Getting Things Done with Mutt (updated)

My mail client of choice is Mutt. It works. It works well. It works well over SSH, and will do just about anything I ask it to, as long as what I ask it to do is to manage my mail. Plus, it’s fast.

I also have been using David Allen’s system known as Getting Things Done, or GTD. Tonight I did a little Mutt configuration to automate some of the GTD-style email reading I’ve been doing.

The principle is to have every incoming mailbox completely empty by the time I’m done reading it. The messages get deleted or sorted into other boxes where they either wait for more information or generate actions for me to do when the time is right.

A little googling revealed that others have done something similar in recent years, but there were two problems. First, messages were tagged by adding an “X-Label:” header, which supposedly required a patch to Mutt’s source code. Possible, but a bit ugly. I vastly prefer custom configuration to custom software, when possible. Second, a number of the pages about using Mutt in a GTD way are no longer available.

But this one is available. Unfortunately, it also relies upon the “Add an X-Label header” patch to Mutt’s source code. But I had an inkling it could be done another way, without the patch. A few hours later, after a little Reading of The Fine Manual and some experimentation, I have the answer.

The goal is to provide simple keystrokes that will add an X-Label header or change an existing one right from the index listing or the pager. Then, folder hooks can change the index listing format when needed to include the X-Label header — or at least a few characters of it. That way, I can process messages when they come in, slap a label on them, and then save them into an appropriate folders for later review at the right time. When I browse those folders later, I’ll see my labels, and know what to do even before I read the messages. In addition, I can set up automated summaries of my GTD folders, including how many messages are there, and what their Labels say. The summaries might appear on my desktop, or wherever else I might want them.

I ended up doing most of what’s mentioned on the page linked above. The chief difference is that I haven’t patched Mutt. So instead of using the “edit-label” command (which doesn’t exist for me), I used the following somewhat long binding (inspired by this thread) in my muttrc:

macro index,pager Cl "<enter-command>set my_editor=$editor<enter>\
<enter-command>set editor='~/bin/'<enter>\
<edit><enter-command>set editor=\$my_editor<enter>"

The magic keystroke is Cl, available in the index or the pager. Everything else is the macro this keystroke performs.

First, we save the value of the current Mutt editor variable to a custom variable, cryptically named my_editor.

Then, we set the Mutt editor to a shell script, which I’ll include below.

After that, we issue the Mutt command, which edits the current message, using the script we specified a moment ago.

Finally, we restore the original value of the Mutt editor variable. The backslash is needed here because we want this variable to be expanded when the macro executes, rather than when it is defined.

The shell script is as follows:

read -e -p"Enter an X-Label: " value
formail -I "X-Label: $value" <$file >$file.tmp
sleep 1
mv $file.tmp $file

Ignore the first line. It’s how shell scripts work.

First, on line 2, we have Bash ask for a new label value. Since Mutt runs in a terminal, this is no problem at all.

The third line takes the filename parameter provided by Mutt and puts it into a nice, descriptive variable, just because.

The fourth line uses a command-line utility to do the heavy lifting, using the value we just obtained in line 2. Shell redirection is used for input and output.

The fifth line pauses for a second, because supposedly Mutt will assume the file is unchanged if the final timestamp is unchanged.

Finally, we move the modified message to the original filename for Mutt to pick up.

And that’s it. The rest is similar to the first link above. But now, it’s late. My next action is to get some rest.

I Might Believe They’re Serious about Human-Induced Climate Change When…

…. when I see this coming to every American city and town south of the Mason Dixon Line. Until then, it’s just a convenient crisis for advancing a political agenda. Even then, I’d like to see the data. The real data — not showing that the climate changes, but that our behavior causes it to change, and that the change is bad. I already believe it changes, because the Bible says so. Read Genesis chapters 6-8. Big change there.

HT: Evan at The By-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake

The Fourth Commandment

The way we Lutherans number the Ten Commandments, the Fourth is the beginning of the Second Table of the Law. God’s Law is conceptually divided into two tables, the first requiring love and reverence toward our Creator, and the second, love toward our fellow human beings. The Fourth Commandment is often summarized, “Honor your father and your mother.”

Dr. Martin Luther included in the Small Catechism the insight that this commandment requires honor not only toward parents, but toward all God-given authority. In fact, all authority derives from that of parents, which is evident in the biblical account of mankind’s creation, in Genesis chapter 2, as well as the subsequent generations described in chapters 4 and 5.

Since the Ten Commandments provide us a concise summary of morality, and since morality is generally under attack in Western society, it’s reasonable to consider the war against morality as a war against God’s commandments. After all, morality has scant foundation in atheism, which ends up following the dictum, “might makes right,” another iteration of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” That there are atheists who nevertheless affirm transcendent moral precepts does not mean that their morality is founded upon atheism. It may instead be strong evidence that their atheism runs against their own God-given intuition. Therefore, I think anyone can reasonably consider the degradation of social morality within the framework of a war upon the Ten Commandments.

It’s worth considering each commandment, and how the morality of our time works against it. I prefer to start with the Second Table of the Law, not because it’s more important, but because its transgressions are generally more concrete. However, any transgression against the Second Table may also be considered a transgression against the First.

So, consider the Fourth Commandment. This is the first moral commandment in which God orders human life on earth. Its basic form says, “Honor your father and your mother.” Let’s notice a few things about this. Feel free to add more.

  • Both father and mother are included. Hence, children are meant to have both a father and a mother. Do I need to point out that they are of opposite genders, the father being male and the mother female? Only for those who have abandoned sense, but there are more like that all the time. The titles “father” and “mother” denote particular roles in the childbearing and child-rearing process. They are distinct from one another, and therefore not interchangeable.

  • Though the mother is closer to her child at first, the father is mentioned before her. This does not subtract from the honor due to the mother, but recognizes that the father is also honored when the mother is honored. It also recognizes the chain of accountability before God for responsibilities due to the children.

  • The word “honor” includes many things, if the commandment is to be kept in thought, word, and deed. It includes obedience, service, love, and respect for the father’s or mother’s office (which is easy), and for the person, too (which is often hard).

  • This commandment is not conditioned upon the performance of fathers or mothers. It demands honor, regardless of whether or not fathers and mothers deserve it by keeping this or any other commandment, and regardless of what they believe.

  • The only commandments that can trump this one are the ones that come before it in the Ten Commandments: (1) having and worshipping only the true God, (2) using God’s name properly, but not in vain, and (3) keeping holy the day of rest (i.e., the ways that God provides us His spiritual blessings) in our lives. This means that we are bound before God to honor and obey our parents in every way, except where it would cause us to disobey God according to the first table of the Law. Yet recall that transgressions against the Second Table are not only against our fellow human beings, but also against God. Therefore, even commandments 5 through 10 are a higher authority than our parents. Only when obedience to father and mother would cause us to break one of God’s moral commandments may we disobey our parents. In that case, the Law says that we must disobey our parents.

Because this commandment is part of God’s will for us, we are required to obey God-given authority. There have been questions and discussions about who or what, exactly, is our authority. The reformers distinguished between three realms of authority: the home, the civil economy, and the church. God rules in each realm in certain ways, and we live in each realm under the authorities He has provided.

In the home, the authority is father and mother, as the commandment says. Where there is no father, the authority is the mother. Where there is no mother, it is the father. God’s design includes both, but the circumstances of our depravity and tragic consequences of sinfulness conspire to work against God’s design. It’s no wonder, then, that many households operate like a car with a flat tire. Cars are designed to drive with four fully-inflated tires, and though they can be driven with a flat, it’s neither efficient nor pleasant. To extend the analogy, driving with a flat in the front produces one kind of instability, while a flat in the back produced another kind. Families without fathers suffer one way, while families without mothers suffer another way. Both are part of God’s design, and He also designed males and females to perform the different roles He has given us in the home. When we work together as He intended, then the household will be more efficient, and more pleasant. It’s also noteworthy that parents (particularly fathers – Eph. 6:4) have been given the responsibility to teach their children both God’s law and gospel, in addition to anything else they need to learn for life on earth.

What I’m calling the civil economy includes government, employment, and our general neighborly relationships. There is a God-given governing authority, but there are also more limited authorities in the workplace. Though there are different arrangements of government or employment, we should regard the authorities themselves to be established over us by God. Yet like parents, they might also require something that would transgress God’s own commandments. In that case, “We must obey God rather than men.” Government is a special kind of authority, because it is responsible for defending its citizens, while maintaining peace against criminals and the freedom we need to make a living according to God’s will. Because of these God-given responsibilities, the representatives of government have the authority to impose taxes (which would otherwise violate the commandment prohibiting stealing) and to harm certain individuals (which would otherwise violate the commandment against murder). When government does these things within the limits of its responsibility, it does so with the authority and blessing of God.

Some arrangements of government fit better with God’s commandments than others. For many years now, the most successful governments have been constitutional in nature, where the rulers are themselves governed by higher laws within the nation. It was on that basis that the United States was founded in the 1770’s, because the ruler of England, together with its parliament, not only broke those higher laws, but also made it impossible for American grievances to be settled. It’s likely that some of the American revolutionaries participated in transgression of the 4th commandment, but it’s also possible that some of them undertook the separation from England as a necessary step, in obedience to an authority greater than the King.

In the church, the ruling authority is Jesus Christ. He exercises His authority through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments. For that reason, He sends men to do these things according to His will. Though they are placed in office through the calling of congregations of believers, these ministers are in fact called by Jesus to perform His ministry on His behalf. Christians may conceive of ministerial responsibilities separately from the ministers who perform them, recognizing that Jesus wants those responsibilities to be fulfilled when the church calls men to do so. However, the activities by themselves are an abstraction. Jesus governs His Church through the actual service of individuals He calls to perform the responsibilities of their office: preaching and teaching the gospel, and administering the sacraments. The church of Christ has no other authority than this.

For Americans To Ponder This Week

I’ve been reading a focused history of events in my native state of Massachusetts, just before the American Revolution. The philosophy of the people at that time, when the frontier was not far away, was pretty much the polar opposite of the way they are today. Imagine being opposed to punitive taxation, and requiring all the men of majority age to own a rifle and a minimum stock of ammunition. That’s not the Massachusetts I know.

Tomorrow is our annual deadline for filing tax returns. (Not for paying taxes, because those are owed the moment we earn an income with which to pay them; no, this is the day when we are supposed to check whether we forgot to pay anything, and when many of us find out what our elected representatives have done lately to buy our votes… using tax money.) With that day in mind, it’s a good time to ponder Tax Freedom Day.

Tax Freedom Day does not fall at the same time every year. It’s calculated based upon the amount the Federal government taxes or spends in each year, and how long it would take, on average, for American income-earners to finish paying it, using 100% of our income, beginning on January 1. It gives us some idea how much of our work must be taken to support the Federal government, and how much is left over for our own interests.

Apparently, this year’s Tax Freedom Day is earlier than previously, because stimulus legislation has reduced the immediate tax burden. That’s good news, but the sword of Damocles hangs just above our heads in the form of the budget deficit, soon to be measured in astronomical units (AU). For our convenience, the folks who calculate Tax Freedom Day have also adjusted it to include the deficit. Click the image below to read more about it.

Tax Freedom Day

Tax Checks

Security-minded people recommend that we write checks using gel ink, because it resists tampering that leads to forgeries. Oregon form 40, which is our regular State tax form, says that checks sent in for income tax should not be written with red or gel ink.

Things that make you say “Hmmmm.”


A basic observation about the economy is that it seeks the most efficient shape of things. It’s like a bubble, which in the absence of outside forces, assumes the shape of a perfect sphere. The more outside forces are applied to the economy, the less efficient things will be. So when government is expected to accomplish something, it will be one of the most inefficient ways to get it done. First, the government must acquire the funds it needs, which will be many more dollars than competent, private citizens would need to accomplish the same thing. It acquires these dollars by taking them from those private citizens, so that they must do their own work with less. Then, government must process the project through its bureaucracy. Eventually, it sets to work on the project, perhaps even paying the same private citizens to do part of the work, who might have accomplished the whole process themselves to begin with. Thus, the outside force of government upon the economy imposes massive inefficiency. Furthermore, the original work of private citizens is able to create wealth within the economy, while the government is incapable of creating wealth; it can only use the wealth it takes away from its citizens.

Here is a striking example of the amazing difference between the natural efficiency of work accomplished by private citizens, versus the work accomplished (or not, in this case) by government.


People do things. People exist. Groups or classes of people don’t exist except in the mind of the classifier. Even race doesn’t really exist; our race is “human.” An example is so-called “gay marriage.” Who has ever prevented homosexuals from marriage? Plenty of homosexuals have actually been married. It’s evident by the fact that in many cases, their homosexual activities have become a cause for divorce.
Objectively speaking, there is no group or class of “gays,” just as there is no group or class of “straights.” There are only people who behave one way or another. (Those who push for “gay marriage” really only want approval for their individual behavior.)

The important thing is people. When government starts treating us as groups or classes, we are dehumanized. It’s a step in the direction of socialism. Marxist thought, for example, only conceives of “classes,” not individuals.

The human creature’s individual personhood is a small but important part of our distinctiveness from all other corporeal creatures. So when the church wants to say something to the world, it should be about people, not about groups or classes. God’s Law applies to individuals. Jesus (a person) died for individuals. The message of the Gospel is meant to be spoken to individuals.

The Role of Religion in Politics and Government

This video is new to me, and is worth some careful thought. Certainly, there’s a lot of political posturing here, but between the lines, we can get some idea of the spiritual convictions of Barack Obama, and how they relate to his ideas of public service. I think they also relate to his idea of legitimate “religion.”

So Much Sorrow. Unexplainable? No.

If you had your eyes wide open, you may have noticed a little news blurb about a horrible, multiple killing in the United States. I don’t mean the murderous stand-off in Pittsburgh, in which a man entrapped police officers and shot them in the head. I don’t mean the murderous killing of immigrants in Binghamton, New York, either, in which most of the victims had multiple gunshot wounds, and the attacker began by blocking the rear exit with his car.

Those are deeply tragic attacks. I sympathize with the families of the slain. Nobody should have to endure such a thing. Unfortunately, these occurences, like the shooting murders last summer on a college campus, have always happened, despite the efforts of many to prevent them. In fact, that’s what the Pittsburgh officers were doing when they perished: maintaining peace and order.

Also unfortunately, these things are routinely politicized, along with everything else. According to Google News, the Philadelphia Inquirer posted an article about those murders 10 hours ago, and 8 hours ago, the Mayor published his desire for a ban on “assault-type weapons.” Blogs are already trying to smear everyone who defends gun rights as a dangerous “gun nut.” I don’t really have the time to read that kind of thing, much less write it.

The blurb I began writing about concerns a multiple killing that happened in Boston. Massachusetts, for those who don’t know, is about the least gun-friendly state there is. It’s a long-running experiment in the effectiveness of its position on firearms. But this killing apparently didn’t involve firearms, unless you count the ones used by the police. The murder weapon was a sharp piece of metal, a “kitchen knife.” (Many knives are also illegal in Massachusetts. Don’t tell anyone that I carried a pocket knife through High School there. Nobody knew because I didn’t hurt or threaten anyone with it. I did feel safer, though.)

You may want to skip the AP news blurb I quote below, as it’s a bit gruesome. I’m quoting it instead of linking, because I suspect that things like this won’t last as long in the news as gun-related violence. The press has an agenda, too, after all. That’s probably why this was harder to find than articles on the other killings.

BOSTON (AP) — Two Massachusetts girls and the brother who stabbed them to death are being mourned at a single funeral service.

Family and friends gathered Saturday morning at the Jubilee Christian Church in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood for a funeral for the siblings.

A week ago, 17-year-old Samantha Revelus and her 5-year-old sister, Bianca, were killed at their home in Milton. Police burst into the apartment and saw the girls’ brother, 23-year-old Kerby Revelus, decapitating Bianca with a kitchen knife.

Police say they shot Kerby Revelus dead as he tried to attack another sister.

A spokesman for the children’s parents said they are “in shock and disbelief” and have no explanation why their son would kill his sisters.

This is also a terrible tragedy.
I hope the surviving family members receive the comfort of the Gospel.

These three recent multiple-murder news stories, especially the one quoted above, illustrate things worth mentioning. For one, the murder weapons don’t make much difference. My house is full of potential murder weapons, but it’s no more dangerous than yours. Within sight right now are some large, heavy, blunt objects. I’m typing on a keyboard, a genuine IBM Model M. (Ever see Gattaca?) Electricity flows through the wires that power my light bulbs. The window to my right is filled with glass that can break into knife-sharp pieces. Behind me are a couple chairs and a telescope with tripod. My multimeter has long, strong, metal wires. There’s more in this room, but consider the kitchen, where we keep our Cutco knives, among other things. (Did you notice the article from Florida about the homeless man killed with a 7-inch Cutco knife? We’ve got one.) I distinctly remember Louis L’Amour characters saying that hot coffee can make a good weapon. Probably a defensive weapon, but still a weapon. What about the garage, where my workshop is? What about the tool shed outside?

I mention all of this not to demonstrate my own morbidity, nor to make you suspect I’m a sociopath myself. Actually, it’s taken some slight creativity for me to think of that list, though there’s some help in the Jason Bourne movies. I mention this to demonstrate that the particular weapon used in murder makes little to no difference. When someone is actually killed by an inanimate object, it’s almost always an accident of some kind, not a murder.

People murder people. This is what Jesus said about it, to those who sought to murder Him. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44).

The reason our society (news media, politicians, etc.) tries to curtail murder by banning weapons is because it refuses to admit that murder is done by sinful people, not by the weapons they happen to use. Weapons must be used by someone. There is a good, God-pleasing use, and there is an evil use. That’s true of just about everything, and just about anything can be used as a weapon.

You can see the lunacy of targetting weapons instead of the evil in people by imagining a ban on Cutco. Let “knife” become synonymous with “assault weapon,” and create a ban so that nobody but law enforcement personnel could have one any more. That ought to put a strangle-hold on the murder rate, right? Well, maybe not. Meanwhile, avid home cooks and law-abiding restaurants everywhere would be scrambling to find government-approved methods of cutting food without knives. The Boy Scouts would lose half its membership, and law-abiding outdoorsmen would spend most of their time chipping flakes from obsidian.

The target should be the evil in people. All people. Any of us is perfectly capable of doing evil things. Instead of handcuffing everyone, God has provided Law: moral laws that should constrain those who care about God’s judgment, and civil laws that can be enforced by the God-given power of civil government. They don’t eliminate the evil, but the laws we have are to limit its effects, especially in their enforcement.

Unfortunately, evildoers are enabled by a society that refuses to acknowledge the source of the evil. It’s the rebellion against God within every one of us. But our society has tried to give everything a naturalistic explanation, including the origin of human beings, and our morality. Children in schools are taught that they are an accidental product of random chance, rather than prized moral creatures created by God and redeemed from guilt by the sacrifice of His Son. If anyone believes those schools, it’s no wonder that they are willing to do evil. It’s no wonder that the limiting effect of morality has been diminished in our time. It’s no wonder that people like the young man in Boston can do what they do. Did you notice the statement from his parents? They have “no explanation why their son would kill his sisters.” One good explanation is no further than the nearest public-school biology textbook.

It’s not the guns. It’s the worldview, the naturalistic religion (or anti-religion) spoon-fed through public education, media, and even American culture. If you want to point to a single influence in this world most responsible for murders and sorrows like this, point to the evil in your own heart. If you want to point to something outside yourself, point to the worldview.

The Christian, biblical worldview says that human life is sacred. God made it that way. He alone has the power to begin it, and He alone has the authority to end it. Sometimes He uses that authority through government, as when the knife-wielding killer was shot in Boston, or when our soldiers carry out rightful orders that result in the death of an enemy — or even “collateral” deaths, if they are reasonably minimized. But as individuals, neither the police officer, nor the soldier, nor any citizen has the authority to take the life of another.

The only exception is self-defense, including the defense of your family. That exception has a long history as part of our law. Still, the life of an assailant is also sacred, and we should not kill unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Christians are constrained by morality, recognizing that it reflects God’s will, and that everyone will face His judgment in the end. That’s part of the biblical worldview, which has been a great boon to American society and culture. Increasingly, though, there are many who reject the idea of accountability to God. In fact, I think that many of the attacks on social conservatives come from exactly that difference. People who have thrown off the moral constraints of accountability to God think that people like them should not be criticized for transgressing the moral constraints of others. Hence, the press often allows liberal politicians to get away with murder (figuratively speaking, most of the time), while the same wrongdoings committed by their conservative counterparts are roundly criticized. The difference is that the conservatives (supposedly) have the moral constraints that make the criticism possible.

Instead of holding human life to be sacred, the naturalistic worldview holds the earth, or the “environment” (whatever that means) to be sacred. In that view, harm done to another human is not so bad anymore. You would do far worse by harming an animal belonging to a legally-protected species. I suppose that’s the reason why here in the Northwest, hydropower is not considered a legitimate, renewable source of energy. You see, some people accuse dams of damaging the environment. Meanwhile, they not only provide reliable electricity, but do this so abundantly that expensive, maniacal regulations meant to help fish are actually followed, but the increased cost of power is still quite affordable, and competitive with power from sources that do not supposedly “harm the environment.”

When a worldview becomes so skewed that a person’s conscience is more sensitive to harm he might be doing to animals than it is to harm he plans doing to humans, that worldview is evil.

For such evil in us all, Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to suffer and die. He bore all the guilt this world accumulates before God, and He received the full punishment, all alone. Because He did this, we are forgiven. We are free, and can boldly live before Him in righteousness, as best we may. With His forgiveness, we are free of guilt to do our best in this world, knowing that our true, eternal home, is prepared and waiting for us. That’s the true solution to the evil within us. That’s what Jesus accomplished.