Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

Newer blog posts click here

2009 April 30 -- Whispers of the Heart

I was starting to dislike the film. The hero, played by Robert Redford, had a kindly face and he tamed horses by getting down and looking up at the horse and smiling. It's fiction, of course, but awesome to watch. His magic also worked on the teen-age girl who was emotionally scarred with the horse in a nasty accident, and also on her mother, a pushy woman who brought her daughter and the horse out to Montana from New York for this guy to cure. They fell in love. You knew it was going to happen -- c'mon, this is Redford. His family were good God-fearing people (they said grace before meals) in God's country, and they knew it was wrong. But this is fiction. In guy flicks stuff goes fast, makes loud noises and breaks things. The truck ran into the horse and the girl at the beginning, but that was the end of the loud noises and things breaking. The rest was quiet, emotional, loving, from the heart.

My sometime friend "Ed" is not a Feeler, but he goes to church and hears all the Feeler stuff they preach from every pulpit in America. You can't fault him for trying to believe it. He said something "from his heart" in a difficult situation, but it did not address the problems. His heart was not in it. I mentioned that "the heart is deceitful above all things" (from the prophet Jeremiah), and his reply astonished me. He nullified Scripture by calling it "old covenant thinking." I know there are people who only read the last 25% of the Bible (some only half of that), but I'm not one of them. Perhaps (in their opinion) somebody forgot to inform the Apostle Paul before he wrote to Timothy that "all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." Jesus must have been mistaken when he declared that "not one jot or tittle will pass away." I prefer to side with Jesus and Paul and Jeremiah against the Feelers.

The movie also surprised me. The husband flew out from New York and did the same gentle vulnerable act and won his wife back. It was a moving scene, very Feeler. But they did the right thing, which is so unusual. Usually the heart wins. This hard woman softened and blossomed under the Montana sky, and your emotions wanted her to end there. But the heart is deceitful.

Ed is trying to do the right thing, but he doesn't know what it is. The Feeler pastors in the pulpits do not teach their congregation how to read the Bible for what it says, they expect the people to accept their Feeler sermons as gospel truth and hopefully to believe -- not find, because it's not there -- but believe it's in the Bible. The pastors ought to know better, but that's what they got in seminary. The right thing is not what the heart wants to believe, but what the Scripture actually teaches. The heart is deceitful, who can know it?

2009 April 27 -- Living 1+2C

The woman -- let's call her "Trudy" -- was telling me that her daughter "Helen" is a "Bee". Other times she calls her a "witch", which is a different euphemism for the same pejorative. Trudy, good Relationshipist that she is, is always deferential and polite in public; in all the years I've known her, I think I heard her once or twice use a vulgarity, and then only in the surprise of uncontrolled anger. It seems to me that the problem is that Helen is trying to do more things than God gave her the ability and time for -- when I do that, I call it pride -- so she cannot do any of them very well. That makes her angry all the time, because anger is an unavoidable consequence of pride (see 1+2C last week), and she expresses that anger in hostile ("witchy") behavior. That was not my new insight.

It occurred to me as Trudy was telling me about her troubles with Helen, that Helen mistreats her mother because Trudy allows it. Relationshipism is selfish, and Trudy is unwilling to give up (or even risk losing) time with her granddaughter, and as a consequence she is unwilling to tell Helen "Not on my watch!" This is very selfish, the violation of the Second Great Commandment (2C), because the best interests of Helen, if Trudy truly loved Helen as herself, would be more confrontational. Helen would get over it. She does not stay angry long, and she needs somebody to tell her this is inappropriate behavior. Trudy does not love and respect Helen enough to do what is best for her.

It won't happen. As a result, Helen has learned that witchy behavior serves her own selfish behavior, it is positively rewarded, so she continues to be ever more witchy. I said all this to Trudy. I'm not a Relationshipist. Trudy needed to hear it. She acknowledged it was all true, but "I could never say anything," she admitted. And that is why Helen is witchy.

When I found myself in the same situation as Trudy (different kind of relationship, because I have no daughter), unconditional affirmation (Relationshipism) failed. Confrontation is called for. Maybe I have less to lose than Trudy does. I hope that's because my first priority is to God, and not to any person like Trudy's daughter or granddaughter.

2009 April 20 -- 1+2C

It is very seldom I see an idea so elegant. The Darwinist idea of "survival of the fittest" is such an idea, but it lacks conformance to reality. It's so beautiful it must be true -- except it doesn't match experimental data.

Last night the beauty of the First and Second Great Commandments (1+2C) opened up to me like a rare blossom. I have long had an appreciation for what Jesus taught as a complete summary of God's Law, but suddenly I saw it as so simple, so comprehensive. 1+2C implies every other moral obligation of mankind. That's not new with me, Jesus and Paul both said it. The new insight is that there are two matching comprehensive vices: pride and selfishness. Pride is the negation of the First Commandment (1C), and selfishness is the negation of the Second (2C).

Spiderman 3 tells us that you can make right choices -- and he's right. Right choices always conform to 1+2C. The problem is that most of us -- including Spiderman in the movie -- are proud and/or selfish some of the time. Some people are proud and selfish all of the time. But you can choose to do good. It's a choice. Rightly or wrongly, we make that choice all the time. After a while the choice to do evil gets stuck, but that's a different story. Forgiveness cancels past karma, so you can make right choices again.

I see a lot of anger in the world I live in. 1+2C explains anger, because anger is the expression of pride. Our educational system teaches self-esteem (another word for pride), and then we are surprised at the epidemic of uncontrolled anger? The Bible tells us to get rid of anger. It's not an emotion over which we have no control. Either we feed it by pride, or we get rid of it by obedience to 1C. I guess there is a place for righteous indignation, but I don't see much of that. Most of the anger I see is over the violation of rights, and rights are about pride, pure and simple.

Most churches teach a deviant form of Christianity I call Relationshipism. It's not truly Christian, because Relationshipism is selfish and proud. Relationshipism looks at my interaction with other people; 2C is only concerned with the other person's benefit. The beauty of 1+2C is that it does a pretty good imitation of Relationshipism. There is a significant difference, but Relationshipists will not see it. That's because Relationshipists are selfish; they are looking at their own benefit, and 2C offers it. Reciprocity is required for "relationship" but 2C works unilaterally (and therefore is not contingent on another person's moral compliance). Furthermore, if both parties practice 2C, then you get "relationship" for free. That's why the Bible teaches 2C and not the false god of "relationship".

Bookmark this item (permalink)

2009 April 15 -- Tax Day

I'm already starting to experience the Bush-Obama tax increases (also known as inflation). When Bush started spending like an FDR Democrat, I knew runaway inflation was not far behind; Obama of course is proud of giving us more of the same. My grocery tag this week shows it. Filtered water -- the government-run tap water tastes like, well you know -- is now 12% more expensive at the rebottling machine. Last year I got wild Alaska salmon for 89 cents a can (cheaper than tuna, and tastes better); this week it cost me $1.99, more than double. Tomatoes were a good price, but they come from Mexico. Same for grapes from Chile. Some greenies suggest buying local produce; they must be rich. I'm not.

Part of my strategy for surviving inflation on a fixed income (it hurts us worst) was to move some or most of my assets out of the bank and into the ground. I bought a mortgage last year, but that's not nearly as valuable as a house. One of my favorite lines these days is "The Lord doth provide." Indeed He did. Houses are cheap this year.

I looked at the former owner's tax bill, and noticed the assessed value is nearly twice what I paid for it. Every other house I have ever owned was assessed at a small fraction of what I paid for it -- I suppose so the homeowners won't come complaining about the assessed value. I called the Assessor's office to see if I could get it reassessed at something closer to market value. They weren't helpful. I can't say I blame them, Iowa is a blue state, then need lots of tax revenue to pay for all the services they presumably provide. Maybe I will make it back up when I sell. I hope that will also cover a huge plumbing bill.


2009 April 4 -- Equality

When I was much younger I had a lot of pride in the intellect God gave me, and tended to look down on people I deemed stupid. Partly in connection with trying to think Philippians 4:8 thoughts about people, I came to the realization that (with a few exceptions, mostly self-inflicted) everybody has the same number of brain cells, so nobody is stupid; they just focus their intellect on different priorities than I do. Their priorities may not qualify them to be rocket scientists, but it sure helps in ways where I don't do so well.

More recently I am becoming exposed to the receiving end of that same pride. Some of those people with different priorities, the ones who are good at what they do and not so good at what other people do, they tend to degrade or ridicule the differences. Several times this year -- sometimes aimed at me, sometimes I'm only a bystander watching somebody else get the shaft -- I have seen this hostility and disrespect.

When there is no respect for the other person, there can only be hostility. Maybe it's OK to disrespect the Enemy and his eager followers, but when it's directed at a family member or fellow believer, Bad Things Happen. One of those bad things is that the hostility triggers an automatic hostile reaction. Because of that reaction, it's exceedingly difficult to turn off the hostility once it has started. Both parties must want to make nice. Children in a family environment, and employees in a workplace can be forced to stop the hostilities; otherwise apparently nobody -- especially not both at the same itme -- wants to give up their right to be angry, and ultimately their right to the pride of superiority.

Thinking about my place in one of these engagements, I want to do my part at cessation. Thinking positive thoughts about my attacker is rather difficult, but at least I can grant him the right to his priorities. If I am more logical than he is, it is because thinking is hard work and takes a lot of concentrated effort. People mostly don't volunteer for the job. My opponent in this case must spend 40+ hours earning his sizable salary and maintaining his family; he also spends a lot of time doing volunteer work in connection with his church. He cannot do an honest job at all those tasks and still have time left over for thinking hard thoughts. And that's OK, that's the situation God put him in. I'm in a different situation, no local family, insignificant charity volunteer work, and no salaried employment. I spend a lot of time in unstructured software development, and I have a lot of time left over to think about hard problems. If I get better results from my thinking than he does, it's not because I'm morally superior, only that I had the time to do the work and he didn't.

Sooner or later, I need to be in his shoes. Maybe not with a high-maintenance family situation, but I do need a paying job. When I get it, the time I have for hard problems on the side (such as posted in this blog) will probably go away, or at least be greatly diminished.

Life goes on.

2009 March 27 -- VHS Better Than DVD

I previously mentioned that VCR tapes have greater long-term image quality than DVDs. Over time a tape slowly degrades by adding horizontal streaks to the image, but the image is still there and viewable; DVDs soon and catastrophically fail to a frozen image and/or a crashed player, with nothing to see nor hear at all.

Today I learned a new way tapes are superior to DVDs. My sister had bought a floor demo TV a couple years ago. The remote was lost and the dealer never made good on his promise to replace it. So she took me to Wal-Mart to buy (and then program) a universal remote for it. She claims to be electronically illiterate, but I think a PhD in this stuff almost failed also. No matter, I did get it working. The purpose for this $10 gadget, I was told, is that DVDs won't play without it. Multi-part serials will only play the first episode from the TV control panel; all the rest of the story requires a remote to access and select from the menu. It may not be the fault of the media, but only tape players are smart enough to know what you want to do when you insert a movie into the player, which is play the movie, and they do that. Only tape players let you skip over the commercials and the vanity logos. Only tapes let you stop in the middle, turn the whole bugger off, and then come back next week (after viewing three other movies) and resume exactly where you left off. Or leave it on the shelf ready to view at the end of the 10-minute commercials sequence, where the movie actually starts (many of the movies I get from the library are preset there).

The problem is that DVDs are cheaper to manufacture, and (at least for now) command a higher price. And because they are more easily damaged and less viewable thereafter, they also represent a higher incidence of replacement sales (read: more profit for the vendors). Gresham's Law (bad money drives out good) therefore applies. Soon there will be only low-quality DVDs (or even worse, Blue-Ray) available and no tapes at all. That's already true at the library my sister patronizes.

2009 March 26 -- A Knight's Tale

It's my sister's all-time favorite movie, but not mine. I liked that the hero worked at bettering his lot in life by being good at what he wanted to do, in his case jousting. It was encouraging (but not very realistic) that his success was based more on his moral excellence (a foolish refusal to take the coward's exit -- twice) than his jousting skill. But I was totally offended when his leading lady demanded that he show his love to her by losing in combat. In that demand, she demonstrated no love for him. Perhaps it was romantic of him to do it, but hardly knightly or chivalrous, and certainly not true (Christian) love for her nor anybody else. While I admit and agree with her observation that winning in staged combat shows more love for himself than for her, it seems to me that while the opposite of winning is losing, and the opposite of self-love is self-hate, that is not what she nor he really wanted. She corrected herself, and somehow he improbably managed to win after all, but the damage was done. The roles were reversed. Maybe that's what my sister likes about it. She admits to being a "man-basher". That's a problem.

2009 March 24 -- Failing Positive

A few months ago I renewed my resolve to think Philippians 4:8 thoughts about people. This required a conscious choice, because I seem to lack the moral fiber to continuously live Matt.5:44 (at least the popular understanding of it, which is unconditional affirmation) in the face of a relentless barrage of hostility, slanderous accusations, and often just plain lies from people who claim to be Christians. I still need to improve my response, but I'm not inviting anybody to volunteer to help me practice, which would be immoral for them, and thus also for me to invite it. Slowing down my response time -- often out to infinity -- seems to help. Looking for examples of Jesus doing it does not help: there are none.

2009 March 20 -- Common Ground for Debate

I am always gratified to see people reading what I wrote.

My joy tends to dissipate when I discover that they did not understand what I wrote.

Four years ago somebody -- let's call him "Dan" -- put me onto the tax protest movement. He was arguing that there is no legal basis for the USA income tax. The arguments are bogus, and I fully answered them in "The 861 Tax Question" posted four years ago. In researching that topic, I found a lot of people (including "Dan") blindly copy-pasting each other's arguments without comprehension. There was a recognizable pattern.

Somewhat later "Dan" again came to me with a bogus argument that the income tax is "stealing" and therefore unjust, and I wrote another essay "Law & Justice" to answer the justice question. It also linked to the "861 Tax" essay as relevant (the same litany of objections).

"Dan" eventually left off arguing tax matters with me. Maybe he outgrew his love of money, or maybe he got tired of losing, I don't know. More recently another person -- let's call him "Don" -- read my "Law & Justice" essay and sent me a long compilation of the same copy-pasted tax protester arguments. Did he really read my essay? I can't tell.

"Don" claims to be a Christian -- he even gives lip-service to the realization that Jesus is not your Lord if you do not obey his commands -- so I invited him to explicitly agree to accept Scripture as authoritative. He did. Unfortunately, Don is illiterate, or at least has a reading comprehension problem. He can read the same Romans 13 text in the same Scripture I read, then make what appears to be a minor wording change that has the effect my friend Phil describes as "propaganda is 99% truth mixed with 1% lies to produce something that gives an impression 180 degrees away from reality."

It might be that Don's mind is deceived by the love of money, or by the Father of All Lies, so that he cannot know the Truth. That would have a similar effect to ordinary illiteracy -- except that illiteracy would give random results all over the map; Don's arguments are consistently directed toward nullifying his obligation to pay taxes. You cannot get that kind of consistency from such a disparate agglomeration of contradictory arguments unless it points to a hidden agenda (the one point in common). There was a reference to the lack of credibility of such argumentation in my "Law & Justice" essay, and I reminded Don of it, but he chose not to reply to that point. That's part of the agenda test: people who are interested in Truth do not so quickly walk away from lost causes, but rather seek to understand exactly why they lost that one.

When Don started misrepresenting what I was saying -- including my direct quote in his next line -- it became clear that debate with Don was hopeless. There is no basis for debate unless both parties speak the same language and agree on the basic meaning of English (or whatever language) sentences. It is possible that I could have misunderstood the Bible text; it happens (not often: my professional specialty is correct semantics), but there is no way I could have misunderstood what I myself was saying, repeatedly, using many different ways to say it. Don obviously was the one with the reading (or intentional misrepresentation) problem. If he can't understand what I'm saying, it's no wonder he also got Scripture and the USA law wrong.

Don called this misrepresentation problem (his word was "logic" and he was trying to pin the blame on me) a "show-stopper" and I agreed. Whether it was his misrepresentation or mine, the show stopped.

If we cannot agree on what the text actually says, then we have nothing to discuss, because I always argue from the primary documents: Scripture if you are a Christian, or the US law and/or peer-reviewed research (whichever is relevant) if you are not. But we must be able to agree on what it says. Don could not allow that to happen, probably because he knew he would lose the debate.

2009 March 7 -- A Formula for Disaster

The cover story in the current issue of Urban Pop-Sci (also known as WIRED magazine) breathlessly announces their disclosure of the cause of and cure for the financial meltdown that "devastated the global economy." The third paragraph in the first column on the first page of the lead article gives the real cause -- and then they slide right over it to analyze bogus technological issues.

The real cause of the problem: [David Li's copula formula] "was making people so much money."

Any honest Christian not blinded by the love of money (few though there be) recognizes that as a -- perhaps the -- fundamental problem. The bond market is a zero-sum game, so if you are making a ton of money, somebody is losing money at the same rate. It turned out in this case to be the same banks who thought they were making it. The losses were merely delayed.

Many years ago sci-fi novelist Robert Heinlein coined the prescient word TANSTAAFL ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch"). It still applies. The article points out that banks and investors and insurance companies balance risk against premiums or interest rates; the problem, they neglected to conclude, is when the risk appears lower than the rates.

WIRED went on to argue their proposed "Roadmap for Recovery": Transparency. That's a synonym for telling the truth, and it's a Good Thing, commanded by God, and I'm all for it. But it won't cure the problems that lead to meltdown, and it would not have prevented this one. Again, the proof is right there in front of their noses, in the article. In 1933 FDR signed into law the Securities and Exchange Commission and the transparency it requires of American companies. All the information is there, but inscrutible. WIRED author Daniel Roth wants that to be formatted in some standardized way, so that it can be crunched by anybody. And if you believe that, I have some swa-- I mean Florida beach-front property to sell you.

"The human heart is deceitful above all things," the prophet told us, and "desperately wicked." I first heard the term "creative accounting" many decades ago. It astounded me at the time -- how could plain numbers be creative? -- but no longer. "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." Nevermind what formatting tags the government forces onto industry, they will find ways to hide their deceptions. Enron filed all the required SEC reports, but it took a person inside the company who understood what was going on to expose the chicanery. The beauty of the CDSes and SDOs that led to the current financial collapse is that nobody understood them. A few people did, and warned of the danger, but the love of money exceeded caution.

That's an important observation. More transparency (meaning more available data) only means that the greedy dishonest executives must work harder to hide their shenanigans. Transparency does not prevent dishonesty, it only makes it harder to see.

It gets worse. Author Roth wants to be "giving the financiers [meaning everybody] the ability to evaluate every aspect of the loans: location, proof of income, interest rate, appraisal value, and so on." Did you catch that? The only thing missing from this personal data is name and Social Security number -- but those are easily mined. Correlated to public-record property tax rolls, you have names; every bank by law already has your Social Security number, and if you ever read the fine print on those so-called "privacy policy" disclosures they are required to send you each year, you know that every one of them has no privacy policy at all, except not to violate the law. Every one of them. They won't tell you that to your face, and they bury the operative words in the middle of six pages of tiny, obtuse but benign-sounding legalese, but there it is, in every single one of them. Do you really believe that the defenders of personal privacy -- no doubt including also WIRED editors -- will be swift enough to patch that gaping hole in their Maginot line before the SEC blitzkrieg rolls over it?

2009 March 3 -- The Egg and I

VHS has several advantages over DVD. Besides better long-term quality and more user control (maybe I'll say more about these in some other posting), VHS videos give access to some classic movies not otherwise available. "The Egg and I" is one of them. It was before my time, but from the take-offs the story obviously had a huge audience. The library had the video, and I borrowed it.

The reviews never mentioned (or at best glossed over) the theme that got my attention. They thought it great comedy. I guess I don't laugh much at people's misfortunes. The movie contained a subplot involving another woman. I do not condone the kind of thing the film smirked at, and it did not actually happen in the movie either. But it was entirely avoidable. The movie was based on real-life adventures told in the book by the same name (which I did not read), but the reviews say the other woman is not in the book. Despite that it's fiction of the worst kind, there was a sense of resonance.

The guy really had no romantic interest in the other woman, his wife only assumed it. But he could have done a better job of keeping her in the decision loop, so she could know what was really happening instead of fabricating malice. His go-it-alone character flaw played out over and over in the movie, often for laughs. I did not laugh. I guess I'm too close to that problem in real life.

The Apostle Paul invites us to look forward to a time when "I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." No more bad assumptions destroying relationships. "Even so come, Lord Jesus."

2009 February 26 -- Enough

The movie was intense, enough to wake me up at night. Our heroine is trying to escape from an abusive and controlling husband. She perceives that the protection (police, courts) system has failed her. The guy has endless resources and access to her activities, and sends thugs out across the country to attack people who help her. OK, it's fiction, but I've known people like that; they really exist (just not so all-powerful). She eventually takes the law into her own hands. You really want her to succeed. She does.

Fortunately, there are a few good people in this country who won't let a creep like that succeed. Some of them wear badges. Unfortunately, they are few.

The story is classic rugged American individualism -- except that the John Wayne / Clint Eastwood guy happens to be female. These movies succeed because the ordinary guy triumphs over all odds and over an abusive system, solely on his (in this case, her) determination and self-reliant violence. We want to see ourselves in those shoes.

But it's fiction. First, the system is never as bad as the movie paints it, never as bad as we think we see ourselves in. Second, and more important, we are not super-heroic. Nice 110-pound moms cannot train in one month to beat up and kill (with her bare hands) a guy twice her weight in his own home. And if she did, maybe she might get off -- the guy really did deserve it -- but technically it was premeditated murder. You don't overcome evil with bigger and badder evil.

You overcome evil with good. This is what I keep telling myself. God is Good, and God is in charge. That's why these things only happen in the movies. When he said, "I pay the bills, so I get to make the rules," I wanted her to reply, "Some of the rules are made by Somebody else."

Convincing myself today that God is in charge is taking rather more effort than usual. That bothers me.

2009 February 25 -- Unboring

"There's no way back," she said. "If you bore somebody, it's almost impossible to unbore him."

It's fiction, of course, and I think I would have chosen a different verb than "bore" for that circumstance, but the line resonated with where I am. It was indeed fiction. A classic Feeler chick-flick, the story went on to put the lie to their memorable line, and all relationships were restored (or replaced). As far as I can tell, that only happens in the movies.

2009 February 23 -- Cartoon Poverty

The DVD billed itself as "2 hours of cartoons" of Felix and friends, eight 15-minute shorts about cats. Some were so old that their copyrights had expired and they are available also from (I already saw them).

I thought it remarkable that so many of them featured a theme of unemployment and hunger. "Depression era," I thought. Oh wait, the copyright dates on these were 1923 and 1924 -- during the boom before the 1929 crash that began the Depression.

It now seems clear to me that most of these flics were proof-of-concept technical exercises: color in 1939, sound in 1930, and animation in 1923. They lacked the editorial oversight that makes a story upbeat (and therefore marketable). Like religion, feel-good movies (such as John Wayne) sell a lot better than an honest (but sour) look at life. But these ended up on top. The cat's name "Felix" is Latin for "cheerful".

Jesus said we would always have the poor among us. The spending binge currently going on in Washington is not going to solve our economic problems. Unlike many Depression flics, these early Felix cartoons had him solving his economic woes by ingenuity and American pluck, not by government handouts. That is still true today.

2009 February 21 -- Evolution, by God

I don't always read everything I get the day it arrives. Some magazines -- PCWorld among them -- get less priority than others. Today I'm reading a 6-month-old issue of PCW, where they reviewed a recent game "Spore" by the makers of SimCity. This is supposed to be an "evolution simulation" game, but the game designers (like everybody else in this business), deep in their hearts they know that evolution does not work. Hints of this come out in the review: "Spore determines [my creature's] movement and behavior based on my designs" [emphasis added]. Did you catch that? There is no purposeless random chance, no Darwinian evolution here; the program has been carefully designed to enable the creative urges of the players to design the "evolution" of their creations. Any resemblance this program might have to the real Darwinian stuff everybody is celebrating this month is purely superficial and there only to placate the establishment religion of the geeks likely to want to buy and play this game. That's "religion" in the sense of "don't confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up."

The facts don't support the theory of descent from a common ancestor. I have been asking for 30 years now, and the evidence just isn't there, only rumors. And games, designed to "simulate" what their programmers know can't happen. Notice that "design" is something done by creators -- including, but not limited to, God.

The title on the article in PCW is "An Innovative Game With a God Complex." The reviewer (and/or his editor) obviously understands what is going on.

2009 February 19 -- Taking Control

It's a weird feeling. I'm normally a pretty passive person, by my MBTI temperament (perhaps "P" stands for "Passive" :-) preferring to let somebody else make the decisions -- except of course in matters involving ethics. But every once in a while I discover that I'm expected to be making the decisions. Nobody tells me, I just notice that they are waiting for me. It's very subtle.

This first happened about ten years ago. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class on praying the Psalms, and we came to Psalm 34. There is a lovely Stuart Dauermann song setting the words of this psalm to music, so I asked the pastor's wife to come in and play it for us. She's an accomplished pianist, and although she had never seen the piece, she picked it right up. Except, unlike the worship service where her playing leads the congregation, she was slightly behind my singing. She expected me to lead! So I did. Soloists generally lead their musicians, and Patti knew to do it that way. I don't normally sing solo in public, so I didn't understand the protocol until it was thrust upon me.

This happened again this week. Well, it started a month ago, when I recognized that I was again guiding the interaction unknowingly, and the other guy was following. I called it "CopyPastism" when I understood what was happening. I was responding to him, and he was copy-pasting me. It was up to me to break the circle, so I did. I never would have expected a "J" personality (they usually tend to be control freaks) to cede control to me, but that's what happened. It takes conscious effort on my part to provide good direction, but I guess I can do it when needed.

It just feels weird.

2009 February 13 -- Union Misrepresentation

I've been sending out resumes, mostly to colleges looking for computer science faculty. A couple of them (out on the Left Coast, where else?) disclosed mandatory union membership or "service fee" as a requirement for employment.

Since no union speaks for my interests at the so-called collective bargaining table, the service fee does not pay for any service I want nor have use for. Therefore it amounts to a "cost of doing business" like income taxes -- except that taxes are paid to a God-ordained government, while this is paid to a private organization of known disreputable morals, sort of like "baksheesh" (bribes) in Pakistan. At the very least I can write it into the contract they require me to sign agreeing to paying the service fee. And petition the Department of Labor (which oversees such things) for representation more suitable to my interests. As a "laborer" subject to a collective bargaining agreement, I would have that right. If I get hired, of course. As if.

2009 February 11 -- Positive Thinking

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. Php.4:8 [NIV]
A few weeks ago I consciously renewed my 3-decade-old resolve to think affirming thoughts about people.

It has curious implications. Like this last Sunday...

One of the pastors has mentioned me by name from the pulpit several times, always in a context of me correcting a moral lapse of his. So this week, when I heard my name, I physically cringed. I knew what was coming.

I gave some thought to what to do about it. I could just quietly take my lumps and (equally quietly) resolve to be more effusive in my affirmation. Is the only remarkable thing about me that I criticize him? Otherwise, why would he remark on it? Or I could also confront him with his violation of Jesus' command to tell the "brother" his fault in private before going public in church. Fortunately, I waited...

I think slow. Sometimes it takes me several days to understand the full implications of some event. Today I made the connection with my resolution -- the other side of the coin, that is. Obviously I need to be less critical.

The flip side is that there is a positive light to see this event in. I was mentally criticizing him for impropriety, but he probably thought he was offering me public praise for helping him out. Nevermind that everybody in the pews -- Relationshipists all of them -- would see the reported event as disaffirmation.  Relationshipists are like that: everything is understood as criticism unless it is explicit praise, and even some explicit praise is taken as criticism. But this pastor is not by nature a Feeler; he would not understand something so subtle unless he put some effort into it. He tries hard to be a good Relationshipist, but you can tell that he works at it; it doesn't come naturally.

Anyway, I now honestly believe this pastor intended to be praising me from the pulpit. I can believe it. I choose to believe it. Believing it rescues me from falsely accusing him in yet another criticism for him to remark on in public. Actions have consequences, and my good choice here, my conscious decision to prefer affirmational thoughts about him (and about everybody else too), that choice helps to implement better relations all around.

It happened again yesterday in a different context, different person. Now I just need to get my default reaction under control, so the default is positive and affirming. With God's help, I can do that.

2009 February 5 -- Coping With Catastrophe

The devotional reading today looked at Philippians 4:7, but that was not what she needed to hear. Far too many people seek "peace, peace, when there is no peace." She's too smart for that.

She had a problem beyond her perceived ability to cope. That's a tough situation. She asked me for advice, but I had none to offer -- except for a verse in the same chapter, slightly past where the devotional reading left off, 4:19. "God will supply your every need..."

Technically it's Paul's response to a financial gift from the church in Philippi, but I don't think it does disservice to the whole teaching of the Bible to read it in a broader sense: "God will supply everything you need." Otherwise, how could God be just?

So did God lie? Or was He mistaken about her needs? No. God supplied her needs. Not everything she asked for, not everything she wants, but everything she needs.

Sometimes God gives us the pieces and we are expected to put the parts together. She wondered if that might be the situation, that she had not done her part of the job. I don't know about her, but if she in good faith has done everything she knows that she can do, then the rest is up to God, and today's devotional applies after all. There is no need to beat ourselves up over what we cannot control.

I don't know if I got through to her, but when I'm in a difficult situation, I refuse to accept guilt for what is not my fault. Maybe I screwed up (it happens), look at it, and if there is a problem, get it fixed. If there is not a problem I can fix, then accept what God is going to do.

In her case, I'm sure God gave her this very difficult situation because she is the most qualified, most conscientious person I know who could handle it. And if God never expected her to succeed to her own high standards, if failure was in fact what God allowed for His own purposes, she needs to accept that she gave it her best shot.

And thank God for the opportunity to serve. That's the hard part, when it looks to you and me like failure. God knows otherwise.

2009 January 31 -- CopyPastism vs "Think Different"

I spent a significant portion of my formative years isolated from society, away from the factory education mills, so I learned to think independently. Most of my life I assumed everybody did -- or at least could. I tried to teach independent thinking to my students at the university. I was wrong. Maybe it can be taught, but mostly I did not succeed.

I call the alternative group-think that comes out of factory education "Copy-Paste thinking" or simply CopyPastism. You see, you copy, you paste it unthinking into the next opportunity, whether it fits or not. Thinking is hard work; CopyPasting is easy.

I enjoyed programming on the Mac these 24 years. Instead of rewriting (and rethinking) everything, which was my habit the previous 20 years, I just copied large chunks of similar code and pasted it into the new location, making minor changes as needed, and often failing to make the needed changes. I call the program bugs that come out of this process "copy-paste errors". They are tolerable because they are numerically fewer -- but much harder to find -- than typing errors (which the compiler usually tells me about). Re-inventing the code is a lot more work, but it produces much better results. The Mac giveth, and the Mac taketh away.

One of my friends has been trying to sell me on the virtues of unix in general, and Apple's OSX in particular. Before they went with unix, Apple had a long-running campaign promoting the slogan "Think Different" (maybe they still do, but I don't see many Apple ads). It was significant ten years ago, because the Apple system was different. It was truly WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), no command line anywhere, all data directly manipulated. It was wonderful, and attracted a great following of creative people, all of them independent thinkers like myself. But it did not appeal to the CopyPastist masses, so it lost market share. Apple abandonned it and went back to the prototypical CopyPastist system: Unix.

I mention my friend, because one of his arguments for unix is that the command line saves on re-inventing code. I would agree, sort of, except that the command line itself is a continual re-invention of program code. In the Mac, all that is buried in the system, there is no continual re-thinking and re-typing over and over the same lines of program code (also known as command lines), just a quick click and a drag. It's even faster than copying and pasting. 20 years ago PC magazine compared the performance of the Mac to IBM (command-line) systems. The users uniformly reported the PCs were faster, but timed tests consistently showed the Mac was 10% faster. The article went on to speculate that the Mac was so easy to use, people spent a lot of time waiting for the computer to work, while on the PC they were so engrossed in planning and executing their tasks that they did not notice the passage of time. I suspect that two computers were comparable in actual execution speed, but that extra think time required by the command line physically slowed the total job time down. This is still true today, but Apple sells computers to what people think is happening, not what is actually going on.

So CopyPastism is actually a good thing, provided you have a good model to copy. Unix unfortunately isn't, but everybody copies it anyway. It has something to do with the way the academics became sold on unix, so all the eunuchs coming out of the CopyPastist universities also are sold on eunuchs -- I mean unix. Same sound, same idea. Because Bill Gates is a consummate businessman with an honest desire to serve his customers, and because the original Mac was in fact faster, the Windows operating system slowly lurched in the direction of the Mac, leaving unix in the dust. Except now with Bill gone, that motivation is gone. Whatever.

2009 January 27 -- Cutaway

Once in a long while a secular movie comes out with an awesome insight into a spiritual truth. George Burns in Oh God, despite its problems, was one of those. Today -- well, 9 years ago -- it's Cutaway.

The title theme is about cutting away everything that interferes with the competition, in this case timed linkups in parachute jumping. Team members were expected to give up their day jobs, their family, hobbies (except jumping), everything. Even sex with team members was forbidden. The team leader could see when his team members had other agendas. Curiously, only one of the IMDB reviews made mention of the title theme.

I first saw this competitive effect in the 1972 Winter Olympics Grand Slalom. Some skiers were in perfect control all the way down; others were out of control, and wiped out before reaching the bottom. After a while you could predict which ones would make it, and which ones would wipe out, just on the basis of their flailing arms as they rounded the early gates. Pretty soon here came a guy who was obviously out of control. Every gate was a near loss. But he made it to the bottom. He also had the fastest time. Perfect control added fractions of a second to the time. A race car driver wants his engine to blow up -- just after he crosses the finish line. If it blows up before the line, he loses; if it doesn't blow up, he could have pushed it harder, gotten a little more speed. I heard that fighter planes operate on the same basis. In every competition, the winners are the ones with total dedication, right up to the edge of self-destruction.

Jesus demanded that same dedication of his followers. That's what the First and Great Commandment is all about: cut away everything else -- money, hobbies, even family (relationships: see Luke 14:26) -- only God matters. In the movie they had a false god, but they understood the principle. The people who run the American churches today value relationships more than God. Or maybe even slightly less, but they have not cut it away. The people of Samaria [2Kings 17:33] had that problem, worshipping the true God, but mixed in with their own paganism, "both/and." God does not want a mixture of Himself and paganism, both hot and cold (that is, kind of lukewarm); that's puke [Rev.3:16].

Total commitment. Everything else must be cutaway.

2009 January 26 -- Competition (Part 4)

A couple weeks ago I changed the parking place I sought out at church, so as not to be competing for the corner spot everybody else seemed to want. I wondered if the other folks would snap it up.

They didn't.

The guy who was in that spot the day I decided to change, he chose to park 2 places up from my new place, just as he had been doing when I beat him to the old place. It seems he didn't want that corner place at all. Nor did the guy who was in it 3 weeks before that.

I don't read minds, of course, but as far back as I can remember I have from time to time noticed that people tend to do what they see me doing -- not because they want to do it, but only because I'm doing it.

I can remember 30 years ago, the IEEE Microprocessor Standards Committee (among other things, they were responsible for the floating point standard that every new computer now uses), we had regular meetings at a restaurant in Silicon Valley. Before the main course arrived, I would eat the bread and drink the water. Nobody else ate bread or drank water -- except at my table, everybody did. I often got up and traded bread baskets and water pitchers with the other tables. It didn't matter which table I sat at, nor who else was there, only at my table everybody ate bread and drank water.

Am I the only person able to think for myself and make my own decisions?

If everybody decides to do what I'm doing solely because I'm doing it, and if (like the bread rolls in the basket, or the corner parking place) there is a limited supply of resources to do it with, then there is going to be competition for those resources. Are they doing it for the competition, the thrill of victory?

I wonder.

2009 January 20 -- Coping with Anger

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. Prov.22:24 [NIV]
I only did what I said I would do, and I thought they* agreed to it, but what anger came back!

Perhaps they were expecting only blessings unmitigated with commitment or effort on their part, or maybe they did not think through the complete implication of what I was promising. I don't know, and they aren't saying. The upside is that they are in another state and not talking to me now, so I don't come under the direct influence of their infectious anger. It's their problem, not mine.

It's getting hard to find people who control their own temper.

It can be done. A few years ago my friend told me of his former roommate who had a serious anger problem. The condition he placed on him for staying was that he controlled his temper -- and he did! Unfortunately, he failed to make it a lifelong choice. He even failed, a few years later, to recognize that his new wife implicitly had the same condition for being his "roommate". I don't condone divorce over such faults, but I can't say I blamed her.

Solomon had it right when he advised us to avoid people given to anger, but it gets lonely sometimes.


* I use the modern (and also ancient) English-language "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun for persons unspecified, even if only one such person is being discussed.

2009 January 19 -- Post-Modernism and Technology

It is said that "The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who get their jollies out of altering the positions of the particles on the face of the earth, and those who get their jollies out of telling other people to alter the particle locations." The story goes on to discuss fun and money, but that is not my point here.

Instead I observe that the particle movers need an absolutist view of facts about the real world. If they are wrong about the facts, if they confuse facts and opinion, then they don't get paid. The other category is essentially paid for their opinions. If those opinions are wrong, if the opinions don't match the real world we all live in, well, they were already paid, so it's of little consequence to them personally. This tends to breed two very different views of truth. C.P.Snow called it "Two Cultures".

The politicians and marketing people, teachers and entertainers, people paid for having and promoting opinions, they become what has been called "post-modern". They start to believe there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that people invent "facts" to promote their own power agendas.

The technologists and the farmers and truckers -- and yes, computer programmers -- the people who get paid to move particles around, there are no post-modernists among them, at least not in their line of expertise. Your and my opinions about how much fuel it takes to drive fruits and vegetables from California farms to New York groceries are completely irrelevant, all that matters is the reality, the physics of hydrocarbons mixing with air inside small steel enclosures and causing wheels to turn. Computer programming is more subtle: we can invent virtual reality that exists only in the electrons flowing around computer circuits and lighting up phosphors on a CRT screen, but our inventions mean nothing at all if we fail to obey the absolutist physics of those electrons and the computers they run in. There is no place for opinions in the code we write.

Science is an interesting anomaly. Some scientists deal with particles or aggregates of particles. They are called physicists or chemists or medical researchers or geologists. Others -- cosmologists and paleontologists -- deal in opinions. Curiously, even the opinion-driven scientists still believe in absolute truth.

One of my regular readers admitted to being post-modern. I'm not, but it got me to thinking. It seems to be a mirage of their own making. Real people live in a real world with real facts, where opinions and interpretations about those facts are irrelevant power-mongering. All the really matters are the real facts.

2009 January 16 -- Schmaltz

I've been researching the kind of fiction Feelers want to see.

Guys tend to want to see action, excitement, loud noises, fast chases, blood and things breaking, adrenaline stuff. Watch any Bond flick. Yeah, naked women (sex) seems to be a part of it too. Less sex in the recent Bond flicks, probably because teens have more time to spend money on movies than adults do.

Women prefer romantic things, guy gets girl and they live happily ever after.

Christmas movies are chick flicks. So "Christmas Comes to Willow Creek" definitely was a guy gets girl and they live happily ever after kind of movie. No loud noises, very little fisticuffs (mostly standing up for the defenseless -- which is a virtuous thing), lots of reminiscing about past conversations gone sour.

Christmas movies also have childhood wishes being realized. Christmas seems to be about childhood, and all the adults in these stories have some inner child who was unfulfilled, and by the end of the movie, everybody gets their longed-for Christmas gift. Very "happily ever after". Willow Creek was no different.

The ultimate Christmas gift is of course the Incarnation, God giving the gift of His Son. The Feelers want to believe that is unconditional, no repentance needed, and everybody lives happily ever after. The actual Bible story is somewhat different, but that is not my point today.

Today I'm wondering if I can successfully write a story that appeals to this personality type. As part of my research I'm also reading Jan Karon's At Home in Mitford, which is that kind of story, full of warm fuzzies. It's slow going for me. We used to call it "schmaltz." The library has a special "inspirational fiction" section for books like this. I'm not sure I can pull it off. You have to believe in something to write credibly about it. The real world doesn't work that way, and guys mostly know it. The critics rave over fiction that depicts unredeemed human depravity the way it really is, but patrons don't buy it.

Anyway, I'm still trying to get my head into that warm fuzzy space. It's quite a contortion.

2009 January 12 -- Competition (Part 3)

I'm a corner kind of guy. Being left-handed, I learned to aim for the left corner seat at the table. I asked for (and was given) the corner office at the university, farthest from the main reception in the departmental office building. It wasn't a prestige thing: the big offices were closer to the front.

And I parked in the far corner spot in the church parking lot. Except I learned I had to get there early to get that spot. No problem, getting there early has other advantages, including stress control. I guess other people like that corner place, too. One of my correspondents described it this way: "I compete to win." Me too. Or rather, I used to.

The "Couch Game" competition changed my perspective. I began to see competition as an intrinsic violation of the Second Great Commandment, which is to "love your neighbor as yourself." If you want to win in a zero-sum game (which means that the other team loses), then you are not loving the other team as much as you are loving yourself. If you are in it only for the sport, and you really don't care who wins, that's a different matter. Except for a brief moment when I got caught up in the Couch Game, I really didn't care who won.

Now I found myself competing for that coveted corner parking place. And winning. But I failed often enough to see it was a competition. I arrived 5 minutes later than usual a couple weeks ago, and there was another car in my place. Obviously it was a competition, and I lost.

This week I found a different corner place, one that nobody else had been parking in.

The best win is when nobody loses.

2009 January 8 -- United Soviet Socialist States of Amerika

Nikita Khrushchev famously announced "We will bury you!" He didn't live to see the day, and the ashes of his empire are certainly not responsible for it, but here we are lumbering on in that direction anyway.

You also can't blame Obama, who isn't even President yet, and who only promised to carry on the failed economic policies of his predecessor (see "Change? What Change?" last month). But the talk of nationalizing major industries -- already begun with mortgages and cars -- reeks of the policies that brought the former Soviet Union to its demise. And the deficit spending already begun under Bush cannot help but result in runaway inflation. That mostly hurts people on fixed incomes (like me, today -- but I keep hoping to change that).

Fortunately, the American people are a fickle lot. When this recent policy begins to show its inevitable failure, we will pretend to be conservative for a while, four or eight years from now.

Even more fortunately, God is bigger than the economy. The majority voters don't know it, but I do.

Later this year
Last year's blog
Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page