Barbarians Inside the Walls

So, today on the Internet the “big news” was KRACK, the “Key Replacement AttaCK” (get it?); I learned about it from WordFence here: https://www.wordfence.com/blog/2017/10/krack-and-roca/?utm_source=list&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=101617. In point of truth there were two large vulnerabilities announced today, the other being “ROCA” (see https://www.reddit.com/r/netsec/comments/76pv2s/roca_vulnerable_rsa_generation_cve201715361/).

(If you’d rather I provided shortlinks, I suppose I can do that. But, since no one ever comments on here I don’t guess I’ll ever know that you would have liked that…)

So I was able to work for four hours today, and already knew about these things when I went in; being “part-time on-call” allows me to sort of be undefined ahead of time in terms of work hours, reporting time, etc., you see. But they were kind of on my mind for the four hours I was there, and I started looking into it after I got home.

Now, here’s the thing, folks: If you’ve got some kind of Internet service, and any part of it is wireless (meaning you have even one device that is connected by anything other than a Cat-5, Cat-5a, or Cat-6 wire, then the likelihood is that you’re vulnerable to some kind of attack unless you get it under control. Soon. Likewise, if you use “wireless hotspots” ever, not only are you vulnerable, but anyone else using such are likewise vulnerable, until and unless the hotspot “provider” has attended to the problem and got it under control.

Until this thing is fixed, any router/gateway using WPA2-AES (WiFi Protected Access II-Advanced Encryption Standard) or WPA-TKIP (WiFi Protected Access-Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) is vulnerable in the extreme to any attacker who is within the 100m physical range of your wireless router’s/gateway’s point of presence. Got it?

Does your smart phone manage bank accounts for you in any way–do you charge tickets to movies or sports events or anything else through them, for example? Do you pay bills via your smart phone? Do you know that the people (banks, merchants, etc.) are at the same time cripplingly honest and also so hardened in a security posture and protocol that they cannot be used as a vector usable by a miscreant to learn, harvest, and have your personally identifiable information? Do you really know that?

I humbly submit that you cannot know that!

I also submit that there are two, and only two ways, that you can protect yourself and all that you hold dear against the type of attack vector that was announced today.

  1. You do not engage in any kind of “eCommerce” until you know that your finances, your life, yourself are protected.
  2. You never use a smart phone to read a “QR” code, or to “pay your bill” at a merchant. I mean, seriously, don’t even install the “FREE APP” that can do that, for you don’t know what that “free application” is actually doing!

What I’ve done since I got home from my four hours of work today has largely been about ensuring, as best I can, that this problem is mitigated and can not affect me.

Apple Computers tells me that this vulnerability in the very WPA/WPA2 protocols was mitigated in an “earlier beta” in the MacOS Sierra operating system, and I have the latest release of that on both Macs already, so I hope I can safely “feel good” about that whole thing.

I’m also running Pibuntu (derived from Ubuntu 16.04) on two Raspberry Pis, and was able to “apt-get upgrade” both suspect packages, particularly “wpasupplicant” earlier. I “feel pretty good” about that.

Then I upgraded my router’s GUI Language and Firmware to the latest version, which is always frightening.

Finally I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 11.0.3, in hopes that Apple have taken care of this “not-so-little” problem.

I wish you the best!

The Bezzle Has Been Bizzle

Chapter 1

Discovering precisely what I meant by the term “bezzle” possibly took longer than it might have, had I been more awake and attuned. Afflicted as I am by the common human blind acceptance of cognitive dissonance, delivered from any and every quarter and with increasing frequency over a long span of time, I failed to notice for a likewise extended span of time that the blind acceptance of the common lie, what everyone knows and simply accepts had accomplished extreme damage against America. The common lie is, of course, that everybody does it and its accompanying common excuse is that no one can do anything about it. As usual, this kind of blind acceptance is wrong, willful, pig-headed, just plain stupid, and destructive (but only horribly so). And so, a stultifying and destructive accepted cognitive dissonance is the source of the power of the Bezzle.

Here is an example demonstrating the concept, first from a positive viewpoint, then from a negative:

A prospective customer engages an auto mechanic, a carpenter, a plumber, a landscape worker, in short a skilled trades worker, to discuss terms, conditions, schedule, a scope of work, and a bill of materials for a given job or task (wheel alignment, clearing a clogged drain, building a set of shelves, mowing the lawn). During this period, which I will call discovery, the customer describes the requirements, the acceptable costs, a schedule, that she or he expects of the trades worker; likewise the trades worker tries to understand the complete details of the activity under consideration. The two will reach agreement, or they will not, regarding the things to be done, the materials to be used, the time constraints, etc. If agreement is reached in discovery, the talk may proceed to price, material, and schedule negotiation, followed by acceptance of guarantees and the like. This is the normal and usual pattern in such arrangements, and in fact is a legal requirement for the trades worker, who for example cannot change terms during the performance period, and in particular cannot “bait-and-switch” or play pricing games with the customer. Very significant, strong, and punitive legal remedies await visitation upon the trades worker who attempts any such thing.

So, suppose I want a new deck built onto my house, and engage a contractor for that purpose. If, after the steps of discovery, negotiation, and acceptance we have reached an agreement, no terms or conditions may be changed by either party except in accordance with the agreement and the Law. No trades worker will engage in deception, over-charging, switching materials, and the like, without running afoul of the Law.

Now, suppose I contact a contractor and ask that we follow these steps, and the contractor tells me that she or he doesn’t do business that way, that he is free to bill whatever he or she wishes upon (or before) delivery, or that he does not guarantee completion or delivery, or that he must be able to dictate changes during the course of work. At that point my option is extremely clear to forego his “services” as he has claimed a non-existent privilege or right to cheat me in any way, to leave the work incomplete, to deliver what was not promised, and that she or he may deliver a final bill that differs from any “offer” or “contract”, and is in very point of fact telling me that I will be cheated. I would be the most foolish person on the planet were I to accede in any such “arrangement”, and therefore abandon my clear option to report such behavior to any proper authorities.

Unfortunately, there are very large sectors of the economy who are, in fact and on an ongoing basis, engaging in precisely this kind of business behavior and in so doing have very largely destroyed the Gross Domestic Product*, the federal and State budgets, the very fabric of trust on which all business and commerce must depend in order to enjoy a truly free society. These sectors continually and egregiously engage in precisely those illegal practices of collusion, price-fixing, and suppression of competition against which the antitrust laws of U.S. Code: Title 15 – Commerce and Trade oppose with extremely severe penalties intended to prevent any business engaging in these proscribed behaviors, as well as making provision for steps to be followed when businesses do engage in those practices, including the ultimate step of the utter and final destruction of businesses so engaging. (And yet they get away with these practices, and apparently expect to continue to get away with engaging in them in perpetuity. There will be more on this topic in the future.)

The sectors to which I refer are the medical (doctors, dentists, nurses, medical and dental school, clinics, hospital, laboratories, imaging centers, all of them involved in delivering health services and products to patients), pharmaceutical (creators, testers, marketers, sellers, buyers, of any and all medical supplies, preparations, and drugs, pharmacists and pharmacy stores and chains), and medical/health insurance (sellers, brokers, actuaries, marketers, plan and benefits administrators, executives, and anyone involved in medical and health insurance businesses). Let me illustrate the depths of this corruption and damage to you (the Customer-patient), and to this Nation.

I expect we have all experienced the kind of exchange wherein we, being in need of medical services, or of products, supplies, equipment, or medication, ask the type of question we regularly ask of skilled trades workers with full expectation of an honest and complete answer. The auto mechanic’s question, for example, would be, “How much does an engine rebuild, or a brake job, cost?”, and the plumber’s question, “What will you charge me to clear a filled and clogged septic tank and field lines?” We ask these kinds of questions at every turn, and expect a straightforward and honest answer to them. When answers are not offered, or they are not properly detailed or perfectly clear we are completely free to walk away and engage a provider of our preferences, an honest provider, and please notice that these questions are in the realm of items which may be of great interest to us, but do not involve our health, our treatment for illness or injury, and the like.

We have probably also experienced the “lost feeling” common among people asking perfectly reasonable and helpful questions of precisely the same kind, with the same end in view, of “health providers” in every category, in medical, in pharmaceutical, in medical/health insurance. We have asked our questions, to be met with a solid wall of resistance, obfuscation, and utter refusal to provide what every honest and ethical trades worker understands is our right to ask, as it is our right to receive a truthful answer for the asking. If you have asked a doctor, “What will this medication cost?”, the answer is going to be a variation on, “It depends on your insurance and on what the pharmacy charges for it.” If you have then asked the insurance company, the answer will be of the form, “It depends on the prescription the doctor writes, and on what the pharmacy charges for that medication.” If you have then asked the pharmacy, you will have heard, “It depends on what drug the doctor has chosen and on what the insurance company will cover under your policy.” (Please note that this is simply a case of everyone involved saying, “It’s not my problem, and not my fault, so it shouldn’t be your problem.” Unfortunately, money-out-of-my-pocket is absolutely my problem!) This is the Bezzle at work and at its most destructive!

I expect I have brought on a blood pressure spike simply by having written the previous paragraph and your having read it. (In a way that was my intent.) You know exactly what I mean, for most of you have dealt with such situations, and have come away with, not at all oddly, an elevated blood pressure! (As well you should have: No one is equipped for that level of frustration.) This obfuscation and “structured covering” among the three sectors was developed, is designed, and works in any way but in your interests, or in the interests of the American Republic. Let us see what some of the outcomes of these kinds of practices has been over an extended term of years. You must remember, mathematics is not a liar!

What percentage of Gross Domestic* Product was consumed by healthcare spending in 2007? What percentage in 1991*? What were the raw numbers in those years? What percentage of the federal and State budgets (and spending) was consumed by Medicare, Medicaid, and other healthcare spending in those years? Again, what were the raw numbers in those years? What has been the year-to-year growth of these spending measures during the intervening time? Above all, what do these percentages, raw numbers, and growth rates mean in terms of the Republic’s fiduciary health and security, and what might be accomplished in terms of economic power change by a few extremely simple policies enforced under the Rule of Law? (I will eventually get to the subject of policy proposals and such.) I think I have an answer in this graph.

(Source: Wolfram Alpha Pro Premier, April 1, 2017.)

Do you see that, since 1960 and into 2007, federal government healthcare spending has trended ever higher in comparison with general government consumption? That trend has continued, and will continue, if it is not checked, stopped, and reversed. Now let us see another graph.

(Source: Wolfram Alpha Pro Premier, April 1, 2017.)

This is a graph of United States health spending in all sectors plotted against the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product (the sum of every dollar spent during a given year), and we see here that spending for healthcare was apparently pretty healthy between 1960 and 1990, topping at $750B against $5.75T GDP in 1990. But in 2000 healthcare was $1T against $10T in 2000, and $2T against $13.5T in 2007.

The fidelity in these graphs is far from easy to understand and possibly it is difficult to believe, so I will look at figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for as much of the 1960-2007 time frame as is possible. (Remember, what is to follow is what our federal government has reported to us, purportedly as the truth.)

 


* I have chosen the term “Gross Domestic Product”, and the year 1991 as my baseline in these considerations as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 1991, chose to abandon a different term (“Gross National Product”) and use the term used herein, noting, “that GDP provided an easier comparison of other measures of economic activity in the United States and that ‘virtually all other countries have already adopted GDP as their primary measure of production'”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_product

 

The Bezzle of the Day

My first thought is that at no time in history has the bezzle been more ubiquitous than it currently is.

The next thought is less than comforting: At no time in the future will the bezzle be less widespread than it currently is. Have I proof? Maybe not, but I surely have anecdotal evidence.

Today I had occasion to deal with “healthcare insurance”. It was a less than pleasant, but certainly informative, experience. I do believe I am going to tell you about it here. (It’s my blog, you know; you don’t have to read it or anything, but I get to write it. That’s what I call perfect balance.)

Here’s the thing: I have taken a medication, propranolol, with the trade name Inderal, for about twenty years now. My old, now retired general practitioner, prescribed it for what he called a “benign familial intention tremor”. (I could explain what all of that means, but choose for now to forego the exercise.) In very point of fact the medication did have a good effect in that I could eat a great deal more soup than I spilled from the spoon upon the tabletop or upon my shirt.

Under the “healthcare insurance” of the day, propranolol 80mg LA cost about $25 per month, and that was not completely out of bounds, for it did help me not to spill my soup, or coffee, or something. (Just by the way, that was for two doses per day, and I’ve been taking one dose per day for at least 10 years now.)

Since August 31, 2017, I have had no “healthcare insurance” other than “Medicare Part A (Hospitalization)”. No dental, no vision, no pharmaceutical, no “major medical”. Therefore I wondered how it would go, should I have this prescription for propranolol filled. Three days ago I went looking online for something like a deal. (Remember, even with insurance the drug has cost me $45/month at times…) So I found this site (goodrx [dot] com), and they gave me “comparison prices” for WalMart (Wally World), Costco, CVS, Walgreen’s, Buy-Wise, and so on. Wally World’s “price” beat the rest by high percentages, so I printed the coupon, but didn’t try to use it. I printed the coupon on October 9.

Today, driving toward town to get lunch, I noticed that my driving, while not erratic per se, was lacking in something I’ll call confidence. I-565 does that to me sometimes, you see, for lots of people think of that little stretch of highway as the functional equivalent of the Talladega Speedway. (It’s likely more problematical that a whole lot of central North Alabama drivers consider themselves the functional, moral, and actual equivalents of Dale Earnhardt, say.)

Well, after lunch (which got my blood sugar level to a more reasonable level, I’m sure–Cheese’n’eggs, country ham, a little bit of hashbrowns at Waffle House–with the senior discount it’s pretty cheap, plus if you mention that it seems too cold in there they will bring down the A/C, and it’s fun to watch 3-4 workers actually do a good job). I went a few blocks East to my “standard Mom’n’Pop pharmacy”.

Been giving them business since 1997 or so, and I like them a lot, because while the store is bigger than a lot (it’s a “supermarket”, too), it also reminds me of some “neighborhood grocery stores” I had occasion to see when I was a young child. Well, I had my coupon, so I asked Stephanie if they accepted it. The answer was in the negative. She then disclosed that “they” used a discount card for people who lack “health insurance”. I told her to try that, and received the promise that she would call me to tell me the price.

A little while later I heard my name called. Stephanie was no longer “on the case”, but Sandra was, and she had the bottle, with its little label showing my name and prescription number and all of it, and the capsules inside. I told her I needed to know what the price was, as I no longer have “health insurance”. She said, “Well, it’s $59.90.” You might imagine my reply (but I hope you don’t). I explained, and she asked if I wanted the prescription transferred to Wally World. I said I would like to try that so long as I could demand it be transferred back in case that didn’t work out so well–see, some of us old guys do figure out a thing or two along the way.

Now this little market is about six blocks South of the barber shop/styling salon where I rather-less-than-often get my hair cut. But this barber shop/styling salon has a comfortable and shaded front porch with a padded swing, a hard wooden bench, and a sort-of-padded chair; it also has a couple of very clean bathrooms I can use when the occasion requires, as it often does. I like to go there and sit on the front porch, sometimes talking with people, or just watching the traffic in Dallas Mill Village on its way to Five Points, smoking a few, drinking some Diet Dr. Pepper, and “thinking my thoughts”. Today I stopped there and “my” chair was not occupied, so I took up residence therein.

I figured that, after 30 minutes or so, Wally World should have received my transferred prescription, and that it would take about 30 minutes to get there (because I had to stop at the credit union to deposit the huge $15.00 refund check I got from my auto insurer on account of an “over-payment” [like I’m not going to be paying them again next month!]) (Well, one digresses too often, possibly.)

About 1630 (I use military time here, and if you can’t figure out how to subtract 12 from 16 I can’t help you understand that means 4:30PM CDT today; it is what it is) I headed off on Stevens Ave, Dement St, McCullough Ave, Andrew Jackson Way, I-565, and US72 East toward Wally World after detouring onto Shields Rd and Winchester Rd. (No, you don’t need to know the route; I wanted to describe it. Okay?)

Got to WW about 1700 (remember–subtract 1200 and you get 5:00PM CDT). Two pharmacists and two assistants inside. ZERO customers. What luck! But the pharmacists were heatedly discussing their boyfriends, and, since I was anticipating an already transferred and filled prescription, I went to the “Pick Up” window. Ten minutes later one of the pharmacists got bored enough (or something) with the horribly detailed discussion and noticed me. (Of course her leviathan-class weight caused her to take two minutes to travel the maybe 8 meters between her desk and my location; this is Wally World, right?)

I showed her my ID (concealed carry permit, don’t you know?) and explained the thing in what I think was a fairly lucid manner. She said, “I’ll look around.” (This is not a particularly good sign, I think.) “Nope, we don’t have it. Let me ask the assistant over there at ‘Drop Off’.” YES! Ms. Assistant has “just finished” receiving the transfer–I don’t know how to parse that, but I don’t care that much. So now I have to go over to “Drop Off” and give my “information”. Okay. That’s how “these things are done” in a perfectly and horribly screwed-up world such as we have in the United States of America these days.

Ms. Assistant doesn’t recognize a concealed carry permit as legal identification…it’s good enough for any policeman, deputy sheriff, fireman, or anyone else, but not good enough at Wally World!!! Amazing! So I produced my driver license (which, of course, contains precisely and exactly the same information about me), and gosh-a-mighty she can accept that! Okay, we’re on our way now, I guess!

So, after I’m all checked in to “the SYSTEM”, I get to explain that I want the prescription filled, but I want to know how much it’s going to cost (because, you know, I still remember that October 9 price of $12.50 and all of that). “Sure,” she chips out (though no one carrying her weight out to chip out much more than “MORE POPCORN, with LOTS of BUTTER!!!!”). I got out of her face to let her and the other troops do what they could.

Well, by gosh and by golly, they had to wait until they had transmitted all of the information to goodrx (dot) com, and until they had received an answer, to give me a price. During that 20 minutes of hellish fascination I looked around at “product” in the immediate area of the pharmacy. Hmmm, they didn’t have my brand of Opti-Free artificial tears, but they did have the Opti-Free disinfectant/rinse. To be fair, the “Equate” brand was less expensive, but I’m not sure I trust their formulations, you see.

Then I saw a section with the sign “Diabetic Supplies”, and found there so many (I’m certain) essential products. You know the kind of thing, I’m sure: Sugar Free cookies! Of course there is so much of “sugar alcohols” (mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.) in those things that a Type I diabetic who consumes them is BEGGING for an insulin coma, and a Type II is looking for someone to stick him/her with the emergency stabber! Then there is the “raw shelled hemp seed” which shows ZERO dietary fiber and 3 grams of sugar per serving containing 3 grams of carbohydrate! (That would be only two examples, by the way.)

On the other side of that display were all the “protein supplements”. Most were nothing more than sugar supplements. Oh, well, it provided an interesting if horrifying survey of the situation in Wally World.

During the aforementioned survey there was an encounter between a customer and a “pharmacy assistant”; as the verbiage exchanged was not particularly suited to a family-oriented blog and certainly was NSFW, I won’t describe much of it other than to mention that the “customer” finally left, apparently assuaged. When she came to the corner to the store’s exit she encountered a woman holding a toddler’s hand in each of her somewhat amazingly obese hands, and the “customer” shrieked (much in the way I can imagine ancient Greece’s Harpies did), “What beautiful and sweet kids they are!” (Both “kids” being much more akin to “fattened calves” of more ancient times.)

Finally, about 40 minutes in, the assistant calls me over to explain that the price will be $25.60. By that time I’m defeated and know it, so I tell her to fill it and let me get out of there. I wonder (and will ever do so) why it took another 10 minutes for one pharmacist to package 30 capsules into a wonderfully-made and amazing container, but I’m mighty awful glad the price didn’t increase another 50% during that ten minutes.

I will, in fairness, say that the assistant kindly pointed out the way to the mens’ room, as I might by that time have had to employ extraordinary, extreme, and possibly illegal measures to relieve my bladder after all of that.

First question for anyone reading:

Why does a medication cost anything other than a posted, well publicized, easily known price at EVERY PHARMACY in the United States? Isn’t anything other than THAT, as a STANDARD, the VERY DEFINITION of DIFFERENTIAL PRICING? How is differential pricing anything OTHER than price fixing?

And: How does that not violate the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and the Robinson-Patman Act, collectively called 15 USC 1?

You’re buying it? I’m not. I’m pissed off, and you dam’ better be, too.

Peace. Blessings.

The Critical Step We Now Must Take

Americans’ attention spans divide sharply among issues, controversies, and opinions, abounding on every side, assailing from every direction. The dearth of common goals and actions toward preserving and keeping the Republic alive will, in fact, shortly bring about the end of the Republic, and with it the end of the American dream, the Rule of Law, and any hope of prosperity and survival. It is now the time to decide and to act.

While we are all fixated on our concerns, very few have noticed the most destructive danger we face. Indeed, we have allowed this danger to grow without surcease for fifty years or more, and have rarely been interested to examine the source of the problems, or the damage they cause to the GDP, to federal and State budgets, and most particularly to our personal incomes, our health, and our prospects toward a future for America. For the overwhelming majority of us, as America goes, we go, for good or ill.

“Managing healthcare cost” has been the focus of multiple laws, policies, and practices, for as long as we remember. Indeed, these costs have grown exponentially for at least fifty years, and despite all past legislation the growth continues. As the costs increase production suffers, as does our actual standard of living. This single element of the economy right now has power to destroy this Republic, and all of us with it.

The critical step we now must take is to bring healthcare costs under check, decrease them rapidly, and free the economy and the budgets to function as they must. We will not accomplish these goals by passing new laws. Laws succeed only when they are enforced. Witness the huge number of laws on the books, both federally and in the States, and particularly laws whose intent is to prevent antitrust actions on the part of individuals, companies, and corporations.

The laws exist, but executive branches of governments fail to enforce those laws, thereby making them in a practical sense null and void. The federal body of law governing antitrust is 15 U.S.C. § 1, and includes the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Clayton Antitrust Act (1914), the Federal Trade Commission Act (1914), the Robinson-Patman Anti-Discrimination Act (1936), and the Celler-Kefauver Act (1950). These are the laws left unenforced by Presidents and Departments of Justice, and that failure to enforce these laws allows the entire medical industry, including health insurance, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, clinics, and doctors to continue the process of destroying the economy and the Republic. These are the laws that must be enforced, and yet they have not been enforced to any lasting effect toward controlling the “costs of medical care”.

Truly enforcing 15 U.S.C. § 1 would result in indictments, prosecutions, judgments (civil/criminal), both convictions and punishments (criminal), and very likely the destruction of the entire medical cartel. More, enforcement would bring actual hope for reducing medical costs radically and rapidly.

This is the critical step that we must take, that cannot be ignored, that failure to take will cost us the Republic, our lives, and our health. We must take this step, and now.

Will we take this critical step?

The Destruction of America

(20161218223800 Update) The original title contained the words “Part 1”. That was in July, 2015. My initial vision was to write about 18 parts in a series. Then Donald J Trump was elected to the presidency, and I started to believe again that there was true hope to be grasped and fought for in a meaningful way; this was a thing I had not believed since January 20, 1989, for the obvious reasons. I still think it might have been a useful series of posts, but no longer think it is utterly critical to the Republic. Therefore I am amending this title, provisionally, so it does not contain the “Part 1” notation, in simple recognition that this is the way I was thinking 17 months ago, but was enabled to believe differently in the early morning of November 9, 2016. I do still have the general outline and the initial thought, and will hold them close until such time as I deem them to be of need. But, as of this time, I do not believe that this destruction is inevitable, and will continue to hold that hope dearly, as I did when I wrote the original piece.

Introduction

No special talent is required to see, in the United States of America of this second decade of the third millennium AD, its culture, politics and politicians, economic practices, education and healthcare systems, businesses of every kind, entertainments, industry (and the all but complete absence of industriousness of its people), governments at all levels, fully degraded attitudes toward every possible subject but especially toward any productive, moral, ethical, or philosophical thought or action, and on and on absolutely ad infinitum, what must appear to any sentient being as the very nearly final end-state of a people of almost unimaginable powers of self-destruction wishing, if not demanding, of itself, an existence ranging somewhere between eternal abject poverty at one extreme, and death at the other.

I do not apologize for having composed a sentence of that many words, as it is in fact a simple English sentence in the indicative mode all native speakers should have gained the capacity to parse, process, and understand perfectly before any had completed the fourth grade of elementary school. No one nominally an adult should find any challenge in grasping its meaning and its intent upon the application of a few seconds’ to a very few minutes’ time to the effort. (To be fair, there are precisely two Latin words, “ad infinitum“, translated loosely as “forever”, this meaning being in fact transparently clear to anyone who has successfully entered the fifth grade.)

My strongest suspicion, and my greatest fear, is that very few Americans, upon encountering that sentence, would have made it past the first, or possibly the second, comma before deciding that there could be no benefit in continuing, and go back to their game, television show, or other entertainment/distraction. Should it eventuate that I am correct in my suspicion and fear then my first thesis has already been proved in respect of those who forego to continue the exercise.

First Thesis

It is clear to me that America is, at this moment, on the very knife edge of the precipice into oblivion, destruction, slavery, and death.

Insofar as I can tell precious little in the way of “encouragement” would bring about the end of America in any meaningful sense, and this demise will affect to the utmost every stratum of American society and culture, with the possible exception of the very uppermost of the uppermost crust of the elite, and even those “favored few” will sooner or later fall off the same cliff.

I can not name, define, characterize, sort, or quantify this “uppermost uppermost”, but they must exist now, and absent what they might consider “the servant and inferior classes” to provide their various supply chains, etc., they must likewise perish. If it should come about that they become the “unfavored few” comprising a tiny population mass they will likely characterize and sort themselves into a new upper crust and new servant and inferior classes, and they will devise their own criteria for answering the question, “Who shall remain on top now, and who shall serve the top?” They, having once used all of the “useful idiots” up in their quest for whatever it was they desired, will then many of them become useful idiots for the new uppermost class; then the cycle will repeat until there are no more breeding pairs, no more idiots to be made, and the race will have disappeared.

The First Thesis Expanded

The current populace of every stratum, class, and condition inhabiting the United States of America is not now, and has not been for a very long time, acting as if America in its “body politic” sense, in its simple “whole population” sense, or in its “members of the human race” sense, should be preserved so as to tend to the survival of the particular sense chosen; it is simply too much trouble and the status quo is too easy to continue.

Reasons Adduced in Defense of the First Thesis

Political, religious, cultural, educational, business, and every other sort of leaders are in the main corrupt internally, externally, and from top to bottom. Uniformly they desire above all else their own power, aggrandizement, adulatory worship from their supposed “inferiors”, adoration, emulation, and every other possible expression and indulgence of false pride, greed, gluttony, and ease of life possible. Diogenes would have expended an infinity of searchlights seeking an honest person among these, and would have come away with nothing but darkness to show for his troubles, the final outcome nothing more than the guarantee of shipwreck upon the shoals and rocks of every dark and dangerous shore, the sickening assurance that his efforts had gone for nothing.

The great and unwashed “middle class”, having inherited the mindset of the “leaders” have now become little more than “legends in their own time”. Our roadways are much less safe with all of the self-imagined NASCAR drivers than with at least as many 0.06% BAC drivers, since almost everyone behind the wheel takes chances on the public streets and highways that no professional driver would take on any track in the world (saving the possibility of a demolition derby field); it has long been my contention that no one should be granted a driver license until successful completion of a first-year college course in physics with calculus, simply so that every driver has some conception of the destructive capacity resident in the masses and forces they vainly imagine they “control” in their vehicles.

Listening to conversations around me at work and in the marketplace, I do not hear discussions of anything more profound than “what I saw on television last night”. High-level engineers and analysts can talk for hours about how they defeated a certain enemy in one video game or another, and then go home and continue playing the game into the night, as if any of this accomplishes anything useful. Both men and women freely discuss their intimate life details, their divorces and all attendant upon them, their plans to guarantee through some dating Website or another that the next time they will get it right, the imperfections and failures in their children in contrast with their own supposed perfections, as if in sharing such discussions loudly and openly to any who might hear the proof their own narcissism had not already revealed the empty shallowness of their characters and of their souls. People ask for help making their computers work right at work, and have absolutely no interest in learning anything more than “a simple checklist” or the like; I no longer even attempt to bring theory or principles into such conversations, because they want only the quick fix and will have nothing to do with why it happened to go wrong and how to avoid it in future.

And this horror only occurs when people are actually talking with each other, you know. How many times have I seen a table occupied by six or eight people, having a meal together, and every single one of them is busily tapping away on their iPhones, Galaxies, and CrackBerries, texting, tweeting, facebooking, playing their games, and on and on. Oh, words are being exchanged, but no conversation is occurring. Everyone has their “Transmit Data” permanently pinned to TTL SEND, and “Receive Data” therefore gets no chance.

Diogenes still has his problem.

As to the (let’s at least be civil) “Free Stuff Army”: Far outnumbering the “middle” and “upper” “classes”, they are the most difficult of all even to consider as being fully human, for truly all they care about is their “government paid” lives of ease and leisure, their EBT/food stamps, their free phone and its service, their free medical care without the bother of maintaining insurance coverage, their $1.00 prescription drugs, their subsidized (if substandard) housing, and all of the rest of it. As long as they can “vote in” the “right man”, they’re going to stay well! And now they are numerically sufficient always to “vote in” their “right man”.

Having lost all conception of the future, they appear to believe that it will go on as long as it goes on, and then it will stop, and then it won’t matter. These are the ultimate narcissists, the most perfect solipsists, in America today; their motto is, “I’m here all the time. You people come and go.” And they have been given the means to imagine that such is the case, by the “upper crust” who desire above all to stay in power, and by the “middle class” who only wish to display and live the fact that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

Yes, girls are still having fun, and poor old Diogenes still has not found an honest person, after using three infinities of searchlights.

Why Are We Here?

The longer we ignore this question and fail to put substantial and meaningful energy into asking it and seeking answers, finding the answers to it, the more we will fall into the rapidly expanding nadir of our nation’s demise. That we, as a people, a body politic, have ignored it for far too long, is incontrovertible, in the same way that the Law of Entropy is not questionable in the physical realm. The fact is that we are where we are, and we got to this place by some means. Those means are either of our doing, or they are not. (See Aristotle’s “Law of Non-Contradiction”, if you doubt this, please; it will be worth your time.) So we had to get here somehow.

I posit as a given that until we ask, seek, and find the answers, we cannot possibly continue to the utterly necessary next step: applying what we have learned to the problems and rising from the quagmire in which we now find ourselves!

Some “conspiracy theorists”, “ancient astronaut theorists”, and the like, are only too happy to lay it all off on “them“. That is human nature, of course. If it is their fault, then it cannot be our fault. In particular, it cannot be my fault. Shall we, as they say, “look at the record”, and attempt to glean enough of the Truth from that to proceed to something constructive? I can promise you that, with me finding a way and leading, it will be a bumpy trip, but possibly an enjoyable one.

The Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and the Five Points of Calvinism

The one who denies the Total Depravity of Man looks at the Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and says,

There was no need for You to do that!

The one who denies the Unconditional Election looks at the Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and asks,

Why did You think it necessary to do that?

The one who denies the Limited or Particular Atonement looks at the Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and says,

If that wasn’t for everyone then You are unjust!

The one who denies the Irresistible Grace of God looks at the Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and asks,

How am I supposed to believe that You accomplished anything there?

The one who denies the Preservation or Perseverance of the Saints looks at the Corpse on the Cross of Calvary and says,

You didn’t do enough!

But. That is not the end of the story. There’s much, much more.

Sola Scriptura. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Solo Christo. Soli Deo Gloria.

Some Thoughts on Luke 15

(Updated 201402022058UTC-6: There were, as is most usual, things I missed at first, and there likely remain other things I missed, so here’s a little more to the story.)

(At our small group meeting next week, the focus will be on Chapter Fifteen of the Gospel According to Luke. As we have been encouraged to read the chapter daily, I’ve decided to put down some thoughts that have come to me ahead of time.)

The chapter contains three parables:

  1. The Parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 4 through 7).
  2. The Parable of the Lost Coin (vv. 8 through 10).
  3. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (vv. 11 through 32).

Of course, everyone is familiar, to some degree, with each of the three parables, simply because they have been the texts of so many sermons through the years. There have been fights, divisions, and all manner of other evil through the centuries radiating from various interpretations of the stories; everyone has an idea about what one or more of them really means, what they are intended to teach. Many consider parables to be simple stories told with the intention of conveying simple ideas; others believe they are more complex because they teach more complex ideas than are readily apparent upon first reading or hearing. The truth, I believe, lies in the receptiveness and honesty of the hearer or reader at least as much as it does in the fabric of the stories.

In the first parable we have a shepherd, charged with care of one hundred animals. One wanders away from the flock, and the shepherd goes to find and rescue it. Upon meeting with success, the shepherd, after having left the remainder of the flock in “open country” and therefore vulnerable, to find the lost sheep, is thankful for the reclamation and demonstrates his gratitude by throwing a party for his friends and neighbors. End of story? Not quite, because this is a story being told by Jesus Christ, and he drives home a point:

I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (NIV)

I notice that the lost sheep, now found and returned, is at this point being compared somehow with a repentant sinner. How do I suppose that the sheep represents a person who has repented? The silly animal had wandered away from the safety of the flock, and the shepherd had to leave the others behind, go and find the wanderer, and bring it back, “on his shoulders”! That honestly doesn’t sound like a very good picture of “repentance” to me. The thought occurs that this just might be a picture of grace.

The parable of the lost coin is short and concise, telling of a woman who has “lost” one of her ten silver coins, and finds it after a diligent and careful search. Upon finding it, she, like the shepherd, calls together friends and neighbors and invites them to rejoice with her over the recovery of the coin. And again, Jesus brings a close to the story:

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (NIV)

Now, as if the idea of a repentant sheep is not strange enough, this coin, lost and found, is also held in comparison with a repentant sinner! The sheep is, at least, a living being, but this silver coin has never been alive for one instant! If the idea of a dumb animal performing such a feat as repenting is difficult to comprehend, that of a coin “repenting” is certainly off the scale of believability. The coin was, and is, and forever more shall be, a dead thing. Possibly another portrayal of grace?

Finally we come to the parable concerning the prodigal son, who also is lost, and gone to a far land, and in very dire straits. He finally comes to his senses and returns, repentant without doubt, to beg for a servant’s place in his father’s house. But his father sees him coming, and rejoices in compassion and forgiveness, and apparently completely ignores the boy’s confession in his haste to call in the whole countryside for a great celebration. This is clearly grace in action. But there is another demonstration of grace in this parable.

The boy, it seems, has an elder brother, one who has been faithful to his father, to the family, the work, in all ways. Who can not identify with his feelings at this point? He even refused to join the celebration! But their father tells him:

My son,… you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (NIV)

And that is the first picture of grace we see in Luke 15 with utter clarity. Their father treats both graciously! We are not told if the elder brother did join the celebration, but he has been given the invitation, and the reason for it.

Now, here is point number one. The sheep, having wandered away from the protection of the shepherd (and the remainder of the flock), into the wilderness, was as good as dead. The coin never lived. The father described the younger son as having been dead, and having returned to life. Dead things do not choose. Dead things do not think. Dead things remain dead, unless life is given to them from another source. The shepherd gave life to the wayward sheep by finding it and returning it to the fold. The woman found and reclaimed her lost coin. The prodigal son was given enough life to turn from his lifestyle and return to a true life.

Those are stories of grace.

There is a point number two. But first we should observe that there are two very basic principles one should observe in the matter of interpreting parables. To ignore either principle will ultimately weaken the teaching power of the story, or lead to unreasonable and unfounded interpretations and other confusion. These principles are:

  1. Each parable has a single audience. (It is not a corollary that all parables speak to the same audience.)
  2. Each parable teaches a single truth. (It is likewise not a corollary that all parables teach the same content, or teach in the same way.)

In Chapter Fifteen we have three distinct parables, or stories. The principles stated above require that there be onetwo, or three audiences, and some mixture of truth(s), whether they be onetwo, or three in number. From the complete narrative it appears that two distinct groups of people are involved in this chapter: the religious leaders (Pharisees and scribes), and the common people (tax collectors and “sinners”). Further, it is clear that the religious leaders were there to find fault with Jesus’ teaching, His methods, and His agenda, while the common people were there to learn from Jesus. Therefore it seems obvious that the number of audiences is either one or two. But which is it?

The English text provides an important clue with the introductory clause “So He spoke this parable to them, saying:” (v. 3). What is the antecedent of the objective pronoun “them”? Standard English usage would require that “them” refer to the most recently used nominal(s) in the text, and that would be “Pharisees and scribes” (v. 2). In the usual flow of narrative this would be the case as well, for verse one mentions the “tax collectors and sinners” who had come to hear Jesus teach, and verse two tells of an interruption of sorts brought by the religious leaders in their criticism of Jesus based on the “company” he was keeping. The conclusion is that what follows verse three was addressed to the Pharisees and scribes, so as to dismiss their interruption quickly and effectively in order to take up the matter of teaching those who had come to hear the Master.

But note the subjects of the two parables Jesus then tells the religious crowd. The first is a shepherd who seeks and finds a lost sheep, at the peril of losing others that have not left the flock. Those “religious” would have been familiar with the context of this parable, at least insofar as they considered themselves to be the “shepherds of Israel”, and they believed their criticism of Jesus to be an indication of their “care for their flock”. Even so, we find them here, not trying to reclaim the “lost sinners and tax collectors” who were eager to hear Jesus’ teaching, but preferring to leave them all lost “in the wilderness” rather than risk their elevated positions in society. Having completed the story with the joyous reclamation of the lost sheep, Jesus makes His point with verse seven:

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (NKJV)

Another short parable follows the first to make the point more strongly by telling of a woman who has lost one-tenth of her treasure, amounting to one small silver coin. With their emphasis on the Law as they understood it, the religious would have instantly thought of the tithe, the one-tenth portion they would have considered to belong “to the Lord”, and of the fact that this woman had misplaced that much. They would have been pleased, possibly, to hear the outcome, to know that the tithe was safe. But they likely did not notice that the sheep, being no more than a dumb animal prone to wander from the flock, represented some portion of the crowd of “sinners” who had come to hear Jesus; even less would they have noticed that portion of the crowd who, like the coin were utterly incapable of being aware of their lost condition, or to the duty and obligation of care owed to the entire crowd by those very same leaders. Further, they do not appreciate that they each are as much in need of repentance as is any of those “sinners”! Jesus again punctuates the matter with verse ten:

Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (NKJV)

Finally, here is point number two: Earlier in Chapter Fifteen we are told that the Pharisees and the scribes didn’t much care for the fact that Jesus Christ was spending time with what they called “sinners”; those “sinners” happened to be listening to him, and eagerly. While the three parables are possibly only stories, even if told to illustrate serious truths, we have the historical fact laid before us in verse three. Two of those parables were told for the benefit of these religious leaders who had not noticed that the “sinners” were under their care. Jesus took time to tell them these two stories, with the purpose of illustrating their own lost condition, while a large crowd of followers waited to hear their own parable.

Then Jesus told them this parable:

That is grace.

Symbols in the Day of Atonement

“What’s that?” you might have asked.

“Hamartiology” is a big word. It’s complicated. Dictionary consultation might be in order if you don’t know its meaning. (What? I have to look up a word I’ve never heard of, and one that looks like it’s just “made up” anyway? I think I’ll just piddle around looking at the pretty pictures and funny jokes all my dear friends posted on Gabba-Jabber in the last few minutes. Yeah, that’ll be a lot more fun!)

Of course, I’m not going to just let it fade away to nothing, because, see, I started getting this idea after hearing Rev. Jean F. Larroux’s sermon on Sunday, and the whole idea became very interesting to me after I thought it over for a while, read the text a few times, and thought about it some more. So, since I want to learn new things, and pass them on to others who might want to know them, well, no, I’m not going to drop it and forget the whole thing. Some things are worth thinking about, and I happen to believe this is one of them.

This bigcomplicated word is an Anglicized portmanteau word derived from two Greek words, hamartia (sin) and logos (word). It turns out to be the theological term for the doctrine of sin. I could not hope to compose one word per one hundred million words already written on this subject by those far superior to me in theological study and thought, and will probably add nothing to what is already known by the vast majority of those who might read this posting. So, if you’re certain you’ll learn nothing new by reading this, I invite you to employ your time more wisely than you would by continuing to read. Still friends, right? After all, even if you don’t read it, I have the privilege of writing my thoughts; that’s called a win-win.

I won’t argue the point that hamartiology is an important field of study. Either you believe that sin is a real and horrible thing, that all of humankind (and by incorporation all of Creation) are ruined and undone by sin and sinfulness, that God the Father Almighty hates sin in every single one of its manifestations, and that sin and sinfulness demand either a perfect payment or a permanent punishment, or you believe none of it. Either you believe that the breadth and depth of sin require an infinitely more effective satisfaction, or you don’t. I happen to believe all of these things, and think it would be a good thing for you to examine the ideas; but I won’t attempt to force you–that’s not my job. I just want to write about this interesting topic.

Still here? I appreciate it, because sometimes I take a while to get to my point. I will hasten to the second part of my title, the Day of Atonement.

Indeed, atonement is also a big and complicated word, but it is probably not of Greek origin. Some scholars believe William Tyndale derived it from an English phrase, atonen (“in accord”), for his English translation of the early Sixteenth Century to convey the idea of “agreement”. But this agreement is not something like a business deal, wherein two equal adversaries compromise from their disagreement to something like trust. This agreement is one that is between God and Humankind, but it is one of those special arrangements wherein God, being Sovereign, makes the deal, and the dealing is finished; that is called a covenant. Humankind, in its “ruined and undone” state, you see, had nothing to bring to the table, nothing to offer in return, no leg to stand on, so to speak. (That’s the way things tend to be when people deal with the Supreme Being.)

So now we’ve dealt, quite superficially, with the ideas of sin and atonement. But we’re not quite through to the “Day of Atonement”, or its connection with the doctrine of sin, or hamartiology.

Anyone even minimally aware of Jewish culture and history knows that the High Holy Day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur, or in English “The Day of Atonement”; some prefer “The Day of Atonements”. I believe that most who are aware of even that much remain blissfully unaware of the importance of the Day, and of the activities of the Day, in Jewish cultural history. There is a huge amount of cultural history attached to the purpose and the activities of Yom Kippur, not least that the High Priest of Israel could do one thing on that day of the year, and on that day only, and that was to enter the Holy of Holies, the Holiest Place, within the Temple curtain (or the Tabernacle during the wilderness wandering period), for the most sacred purpose of making atonement for his own sins, and for those of Israel. And those are not the only things the High Priest is required to “make atonement for”…

Of course, that brings us to a critical point, for I am about to mention that thing very disliked, even despised, by most readers, The Bible, and in particular the Old Testament book of Leviticus, at chapter sixteen. It is at this critical point that many readers, having made it this far, will simply abandon the project. My temptation is to say, “That’s okay,” and continue with my writing. The fact is that I do not particularly think it is okay for you to stop reading simply because I’ve mentioned The Bible, but of course, it is your choice, your decision to take. Should you take leave of me at this point, I will only say, “Live long and prosper,” with all the sincerity of a Mister Spock. But there is some fascinating information in that sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, and I honestly believe you might profit from taking some note of it.

Exodus, chapters thirty-five through forty, describes the Wilderness Tabernacle’s construction details and layout in minute detail. A knowledge of these facts is helpful toward understanding the activities of the Day of Atonement, since such knowledge provides sense of movement and scale to the description in Numbers sixteen. From the outside it appeared to be a rectangular enclosure with a single entrance that also served as the exit, always placed in the center of the eastern end of the enclosure. The ratios of length to width to height of the external structure were 25:12.5:1, and the entrance occupied 40% of the eastern end.

Upon entering the courtyard so constructed and proceeding westward, one first encountered the bronze altar of offering, an elevated structure which served only one purpose: this was the place where animal sacrifices were slain. Further west was the laver, a large bronze bowl filled with water, in which the priests washed their hands and feet before entering the tent containing the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Holy Place contained, along with the Most Holy Place, three other objects. To the left stood the menorah, the seven armed stand whose lamps burned throughout the night and provided the only source of physical light within the tent. To the right was the table of showbread, set weekly with twelve loaves of bread which, having been consecrated, were consumed by members of the priesthood at the end of the week. Directly west, just before the veil protecting the Most Holy Place, stood the golden altar of incense, upon which was burned the consecrated spice mixture each day at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices on the bronze altar in the courtyard. Immediately to the west of the altar of incense stood the Holy of Holies, the place occupied by God Himself, and the place that only one man, the High Priest, could enter, and then only after suitable preparation and only on the Day of Atonement; the Holy of Holies was protected by its veil. Within the Holiest Place stood one piece of furniture, consisting of the Ark of the Covenant and the atonement cover, or mercy seat, which served as the lid for the Ark. Within the Ark were three objects of great significance in Jewish history: the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron, and the stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments.

Here is a link to Leviticus 16, in the New International Version. This page will open in a new window or tab. (There is a handy drop-down menu at the site, by which many other translations may be found.) I will not attempt a verse-by-verse analysis of the chapter, as that is frankly above my exegetical abilities by many orders of magnitude. My purpose is to elucidate, in a very small way, some of the high points.

1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord.

The first thing we notice is that this text provides historical context. Something had happened: the two sons of Aaron had died. This had happened for a reason: they had approached the Lord. Then Moses received a message, from that same Lord:

2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

This explains the reason Aaron’s sons had died, for it proclaims that Aaron himself, the High Priest of Israel, would die for the same reason, should he come at the wrong time into the Holiest Place. Even the person of the High Priest was to be prepared suitably before encountering the presence of God Himself. This preparation is most explicit in detail, and the fine granularity of the detail requires complete adherence.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

It is important to notice here that the first thing Aaron is required to do before entering the Holy of Holies is to prepare offerings, of the proper type, and to “bring” them. Aaron would have brought the animals through the entrance and presented them to the Lord, to be held at the bronze altar until the time of their sacrifice.

4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.

The preparations continue with the ritual washing and donning sacred clothing. Aaron has now brought the offerings, a job that might of itself have involved becoming dirty, so he must wash before he dons the priestly garments.

5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

Now, Aaron is already washed and clad in the sacred garments, so “take” here likely means “accept”. The High Priest is to receive the offerings from the Israelites, since he is acting in his capacity as High Priest, being the intermediary between God and the Nation. Possibly this requires that he leave the Tabernacle proper, even after the washing and donning the sacred garments, but this is not clear to me, particularly in light of verse seven; for the High Priest to exit the Tabernacle at this point implies a reversal of his progress toward the actions that are to follow. It seems more likely that the goats have already been brought inside the entrance prior to this time, and are being held there.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.

Now we learn the reason for the sin offering of the young bull. It is to atone for the sins of the High Priest himself, and for those of his household as well. Even the High Priest must not only be clean, and clothed properly, but his sins and those of the ones closest to him must receive atonement before he can continue the ritual. However, prior to the actual sacrifice of the bull, Aaron must deal with the two goats.

7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

That at least answers the inevitable question: Why two goats? And why is one, the goat chosen by lot for the Lord, to be killed as a sin offering, but the other one driven “into the wilderness as a scapegoat”? More mysteriously, how is the one sacrificed to be a sin offering, but the one sent away, after being presented alive to the Lord, to make atonement? It begins to appear that there are two “atonements”, two different kinds of “agreement” in play at this juncture. I hold all of that in abeyance for now, for it may just come up again…

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.

It is very important, I think, to notice here that no sacrificial animal has been killed until now, when the High Priest must slaughter the young bull as “his own sin offering”, “for himself and for his household”. He cannot proceed until this crucial step has been completed.

12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die.

Finally the High Priest may, after he sacrifices the young bull, enter safely behind the veil, into the presence of the Lord, being properly prepared with the burning coals and the incense to cover himself, as it were, from the Holiness of God and His wrath, a wrath that is just even after an atoning sacrifice.

14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

Now the High Priest has brought the atoning blood of the young bull into the Most Holy Place, and he has sprinkled some of that blood directly upon the mercy seat as well as in front of it. Having completed this act, he may now proceed to the next steps in the ritual.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

Only after completing the act of atonement for his own sin, and for that of his family, the High Priest may now kill the goat set aside by lot for the sin offering of the people, but this requires that he go back into the courtyard, to the bronze altar, and there collect the goat’s blood. Having returned into the Holiest Place, he sprinkles the people’s sin offering upon the mercy seat.

17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

This is a very interesting and illuminating point, I think. Since there may be no others within the Tabernacle while the High Priest is performing the central duties of his office, and since the enclosure is quite large, the High Priest was alone, in human terms. God, the High Priest, and two goats are the only witnesses!

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites. 20a “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar,…

A very startling thing is here. The bronze altar itself requires atonement. No, that is a stunning revelation. The altar “before the Lord”, the altar of sacrifice within the Tabernacle, has itself been tainted by the sin, the sinfulness, the uncleanness of the people. Every single horn on the altar must be covered with the blood of two animals. The altar itself must be “consecrated” for its holy purposes. This is demonstrative of the effects of humankind’s sin upon the whole of Creation, that even those things set aside for holy uses are affected by that sin. Even the tent of meeting, or the Tabernacle, must have atonement. Most incredible of all is the fact that the Most Holy Place, the sanctum sanctorum, the dwelling place of God Almighty, has required atonement. (N.B.: The lesson ought to be clear and plain to any reader.)

20b …he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Notice that now is the time that the scapegoat, the live goat, receives its reward. It seems incredible to “modern” people, I’m sure, but after all of this sacrifice, all of this washing and dressing and going in and going out and sprinkling of blood and all of that, the goat that is left alive now has all of the sins of Israel laid upon it, and it is taken away to fend for itself, “in the wilderness”. The point is that the sin has not been destroyed, eradicated, has not been forgotten by God, is still a reality, even after atonement has been made. The live goat must still leave the camp, and go into the wilderness, never to be seen again, probably to die. Notice as well that the goat receives the sin of Israel in public, outside the Tabernacle enclosure, with witnesses observing. But even now, not everything is finished, for “life goes on”.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

The activities of the Day of Atonement are, for all intents and purposes, completed once the High Priest divests himself of the sacred garments, washes once more, and dons his usual clothing. He must still sacrifice both for himself and for the people! Was there no purpose for all of that preparation, all of that choosing of animals that were perfect, the rituals? Of course there was a purpose, but there is also a deeper truth in play.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

This is part of that deeper truth. The handler who has taken the live goat away is now unclean and cannot re-enter the camp of Israel before he cleanses himself and his clothing. Why is he not clean? He has followed the formula, the ritual, done the Lord’s bidding, but still is required to make himself clean? My idea is that he has handled the goat who received the sins of Israel, and has himself been made unclean by that handling. But that is not all.

27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

The remains of the young bull and the sacrificed goat must also be destroyed by fire, and that “outside the camp”, and the one who performs this holy service must likewise become clean again before he may return. The bull, the goat, and the one who burns them, have all performed a sacred service and duty during all of this, and they are still to be destroyed or cleansed. Sin has tainted the bodies of all concerned, and the remainder must be cleansed, in the one case by fire, in the other with water.

Then comes the final exclamation point upon the whole thing:

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

We now have an ordinance for Israel that is to last for all time. The Day of Atonement is established, along with the rules for that day, and the priestly line of succession is defined. Furthermore, the text reiterates the reason for the Day of Atonement once more.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

To finalize everything, the text then repeats itself, though with fewer words.

All of which leads one to ask about the idea of “secret sin”, the sin that supposedly “hurts no one but the sinner”. Can there be such a thing as a sin, or sinfulness itself, that does not infect all of Creation? In light of Leviticus, chapter sixteen, I would have to answer in the negative.

The Only Winning Move is not to Play

Aficionados of the teen angst, Cold War, rebel with or without a cause, give-peace-a-chance, et al., type of talkie will recognize, immediately and practically without apparent cognitive effort, the title as the conclusion reached by a supercomputer dubbed WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) by the MIC (Military Industrial Complex), or “Joshua” by its creator and others, in a hugely successful 1983 movie called War Games. The story is pretty simple:

  1. Military personnel, tasked with pushing the buttons, turning the keys, etc., and thereby starting the final conflagration of global thermonuclear war in simulations that have gone slightly awry, have refused to comply with their standing orders and have not unleashed the (admittedly simulated) war birds.
  2. An official, played by Dabney Coleman, has succeeded in instituting a program whereby a supercomputer can, through artificial intelligence and various simulations, “learn” to choose properly, based on probabilities of success, whether to continue with the order, or not.
  3. A less than stellar high school student (as far as high school goes) succeeds in hacking the school system’s computers and changing a few grades. Then he manages to discover something he finds odd and interesting in Silicon Valley. When he hits a wall beyond which he cannot go in his search, he proceeds to get himself into NORAD by certain expedients, and learns of the problems being caused by WOPR/Joshua, which/who has suddenly developed a desire (of some kind) to bring the game to an end state.
  4. Young student and his girlfriend embark upon an expedition, rushing to the Pacific Northwest to convince WOPR’s creator to return with them and lend a hand in bringing the unruly child under control.
  5. Because retired PhDs like Dr. Falken often accede in the wishes of adolescent trouble-makers, Falken returns to NORAD and convinces Joshua to play Tic-Tac-Toe against itself. Simultaneously, Joshua/WOPR is trying to “crack” the launch code to bring off a world ending war, and is running all of the simulations again.
  6. Before the code is cracked, WOPR/Joshua realizes that the “game” he is playing is one that cannot be won, and utters the words comprising the title of this piece. Then he offers to play “a nice game of chess”.

Silly in the extreme? Or prophetic? I think neither, but rather allegorical. For I think I see the same kind of thing playing out week after weary week, year after weary year, in our national demise, said demise accelerating rapidly over the course of time.

This week the big controversy is that one Phil Robertson, a cast member of a rather popular cable television show, has been placed on indefinite hiatus by the network that owns the franchise, called Duck Dynasty. In the way of most such controversies, boycotts have been urged by certain elements of the population, and the focal points of those boycotts have begun to grow outside the boundaries of the network and their presumably contracted employees, the cast of the show, and in particular the person who is now being called the “patriarch” of those contracted employees. One or more companies have apparently decided to suppress their involvement with the show by removing certain items from their store shelves, at least for now, or reducing their prices. So where’s the controversy?

A very few days ago, the big controversy was over a few events connected with the Nelson Mandela funeral, memorial service, etc. What was that all about? Oh, yes, it was that a sitting President of the United States and a sitting Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, indulged in taking “selfies” surrounding the very attractive head of the government of Denmark. The result was that the President’s wife apparently rearranged the seating, and just by the way did not look very pleased with some events or others.

Now, I’m wondering if anyone remembers the big controversy preceding the Mandela thing? No? I didn’t think so. How about Snowden and the NSA? That was last Spring. Lots of things between then and now. Uh, the “failed” “Obamacare” rollout, from the Website to the policy cancellations and everything else? The Presidential, Congressional, and other lies about the Affordable Care Act? Various shootings in public places, including elementary and high schools? Benghazi? September 11, 2001? The housing bubble? The dot-com crash? Don Imus saying silly and stupid things about a female college sports team, or Rush Limbaugh saying silly things about a professional law school student? The Grenada invasion, or Panama? The Bork or Thomas hearings? Maude worrying about abortion? Race and gender based quotas in everything there is?

Don’t the big controversies go back, uh, forever?

We, the people, are focusing on things that have very little real significance, all spoon fed to us by a willing and complicit media working busily for whoever their masters may be, and we are losing, ever more rapidly, the focus on the really important things, such as governance of the Nation.

I submit that, apart from a knowledge of and an adherence to, the Constitution of the United States, one is totally ignorant of just which “controversies” are of any importance at all. If some tempest in a tea-kettle doesn’t affect the Constitution, it’s just not worth much notice.

At the same time, I submit that whenever such tempests consume our energies and our time, we have already lost the central focus, and we really don’t give a tinker’s dam about the Constitution, our liberties, or the future.

You’d better choose. I hope you choose not to play.