Archive for February, 2011

Movies I recommend

Over the past few months, there are a number of movies that I have seen that I recommend to others for viewing:

  • The King’s Speech

    This movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, and for once I actually agree with the selection.  I saw this in either late December or early January and it is now one of my favorite movies.  The movie is centered around King George V of England, the father of current reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II.  King George had a very bad stammer and worked with speech pathologist Lionel Locque to make it better.  In the age of radio, as opposed to newspaper, a monarch could no longer look good – they now had to sound good.

    The film goes through the struggles that George V had and how he progressed from having a bad stammer to giving an inspirational speech at the beginning of World War II.

    I absolutely recommend this one.

  • The Social Network

    This is a movie adaptation of the book “The Accidental Billionaires”.  It is the story of the founding of Facebook, the most popular web site in the world.

    The story traces through Mark Zuckerberg’s stormy relationship with the co-founder of Facebook, and how he “stole” the idea from a couple of other guys for the web site HarvardConnection.  In the end, Facebook and Zuckerberg lost both lawsuits not necessarily because he was liable but because Zuckerberg was not at all likeable towards a jury and settled out of court.

    Zuckerberg has come out and stated that the movie got a lot of stuff wrong.  To me, that rings true – Hollywood glamourizes everything or exaggerates everything for creative license.  Yet there are some things that no doubt are reasonably accurate – Zuckerberg’s dismissive attitude towards lawsuits, “stealing” the idea for Facebook, and being an inspiration genius and super-coder (programmer).

    I enjoyed this one and also recommend it.

  • Howl’s Moving Castle

    I have watched a number of Japanese anime film maker Hayao Miyazaki’s films and if you haven’t seen any, this is as good a place as any to start.  This isn’t on my list because it’s my favorite Miyazaki film but because it’s the one I have seen recently and thereby fits into the theme of this post.

    Miyazaki’s films have common themes running throughout them – young girl and/or young boy (always less than 17) as the two main protagonists, bizarre technology such as airships (not like a blimp) or castles with oddities, elderly “witch” characters that are dual realities wherein they are cantankerous and crabby on the outside but actually good natured on the inside, and some element of the supernatural.

    After watching a lot of these films I started to get a better sense of the cultural values of the Japanese that is reflected in their video games like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.

  • 9

    This was an interesting movie because before I picked it up I had never heard of it.  It’s produced by Tim Burton but not directed by him.  Still, you can see his influences in it.

    The story is another stop-motion animation movie similar to The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.  If you’ve seen the latter, it’s definitely easy to tell where Burton’s thought comes through because some of the characters look the same.

    The story takes place in a world where machines and humans have fought a war and nearly all life has been wiped out.  9 dolls have survived and come to life and are trying to survive in this new world.  Suffice to say, the movie is a good one and once again, if you haven’t seen this then you should.

That’s all of my recommendations for now.

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9 days ago, I posted that I was paranoid about the market.  It had risen up a large amount and I had a bad feeling about it.

It turns out that paranoia was justified.  That turned out to be the exact top of the market (well, my portfolio) and since then all of my positions have started crashing and burning.

Whereas before Baidu was up 34% now it is up 18% year-to-date.  Netflix was up 40% and now it is up 19%.  Acme Packet was up 41% and now it is up 27%.  Everything has given up a lot of gains in the past week and a half.  I am now faced with a dilemma.  My gut feel turned out to be 100% correct last time I posted about this.  I had no real way to explain it other than I felt uncomfortable.  I couldn’t rationalize or justify a move out of my positions and go to cash.  Yet going with my gut feel would have been the correct thing to do – I didn’t have to sell my positions, I could have purchased put options.  I even looked into buying some on Netflix.  Had I bought even one, I’d have made $3000 since then – not a bad way to offset market losses (I love making money when the market goes down).

Had I had a bit more money in my trading accounts I probably would have hedged my positions.  But I’m not sure how I would have explained it to my girlfriend.  Hmm, that’s a thinker… would she have bought the explanation “I have a bad feeling about this and am protecting myself from the downside”? 

Do I have good intuition about the market?  I’d really have to say no, for the most part.  But sometimes, every once in a while, I do.

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A few weeks ago, I was at the gym when I went into the locker room and headed to my locker where I had put all of my stuff away.  Yet next to my locker was an odd site: someone had put all of their stuff on the floor in front of the locker.  Not put inside of it, not with any sort of markings… just their clothes and shoes on the floor.  Unprotected.  Where anyone could have taken anything.

I couldn’t resist doing something.

I reached into my pockets and dug around for some coins and found a penny.  I pulled it out of my pocket, bent down, and put the penny into the guy’s shoe.  I found this unbelievably amusing to myself.  I can just imagine it now, the guy comes back to his stuff:

Doo, doo, doo… Well, I am now returning to my clothing where I could not be bothered to put my stuff into a locker but instead laid it on the floor for all to see.  Ah, let me just put on my shirt and pants… done.

Okay, now I shall put on my shoes.  <grunt> There we go.  [Guy takes step] Hey, that feels weird.  What’s going on?  [Guy removes shoe] What the—?  There’s a penny in my shoe!

Hee, hee, hee!

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When it comes to downloading and using software, I am a pretty ruthless consumer.  If I install something and I can’t figure out how to use it within two minutes of running it for the first time, I uninstall the software and delete it, never to use it again.  I don’t supply feedback to the publisher, I go elsewhere.  As a consumer, suppliers market to people like me and want my dollars.  I guard my resources carefully and if I don’t like what I want, I go to a competitor.  That’s how capitalism works, the good providers survive and the lousy ones do not.

I always feel that my feedback doesn’t really do very much.  I’m just one voice of many.  However, I can vote with my feet.  I can choose to put my money to work in a service that does work for me as opposed to one that doesn’t.  For example, I switched out Comcast and swapped in Verizon DSL Internet service.  Verizon is cheaper and their service works perfectly fine.  I like Toyota vehicles.  Hondas are alright, but Toyota is better.  I do not have a particular brand loyalty and thereby stick with them through thick and thin (like I do for underachieving football teams).  If you want my money, then you had best be prepared to earn it.  If you don’t care enough for your products to work, then I will seek someplace where the product creator does care.

That brings me to products at work – Microsoft software.  Just like in real life, when it comes to Microsoft products I am a ruthless consumer.  I don’t provide feedback if something doesn’t perform good enough for me, I just silently switch products.  Many years ago, I would not use Live Search because the search results were so bad.  However, now that Bing provides results that are good enough to Google in most cases, I use it.  I use Bing Maps because I think that they are better than Google’s.  I use Windows Live Writer to post my blogs.  I prefer Excel and Word over Google Apps.  I prefer Firefox to Chrome, and Internet Explorer to Chrome, but not Internet Explorer to Firefox.  I try out these products but if I don’t like them, I won’t use them.  It’s as simple as that.

So, internally, when we are asked to try out products, I don’t particularly care for it when we are migrated to another service (especially for email) and are asked to provide feedback.  Otherwise, if we don’t provide feedback, how can we get the feature ready to release it to the public?  While that makes intuitive sense, it’s not something I buy into.  I don’t like being forced to try something where the bugs are not worked out.  Like all of my other previous patterns, I don’t provide feedback.  Instead, I vote by moving to a competitor.  I don’t like being the one to have my service functionality interrupted.  Stuff should just work.  If you don’t care enough to test your own product don’t expect me to.

I bring all of this up because my email box at work was switched to a beta environment.  I volunteered for it a few months ago and it was a huge mistake.  I experienced very regular email outages and lost messages.  It was frustrating.  It caused me a lot of annoyances and irritations.  I regretted volunteering for the program, so I asked to move back.  When word of that spread, people seemed shocked that I would ever want to go off the pre-release latest version.  “Why do you want to leave?  Are you leaving the company? How can we get you back on there?”  The reason I left is because the cost/benefit ratio is more heavily skewed in the cost factor than the benefit.  I can’t do my work if I don’t have email.

People will say that I need to provide that feedback.  I’m not going to do that because I don’t do that.  I go elsewhere if the product doesn’t work.  If you’re working on a feature and it doesn’t work, then it’s easy to disengage yourself from the product if you are not using it.  I use our own spam filter and so if it doesn’t work, I can complain and fix it.  But since I can’t do anything when my mail is down (and this happens a lot) I just want to revert back to to the last known good state and have things go back to normal.

And that’s that.

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If you live in the United States, no doubt you have your own perceptions of Fox News.  Their tag line is that they are fair and balanced, but most people (particularly on the left) accuse them of slanting things to fit their own political views (usually right leaning).  Thus, the “fair and balanced” tag line is a misnomer because they are anything but.  I think that there is an element of truth to that, but the Fox network has always been a network that sensationalizes everything.  They’ve always been edgier than other networks and put up shows like “When Animals Attack!”  Thus, them doing the news really follows in that footsteps.  They are about entertainment, and not about information.

I contrast this with my list of friends on Facebook.  I think due to where I live, I probably have more friends that are left-leaning (Democrats) than right-leaning (Republicans).  However, every time I log in to Facebook and check out my news feed, there’s always 2 or 3 people that have posted a story about how dumb the Republicans are and how great the Democrats are by contrast.  It’s also not the same two people every time, it usually rotates through a group of 5 or 6 of them.

By contrast, I have no friends who ever point stories supporting Republicans or the right.  I only have one that prints articles from libertarian-leaning web site Reason (well, I guess I have a second friend that is conservative leaning but she doesn’t post too many political stories).  The fact is that the lefties out-publish the righties by a factor of at least 4 or 5 to 1.

I’m actually starting to get a little tired of it.  I try to stay in the middle and take positive points from both sides while avoiding the negative points from the other.  Unfortunately, the articles that the lefties publish are always so one-sided and uni-dimensional that there’s no point in me reading them and I have no interest in responding to them either.  Yet every day I get to see smug articles about how great their side is and how bad the other side is (I find it very ironic how divisive they claim former President George W Bush was for separating the two Americas and then proceed to do the very same thing).

Certainly, there is a lot of one-sidedness on right-wing blogs and right-wing talk shows.  However, I don’t listen to right-wing talk shows or watch Fox news at all.  I rarely read right-wing blogs (maybe once per month) but I frequently read articles from both sides of the aisle on RealClearPolitics.  I prefer to avoid the biased sources of information and actively go to the more balanced views.

Yet every day in Facebook it seems, I am bombarded by commentary of how awful a large percentage of the population is, and therefore by extension, how bad a person I am for agreeing with some parts of the views of that large part of the population.  Do I really need to login to Facebook and be told every day about what a bad person I am?

Maybe I should just defriend them.  I like to see their pictures and updates of the things happening to them in their lives, but I really don’t need their political views and snide remarks (wherein they pat themselves on the back for being so enlightened) showing up in my news feed.

Thinking about it.

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I have hit a wall in pushing weights.  Like I said a few weeks ago, I have been recording my workouts.  When pushing weight, I use a 5/5 approach – push up for five seconds and then lower for five seconds.  This gets rid of all momentum and is way harder to do.  The goal is to do 7 reps.  Once I can, I add 10 more pounds of weight to my next workout.

When I first started to do pull-downs (sit down, grab bars from overhead and pull down), I found my max limit for doing it quickly was that I failed at 120 pounds.  I then reset back to 100 pounds with the slow movements and moved up from there.  I failed at 5 reps for 100 pounds.  I kept at it and moved up in weight.  I repeated this process and eventually I failed at 120 pounds (again), 6 repetitions.  I came back next time and completed my 7 repetitions.  I then failed at 130 pounds, 2 repetitions.  The next time it was 130 pounds, 5 repetitions.  So you see, progress is slow.  How am I supposed to get to 200 pounds (my goal?).

The bench press is the same way.  I’m at a point where I can’t complete my 7-rep target.  I then leave, come back next time (after appropriate recovery time) and get in 2-4 more reps and then fail again.  This is taking forever!

The only one that is going well is the leg press.  But I made a mistake when I started doing it; I forgot to record the initial settings.  Is the seat at position 4, 5, or 6?  It matters because where you set the seat makes it more or less difficult.  I can do a number of reps at 6 at xx weight but zero at the same weight at position 4.  I may have to start that one over again.

My girlfriend says that she’s not really into big, muscular guys.  Well, that’s good because she’s never going to get one.

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2011 in stock trading for me has been an incredibly easy year to make money so far.  All I’ve done is sit back and do nothing and I have been making good money.

My lazy portfolio consists of 75% of my individual trading account but only accounts for 25% of my performance to date.  My individual stocks are 25% of my capital but account for 75% of my gains.

There were some corrections going into 2011, some of my individual positions were down.  But I have decided to measure my performance both from the time I bought the stocks as well as year-to-date – it’s just easier that way.  It really is.  Using the year-to-date criteria, my position in Baidu is up 34%.  In Acme Packet, it is up 41% and in Netflix it is up 40% (if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please do so you can make money for me).  But the question now is that I am getting extremely paranoid.  I am ever fearful of the inevitable correction that is soon to come.

You see, 2011 has been a fantastic year for stocks.  I don’t think I am particularly brilliant at picking these winners, I’ve just been riding a rising tide.  But I keep wanting to lock in my gains.  Yet had I done so before I would have missed out on a lot more gains.  I want to go out at the top even though I know it is impossible… yet I fear that a huge correction will shake me out.  What do I do?

I trade better when I do nothing.  That’s worked for me so far.  Yet selling a winning position has always been my Achilles heel.  But I’ve wondered if I should use another strategy?  My girlfriend once asked me if I would tell her what trades I am doing.  I replied I would have no problem with that since my trading strategy is fairly boring.  If I wanted to sell my stocks, could I justify it to my girlfriend?  It’s easy to justify buying.  But selling?

The answer right now is no, I couldn’t justify it.  My position in Netflix is going up by leaps and bounds.  I want to sell.  Yet if I did, I’d have to justify it to my girlfriend.  On the one hand, it has gained too far too fast.  Yet on the other hand, they just announced today that they are going to support streaming on Android devices.  In addition, they are one of the heaviest shorted stocks which means that eventually the shorts will have to cover… and that means a lot of buying pressure which can send it up.  If I were going to explain selling my position to someone who isn’t a trader, could I justify it based upon that?  The answer is no; my gut feel isn’t good enough.  So I stay put.

Maybe it’s a good thing my active trading is such a small component of my overall strategy.  It keeps me from making too many impulsive decisions.

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I was thinking about my other post on the gospel narratives of Jesus’ sweating drops of blood while in the garden of Gethsemane.  Specifically, I was thinking about someone might choose to interpret this passage.  My position is that particular passage was not originally in the gospel and is an anti-docetic insertion into the text by a scribe who wanted to combat the view that Jesus was only a phantom and only appeared to be human.

However, some might be tempted to say “But Terry, Jesus knew he was about to be crucified and it must have been a great time of anxiety for him!  That’s what I want to take away from the text because I find it spiritually comforting!  Doesn’t this insertion still capture that meaning?  What’s wrong with taking that away from this passage?  I still want to believe it because that has meaning to me!”

Fair enough.  Perhaps you do want to take that away from the passage.  But against that, I have a couple of opposing points:

  1. If the writer wanted you to take that away from the passage, why didn’t he write that to begin with?  Each of the gospel writers has their own slant on the mission and character of Jesus. He wants you to understand him in a certain way and if you color his meaning by inserting your own meaning, you miss what he is saying.  If you take away from it whatever you want to take away from it, then aren’t you, in effect, writing your own gospel?
  2. The second counterpoint I have is that if you have no problem with writers inserting stuff into the text because it agrees with what you want to believe, then what happens if something gets inserted into the text and you don’t agree with it?  In other words, you can open up a slippery slope of misinterpretations.  What if the text said the following:

    40 – When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."
    41 – And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
    42 -saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."
    43 – Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
    44 – And feeling refreshed, He began to laugh a great laughter for He knew that the fate He would undergo would be of no power over Him nor cause Him any harm. 
    45 – When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.
    46 – Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."

    In this case, I have changed verse 44 from one of Jesus feeling anxiety to pro-Gnostic text of Jesus feeling humor at the situation and even laughing.  Why is this pro-Gnostic?  Because Jesus, as a spirit being, could feel no physical pain.  Thus, when the Romans came to crucify him and put him on the cross, they think that they would be putting a man to death and causing him pain but instead the joke would be on them – it would only serve to release Jesus from this mortal realm.

    This is not at all an unrealistic scenario because a recently unearthed text called the Gospel of Judas asserts a similar thing.  The Gospel of Judas is a second or third century Gnostic text told from the point of view of Judas Iscariot and it tells it from a sympathetic point of view.  Rather than Judas betraying Jesus, Judas is the only one that truly understands Jesus.  Jesus and the Christ spirit are not one in the same.  It is only through death that the spirit of Christ could be released from this mortal realm and return back to heaven.  So Judas, by handing Jesus over to the Romans, liberated him from this world.

    While on the cross, Judas looks up and sees something no one else sees.  He sees the spirit of Christ hovering above Jesus.  The spirit is laughing, seeing humor in the situation.  The Romans believe that they are crucifying Jesus, but instead they have only succeeded in releasing him from this earthly vessel.  Indeed, Jesus has the last laugh on everyone else. 

    You can see that if second or third century Gnostic Christians had their own version of Luke and cross checked it with the gospel of Judas, it could lend support for their own interpretation of the mission and person of Jesus.  By inserting stuff into the text, they can take away what they want it to mean in order to get it to have meaning for them.  So you see, just because you agree with what an interpolated passage might say doesn’t mean that it’s fine to overlook it.  It might agree with you sometimes but it can come back to haunt you in other places.

That’s my perspective on why it doesn’t make sense to take random meaning from a textual passage.  If the author didn’t say it and someone added to it, they probably had a reason for adding it.

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Feeling better

Over the past few months, I have experienced a lot of soreness in my left leg: chronic hip pain that won’t go away, pinching pain in the back of my knee and tightness in the back of my leg right on the outside of where it attaches to my posterior.  In November and December, and even in January, I embarked on a program to reverse some of these conditions.  Here are the various things I have been doing:

  • I go to pool physical therapy twice per week for 40 minutes.  I do a number of leg strengthening exercises and walking exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the legs – hamstrings, quadriceps and abductors (my abductors are pitifully weak).
  • I have been taking a health supplement called Hyaluronic Acid which is designed to increased the mobility between your joints.
  • I started doing some new stretches that are designed to put the hip bone back into its socket.  Long stretches in seated positions can bring the hip bones forward causing all sorts of pain and badness (I can personally attest to this).

Here’s how it has turned out:

  • The pain in the back of my knee is gone.  I was exercising quite frequently and I have stopped doing that as much for this part of my body.  As it turns out, it was caused due to tight hamstrings. Whenever I would walk forward on my left leg and hit the ground and move forward but right before I pushed off the foot, my foot would be on the ground and my hamstring fully extended.  It was then, at that precise moment for a split second that I would experience the burning/pinching sensation.  That pain now no longer occurs.
  • The pain in my upper outside leg is intermittent.  It only occurs when the weather gets to around the freezing point (which doesn’t happen that often in Seattle) and is damp (which happens all the time in Seattle).  Not sure if this will ever go away.
  • The pain in my hip is still there.  I have managed to increase the mobility in my leg, and can get it to “click” a bit, like I am popping air bubbles.  However, it still hurts.  I have experimented with various positions in my leg movements and I am quite certain where the impingement is – it’s on my upper inner femur or the pelvic bone because there are various positions where it doesn’t hurt yet if I pull my leg in a bit it hurts like Hades.

Of the three treatments that I have been doing, the hip stretches have made the most noticeable improvement.  The very first time I did them, I got up and tried to move my hip.  Amazingly, I could move it around with almost no pain at all.  I couldn’t believe it!  Were my troubles over?  Perhaps the hips were simply out of their sockets and needed to be pushed in.

As it turns out, the effect was only temporary (good for maybe 30 minutes).  In addition, while moving my leg around in many positions felt pretty good, there were still some that hurt a lot (such as positioning my leg into a figure 4 position and then pushing down on it – the further my foot points in one direction the worse it feels).  I think it’s pretty clear that the impingement is still there.  I am unclear whether or not it will ever get better by doing these stretches, but at least I get some temporary relief.

The one that I see no tangible benefit is the HA acid, but at the same time I have never taken it independently without doing either the physical therapy or stretches.  The physical therapy, as I said earlier, has help me get some flexibility and I hear a pop-pop-pop sound when I move my leg in certain movements, but it still hurts.

I am not sure what my next steps will be but I will likely continue with what I am doing for a little while.

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It’s the start of 2011 and that means that personal income tax returns are due April 15 in the United States if you owe money.  If you don’t owe money, you can send in your return anytime and get your refund quickly and use it to spend however you like.  I have a few friends who are very proud of sending in their tax returns within the first couple of weeks in January like it’s some badge of honor. Well, some of us can’t even file until at least mid-February because we have more complicated tax returns and the requisite forms don’t even come out until Feb 15.

Anyhow, after my tax return last year and seeing how my condo could affect my tax refund, I got pretty good at estimating how much I can get back because of it.  Basically, for all of you American ham-and-eggers out there, you’re going to be in the 25% tax bracket.  This means that any income over a certain amount is taxed at the rate of 25%.  As a rule of thumb, for every $4 you are able to deduct from your income, you can knock off $1 from your taxes.  There are limits but it is a good rule because everyone only has so many deductions.

So, for example, let’s say you make $50,000/year and pay $10,000 in income tax.  You donate $1000 to charity.  Your taxable income would then be $49,000 and you would only have to pay $9750 in income tax because 25% of $1000 is $250.  Thus, on your refund with all other things being equal, you get back $250.

Using that rule of thumb, I can calculate how much my condo will contribute to my refund.  I pay the following for 2010 as a rental unit:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Real estate taxes
  • HOA dues (not deductible for a homeowner, but they are if you rent it out)
  • Depreciation of the building (not deductible for a homeowner, but it is if you rent it out)
  • General repairs and cleaning (not deductible for a homeowner)
  • Management fees from renting it out (homeowners wouldn’t have these)

You can see those are a lot of deductions, although in no way do they make up for my losses all year.  The problem I have is that I took in my tax return to H&R Block and they were figuring everything out.  I pointed out that I had a renter in there for the first part of the year, unsuccessfully tried to sell it for part of the year, and then unsuccessfully tried to rent it out again for the remainder of the year.  Here’s where it gets sticky: the part of the year where I tried to sell it is not tax deductible.  Because it was not associated with the cost of running a (lousy) business, I cannot write it off; I guess this is because I was a homeowner.  So, they need to pro-rate the numbers to adjust them.  I still have to go in for a follow up, but basically, this adjustment to my taxes could end up costing me $1000 at a minimum and possibly as much as $1800.

They asked me what my intent was during this period of time when I made certain repairs.  Well, to answer honestly, it was to sell it.  I could recant my story and lie and say that it was also to rent… but that would be deceptive and I’ve already stated my story. So you can see that by telling the truth, I am losing out on a sizeable portion of money.  It stings because I was footing the bill that entire time all for nothing – I can’t write it off but I still had to pay.  Quite an expensive time to be me, it sure was.

They say that honesty is the best policy and in the long run, that is possibly true but in the short run it can definitely work against you.  This is not the first time I was up front with the government and it cost me; in 2002 it played a factor in me getting booted out of England.  In the long run, you could argue that eventually after playing so many lies it will catch up with you in which case you will have to defend yourself against criminal charges or lawsuits (such as the cases of Bernie Madoff or Goldman Sachs).  However, in the short term, you really need to tell yourself that you are doing the moral thing even at personal cost to yourself.

The only thing that might provide for my salvation is that when I was trying to sell it, shortly after I put it back up for sale I really did have dual intent.  I wanted to sell it but I also listed it as a rental to see what would come up first.  I also listed it as a rent-to-own option.  So, the period of time where it was only on the market to sell was not all that long.

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The other day, my girlfriend and I had the following conversation:

Her: I’m going to make some left over chicken for lunches this week.

Me: M’kay.

Her: I’m going to boil some broccoli so it might have a weird smell in here.

Me: What? Why?

Her: Because I’m boiling broccoli!

Me: Okay…

Her: Remember last time?  I made it last time and it made a weird smell and I pointed out the broccoli.  Don’t you remember?

Me: Obviously I do not.  But go ahead anyhow.

[15 minutes later]

Me: What’s that smell?

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Okay, this is going from bad to worse.

Last Thursday, over a week ago, I sent in my order through Verizon’s web site to get their Internet service.  They said they would send an email within 24 hours.  Well, they didn’t, it took 48 hours.  That’s a little late but… okay.  I got an email saying that they needed two pieces of identification (one photo plus one non-photo) or three pieces of non-photo ID.  I then could either fax it (who uses faxes anymore?) or I could mail it to them which would take 3-5 days.  Sigh.

I faxed it to them Monday morning.  By Friday, I still had not heard from them.  So, I decided to call them up using the number from the email they sent me.  As it turns out, the number in the email was wrong!  It went to Verizon instead of Frontier (huh? Aren’t you the same company?).  I had to either call directory assistance or use the Internet to call them up.  Sigh.

I decided to do a quick search and found their number.  I called them on my cell phone.  I got hold of an agent and part way through the call, AT&T dropped my call.  Sigh.

I called them back on my work land line and waited on hold for 15 minutes when I finally dropped the call on purpose because of the amount of static on the line.  Sigh.

I called up again, navigated through the voice prompts and got to their credit verification services.  I got my credit checked (because apparently you have to do that before they will sign you up for an account which is ridiculous) and I was then transferred to their accounts department where I waited on hold for 40 minutes.  Eventually I had to drop off the call because I had another meeting at work.  Sigh.

After my meeting, I called them up again on my landline.  The voice prompts said that my call would be dealt with in 6 minutes.  It is now 45 minutes later and I am still on hold.  I don’t think I can wait another 45 minutes.  Sigh.

Why did I leave Comcast?  Oh, right, the service wasn’t very good.  Wait… what?

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Recently, I was exposed to a commentary of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he was arrested before he was crucified.  The commenter spoke about how agonized Jesus must have been that night to ask for the sacrifice he was about to make and if the cup could be passed from him.  In fact, Jesus experienced such strong reaction and anxiety over what he knew was going to happen to him that he sweat drops of blood (or like drops of blood, that is, sweating so profusely it was like an open wound). The passage is found in Luke 22:44:

And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (NKJV)

I have heard numerous speakers allude to this passage over the years.  Some have said that certain patients in modern that their capillaries burst and blood starts to pour.  In any case, the point is that Jesus was in such emotional discomfort about what he was about to suffer that it affected him physically.

Unfortunately, while this commentary evokes a strong emotional reaction to the listener, it is probably not what the writer of the book of Luke was trying to convey.  Why do I say this?  Because the verse is probably not part of the original gospel of Luke.

We have access today to numerous ancient manuscripts.  These are not the original manuscripts, of course.  They are copies of copies of copies of manuscripts.  And these copies are all different from one another.  Most of these differences are minor – a spelling error here or a grammatical change there.  However, there are some versions where certain verses appear in different places, where different words appear in the same verse or in this case, the verse is not there at all.  In some of our manuscripts, Luke 22:44 is not in the gospel of Luke.  Thus, we arrive at a dilemma – either Luke 22:44 is original to the gospel and somebody removed it, or Luke 22:44 is not original to the gospel and somebody added it.  So, which is it?

In my view, I think that passage is not original and that it was added later.  I think this for the following reasons:

  1. The verse disturbs the chiastic structure of the passage. 

    Let’s take a look at the entire context of the passage, starting at verse 22:40:

    40 – When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."
    41 – And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
    42 -saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."
    43 – Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
    44 – And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
    45 – When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.
    46 – Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."

    If you read the passage, it moves together in pairs.  Something happens, then the opposite happens:

    – Jesus says to his disciples in the first verse, verse 40, to pray so that they will not enter into temptation.  In verse 46, the last verse, he tells them to pray so that they will not enter into temptation.

    – In verse 41, he withdraws from the disciples.  In verse 45, he returns to the disciples.

    – Also in verse 41, but after the part above, he kneels down and prays.  In verse 45, he arises from praying.

    – Finally, in verse 42, he prays and in verse 43 an angel strengthens him.

    From this, we see that the part about him praying and being strengthened by an angel is “encircled” by an ascending/descending part of the story.  But next look at verse 44; right after he is strengthened he is now in agony and sweats like great drops of blood.  Doesn’t it appear out of place?  It has not analogous mapping and it appears after the angel appeared.  It feels like a very unnatural place to have this passage and disrupts the structure of the narrative.

  2. It contradicts how Jesus is presented in Luke’s gospel.

    The gospel narratives each present Jesus from their own particular point of view.  In John, Jesus is presented in a more philosophical manner.  In Mark, he is a charismatic preacher warning about the impending kingdom of God.  In Luke, however, he is consistently portrayed as being calm and in control, particularly during his crucifixion:

    Luke 23:28-30 – And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.  But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children."For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’

    Here, Jesus shows no concern for his own well being.  Furthermore, while on the cross, the criminals are mocking him.  In Mark’s gospel, Jesus does not respond.  But in Luke’s gospel, he says to one of the criminals that “today he would be with him in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).  In Luke 22:50-51, after one of his followers cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus calmly heals it.  Finally, on the cross itself, Jesus’ last words in the gospel of Mark are “My God! My God! Why have your forsaken me?”  But in Luke 23:46, he says “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  And then he dies.  I ask you this – does Jesus appear to be in agony in any of these passages in Luke?  Not a single one; if you were to pick up Luke 22:44 and put it into the book of Mark it would more in place, but the agonizing portrait of Jesus is absent from Luke’s gospel.  Even in the garden where the passage appears, Jesus asks for the cup to be taken from him if it is his Father’s will

    The portrait of Jesus in Luke’s gospel is one where Jesus calm and in control, fully aware of his destiny (perhaps Luke was trying to tell his audience that since that is how Jesus behaved, so should all of we).  For these reasons, I take Luke 22:44 as an interpolation.

So if this passage was not original, why was it added?  Well, at the time, one of the main heresies that the early church had to deal with was Gnosticism.  There are a lot of strains to Gnosticism, but here are the two main types:

  • Docetism (pronounced doh-kuh-tism) – this is the belief that Jesus was not a flesh and blood human.  He was a spirit and only appeared human.  I think that this view is being countered in 1 John 4:2.
  • The other type I cannot recall the name (I want to say dynamic monarchialism but I am sure that is wrong), but it states that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human only, and that at his baptism the spirit of Christ in the form of a dove literally descended onto Jesus.  Thus, Jesus was a man and the Christ spirit entered him.  It left at his death (i.e., the Christ spirit departed the man Jesus).  In neither case was Jesus the man actually divine.

Obviously, if you are attempting to counter the Gnostics claims that Jesus Christ was not a spirit or was fully human, Jesus had to be an actual flesh-and-blood human.  I think that this verse is a reaction to the first version of Gnosticism.  There was a Christian movement (a very large one, actually; we have lots of ancient Christian Gnostic texts) that claimed that Jesus was not actually human.  In response, the proto-orthodox (those that believe what most Christians believe today) showed them a verse in the New Testament, written by a contemporary of Jesus, that proved Jesus was human.  How could a spirit phantom sweat drops of blood?  It couldn’t.  Ergo, Jesus had to have been human and the docetists were wrong.

However the verse got there, it is most likely that it wasn’t original and got swept into the Bible as authentic, which is unfortunate.  I say unfortunate because you take a look at this passage and it colors the reader’s interpretation of Luke’s presentation of Jesus during the night of his crucifixion.  Whereas Luke wanted to show that Jesus was calm and in control and knew what his destiny was (as if to suggest that Christians should also take heart in what their destiny is just as Christ did), now the message is that Jesus was in agony, trying desperately to do what he could to avoid his fate but knew he had to go through with it.  Luke’s original message is lost behind that.  And that’s unfortunate.

Now, does it mean that you can’t get that message from any of the other gospels?  Or even this one?  No, it doesn’t.  But if Luke wanted to make this point, he would have written the gospel in such as way so as to make that point (the way that Matthew, Mark or John make their own).

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