of government prizes and their efficacy. To work best, it said, the challenge needs to be big (a question interesting enough to pique interest), specific (a question that can be answered) and rewarding (a question worth answering, with a prize worth winning). The top of its list of best practices reads: “The contest goal is widely judged to be worth pursuing and is in fact among the most important challenges facing the nation.” The prizewinning answer needs to offer “substantial” benefit to society, ideally in a “high-risk but high-reward” contest.

Thus far, the embryonic Challenge.gov is not always living up to that standard. For one, some of the prizes are way too small – as little as $1,000. And not all of the prizes are of demonstrable social value. For instance, one challenge asks participants to take an image from the National Archives “and mash it with the everyday world for a unique perspective on history today.” Winners, the contest notes, “will be featured in a National Archives postcard book.”

But the site does include some big fish – such as the Energy Department’s $15 million effort to design better light bulbs or the government-backed, just-completed $10 million X Prize to design a production-ready four-person car with 100-mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency.

via Challenge.gov in long tradition of giving prizes for solutions to tough problems.

So is there a lack of innovation in the technology world?  If someone invented a car that would get 100 miles per gallon, wouldn’t he or she make a lot of money anyway?

At any rate, go to Challenge.gov. Look at all of the prizes that are being offered. Maybe you too can win one.

A pound of flesh

Mississippi governor and would-be GOP presidential candidate has released two sisters from prison, after they served 16 years of a life-sentence.  One condition, though, is that one of the sisters donate her kidney to the other.

The mandated organ donor says she’s glad to do it, that she was going to do it anyway, but still. . . .What are the medical ethics of imposing a condition like that?

Freedom’s cost? One kidney | hattiesburgamerican.com | Hattiesburg American.

Connect these dots

Two unrelated news items that actually are related:

Some airports are planning on going back to private security screeners.  The private firms, which already operate in some airports, would still have to follow TSA procedures, including the use of scanners and pat-downs.  But they are said to be more effective because they can more easily get rid of incompetent employees than the TSA.

The reason Wikileaks was able to get access to all of those government secrets in one place was due to a program called Net-Centric Diplomacy.  It was designed to allow different agencies to have access to a common pool of intelligence data.  The problem is, it grew far beyond anyone’s ability to handle it.

What do these two stories have in common?


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