Merry Christmas and Happy 2022

Merry Christmas! Hope you had a great Christmas Day with your loved ones and family. We spent Christmas Eve in a nice dinner with Mom, my sister at my cousins’ home, the Monteros, Graciela and Carlos, with their two daughters, Belén and Verónica. In sum, it was a great night with anecdotes and laughter… and great food. Yours truly even tasted a bit of a Ruttini Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec (it was great) at midnight.

Picture of 2021 christmas celebration.
Our 2021 Christmas dinner. Picture by Cristina, my sister.

The Monteros are also highly creative people, and their manger scene was nothing short of astonishing. It was huge and varied. The actual manger had Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in a makeshift cradle in a hammock, typical of Paraguay’s rural families.

This year certainly was a challenging one (well, there is nothing new under the sun). I struggled in my teaching role. The pandemic and the use of digital platforms certainly make distance learning possible, but the demands put upon the teachers are much higher and with lesser returns.

The Monteros manger scene
Manger scene at the Monteros. Note the astounding nivel of detail. Picture by my sister, Cristina.

Add to this a hectic professional life (mostly in translation, but also in legal work) amid an economic downturn, and you have a recipe for stress and anxiety. But the Lord has been faitful. He has been our dwelling place in all generations (Psalms 90:1).

May the Lord God show His favor upon all of us, and may He, in His mercy, establish the work of our hands in this upcoming year, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Have a great 2022!

Spanish section added

You may remember that I wondered about adding a Spanish language section to this. Well, no more wondering: I just added a Spanish section to this site. Now you can click on the menu above to access my Spanish languange content.

I just want to add that I have no plans to have translations of articles between sections. The English language section shall have content not reflected into the Spanish section and viceversa. Please pray for this new undertaking.

Journal Article: “The Dordrecht Synod at 400: A Guide for the Church in Times of Crysis”

The end of the year is nearing, and if it was hectic before, now we are reaching “core meltdown” status. However, in moments of rare respite within this race, I had time to write a small journal article for Espacio Teológico, the theological journal of the Evangelical Faculty of Theology with the title stated above.

The text is in Spanish, but you can read the Abstract:

The Synod of the Reformed Churches held in Dordrecht (The Netherlands) four centuries ago, took place in within a moment of deep internal and external crisis. Its Rules or Canons can be a suitable guide for the Church which today must minister within a context of crisis. The contributions suggested by Dordt to face this circumstance are, among others: listen to various sectors, understand the importance of dogma and dogmatics, do not be afraid in pointing out errors, do not shrink from dealing with difficult issues, and favor church teaching over the merely academic discussion.

Keywords: Canons of Dordt, Synod of Dordrecht, Dort, Arminian controversy, doctrine, dogma, dogmatics

The full text of the article can be read at this link. I’m not making a direct link to the PDF file itself since I saw some errata and these shall be corrected any time now. Apologies for that in the meantime.

I hope this can be useful in the task of seeking guidance on how the Church can approach times of crisis such as this one.

To cite: Eduardo Sánchez-Gauto (2020) “El Sínodo de Dordrecht a los 400 años: una guía para la Iglesia en contexto de crisis” Espacio Teológico 5:51-68.

Making this blog bilingual…?

As you might know, I’m a native Spanish speaker, and this is an English-language blog. It has served me well for over 15 years and counting, and still does.

However, most of my writing have been done lately in Spanish. Not because of anything special; they were just extended status updates in Facebook. But somehow they got widespread recognition. These are posts pertaining to some pressing situation of the Paraguayan or Latin American context at some particular moment, so writing or translating them into English wouldn’t make any sense.

Some people suggested that I should open a Spanish-language blog. I could keep using Facebook but I don’t like the platform to begin with, and furthermore it has serious limitations for serious blogging. Well, I already have my static personal site in Spanish and this English-language blog, so what should I do? Just setting up another blog would be a maintenance burden; enough with what I already have. The obvious solution would be to make this blog bilingual; that is, adding Spanish-language content. I could do that, but how?

That is, how can I make this blog bilingual without causing significant disruption? An obvious solution could be adding a multilingual plugin to my WordPress setup; and I’m now hesitating between Polylang and Language Switcher, but I’m not sure. In fact I’m not sure of how could I proceed with implementing this change. Any ideas or suggestions? That would be welcome.

Lifesaver tools: Rule converter

Hi again! It’s been a long time. I know… and there’s lot of things to share and get to speed. But that can wait for now. Today I would like to talk about a tool which I classify as a lifesaver: something which really takes a lot of meaningless worries and headaches from your daily work. I plan to write about some of these tools; it’s just too selfish to sit on this knowledge which could be really useful to a lot of folks.

Recently, some super-expensive obligational law textbook went on sale. The fact that it was available in Paraguay was no small miracle; and then, that it was heavily discounted (even more than affordable: it was a steal, to be honest!) added to the wonder. I made an effort and purchased it, and suddenly I got a precious, usually very expensive book, which would be destined to serious use. A book cover should be used on it.

Well, easier said than done. The book’s hardcover height is 22.5 cm. Armed with that knowledge, scouted Amazon and promptly found some suitable covers. But the sizes listed were in fractional inches, as in 9 3/8″. I can surmise that an inch equals 2.54 cm, but what about the various decimal centimer sizes? How can I turn 0.8582677 inches into a fractional value?

I know it can be done, and I could do it with some thinking. But that would be too cumbersome. Amazon sellers can now reach global audiences but they can’t be bothered to supply measurements in SI units. Too bad, but I really needed the cover. So I was about to calculate the fractional equivalent of 0.8582677 inches, but I decided to google things a little bit, and found a gem.

This tool, with the straightforward title of “MM or CM to Fractions of Inches” (see screenshot above) does the job admirably. There’s a box where one can input a measure and the site would convert it for you; or you can measure values in an online ruler (resizable to your screen’s DPI value) or even look up values in a table. A really great tool for dealing with difficult measurement problems. Now, something like 8 7/16″ won’t be so arcane. By using the site, I learned that 22.5 cm equals 8 7/8″ and I was able to see which cover size would be adequate for my book. Recommended!

A Mystery and Then, a Frantic Search

Old code is a liability…

I finished writing my previous post and dutifully clicked the big, yellow “Publish” button. I then clicked on the “View Post” link, wishing to see how it looked.

Surprise…! Look ma, no text!

The post title was there and the categories and tags … but the post text was missing. AWOL. Gone.

Upon further inspection, it turned out that text from other posts were missing as well. Only text, mind you. The pictures were all there.

Searching the rendered page’s source code yielded no clues. What happened then….?

“Maybe there’s a CSS conflict with the theme.” Switched themes… no luck.

“OK. Let’s see the plugins then.” Deactivated a bunch of plugins and voilá! The text came back! Narrowing the choices, I was able to identify the culprit: Scripturizer, an ancient plugin who scanned for Bible references and converted them into hyperlinks to Bible text, with the additional convenience of providing hoverboxes showing the referenced Bible text on mouseover.

Over the years, Scripturizer was a valuable addition to the site that provided convenience to my readers. But obviously I had to get rid of the plugin. It was too old and unmaintained. Thankfully it was just a bug and nothing worse what prompted me to change things.

Mystery solved, then. But now, I had to look for a replacement and find one soon. What options do I have for a Scripturizer replacement? I wanted to avoid any loss of functionality at all costs.

After checking out the (not so) many options available, I settled down on bVerse Convert, a plugin released by the good folks at It has the right amount of features I was looking for and it’s simple to configure and deploy. I cannot be happier and I am grateful to CrossedCode for releasing such a wonderful plugin.

Honorable mention goes to the ESV Cross Reference Plugin, released by CrossWay. I would have used it but the hoverbox is too small and it would resort too frequently to a scroll bar, something which I find it less than desirable. But it’s still a great option. I hope CrossWay keeps updating and refining the plugin.

And so the story ends, with a moral obvious enough: old code is all too frequently a liability.

Back to School

March came by and with it, the beginning of a new school year.

Semester at the Presbyterian Seminary began with a three-day retreat where we could reflect on “living by grace”. After these days, it was good to return to its halls to meet new freshmen and seniors.

Meanwhile, at the Evangelical Faculty of Theology they asked me to be a thesis tutor, something which I absolutely do not relish. I hope it help students to better finish their degrees, though.

Please pray for a good 2019 academic year in Paraguayan theological education.

Horrific News at the Southern Baptist Convention

Over 700 victims.

At least 380 perpetrators.

A devastaing investigation published in two of Texas’ highest respected newspapers, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News give an account of various sexual abuse cases in churches which are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first part of the report is here, and a summary can be read here, courtesy of the good folks of RELEVANT Magazine.

Even though it is clear that every Baptist church is autonomous and independent, the report shows clearly that denominacional leadership did not take appropriate measures to limit or stop the abuse; on the contrary, they mostly helped to cover-up cases.

This cover-up culture is harming the church. My friend and brother in Christ Ed Hurst coined a maxim which is pure truth: “Mankind is fallen. Sinners will sin.” Indeed. Shameful deeds could happen in any church; such is the lot of fallen human nature. But, as stewards of Christ’s sheep, churches and their leadership must not tolerate any of such cases and must take all necessary steps to stop and prevent such abuse from happening.

Even more so, the church must be transparent. God chose us from the weak and the foolish and the despised in the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-29), and we must be frank in acknowledging our faults.

This shows us that we are not immune to any sin. Given our depraved nature, no sin is out of bounds. The question is how we shall act when it happens. I hope we learn the lesson.

Back from Rio

Sunset at Barra de Tijuca beach, Rio de Janeiro
Sunset at Barra de Tijuca beach, Rio de Janeiro. (Click to enlarge.)

This Friday we arrived safely and sound to Asunción after a small trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (~1400 km ENE of Asunción). The trip was exhausting; about 35 hours in bus. The bus was OK, and moderately comfortable; but after spending 30+ hours on it everything is a source of discomfort and one gets increasingly squeamish.

Rio is a beautiful city indeed. The intersection of the lush Tijuca Forest and the mountains with the modern city is just amazing. The beaches are almost all beautiful, but the best was Barra da Tijuca without a doubt. Located in an exclusive part of the town, its waters are refeshing and clean, and the beach itself doesn’t get too crowded.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the 19 h (evening) service of the Presbyterian Cathedral of Rio. The building is a real cathedral-like temple, imposing, with beautiful stained glass windows. The sermon, preached by its pastor emeritus, was based on Romans 2:1-16. The not-so-great part was that this service was “contemporary”, with contemporary praise music (including a praise band with a drum set), but all was done with care and reverence. The service order was a superb example of the regulative principle of worship.

As usual, Brazilian hospitality was at its finest. People were nice and accomodating, but one must bear in mind that Rio is in a class by itself when it comes to crime and security. A couple who traveled with us was resting at the Ipanema beach when suddenly they saw themselves surrounded by young gangsters who almost mugged them. Only the timely intervention of a wise local man prevented this from happening; they were able to exit the beach unharmed, but surrounded by police. There were homeless persons and beggars everywhere. If you happened to eat outside in a restaurat with tables on the sidewalk, it was common to get interrupted by homeless persons asking (nicely) for some soda or food. And, of course, the “communities” or favelas –irregular settlements at the sides of the hills– spread all around Rio, and this is a huge social problem.

But this should not detract from the incredible beauty offered to us in Rio de Janeiro. The lush forest, the beaches, the amazing combination of modern and classical architecture, the laid-back nature of most inhabitants of Rio, all of them makes Rio an unique destination, truly one of the great cities of the contemporary world.

I’m grateful to God for His gift of this trip, which my wife and yours truly enjoyed immensely. God willing, we plan to return someday, sooner than later.

New year, projects new and old

Just an endless road.
Planning for the road ahead

Happy New Year!

We had a nice New Year celebration with my in-laws and then a much needed day of rest. I spent the day reading and listening to great music; I discovered a great recording of sacred works by Spanish composer Alonso Lobo (1555-1617).

It’s nice not to have a translation deadline breathing on my neck, and this also means that I can devote some time to a project which, God willing, shall see the light Real Soon Now (TM).

Hope you have also a great time of celebration and a good start for the year.

One case where Twitter is awful

This article in The Atlantic definitely struck a chord here.

This morning I was checking Twitter and I found in my timeline a gross, gruesome image. I won’t bother you with the details. I’m still reeling trying to “unsee” that stuff.

It turns out that a user which I follow retweet a link from a newspaper article which in turn featured such image. The link card generated by Twitter happily featured that awful picture.

As a matter of policy, in Twitter I unfollow any user who tweets or retweets any image with gore or graphic violence. I also want to report the posts, and there is the problem.

I tried to report the post and image as featuring graphic violence, but I got absolutely no option to do so. When I tried to report, I got this:

No “graphic violence” to be seen.

If I choose “It’s abusive or harmful”, this is what I get:

Still nothing about graphic violence. Of course, there is no option at all to blur the image.

Twitter is doing an awful job indeed. They need to seriously improve in this area.

Merry Christmas!

Manger scene at my mother’s house. Note the two Paraguayan coconut flowers lying at the floor. They give a pleasant smell. Another detail: Baby Jesus lies in a hammock, as per traditional Paraguayan customs.

Merry Christmas! I hope you can have a great Christmas Eve with your loved ones, a time full of joy and praise for the wonderful gift of a God who dwelt among us, the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

As customary, we usually receive Christmas Day by awaiting midnight with a big family dinner. As midnight reaches, some folks like to blow some firecrackers (4th of July pale in comparison to Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve here) and we exchange congratulations and, sometime, Christmas presents.

May God bless you. Thanks for reading this blog in 2018, and here’s to the best of time in the next year.

Long time no see

Hi there!

This year my blogging fell behind. I know it’s disappointing but my life grew increasingly busy.

For the first time, I began teaching theology, not in one but in two schools. Add to this the increasing demands from lawyering and translation, and you get the result: almost no time for writing.

Teaching was, and is, a great experience. I intend to blog about it as soon as possible. Stay tuned.

Switching to Firefox Quantum

The folks at Mozilla recently released Firefox 57, which is in fact a totally new engine and interface, known as Firefox Quantum.

When Slackware-current pushed the update, I upgraded and was pleasantly surprised. It felt a lot faster and lighter than Chrome / Chromium, and so I decided to switch to it as my main browser.

After some months, I’m now running Firefox 59.0.2 and I could say that so far it’s been a great ride. Switching from Chrome/Chromium wasn’t easy since I had invested a lot of time in getting the right plugins and addons for my needs. Worse, starting with Quantum, Firefox phased out their previous XUL-based addon model and switched to another known as WebExtensions, which was received with a lot of grumbling, to say the least.

However, I easily found substitute plugins and addons for Firefox and right now I could say that I’m a happy camper. Firefox now rides my Web surfing in a smooth, quick way.

It’s great to see Firefox back to its former glory. Or, at least part of it. Let’s hope it keeps evolving in the right direction.

Happy Reformation Day

Yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of the occassion where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on indulgences at the door of the castle church of Wittenberg. This event is considered the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Just to mark how different this year was from others, there were several events and conferences commemorating the date. Even churches which traditionally would not give the time of day to this date were almost forced to offer some kind of commemoration, with more or less success.

Sendas de Gracia - Conferencia 2017 (translation: Paths of Grace - conference 2017)
Conference logo (click to enlarge)

In the case of my church, besides the simple fact that it is Calvinistic, November 1st is its anniversary, and thus commemorating Reformation Day just comes naturally as a tie-in with the anniversary celebration. This year we started as a church a conference series, Sendas de gracia [Paths of Grace]. As the first year of this event and in view of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, this year’s theme was “Footprints of the Reformation”. There were talks on the impact the Reformation made on communications, rule of law and education. The conferences were rounded out by a panel-debate on the impact of Reformed doctrine in the life of the local church. I had the privilege to speak on the second talk, on the subject of “Impact of the Protestant Reformation in the formulation of the Rule of Law”. All in all, it was very blessed.

In addition, the previous weekend I was invited by a Pentecostal (!) church to speak on the subject of “Grace Alone” (Sola Gratia), on Saturday; and I also preached at a Presbyterian church on the subject of “What Does Mean To Be Reformed Today” on that Sunday.

Well, that was hectic. Thanks God for all His blessings, and the opportunity to speak about His word.



A Useless Polemic

two fingers pointing at each other

Lucía Caram sparks anger in Spain after appearing to contradict Catholic teaching on perpetual virginity of mother of Jesus

Source: Nun receives death threats for suggesting Mary was not a virgin | World news | The Guardian

This news item was widely reported in Latin American media outlets. Given that the nun is an Argentine national and this continent has a large –albeit nominal– Roman Catholic population, the nun’s statements made quite an impact. As the quoted news report stated, the dogma of Virgin Mary’s perpetual virginity is a core Roman Catholic belief.

In social media circles, I saw a lot of Reformed and Evangelical commenters echoing this nun’s statements with approval, quoting passages such as Matthew 13:55-56. Of course, Paraguay being a largely Roman Catholic country, there was no time lost for Catholics reacting angrily against such posts, and the ensuing flamewars were not edifying (is there one that is?).

I understand the zeal of many Protestant Christians to expound and promote their faith, and to engage in polemics against those who they perceive to be in error, such as Roman Catholics. But such a zeal in this case this is misguided, and it is guaranteed to be counterproductive. It is not a contention for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It is just useless. Let me explain.

For the Evangelical, the key dogma is that of the virgin birth of Christ; that is, Chirst was conceived and born from a virgin (Luke 1:27,34-38). However, for the Roman Catholic this is not the whole story: as stated by their tradition (a source of special revelation for Catholics) and stated by some councils, the perpetual virginity of Mary is a key dogma of their faith. The Virgin Mary not only was a virgin when Jesus was conceived; but she stayed a virgin throughout her life.

It should also be taken into account that Roman Catholics put Mary and her “purity” in a very important place. The nun quoted in the article may have a point or two in that regard, but this lies outside the scope of this post. My issue is that this dogma is highly sensitive for many Catholics and this should be taken into account.

But it might be asked: how could texts such as Mattew 13:55-56 be reconciled with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity? How can you say that Mary stayed always a virgin in the face of that? Well, on the subject of Jesus’ family there are largely three options:

  1. Jesus’ brothers were actually His brothers, children of Mary and Joseph with Jesus being the firstborn. Some even think Romans 8:29 echoes this. This interpretation is consistent with the natural sense of the text; but for Catholics this is problematic since this would imply that Mary did not remain a virgin after giving birth to Jesus.
  2. Jesus’ brothers were His half-brothers, children of Joseph but not of Mary. In this interpretation, Jesus’ brothers are children of Joseph and some other woman in an earlier marriage. Joseph is seen as a widower, with a significant age difference with Mary. This interpretation, which I read is common in the Orthodox Church, could be consistent with Mary’s perpetual virginity.
  3. Jesus’ brothers were actually His cousins or some other close relative. Catholics allege that ἀδελφοὶ (brothers) is usually a Semitic mode of expression for relatives. Just as Jesus was called “Son of David” not because Jesus was an actual son of King David but his descendant, people also called “brothers” to his close relatives, which could be His cousins or men with a close degree of kinship to Him. In fact, there is a Bible translation widely used among Catholics who translate ἀδελφοὶ as “cousins” in this passage (go figure). This interpretation would be consistent with a belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity.

As I stated, Catholics usually espouse interpretation (3). This would be totally consistent with belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity, but has the disadvantage of being a contrived device, bringing a forced harmonization between the Biblical text and church dogma. Were one not bound by any dogma, the best interpretation would of course be that of (1), and that is the interpretation usually espoused by Evangelical interpreters.

But “usual interpretation”, “best interpretation”, “most consistent interpretation” does not equal “mandatory interpretation” or imply that it should be an article of faith. One could espouse (2) or (3) and be a less than ideal interpreter, but the results do not affect any essential doctrine or dogma of the Evangelical faith. In fact, it should be possible to believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity and remain in full Evangelical orthodoxy and sound doctrine. In other words: the matter of Mary’s perpetual virginity is indifferent. We even have a term coined for these doctrines: adiaphora.

So, this is the situation: these good Evangelical Christians are attacking Catholics on something which is irrelevant to our faith and deeply sacred to theirs. Let me ask this: is this a good practice? No!

The Reformed, Evangelical, Christian faith has significant differences with Roman Catholicism. That’s why we had the Reformation, after all. Doctrines such as the use of images, veneration of Mary and the saints, purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, the Mass as a sacrifice, apostolic sucession and the place of the Pope, Mary’s immaculate conception, the Bible canon, the role of church tradition… are enough bones of contention. If you want to debate Catholics, these are plenty. You don’t need to pick another.

Picking this subject as a spear to charge against Catholics is useless. For many of them, stating that Mary had other children with Joseph is an insult to Mary’s purity and the only result we would achieve is to get Catholics offended and alienated. Do we want this?

Paul admonishes us: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). Why should then be unnecessarily offensive? We will be offensive when preaching the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). This is a certainity and it is guaranteed. But our offensiveness should be limited to the gospel truth, not about quarreling whether Mary had sex with Joseph or not.

Therefore, my dear Evangelical zealous debater, do not waste your precious time and energy on something so useless as this. If you have to debate, at least try to pursue a worthier subject matter. That would be a better stewardship of your gifts and resources.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017

Manger scene in Paraguayan Style
Manger scene at my mother’s house for the 2016-2017 Christmas festivities, in traditional Paraguayan style.

I would like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

I hope you all had a great time of festivities and a good time with your family and loved ones.

As you might know, in our country the tradition is in both festivities (Christmas and New Year) to await midnight in the midst of lavishly-served family dinners. We spent Christmas Eve with my mother-in-law and my wife’s family, while we spent New Year’s Eve with my mother. We had a great time, not very noisy, thank you, but full of joy and gratitude to the Lord.

The year that passed before us was a very difficult year. I had to face unwelcome changes and adapt to them. However, God was faithful as always, and His care and provision never faltered. Please pray for His continuing care for us throughout 2017.

This new year will be also a time of decisions, and that shall begin as soon as possible. I pray the Lord for guidance concerning these.

May the Lord bless you all, and give you a new year full of joy, comfort, and hope. Praise the LORD!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!

— Psalms 148:11-14 ESV

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

Woman with a pumpkin

Note: This weekend many people will celebrate Halloween in many places. I deeply disagree with such celebration. Today I share some thoughts I wrote in Facebook back in 2013 and which I posted later on my Spanish site. I hope these words could be useful to you as you consider the meaning of this “celebration” (?).

I do not celebrate Halloween. I deeply dislike such celebration and even more, I regard its celebration as more harmful than beneficial.

I am a Christian. However, my rejection of Halloween is not due to its supposedly Satanic, or pagan character, or the like. I don’t mind and I am not concerned by any of that; my Christian faith tells me that Jesus Christ is King and there is no force that may stand up to Him, so that reason is rejected.

Neither I say that I do not celebrate Halloween because I prefer to celebrate Reformation Day (which is commemorated on the same day). I certainly commemorate and celebrate Reformation Day but my rejection of Halloween comes from a different reason.

My issue with Halloween is that it is a celebration of the ugly, the dead, the horrific. And that is a celebration that we don’t need.

In my country –and I’m pretty certain that this is not limited to Paraguay, where I am located– we live through horrors and fearful situations which cry to Heaven 365 days per year. We are forced to live and bear with so much ugliness of soul, with so many situations where death is exalted, that attempting a celebration of such things does not seem amusing to me in the least.

We don’t need to showcase what is horrible, what is ugly, what is fearsome. Instead, we need to show the good, the beautiful, the sublime (without, of course, falling into being elitist or exclusionist in the sense of fashionista beauty).

Looking through the history of the arts, and especially taking into account the art production of the Renaissance and the Baroque, one is amazed at the abysmal difference that was between what these works represented, on the one hand, and the harsh reality that everyone, rich or poor, had to live through. The fact is that the contemplation of the good, the beautiful and the sublime show us that we can and we should strive towards something better. Far from being an escapist anestethic to our harrowing reality, such contemplation encourages us not to resign ourselves to this situation and to fight seeking to bring to reality the ideal that a beautiful, fine art (in the classic sense of the word) presents to us.

The good part of all this is that even despite living among such a painful, harrowing reality, there is a lot of beauty among us, inspiring creators, and awaiting to be discovered and celebrated.

Finally, I would leave you this verse from the Holy Scriptures, which my former boss Rev. S. –a worthy pastor, full of honor before God– always quote. It is a good programmatic text to start any aesthetic reflection: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).

May God bless us all.



Review: Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History

Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History
Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History by Saul David
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the definitive account of the incredible rescue operation that Israeli paratroopers did to release the Air France Flight 139 hostages held captive in Entebbe (Uganda) after the hijacking.

I read some other books previously on this raid and, while they were good reads, they were more like hagiography rather than serious history. (I’m thinking specifically of Operación Uganda, a Spanish-language book by Iona Kranz and others; I was unable to locate an English version). David’s account gives many important details, such as the true extent of negotiations with Kenyan officials, what happened to Dora Bloch, and the real happenings when paratroopers stormed the room where hostages were held.

In sum, the story reads like a thriller yarn but it’s solidly backed by historical evidence. I only wish all other history books were like this. I found it difficult to put down until I finished.

(This book review was posted directly from Goodreads.)Goodreads

Bye Bye N900

My trusty Nokia N900 finally gave up the ghost. Someone called early while I was still sleeping and the phone was being charged; I fumbled with the phone and for a moment the device hung from the USB port. I put the USB cable out of the port, took the call, and afterwards, when I tried put back the USB cable… the USB port simply came out of the phone. Thus, I am another victim of the infamous N900 Broken USB Port issue.

The phone served me well for several years. I may have the USB port soldered back, but meanwhile, it’s a loss. I’m using a (Nokia) feature phone now. 🙁

Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Kindle Issue Seemingly Fixed

After I installed Windows 10 Anniversary Update (see my report) I recommended holding the update until showstopping bugs could be fixed. I specifically noted a reproducible total system crash which happened after plugging Kindle e-readers via USB.

Well, these issues appear to be fixed now after two cumulative updates. The system appears to be more stable and therefore I am now confident enough to recommend current Windows 10 users to proceed with the update. So, go ahead and download!

Experimenting with the MATE desktop

Logo of the Mate Desktop Environment
Logo of the Mate Desktop Environment

Some bug bite me and, as a result, I did the unthinkable. 😉

In fact, you might know that I have been a GNU/Linux user since 2000 (fully migrated since 2002). Now, Linux is just a kernel, GNU is just a set of utilities, and usually the operating system leaves you at the text console. If you want anything graphical, you have a choice of graphical desktop environments which differ in their underlying development philosophies and choices and also in their degree of sophistication/customizability.

Well, for almost the same number of years that I was a GNU/Linux user I have been user of the graphical environment known as KDE (now Plasma). Hey, I even was an official KDE Spanish translator for 10 straight years! However, since Slackware also includes Xfce, it has been my second-choice desktop environment.

Now, if you are acquainted with a minimum of the history of Linux desktop environments, you might be aware of the fact that there was at a certain point a reaction against the KDE environment which gave rise to another desktop known as GNOME. It used to be a good desktop, but I deeply disagreed with most of its choices and the disagreement grew over time; so I’m not interested in using it. For many years there used to be a rivalry and even an all out flamewar among KDE and GNOME adherents (it’s all over now; everyone is OK with other people’s choices and to each its own).

Meanwhile, within the GNOME camp there was growing dissatisfaction with choices made by their developers. Thus, in 2011 some folks began a nice fork of the GNOME desktop, preserving what many users perceived as good parts of the desktop environment that were discarded in newer GNOME versions. This fork was called MATE Desktop in honor of the Paraguayan Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis), a Paraguayan plant which we consume in prodigious amounts as a refreshing beverage and also as a tea.

Thankfully, Slackware has available a great implementation of Mate thanks to Willy Sudiarto Raharjo and Chess Griffin. Due to their efforts, we have a nice set of packages in MATE SlackBuild.

Well, I got curious; even more, how could I pass an oportunity to try a desktop named after my beloved Yerba Mate? Therefore downloaded the Mate packages to give them a spin. I was offered a choice between the stable 1.14 version and the development 1.15 version. In turn, it was possible to choose 1.15 builds against the GTK+2 or GTK+3 libraries. Since GTK+3 seemed to be the way of the future, I chose that.

After some inquiries on whether Mate software and its dependencies would conflict with my Plasma setup, and being answered that it wouldn’t, I installed the desktop. Upon loading, I was pleasantly surprised.

So, here’s the unthinkable: a KDE/Plasma user for 10+ years installing and using a GNOME-derived desktop!

There are many good things to write about Mate, but there are also some shortcomings. I plan to write my impressions in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Report: Windows 10 Anniversary Update

One of my boxes has Windows 10 installed in a drive where it coexists with Slackware 64-current, which is installed in a different partition.

Over the last weekend, I was able to update Windows 10 to the recent anniversary update. Despite some disturbing reports on the press, the update went smoothly and without incidents.

Here is a screenshot, which reveals some of the most important changes:

Screenshot of Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Screenshot of Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Note some significant improvements: the notification box moved at the far right of the panel, the Edge Web Browser, and, most notably, the Ubuntu instance running Bash.

There was some redesign going on, evidenced by the move of the notification ticker at the far right side of the panel (and if I am correct, it cannot be moved from it). But the most remarkable changes are:

  • The Edge browser got the ability to use extensions. Edge was a great browser, but the lack of anything even moderately resembling AdBlock Plus was a real showstopper to me. (Not that I am opposed to ads, but some sites are not only annoying, but downright abusive with their advertising.) After this update, Edge gained the ability to use extensions. Right now there are just a few, but the good thing is that AdBlock Plus is one of those precious few. Now, if only they could get something like Flashblock or Flashcontrol, I would be really happy; but AdBlock does indeed make a real difference. Using Edge is now bearable and I can begin to give it a spin. Even so, not all is great in Edge land; The browser feels reasonably fast and snappy most of the time, but it still chokes on some sites. Loading TweetDeck is possible, but it is excruciatingly slow. Typing a tweet in TweetDeck under Edge is a real test of one’s patience. Meanwhile, very heavy TweetDeck setups (with 20 or more columns) feel snappy and responsive on both Chrome and Firefox. Therefore, Edge is a nice browser but still has plenty of room for improvement.
  • Now it’s possible to have a real Ubuntu Linux instance on Windows, so you can run Bash and a lot of other Linux programs natively. If you are adventurous enough, you can even manage to run the Unity desktop on top of Windows 10, but it’s not a smooth ride at all. But you can run a lot of console-based applications and utilities and that is a godsend.

However, in addition to these new features and additions there are some problems. I will refer to two of them.

So, in conclusion: there are some definite improvements. Edge finally can be considered as a first call Web broswer, and the Ubuntu subsystem is a most welcome addition.

Take into account that my Windows setup resides on a partition in the same drive than Slackware and that there were some reports of Windows deleting Linux partitions. Despite the fact that I have my Windows coexisting with GNU/Linux on the same drive, I did not experience any of these problems and my Linux partitions were not touched. However, on the other hand, this update brought new levels of unstability that were unheard of in the previous Windows 10 version. In my particular case, as a Kindle user, the crashing was, and still is, extremely serious and unresolved by any update.

Therefore, my advice is to hold this update until the serious bugs are fixed. Meanwhile, try to stay with the previous Windows 10 version, which was much better in terms of stability. And, Redmond folks: please get your act together with the Kindle issue!

Update 06/09/2016: After two cumulative updates, it appears that the Kindle issue has been fixed. Overall, the system feels more stable so I can now recommend existing Windows 10 users to proceed with the upgrade.

Aquinas: The Duty of the Wise Person

While reading Aquinas’ Summa Against Gentiles, I found this little gem in the very beginning of the work:

Now, the end of each thing is that which is intended by its first author or mover. But the first author and mover of the universe is an intellect, as will be later shown. The ultimate end of the universe must, therefore, be the good of an intellect. This good is truth. Truth must consequently be the ultimate end of the whole universe, and the consideration of the wise man aims principally at truth. So it is that, according to His own statement, divine Wisdom testifies that He has assumed flesh and come into the world in order to make the truth known: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37). The Philosopher himself establishes that first philosophy is the science of truth, not of any truth, but of that truth which is the origin of all truth, namely, which belongs to the first principle whereby all things are. The truth belonging to such a principle is, clearly, the source of all truth; for things have the same disposition in truth as in being.

It belongs to one and the same science, however, both to pursue one of two contraries and to oppose the other. Medicine, for example, seeks to effect health and to eliminate illness. Hence, just as it belongs to the wise man to meditate especially on the truth belonging to the first principle and to teach it to others, so it belongs to him to refute the opposing falsehood.

Appropriately, therefore, is the twofold office of the wise man shown from the mouth of Wisdom in our opening words: to meditate and speak forth of the divine truth, which is truth in person (Wisdom touches on this in the words my mouth shall meditate truth), and to refute the opposing error (which Wisdom touches on in the words and my lips shall hate impiety) [*]. By impiety is here meant falsehood against the divine truth. This falsehood is contrary to religion, which is likewise named piety. Hence, the falsehood contrary to it is called impiety.

— Aquinas, Summa Against Gentiles, I:i (Book I, translated by Anton C. Pegis; source)

[*] Note: Words in boldface within the quoted text are from Proverbs 8:7.

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