Books Finished in December

(3 paper books, 2 e-book, and 4 audio books)

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Learning German – Resources I’m Currently Using

As of late I’ve been returning to German and Spanish. Both are languages which I’ve worked on in the past–but never got beyond some very primitive basics. The awesome language learning platform “Duolingo” has enticed me into returning to these languages.

I’m keeping it pretty simple–I’m trying to get to the point where I have a basic reading comprehension so that I could slowly read a book in the target language.

Here are some resources I have been using for German:

  • Duolingo – I use this language learning platform on both the web and their app on my Android phone. My brilliant niece’s description of Duolingo is worth reading.
  • German for Beginners (from Barnes & Noble’s Everyday Handbooks series) by Charles Duff and Paul Stamford
  • Steuben (Cultural Graded Readers) by C. R. Goedsche and W. E. Glaettli
  • Michel Thomas’ German audio lessons

Are you working on learning a language? What are you using?

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Mere Strangers – Xenophobia is Forgetting Redemptive History

SimonPatrickA previous article I wrote ( left many areas for further exploration. One obvious one would be a survey of how Leviticus 19:33-34 has been historically understood. This article does not pretend to do that, but will look at one example from the seventeenth century.

There aren’t many seventeenth century commentaries on Leviticus that are complete and readily available. In 1689, the Anglican Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) produced one of them. We will look at his comments on Leviticus 19:33-34 (p. 389-391), a Bible text which reads:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (ESV)

Simon Patrick sees a “natural law” aspect embedded in the text, where “common Humanity” teaches everyone “to be kind to all manner of Strangers.” And this kindness is “not merely to refrain from oppressing them.”

However, in Patrick’s eyes, the force of the passage is not rooted in “common Humanity” but rather a specific remembrance of a portion of redemptive history. The text was grounded in remembering the time the Israelites were strangers in Egypt and were treated with kindness there even though they were outsiders and didn’t “assimilate.”

Patrick acknowledges that later Jewish interpreters not only understood “neighbour” as equivalent to “Israelite,” but also reasoned that the stranger who deserves affection must also be an Israelite. On the contrary, Patrick insists that this passage is abused if it is be interpreted that way. The passage, on its face value, must apply to strangers regardless of religion and perhaps it is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ later clarification of the term “neighbour.” Patrick does, however, admit that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that while love and kindness is owed to all strangers regardless of religion, there can be a “strict Friendship” which is reserved for those strangers of the same religion.

So, what was to move the Israelites to have pity on strangers of different religions? “The remembrance of what their condition was in Egypt,” Patrick says. For, “they and the Egyptians were not of the same religion” and yet through the kindness of the Egyptians, the Israelites “found such kind Entertainment there a long time.”

Then Patrick sees a strengthening of the argument in the text. The kindness to the strangers was not contingent on some sort of full assimilation. And that absence of full assimilation is grounded in the fact that Israel didn’t fully assimilate to the Egyptian society. Patrick basically says that even strangers who do not obey the laws of Israel should receive kindness if they are more united to Israel than the people of Israel were united with Egypt. Basically, in Patrick’s mind, the text seems to be arguing from the lesser to the greater. Should not the people of God excel beyond others in offering kindness and hospitality to those who might not assimilate fully?

And then Patrick turns to those who are sluggish to be kind to strangers and says that “[the Lord God has] done so much for you, when you were meer Strangers, that you should not stick to be kind to those who are in the like Condition.”

This identifies precisely what xenophobia rests on–“natives” forgetting that they too, in some sense, were once in “like Condition.” At the very least, all Christians can trace our identity as pilgrims and strangers back to the time when our forefathers (God’s people of old) were the recipients of kindness in Egypt. And we, as Christians, have many more reasons to love strangers, especially when we review the words and activities of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should also remember that what eventually made Egypt inhospitable for the Israelites was the emergence of xenophobic fears on the part of the Egyptians. The Egyptians became fearful about a “menacing” increase of the Hebrew population. So then, perhaps the Israelites reception of Egyptian kindness is not the only lesson here. Perhaps Egypt’s reversal of their hospitality due to fears should be a cautionary tale for us. “Natives” must beware of irrational letting fear of immigrants propel them into destructive behaviours and policies.

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Rand Paul On The Cuban Embargo

In Time, Rand Paul has written on the Cuban embargo, largely in response to Marco Rubio.

He puts his finger on an interesting contradiction. Those who so busily go around deriding non-interventionists as supposed “isolationists”, when it comes to the subject of Cuba, suddenly  become actual isolationists (no trade, no diplomacy, etc.) and scoff at those who want to “appease Cuba”.

Whatever one thinks about him in general, Rand does a good job of bringing out the problems and contradictions in the thinking of the pro-embargo people. Here are some quotes from Rand:

“The supporters of the embargo against Cuba speak with heated passion but fall strangely silent when asked how trade with Cuba is so different than trade with Russia or China or Vietnam. It is an inconsistent and incoherent position to support trade with other communist countries, but not communist Cuba.”

“My family’s opposition to communism was so fierce that when Nixon said the U.S. would trade with Red China our response was heated and passionately opposed. But over time my family and many conservatives came to believe that trade was better than war and more effective. While China’s human rights record leaves much to be desired, our engagement and trade has without question helped to open Chinese society.”

“The 50-year embargo against Cuba has not worked. If the goal was regime change, then it sure does not seem to be working. It also hurts the people more than the regime, because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.”

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A Review of Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place To Hide”

greenwaldNo Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald

Whatabook! I highly recommend this as a fairly comprehensive treatment of the circumstances behind (and the content of) the Snowden leaks. Greenwald does a fine job of laying out a narrative of the events leading up to and around the release of the information. He also debunks disinformation, duplicity, and subterfuge. Surprisingly, the thing that I think is MOST important about this book is not what it says about surveillance, but rather what it says about journalism and the media. It is effectively a convincing, stirring critique of current-day journalism. Far too often the media has simply regurgitated what it has been spoon fed. We need a revival in the old tradition of investigative journalism and this book is a powerful call for the media to get off its easy chair and start actually doing some serious investigative journalism.

Think what you will about Greenwald, Poitras, and Snowden–you must at least congratulate them for doing what the media is supposed to be doing (but generally wasn’t). They had an incredible amount of guts and risked their freedom and safety to actually push forward our knowledge of the truth. Whistleblowers have an important role to play in a free and civilized society, and among whistleblowers it is hard to imagine one as significant as Edward Snowden.

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Surveillance Duplicity – Part 1

What They’ve Said

“The FISA court provides oversight’

FISA warrant requests

2000: 1,005 requests  (0 requests denied, 1 modified)

2001: 932 requests (0 requests denied, 2 modified)

2002: 1,228 requests (0 requests denied, 2 modified)

2003: 1,724 requests (4 requests denied, 79 modified)

2004: 1,758 requests (0 requests denied, 94 modified)

2005: 2,074 requests (0 requests denied, 63 modified)

2006: 2,181 requests (1 requests denied, 77 modified)

2007: 2,371 requests (4 requests denied, 86 modified)

2008: 2,082 requests (1 requests denied, 2 modified)

2009: 1,329 requests (1 requests denied, 14 modified)

2010: 1,511 requests (0 requests denied, 14 modified)

2011: 1,676 requests (0 requests denied, 30 modified)

2012: 1,789 requests (0 requests denied, 40 modified)


 “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court Orders 1979–2012″. Electronic Privacy Information Center. Retrieved July 12, 2013.

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When “The Pot Called The Kettle Black”

“For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other Internet devices pose a ‘threat’ because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA’s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the United States accused theGoEnglish_com_ThePotCallingTheKettleBlack Chinese of doing…In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that…the top two Chinese telecommunications equipment companies, ‘may be violating United States laws’ and have ‘not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business behavior.’…But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organizations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones….The NSA routinely receives—or intercepts—routers, servers, and other computer network devices being exported from the United States before they are delivered to the international customers. The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal, and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users. It is quite possible that Chinese firms are implanting surveillance mechanisms in their network devices. But the United States is certainly doing the same.

Warning the world about Chinese surveillance could have been one of the motives behind the US government’s claims that Chinese devices cannot be trusted. But an equally important motive seems to have been preventing Chinese devices from supplanting American-made ones, which would have limited the NSA’s own reach. In other words, Chinese routers and servers represent not only economic competition but also surveillance competition: when someone buys a Chinese device instead of an American one, the NSA loses a crucial means of spying on a great many communication activities.” – Glenn Greenwald in No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.

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Out And About (2014/12/15)

Policing and Racial Justice


  • Ross Douthat’s Why We Tortured, Why We Shouldn’t is a balanced and thoughtful piece which argues from a conservative position that torture should not be performed
  • Peter Hitchens (Christopher Hitchens’ Anglican brother) forcefully argues against torture. He says: “If we, the self-proclaimed apostles of liberty and justice [torture people] then we will become the very thing we claim to fight. And we will have been defeated by ourselves…torture is never, ever justified. It corrupts the society that allows it, and incidentally fosters endless hatred among the victims, which may return to harm or destroy us decades hence.”
  • Eric Margolis forcefully argues that torturers are not patriots–they are criminals.
  • Dick Cheney apparently has no regrets about his role in the treatment of the “war on terror” detainees.
  • Joe Carter’s 7 Things Christians Should Know About Torture is worth reading.
  • Steven Wedgeworth  has some reflections on torture and the gospel.



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