Saturday, January 28, 2012

Yeah right Newt

Newt, you say that a 30% income tax rate on the highest earning Americans would destroy jobs. I have three questions for you.
  1. We now know that Mitt paid about 14% on his 2010 income of $21.7 million. If Mitt had instead paid 30% (i.e., about $6½ million), how many jobs would would have been lost? Put differently, how many additional jobs did Mitt create because he paid about $3 million in income tax rather than $6½ million?
  2. If a 30% income tax on the rich is a job-killing figure, then how in the world did our economy grow at all from World War II through the 1970s, when tax rates on high-income Americans were much higher?
  3. Why do you and other Republicans keep repeating this same damnable lie? Do you think, "It worked for Hitler, so it'll work for us"?
You lying scoundrel! You whitewashed tomb! You reprobate! I'm embarrassed to be a Republican.

"What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51)

Or, How should we pray?

Before going into the Big Game, should an athlete pray for victory? Or should s/he pray for grace and faith whatever the outcome? Should parents pray that their investments will do well, so they can afford to send their kids to college? Or should they pray for wisdom and creativity regardless of the financial outcome?

The PC (pietistically correct) answer is to pray only for acceptance of God's will however things turn out, but that's not the biblical answer: both by example (Paul in 2 Cor. 12:7-9, David in 2 Samuel 15:31, and countless others) and by command (Philippians 4:6) the Bible tells us to pray specifically for what we want. There are of course conditions (not selfishly James 4:3; according to his will 1 John 5:14; abide in Christ and his words in us John 15:7; etc.) but God wants us to be honest with him. Yes, he already knows what we need (Matthew 6:8), yet we're told to ask. And here's the best part: sometimes he gives far more than we ask—or even could imagine asking as Paul tells us in Ephesians 3. I have a couple of examples. First, you may recall that Jesus was crucified together with two criminals.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43
I think this a remarkable passage. The “other criminal” asked only that Jesus remember him. But Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Imagine this: here's a guy who once was a little boy, playing in the fields or on the streets. Somehow his life turned to robbery (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27) and eventually to ignonimous execution. At the last, he realizes that his life is over; he begs for a little pity from Jesus, the Righteous One.

Imagine what light must have come into this man's final hours on earth when he heard that unbelievable good news from Jesus: today he would be in Paradise with Jesus himself!

Why didn't he say, "Lord, let me be with you in your kingdom" in the first place? (For this question I'm indebted to Mailis Janatuinen and her excellent Glad Tidings Bible Studies.) I think it's because he asked only what he could imagine. Thanks be to God, he can do far far beyond anything we can ask or even imagine.

The second example, which I must have heard some decades ago, concerns a young girl who had severe problems with her feet due to some disease. Her father didn't have much money for the very expensive orthopedic shoes she would need. I think he bought a lottery ticket or bet on some horse race or something like this. He prayed fervently that God would bless his gamble.

Or maybe he was a salesman and he prayed that God would enable him to sell more of his product, or maybe he asked his boss for a raise. I don't remember exactly what it was, but he prayed with great energy and sincerity.

Well, his horse lost, his lottery ticket didn't pay off, he didn't exceed his quota... and with a heavy heart he took his daughter to the doctor. He had no idea how to pay for the very expensive orthopedic shoes, and he didn't understand why his prayers weren't answered.

Then came the astonishing news: his little girl's feet were inexplicably healed; no orthopedic shoes would be necessary. As far as the doctor could tell, this girl would be just fine with regular shoes.

This father had prayed that his bet/ticket/efforts would succeed, but they didn't. Instead he got something so much better. Why didn't he pray for his little girl's feet to be healed?

Like the criminal in Luke 23, he could only pray what he could imagine. Also like the criminal in Luke 23, the father received far more than he could ask or imagine.

God sometimes does that, and we get glimpses of his goodness, the abundance riches of his grace in kindness toward us.

The question always arises, "Why didn't God do that for me?"—or for any number of other people who prayed and saw nothing happen? I'll tell you: I don't know. Nobody else knows, either. And here's something else: it's not necessarily your fault, and you are not alone.

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, [were tempted,] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Hebrews 11:37-38 (NJKV)
But he does answer sometimes, and gives such astonishing and extravagant gifts that we are amazed, and wonder, and worship.

CDs of Shakespeare for (almost) free!

The lovely Carol wants to listen to a few Shakespeare plays for her MFA program, and asked me how to get CDs of them. Yeah, I can hear you now. "CDs? That's so 20th century!"

Two words for you: car stereo. "Ruby," our 2004 Subaru, has a CD player but no mp3 player and no aux input jack. The other thing about the car stereo is that, unlike an iPod, you can't leave it on a bench somewhere. If you're in the car, the car stereo's there.

All-righty then. A search on "twelfth night audio" (no quotes) led me to LibriVox site and the download page for King Lear, which you see at right. As you can see, the play runs about 3½ hours, and there are five mp3 files, one per act.

So far so good, but there are two issues we want to deal with. First, a music CD holds what, 65 or 70 minutes, right? Notice the duration of the various parts of the play:

  • Act 1 – 00:53:42
  • Act 2 – 00:38:56
  • Act 3 – 00:38:38
  • Act 4 – 00:42:54
  • Act 5 – 00:28:52
How do we put these on CDs? Act I goes on one CD. Great, fantastic. Act 2 goes on another -- but that leaves 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes unused at the end of that CD. But not 38:38 -- not enough time for Act 3! Will Act 4 and Act 5 fit together on a single CD? Maybe.

So that's the first issue. The second issue is, if the CD's in the car stereo and somebody wants to change the CD, then how can you recover your place? If one track is 28 or 42 or 53 minutes long, it's rather a pain. So we want to have track divisions at maybe 10-minute intervals.

So here's what we're gonna do. First, change each mp3 file into a "wav" file. For this, we'll use "lame" (meaning "lame ain't no mp3 encoder"). Then we'll use the compact "snd" together with "sox" to split the "wav" files into 10-minute pieces. The plan then would be to put these onto CDs as follows:

  1. Act 1 + 12 minutes of act 2
  2. about 27 minutes of act2 + act 3
  3. acts 4 and 5
Well, we'll see how that works out. So after downloading all the mp3s, we convert them to wavs by typing:
lame --decode Downloads/king_lear_1_shakespeare.mp3 /tmp/k1.wav
and so on for the other 4 files.

Next, we want to divide each of these into (about) ten-minute segments. Where exactly do we divide them, and how? To answer the "where" we'll use snd. You may want to use something else, but "snd" works for me. In the image at left, you can see what looks like a pretty quiet spot about 612 seconds in. The x-axis shows just 611.0 and 613.0 and a bunch of tick-marks; you have to interpolate... well, or you can position the cursor and click, and you'll get a little number near the lower-left corner; you can see it if you enlarge the image -- "612.5030" -- let's just call it 612.5. We'll look for quiet spots around 1200 seconds in, 1800 seconds in, etc., and break the ".wav" file at those points.

But one thing at a time. Given the first break-point, at 612.5 seconds, I type:
sox /tmp/k1.wav -c 2 Desktop/k1.1.wav trim 0 =10:12.5
which is explained as

  • sox
    the program name.
  • /tmp/k1.wav
    the input file
  • -c 2
    Make the output have two channels (stereo) as CDs have
  • Desktop/k1.1.wav
    the output file
  • trim 0 =10:12.5
    Trim 0 off the front, and everything past 10:12.5 (612.5 seconds) from the start.
The next breakpoint looks to be about 1206.2 seconds, which is 20:06.2 so I'll type
sox /tmp/k1.wav -c 2 Desktop/k1.2.wav trim 10:12.5 =20:06.2
and so on for the rest of the 53-minute act. Here are the files for Act I:
collin@p3:/mnt/home/collin> ls -o /tmp/k1.wav; ls -o Desktop/k1.*.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 284258442 2012-01-23 20:30 /tmp/k1.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 108045044 2012-01-23 20:48 Desktop/k1.1.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 104728724 2012-01-27 21:08 Desktop/k1.2.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 107039564 2012-01-27 21:18 Desktop/k1.3.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin 103723244 2012-01-27 21:19 Desktop/k1.4.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin  85906844 2012-01-27 21:20 Desktop/k1.5.wav
-rw-r--r-- 1 collin  59073640 2012-01-27 21:20 Desktop/k1.6.wav
You may wonder why it is that the six files come to about 56 Mbytes whereas the original /tmp/k1.wav was closer to 28 Mbytes; it's because the output files are stereo, which I think we need for recording on CDs.

I do the same with the rest of King Lear's ".wav" files, aiming for 66 minutes (my guess for how much will fit on a blank CD) on each. The last CD has over 70 minutes, but it still just might fit -- I'm finding out now.

For actually burning the CDs, well, my CD-writer is broken, so I'm using a mac mini, which belongs to the lovely Carol. It's pretty easy to do on a Mac using iTunes (we are running OS X 10.6). Here are the steps:

  1. File → Add to Library
    then select the files (in this case k1.1.wav up to k5.3.wav
  2. Select 65-70(?) minutes' worth of tracks, then File → New playlist from selection
    Then name each playlist
  3. right-click on a playlist and "burn CD from playlist"
And Bob's yer uncle. To summarize, we
  • get free MP3 files from librivox (or wherever);
  • convert to 44.1khz stereo WAV files using lame
  • Separate into tracks (if needed) using snd and sox
  • import into iTunes
  • create iTunes playlists
  • burn CD image using iTunes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-reading the Psalms

One of our pastors recommended Peterson's book Answering God. Early on, Peterson says we have three languages; really they're overlapping subsets but I agree they're broad categories of speech:
  • The simple expression of a need—not very articulate but often effective. A baby's cry is an example of this language.
  • Another language is what conveys information and ideas.
  • Persuasive, motivational speech is the third.
According to Peterson, the Psalms are examples of the first language, or category of speech. Now of course they aren't just the first category, but a lot of what they are is that:
Give ear unto my words, O Lord.
Consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry,
My king and my God,
For unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning.
O Lord, in the morning
Will I direct my prayer unto thee
And will look up.
I don't remember which psalm that was (probably 3 or 5; too lazy to look it up) but it was set to music some years ago and I remembered the words from that. One could argue that the psalmist is conveying information here (My Plans for Tomorrow Morning) and maybe trying to persuade or influence God (Give ear, consider, hearken). But I think Peterson is on to something in saying the psalms are mostly the cry of a dependent, contingent creature, directed toward the Creator.

It's struck me lately that we are a lot less capable and secure in ourselves than we often think we are. It's not just in Tunisia or Egypt or China where the government might decide to persecute someone arbitrarily—who was that guy that the feds accused (incorrectly) of spreading anthrax?

And I believe it was here in the US that the government released radioactive dust into the air to see how many people it would sicken or kill.

Besides governments and organized crime, there's disease and accident. Men my age, and younger, have dropped dead from heart attacks—sometimes with no prior warning.

We know how a lot of diseases happen; what we don't know is why we don't have just about everybody sick or dying just about all the time. The same could be said for motor vehicle (or airplane) accidents.

It would not surprise me if one day I learn that there really are angels preventing death and disease, that "upholding all things by his powerful word" and "in him all things consist" are more literal than we usually think.

But one thing is certain: every moment of every day is a gift. By reminding me of my contingent existence, my dependence upon a merciful Lord, they help me appreciate that gift.