Tom Pittman's WebLog

2010 August 28 -- Sauce for the Goose

"No," said the phone. "We don't know of any way for an object like this to be formed except by intelligent action. Assuming a mind is responsible is probably the simplest hypothesis." -- Time's Eye,p.288
Does anybody really believe that telephones 30 years from now will be smart enough to volunteer this kind of analysis of a silvery sphere suspended by nothing in and over a room showing heat damage? I guess sci-fi authors do. They regularly have intelligent machines and robots populating the near future. Set only 33 years after he wrote it, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 had such a smart computer run a space mission to some outer planet. Three years after that prediction had utterly failed, he's at it again, curiously with the same ridiculous 33-year prediction.

But the really interesting thing about the pervasive Darwinism in this story is this tiny little piece of contrary (but accurate) insight offered by the infallible computer in the heroine's telephone. We don't know of any way for anything with so much purposive detail as a time-travel sphere to be formed except by intelligent action. How much more the purposive detail in life itself? But that would require a Mind who is responsible for it. That seems to be OK for ancient aliens in a godless universe, but not for God Himself.

I probably won't bother with the other two novels in this trilogy.

2010 August 23 -- Religious Villainy (Fiction)

The hero of the movie was the kind of guy John Wayne would have played if this had been a classic western. You know the kind, made some mistakes in the past, paid his debt to society, now uses his superhuman physical skills and savvy to beat insurmountable odds so the Bad Guy(s) lose. But this was a trucker flick, not a western. For a while it started to look like a Smokey and the Bandit remake, but with more pizzaz. It would have been an unqualified "two thumbs up" except that they played one of the Bad Guys as a Bible-thumping religioius bigot, spouting Bible verses while engaged in murder and theft and contraban gun-running. Maybe the screenwriter and/or director saw both activities as villainous, but I don't think they ever actually saw nor knew of such a composite villain in real life. I never have.

There have been nominal Christians doing immoral things in business. Ken Lay of Enron fame allegedly taught Sunday School on Sundays, while spending the rest of the week destroying people's pensions with his unlawful economic shenanigans. But he did not spout Bible verses in justification of his destrurctive acts. I suspect he tried not to think of his activities as immoral at all, "just business." I once knew a church deacon who admitted to being "aggressive" on his income tax, on the assumption that if they ever audited, he'd just pay the penalty and on the average come out ahead. These guys are not using the Bible to justify their immorality, they are merely not making the connection. It's still wrong, and they could (or did) still go to jail for it, but it usually takes a jail sentence to help them understand that it really is immoral. "Red" in the movie had no such moral confusion, he knew. Maybe that's why the character was played by an actor who declined to use his given name.

I also just finished reading the first volume of Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy-turned-space-opera. It has the same failing, dressed up with erudite pseudo-scientistic sociology and manipulated by the alleged Good Guys. It is said that Asimov got his inspiration from the Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with "its open denigration of organised religion." In his novel series, it's the Galactic Empire that is falling and the dark ages are manipulated intentionally by superhero Hari Seldon, in this first volume by a pretense of religion and a priesthood controlled by the eponymous Foundation.

It's fiction, there are no such people in real life. Why is that? I think it's because religion really is the integrating influence in every person's life. Everybody has a religion, but many -- I would say most -- of their religions are not God-based. Asimov was nominal atheist; his actual religion, judging from how he designed his fiction, was more of a Machiavellian scientism, whoever does the best science gets to make the rules for everybody else. If so, his religion, like all idolatries, is false and powerless. The real power in the universe is the real God of the Bible, and we must conform to God's rules, not use the Bible or other pseudo-religions to implement our own agendas. The people who get serious enough about God of the Bible to be able to quote relevant verses in support of their activities (as opposed to finding such verses to put into the mouth of fictitious characters in their novels or movies), such people also know that God is about Truth and Justice. The fiction is just that, fiction.

The priests of the medieval period honestly tried to follow God. There were dishonest people in the church, but everybody understood that, and (more importantly) God sent Reformers to cut them down. Martin Luther was not the first of them, only the most famous. The dishonest people could not survive, because everybody knew they were dishonest. "Red" in the movie, and Asimov's Foundation in the novel would have been unworkable in real life, because both were based on injustice and fraud. The truth will out. God is not mocked.

2010 August 19 -- Fictitious Religion

I've been reading this Arthur C. Clarke novel Time's Eye -- like many of the novels I see from aging novelists, it's a collaboration with a younger author who probably did all the actual writing. Clarke described it as an "orthoquel," neither sequel nor prequel, but taking off in some oblique direction from his previous Odyssey series. Looking for another sci-fi novel to read, I randomly picked one off the library shelf with his name on it, but neglected to notice that it was the conclusion of a triolgy until I got it home. So I took it back and exchanged it for the first in the series, which I am now reading.

Anyway, like most sci-fi authors, Clarke is not particularly religious (it is obvious in their fiction), but unlike Asimov, he is willing to credit religion with serving an important social function. The result is a goofy religious idea he calls "Oikumens," a sort of syncretistic amalgum presumably of all religions, so to get the benefit of all their perspectives. Like I said, his irreligion shows, but it is undeniable that religion is not going away (this book was written after 9/11), so he is forced by his own expressly Darwinistic faith to believe religion must necessarily confer survival benefits on people in general. Otherwise (so Darwinism advises us) it would be replaced by something with better survival value. His faith is misplaced, but most Darwinists don't let facts get in the way of their own (atheistic) religion.

You can also see Clarke's British bias and progressivism in his description of British armies in year 2037 as "peacekeeping" with the Brits obviously better at it than the other nations (American authors do the same for the USA). As an outsider, Clarke has no such bias for one particular religion, and is generally ignorant of their tenets and particularly of the exclusivity claims in both Christianity and Islam.

Even if I did not accept the Christian perspective, I would be hard put to seriously believe in human perfectability -- unless of course like the sci-fi authors (every one of them), I had some Darwinistic faith in bigger and better with the passage of time. The real world does not work that way.

Another self-styled author -- strictly amateur, I won't bore you with his name -- googled one of the novels I previously reviewed and spammed all the commentaries linked to email addresses, recently including me. He had a diatribe against one-size-fits-all philosophies, of which he chose universal human goodness and universal human evil as representative, and then proceeded to offer his own one-size-fits-all philosophy as a cure. He did not reply to my saying so. It seems he grew up in some variant of Calvinism (his description was a bit bizarre, I suspect from his own inadequate investigation rather than their fault), but it occurs to me that Total Depravity ("T" in the TULIP acronym for the Five Points of Calvinism) probably overstates the case.

The Bible teaches (and I do not deny) that "All have sinned" and "There is none righteous, no not one," but we have such a jaded view of sin that we need to inflate the currency to make the Bible seem true. I'm well into the last quarter of my life, and I know that I have been much more selfish in the past than I am today, but I also know that I have not yet achieved perfect unselfish 100% performance of the Golden Rule, even today, despite that I want to. It is the nature of selfishness that very act of selfishness harms some other person. By God's standard, nobody would be selfish ever, not even once. In God's perfect Heaven, everybody will meet the standard 100% without fail. Otherwise it would not be Heaven for the poor victim of somebody's selfish act. It is therefore unnecessary to confirm what the Bible teaches by postulating the otherwise unBiblical and unnatural (contrary to obvious evidence) notion that our every thought, word, and deed is only evil continually.

Only Jesus Christ taught the Golden Rule as a moral absolute, so only Christians can hope to achieve it. Muslims certainly do not believe such a thing, or they would not have rejoiced in the streets on 9/11; their slaughter of Christians continues to this day in Muslim-majority countries. The eastern religions teach self-denial, but not for the benefit of other people: just look at what Hindus do to their own Dalits. The great Buddha sought enlightenment, but not for the particular benefit of anybody but himself.

So when I read stuff like these Oikumens, which ignores both the inherent selfishness of the human condition (at least the Darwinists got that one right), and the unique offer of Jesus Christ to repair the human moral engine, their ignorance kind of spoils the story. Much better are the stories like John Ringo's Live Free or Die, where there is only one unflawed (contrary to fact) superhero.

2010 August 17 -- The "Family" of God

Like many modern churches, an important part of the service where I attend is devoted to what I call "the little moment of chaos" when everybody is expected to run around in pandemonium -- that's Greek for letting all the demons run loose -- shaking each other's hands. There is no time nor effort to build any kind of (ahem) relationship, it's just a time for contentless affirmation. Which is of course what Relationshipism is all about. They have moved on to other songs, but for the first few years they surrounded the moment of chaos with Gaither's "Family of God."

"Family" is an important metaphor that Christians like to compare the church to. Even in the Bible, other believers are commonly referred to as "brothers" (and sisters, which the Greek male plural sort of assumes without saying). But the level of commitment is pretty superficial. Church is a leisure time activity for most people, something to do on a Sunday morning if you don't have anything better to do, such as vacation, golf, or fishing. Or even family visiting from out of town. This church cancelled Sunday morning service when it fell on Christmas day.

I see I'm not alone in seeing this "family" metaphor as rather thin in the church. The current issue of ChristianityToday has an essay in their "Global Conversation" series on Christian suffering. The author makes some good points, but what attracted my attention was an aside on the reaction of the (American) church to suffering:

We call our churches and Christian organizations "families," but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life. [p.32, Aug 2010]
The author, Ajith Fernando, is too generous. I have never seen it happen, nor even heard of it in any church.

2010 August 12 -- Heinlein's Moon

I don't have a lot of memories from my youth, but I do recall reading every sci-fi book in the high school library, and then doing the same for the nearest public library. It was something to do instead of hanging out with the other kids and partying, neither of which particularly interested me, nor was I invited. The only authors I distinctly remember from that period are Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, although I obviously read many more. I subsequently found other activities to fill my time -- like working to pay my college expenses, and then because it was fun -- and stopped reading fiction.

Resuming my habit after these many years (writing software that will never be used by anybody is not fun), I started out with best-sellers like Michael Crichton and non-sci-fi such as John Grisham. That got old, so I went back to sci-fi. After a few modern books, I decided to go back to Heinlein and Asimov. The sexual content in Heinlein's newest (published posthumously) by his widow was off-putting, so I went for an older publication date, but after I went off to college.

The sexual mores of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress are similar to the more recent book, so I guess I'm seeing what the author really believed. It's a wonder that his wife put up with that, but often women are clueless about male sexuality. The book is billed as something of a libertarian manifesto, and shares with that political philosophy its disconnect from reality. The story is the first-person retelling of the revolt of the lunar colony from earth's repressive domination. Beginning as a penal colony, there were far more men than women, and Heinlein postulates that people compensated for that by respecting women and turning the (non-prisoner) population into almost a matriarchy. Like his libertarian philosophy explained at length by the leading intellectual, it assumed that people are rational. That is not true. People are selfish. Where there is a scarce resource (women in this story), people hoard rather than share. That's why we have the disparity between rich and poor all over the world today. It is less so in societies under a (Protestant) Christian influence like the USA, but like most sci-fi authors, Heinlein was no Christian and cannot be expected to understand that.

Other than that, the book was a delightful read. I laughed out loud at the antics of a computer with a sense of humor and the clever ways science was put to use. Although I had adopted Heinlein's insightful term TANSTAAFL first defined and used in this book, this is the first time I read the story.

2010 August 9 -- The Caffeine Connection

Back when I was making the effort to attend the Apple developer conferences -- which was when they were still supporting and developing the first and only commercially viable WYSIWYG operating system that ever existed (their present offering being a 40-year-old throw-back dinosaur based on 19th-century linear file technology with a thin layer of whitewash to make it look more modern than its more recent imitators) -- one of the Apple presenters began his new technology session with token obeisance to what he called "the demo gods" and consisting of a libation which he personally consumed rather than poured out for the exclusive enjoyment of whatever deity he might disbelieve in. His choice of beverage was pointedly the one readily available soda pop with the highest reported caffeine content, MountainDew. It tends to be the first choice of programmers everywhere, because programming is often an intensive effort that may extend long into the night, and the caffeine is needed to keep the creative -- or at least debugging -- juices flowing.

I personally dislike MountainDew. Its flavor has been (perhaps accurately, I wouldn't know) described as "Monkey Doo". Unfortunately, the Federal watchdogs who are responsible for requiring food and drug vendors to accurately report the nutritional content of foods and the drug content of the other stuff under their jurisdiction, do neither for the one component of soda pop that makes it worth drinking. And of course nobody ever reports what the Feds do not require of them, as that might make for informed and happy customers. So we are at the mercy of occasional postings on the internet from people not paid to do a thorough and complete job. Meaning they mention a few of the most popular beverages only.

Looking around for a suitable substitute for Monkey Pee, I tried their various flavoring add-ons. Most of them taste worse than the vanilla, but orange was not too bad. I have no idea if the caffeine content in the variants is maintained at the same level as the published flagship or not. It's still somewhat pricey. Wal-Mart offers house-brand clones of most mainline name-brand products, including soda pop, and they have a MountainDew clone called "MountainLightning" in a green can designed to resemble the original. I actually liked the flavor, which reminded me of the large tropical citrus fruits I enjoyed in my childhood, but have never found for sale in the USA. ALDI is a regional grocery discounter with prices substantially lower than Wal-Mart, and they also have a MountainDew clone called "MountainFrost" in a slightly different green can. While the flavor was not as pleasant as MountainLightning, at least it was tolerable (better than the original). And cheaper. I have no idea what the caffeine content is, except that is is above zero and less than the sugar, which isn't saying much.

The last time I went into the ALDI store to replenish my supply, the box -- still green, but a new design -- proudly announced that it was "New & Improved!" which usually means that the vendor figured out how to substitute cheap chemicals for better ingredients and thus reduce manufacturing costs (hopefully resulting in higher profits if the customers don't object too much). In the software industry the same effect has been turned into a joke: If there's a bug you can't or won't fix, promote it as a "feature." Sure enough, the new formulation tastes like turpentine. So I loaded up on the Wal-Mart product -- and discovered they had quietly changed their formula about the same time. It tasted similar to, but not quite as bad as the ALDI version. One possibility is that some food factory concocted a cheap formula and offered their product at a lower price to the vendors. We know that almost all brand-name products come through the same factories, just a different label slapped on at the end. Another possibility, it's been a long time since I drank the real McCoy so I don't remember its flavor very well (who would want to?) but it might be that their patent ran out or the secret recipe got published, so the cloners can now produce something much closer to the original. Who would want it? Unless we knew its caffeine content were the same. But of course nobody is telling.

2010 August 7 -- The Language Barrier

Clive Thompson is a regular columnist for WIRED magazine. Like most of the writers and editors for this up-scale Popular Science clone, he often does not know what he is writing about. Take last month's essay, subtitled "How auto-translation software is saving the world's mother tongues." I know something about machine translation (see my opus BibleTrans), so this is one of those (few) places where I can check their science against my expertise. As I said...

Thompson's point is that machine translation (MT) developers have essentially given up on rule-based translation, and substituted instead something based on statistical correlation. If a particular word or phrase consistently shows up in manual translations of a particular word or phrase in another language, then that is a good translation. Being essentially ignorant in linguistics, I'm sure Thompson did not know -- at least he neglected to tell his readers -- that there are contextual constraints that figure in this statistical analysis; otherwise you just have a stupid version of word substitution. Word substitution is not translation, which is why MT looks so bad. Thompson admits it looks bad, and in a sort of back-handed way, even admitted that this new wrinkle doesn't really help much.

If serious translation -- "legal proceedings, business discussions, diplomatic negotiations" -- cannot depend on the new technology, who then benefits? Web surfers. His model web site is Xiha Life, which uses Google's automatic translation engine to enable people "from hundreds of countries" to share inanities with people who don't understand their language. This is in the nature of entertainment, and people don't learn other languages in order to get it. If it's available in a language they understand (for other reasons), then fine, they will enjoy it; otherwise they will find other forms of entertainment.

Web surfing -- and MT supporting it -- will not change the progress of language usage and development. Thompson mentions one particular language, the indigenous language of the Mapuche people in Chile, where (according to Thompson; I did not find any such reference) it is dying because of migration to the national trade language Spanish. That's an interesting choice of an example, because you won't find Mapuche as one of the automatic MT choices offered by Google nor anybody else. only offers 45 languages, none of them smaller languages that might otherwise die out. There are thousands of minority languages like this, and they die all the time. Machine translation will not save them, because there is no economic incentive to build the text corpus needed for these statistical engines to learn from. We can't even get one document (the Bible) translated into most of them, because nobody wants to spend the money to do it.

2010 August 4 -- Suspending Disbelief

I may have to give up sci-fi again. Or maybe some of it.

One of the guys at church lent me the first volume of the classic space opera The Lensmen Chronicles by E.E. "Doc" Smith. I guess it's OK as fiction goes, but his heroes and their colleagues, called Lensmen because they wear this magical wristwatch called a "Lens" for no obvious reason except that it focuses their thoughts, are morally "incorruptible" (his word) -- in other words, sinless. I suppose a Messiah figure is a reasonable story device, but these guys are many in number. It's getting hard to continue the suspension of disbelief that makes fiction readable. Besides that the escalation of "coruscating" (he liked that word; I had to look it up) energy expenditures in the ever escalating battle against the forces of evil, who are nominally called "pirates" -- but the reader has been informed ahead of time that there is this dualistic cosmic battle between the forces of evil and good, each on their own planet -- Smith even goes so far as to repeat from time to time that there are no moral absolutes, but (to quote Al Capp's Mammy Yokum rather than Smith, because Capp expresses the same sentiment much more concisely) "good is better than evil because it's nicer." What nonsense!

The Wiki entry for E.E.Smith says he came from devout Presbyterian parents. I guess he lost his faith -- or at least the good Presbyterian doctrine of "Total Depravity" (the "T" in TULIP) -- somewhere along the way. It tends to spoil the story. sigh

2010 August 3 -- Pascal and Reason

Hershel Shanks, editor and publisher of Biblical Archeology Review (BAR), knows his readers, who are mostly evangelical Christians (you can tell by the ads and the letters they print). Shanks is no Christian, and I doubt he shares our values, but he is a good businessman and his magazine provides a valuable service to us, which we gladly pay for. But because his personal beliefs are otherwise, Shanks also runs articles hostile to the Christian faith. He tried to do this in a dedicated magazine, but his customers -- that would be us, the Bible-thumping Christians -- refused to read and pay for it, so it failed.

The current issue of BAR has an opinion piece, some Professor Hendel at Berkeley complaining about the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) and their willingness to invite into membership and to their speaker podium, scholars who actually respect the Biblical literature that the Society is all about. I normally don't read such trash, but he began with a quote allegedly from mathematician Blaise Pascal, who also was a great Christian philosopher -- except this quote seemed to put an anachronistic post-modern separation between faith and reason.

Separating faith from reason seemed out of character for a Christian philosopher and near contemporary of (also Christian) Isaac Newton, so I Googled Pascal's Pensees and found both the original French and also an English translation for free download. I could not find anything resembling Hendel's quote in either the French or English versions, nor conveying any sentiment like it. All I found were repeated indications that Pascal believed reason necessarily leads to faith.

Pensees (French for "thoughts") is a numbered sequence of meditations on a variety of topics -- today it would be a blog -- so I sent a letter off to BAR asking for a specific reference number. There was no answer. I suspect that Professor Hendel simply neglected to check his sources before printing the bogus quote, and is now too embarassed to admit his scholarly blunder.

The rest of BAR continues to be a good read. The authors are often anti-Christian, but their science (after you cull out the unfounded opinions) consistently supports the historical records we have in the Bible.

2010 August 2 -- Relationshipism at Work (Vulnerability)

One of the faux-Christian values held in high esteem by Feelers and American Christians (there being little significant difference between them) is called "vulnerability". I don't think they really mean a persion should be truly vulnerable, but rather that by letting down your emotional defenses in the presence of another person with whom you are in "relationship" (see my "Relationshipism" post elsewhere), you seem to be affirming them. Affirmation is of course the true nature of Relationshipism, so this rates high on their value system. So high, in fact, that it becomes imperative for them to find support for vulnerability in the Bible -- never mind that there is no such support whatsoever.

I tossed this idea back and forth with a friend a few times, and finally came to the realization that the Bible actually teaches against encouraging people to be "vulnerable" in Matthew 18:6,7, where Jesus pronounces great woe to people who teach "one of these little ones" to become vulnerable to sin. Samson made that mistake with Delilah, and it cost him his eyesight and his ministry. Hezekiah made the same mistake with the visitors from Babylon, and it cost his whole country its freedom, from which they never recovered (until 1948, and then hardly). There is no Scripture whatsoever that teaches vulnerability as a virtue. Humility and honesty, yes, but not vulnerability. Vulnerability, like poverty, can be a side-effect of virtuous living, but it is never the goal.

So here I am reading ChristianityToday. This month's cover story looks at women's teacher Beth Moore, and goes into considerable detail on the efforts her staff goes to in protecting her from snooping journalists. She teaches Feeler values, and the women in her audiences eat it up, but while she does give examples from her own experience, she is anything but "vulnerable." That is clearly expressed in the article, except for one approving quote in the middle, "She is completely vulnerable and transparent." In light of its context in the rest of the article, this can only be understood to mean that the speaker intends to be affirming Beth Moore, and not saying anything factual about her character.

It's a sorry state when Christians consider it a virtue to lie about each other.

2010 July 27 -- Relationshipism at Work (Cinema)

My recent enlightenment in the war of the sexes -- which I retitled "Relationshipism" to reflect the term people generally use to refer to affirmation as their highest value -- has been yielding a treasury of insight in all sorts of (ahem) relationships. Consider the movies.

Unlike most people I know, I do not have a functional TV. The TV works, but they stopped broadcasting watchable TV a year or two ago, and replaced it with stuttering frozen squares of digital blocks. So instead of "American Idol" or CNN or whatever idiotic gibberish passes for sitcoms these days, I watch old movies checked out of the library. Last time I asked, they had over 2000 flicks in their catalog, so it will be a while before I have worked my way through the whole list.

So this flick was a Clint Eastwood clone -- you know the type, aging gunslinger with heart; the hero even looked and acted somewhat like Eastwood -- who is out to rescue the fair maiden who happens to be his daughter, and her mother's current husband, who is the "temporary" sheriff. Of course the daughter has not been told who her real father is. What made the story interesting is the tension between Feeler values held by the women -- "relationship", but most specifically, that they did not want to deal with the continuous risk of their husband dying in battle -- and the God-given Thinker values held by the men, which is the preservation of Truth and Justice, even at personal risk.

The best of Hollywood always succeeds in balancing that tension credibly. Star Trek worked because Kirk and Spock played those two roles. Chick flicks completely discard the Thinker value, and guy flicks likewise discard the affirmational value. Movies fail more often than they succeed, because screen writers tend to be Feelers; they really don't understand.

2010 July 23 -- Becoming a Third-World Nation

Two curious items arrived in the mail today.

One was the (now bi-weekly) WORLD news magazine, with a cover story detailing how the Justice Department is now using racial profiling to determine which voting fraud cases to prosecute. If the defendants are militant racial minorities guarding a polling place with visible weapons to intimidate voters, then there is "no case".

The other item was a Chicken-Little letter from the Institute for Creation Research, detailing how they lost their court case against the Texas Higher Education Control Board, which refused them permission to operate a graduate school in Texas based on the religious content of their beliefs and speech. I think ICR cowarded out, because King SCOTUS has not yet heard the case, and the Court always sides in favor of "free speech" of private individuals and against government regulation based on speech content.

In any case, both of these incidents demonstrate the primacy of government power and the established religion of the USA (atheism) over truth and justice. This nation became great because of freedom, here now twice denied. Third-world countries -- think: Latin America, Africa, South-east Asia -- do these things all the time. That's why they are third-rate countries. Our President-Trainee and the bigots who elected him are doing their best to help the USA join them.

The USA is still way ahead of whoever is in second place, and all parties are diligently trying to close the gap (by moving in the direction of the other).


2010 July 17 -- Azazel

A small demon whose name is Azazel
Has magical powers that dazzle.
But the people who strive
To get them derive
Nothing much and are beat to a frazzle. -- Isaac Asimov
In high school I read every sci-fi in the school library, and then in the public library. Then I stopped reading sci-fi, probably because in college I had no time. Earlier this year I restarted working through the local library sci-fi collection. Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were among my favorites in earlier years, so I picked up one each from their works published after I stopped reading. I figured that way I was safe in getting one I had not previously seen.

Like many modern authors, the Heinlein piece had too much emphasis on sex (I think earlier books self-censored that out), but Asimov was much more circumspect. So I went back for another of his.

Azazel describes itself on the jacket as "fantasy stories." In the introduction Asimov explains it as a sequence of short stories about a "demon two centimeters tall". Being about the supernatural rather than science disqualified it for publication in a sci-fi magazine, but the difference between miracle and future science is famously ill-defined, so these stories were originally published with the title character converted to an other-world alien; his demonic quality was later restored for the collection.

The remarkable thing about these stories is that Asimov is apparently every bit as lascivious as the other authors, but he expresses his sentiments in a self-deprecating way with elegant vocabulary. The one that caught my attention early on was a reference to some woman's "awesome nutritional equipment."

Isaac Asimov is a Jewish name, and the setting of these stories he admits to being about himself as author in the first person, with a disproportionate number of Jewish characters sprinkled in. As I recall, Asimov was an atheist, and there were also a disproportionate number of atheist characters -- I guess the ratio is not out of proportion to the scientific subculture -- but he shows himself quite literate in religious terminology and concepts, much more than the average author or screen-writer. The title character is a demon in Jewish religious mythology, but is actually first mentioned in the Bible (as Asimov noted) without explanation. He explains the name as an English substitute for a very long and unpronouncible alien/demonic name.

Asimov's religious background probably also explains the positive morality in his books -- including one ostensibly about a demon. In each of these stories the miniscule demon is summoned to perform some magic to satisfy the greed or lust of one of the incidental characters, and in each case (as hinted in the limerick on the back cover), Hitchcockian justice prevails, that is, there is some conservation of morality, so that the recipients of the magic find themselves worse off than they started. Like most people, Asimov really believes in moral absolutes, and these stories communicate that hope and wish. That certainly contributed to the pleasure of reading them.

Speaking of Jewish writers, the last of the cherry-picked library videos came up for viewing during the time I was reading Azazel, and was remarkable again for the Jewish characters, which are also disproportionately represented in movies. I suspect God has given His People a cultural drive for success over and above the rest of us. The flic billed itself as a comedy, but it began with a distasteful premise, and went downhill from there. The remarkable feature in this flic was the gratuitous token nudity, which was entirely (PG-13 backside) male, obviously the creeping influence of feminism, which is the mistaken notion that males and females differ only in their reproductive organs. At least Asimov and the other book authors (also the other movies) were more honest, limiting their lechery to a more realistic fixation on female anatomy. They do this because guys want to see (and presumably read about) naked girls, not the other way around.

The advantage of the older stories and movies is that the writers tend to be more creative when they eschew sex, so even apart from the misogynistic nature of voyeurism, the cleaner stories are better stories. Azazel was borderline, with the pervasive emphasis on feminine anatomy at least creatively disguised in colorful vocabulary.

2010 July 12 -- Whither Diversity

Reading of several recent public incidents of the Diversity lie besides my own experience got me to thinking about the conflict. God tells us to try to live at peace with people, but where is the boundary between peace and dishonesty? Jesus refused to lie about Who he was, and it got him crucified. I guess I would be more likely to get hired if I censored out the politically incorrect blog postings, but that would be misleading and a lie. Leaving them there puts the onus on the potential employer: is he honest enough about his "diversity" claim to hire somebody who is actually diverse? Or is he willing to require me to censor my speech -- which as employer he has that right, at least while I am acting as employee -- so as not to offend the non-diverse people he is trying to coddle? Censorship is contrary to their religion, so mostly they do their censoring indirectly, by not allowing the presence of diverse opinions within their ivory tower. But they do censor.

Leaving my postings up at least offers truth-in-advertizing. I am a moral absolutist -- actually everybody is, but I'm more honest about it -- and an institution that teaches Truth as an absolute would want to know that. We might differ in opinion about what falls under the category of "absolute" but we can debate that politely. If they want to. Most people don't.

2010 July 10 -- The State of Misery

I think the local climate is toxic to videotape and its players.

Being without gainful employment, I'm trying to make my savings last as long as possible, at the same time seeking to remedy the primary cause. I also have more time to squander on mindless entertainment. Modern TV is a little too mindless, but some of the old movies are tolerable. In previous posts I have commented on both the free downloads and videos borrowed from the local library.

Anyway, I'm getting to be a regular fixture at the library, so this week they invited me to cherry-pick my checkouts from a batch of new accessions. The first of them played tolerably, but with that annoying 1-second-on, 1-second-off bar of grey snow in the middle of the picture that frequents about half the videos I have been watching lately.

The next day nothing played. Image and sound both gone, leaving only snow and noise, all the tapes (including the one I watched the previous evening) completely gone. My mother's VCR died that way too, and I had bought this player to replace it. Oh well, if I get to see 100 tapes on a $25 player before it dies, that's only 25 cents per movie. I went back to the Salvation Army thrift store and bought another player, this time only $7. It was DOA, the same snow and noise. So I asked the local Wal-Mart, and yes they had a combo tape-DVD player for $75. I asked him to show it working on the library tape I brought with me, and he said no. But he did say I could bring it back if it didn't work. I got it home and discovered it had no video-out plug to connect to a TV, only for monitors. I suspect that's a consequence of them outlawing good TV broadcast. I took the player back and accepted my refund.

There is one other thrift store in town, so I drove by there to see what they had. They had a player missing its remote "downstairs" in their workroom. I have no use for a remote. We plugged it in and they brought out some tape which it played nicely. I paid their $10 and took it home. DOA, the same snow and noise, but with just a hint of sound in the background. That was the tape that had played tolerably the previous evening.

It seemed to me improbable that four VCR players would all die the same way overnight -- or in this case in less than an hour. It must be environmental: my house is toxic to the player. Or the tape, or both. What's different between my house and the thrift store workroom? Perhaps the fact that I have been keeping the air conditioning off. It's been raining all week, so I open the windows in the early morning and use the ceiling fan to pull the cooler outside air in and replace the warmer inside air. The humidity is awful. I remember noticing that humidity made floppy disks unreadable 25 years ago. Apparently the mylar they make the media from stretches in one direction only, making the otherwise circular recording tracks oval, so the head could not track. Tape is linear, but the timing precision could be at the edge of its tolerance. Air conditioning precipitates the humidity out of the air, so I turned up the A/C in my bedroom (the only room small enough so a window unit can effectively cool it) and carried a couple tapes and the $7 player in to cool off and dehumidify overnight. When I tried the cooled tape on the $10 player still out on the counter, the video loss was more blocky (but still no image), and there was scratchy sound. Theory confirmed. I put the tape into the cooled player and got an actual image with a complete loss of vertical hold (so bad I could not tell what I was seeing), but after I fast-forwarded to the end and rewound it, it played.  At first the image was doubled vertically, but viewable; pretty soon it cleared up and the rest of the movie played well.

Not that it was a good movie. It was one of those airplane disaster movies, where the heroine was a complete idiot. Over and over, she kept doing really stupid things. Stupid is not entertaining. Somehow that seemed appropriate to the circumstances of its playing. I tried the second tape, but the humidity had already gotten to it. I guess the cost of watching library videos has just gone up. sigh

This morning nothing played. The window A/C unit refuses to pump when the temperature outside drops cooler than it is inside. Apart from the humidity, it makes more sense to run the fan in such cases. All four players could get scratchy sound on one tape, but only the $10 unit gave a barely visible black&white image, on alternate frames against snow that mostly obscured all but the most contrasty scenes. There weren't enough of those for me to follow the story. The other players apparently had the same problem but much faster, so it covered the screen with small blocks of snow alternating with image, rolling around so you couldn't see anything at all. So I'm back to downloads if I'm going to watch anything today. If the weather doesn't warm up -- rain is projected for the next week; the Missouri locals say "If you don't like the weather, just wait" -- I may have to return most of these tapes without seeing them.

2010 June 28 -- Thinking Clearly

This month's issue of WIRED magazine (already off the shelves) has an interesting article on what web surfing is doing to our ability to think. Extracted and adapted from his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr reviews several published research projects, each of which conclude in their own way that the multitasking ability that net browsing develops significantly interferes with people's ability to think in depth.

I tracked down some of his references. Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA's Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, says the "Internet is rewiring our brains." Patricia Greenfield, also of UCLA (primary document inaccessible, but read about it here) says "Every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others." Stanford communication professor Clifford Nass and his colleagues found that "heavy media multitaskers [a]re suckers for irrelevancy." Eyal Ophir, the study's lead author, said "We kept looking for what they're better at, and we didn't find it."

I am reminded of a study done in the late 1980s, when the Mac was the only WYSIWYG game in town, and PCs only ran DOS. Some students used Macs to prepare their assignments, and some used typewriters or PCs. The Mac-based papers were consistently lower quality in reasoning and presentation, apparently because the student attention was diverted to irrelevant issues like fonts and formatting. PowerPoint accessories to sermons in church seem to have the same problem.

Not so long ago I noticed that when people want to sell you a bad idea, they prefer you watch a video, so that you cannot analyze the data at a thinking speed. Carr cited some research (which I could not verify) to the effect that embedded videos reduced the retension and deep understanding in the research subjects, as compared to linear text.

I thought it curious that opposite each page of the WIRED article was a full-page ad promoting some vendor's idea of digital medical records. I hope my doctor doesn't use their product, but of course our President-Trainee has made the conversion to digital records a requirement in his Obaminable healthcare law. sigh

On the positive side, the demise of people able to concentrate on complex problems and work out a deep solution makes my skills all the more valuable. If I can persuade people to buy my skills.

2010 June 26 -- The Diversity Lie

My savings are inadequate to sustain me for the rest of my life expectancy, and being disinclined to support the welfare politics of our current President-Trainee and his ilk, I need to find gainful employment. So I have been sending out resumes to every college and university posting a need for faculty with my qualifications. "It's the economy, stupid," as the popular phrase went (again, due to the politics of our current President-Trainee and his predecessor clone), so they have far more applicants to choose from than usual. This week, for the first time, I made it onto somebody's short list, and they scheduled an on-campus interview.

The college claims to have a "Christian heritage" by which I suppose they mean that at one time in the distant past they actually supported Christian values, and they still maintain some kind of "voluntary" relationship with a mainline denomination which has also strayed pretty far from its Christian roots. Many colleges require applicants to respond in writing to the college Mission or Statement of Faith; it's a reasonable request, and necessary for them to maintain their corporate identity in a tenure-based system. Upon reading their Mission statement it became pretty clear to me that I was not a very good fit, but composing my response gave me the opportunity to rethink how my values should be reflected in such an environment. Several years ago I had to come to terms with the ethics of serving an employer whose values I do not share, which I blogged here. The response I composed for this interview reaffirmed my intention and ability to serve my employer's stated agenda in good conscience.

The dean called yesterday, before seeing my response, and cancelled the interview. He said that he had been following the links on my website and determined that there were "irreconcilable differences" between my "deeply held values" and those of his college community. He declined to identify which specific "value" he thought irreconcilable.

I have only one deeply held value, Truth, and by immediate inference, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who is Truth made visible. What he commands, I must do unconditionally. It is by God's command I serve whatever employer has bought my time, to the best of my ability and subject only to God's Law and the law of the land. When the (potential or actual) employer is unwilling to disclose the reason for his decision to terminate, it is because he is hiding something, most likely a corporate agenda at odds with God's Law and/or the law of the land. Refusing to say gives him the apparent protection of deniability.

By the nature of the case it can only be a guess, but I suspect the problem lies in the word "diversity". Any claim to seek "diversity" is inherently a lie. The people who use that word do not want true diversity, but only a pablum of undifferentiated spineless clones differing only in their personal history but not in their actual beliefs. People who actually believe something diverse -- and live their beliefs -- are unwelcome. Diverse people make the vanilla clones uncomfortable. I do that to people. I don't much approve of people telling me what my deeply held values can or cannot do, because usually it's a cover lie for their own values and inabilities. This was no exception.

I disclosed to him in the telephone interview, before the on-site visit was scheduled, that I might be too religious for their taste. I don't think that was the problem. Actually it was, but through a secondary implication, which took him a while to figure out. My politics are too radical for their (unstated) corporate left-wing bigotry. They cannot handle the diversity. We both know it, and the parting was amicable.

2010 June 24 -- Maps

I have always been pretty good at reading maps. I recall the time many decades ago, I was in a tour group in London and the leader got lost. I told him if I had a map, I could get us there. There was a bookstore on a nearby corner, so I went in and bought a map of the city, located on it a curious semi-circular park across the street, then told him, "Go that way." I became the navigator for the rest of the trip. I have a dozen or so maps of cities and obscure towns across Europe as mementos of that trip.

Today everybody uses GPS so dead-tree maps are hard to find. Maps are getting hard to find on the internet, too.

The first time I used an electronic map was 10 years ago, looking at the neighborhoods near colleges where I was going for a job interview. MapQuest was all there was, and it worked great. Then they got some competition, and the quality of their product went through the floor. Or maybe they decided to monetize the service by adding ad viruses. In any case, their maps no longer penetrate my firewall. I also have in my dead bookmarks file, a link to Yahoo maps. I don't remember, but apparently they worked for a while too. No longer.

Most of the last five or so years I used Google maps. Google is the only search engine that still works without requiring virus technology, and their maps were also pretty easy to use. Not this week. Everything Google except their search engine is now off-limits to my firewall. I have little hope for the search engine lasting very much longer. My Google map bookmark link drops me into "Google Mobile" where it does tiny postage-stamp maps with no detail and are very hard to navigate.

The place I'm going in another state next week is right off an interstate, but there is no direct connection from here to there. There are state highways everywhere, but my USA map does not show most of them. Taking the interstate could add a couple hours and a half-tank of gas to the trip.

I finally found driving instructions to my destination on a Rand-McNally site. At least Google found that for me (on the second page of links, all the earlier hits being non-functional). The trip doesn't do much on the interstate, so my chances of picking up a free map at a "Welcome Center" near the state line is miniscule. Gas stations used to carry maps, but I haven't seen one there in years. I guess all the frequent drivers use GPS. If I travelled more, I probably would too. sigh

2010 June 22 -- Ender

I finished reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card a couple weeks ago. He's a Mormon, so there's no cussing and no overt sex -- not even covertly implied sex -- but the more I think about it, the more I realize there's a moral problem with his story every bit as serious  as the cussing and sex that make other novels unpalatable: his hero is a murderer, and that's what made him a hero in the story. OK, the other guy attacked first each time, but Ender didn't stop when he won the fight, he kept on thrashing the guy when he was down.

I guess what disturbs me about this scenario (repeated in the story in several contexts, always with approval by the authorities) is how close I came to a similar scenario, but with a different outcome. The situation is real. Bullies attack weaker people. I was on the receiving end of bullying when I was in (public) high school. I didn't fight back. I didn't know how. Instead I stayed away from the bullies.

Bullying is not limited to kids in the education factories. It happens all the time in the movies. I cringe all over. I cannot identify with the hero who fights back and beats the tar out of the bad guy who started the fight. Jesus said, "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." I'm not sure I can do that, but it's certain I cannot resist. So I run away.

The story ends with Ender feeling guilt over his final heroic thrashing. Maybe the author felt the moral dilemma. Our local library doesn't have the sequel, so it's on order through inter-library loan; I'm hoping for some redemption. However, Mormons don't really understand the Biblical message of grace, so maybe he can't work it into the story. We shall see.

2010 June 18 -- Moishe Rosen

Last month Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, passed into his eternal reward.

Some thirty years ago I got on their mailing list, and noticed that of all the parachurch organizations who send me newsletters, his was the most insightful and eloquent, so it always went to the top of my reading list. Eloquence does not necessarily translate into ministry effectiveness, but they have a pretty awesome mission statement too:

We exist to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.
There's nothing in there about "converting" Jews, only God does that. But people trying to evade God's call find it harder when somebody is there calling attention to Him.

My income is substantially less now than it was in the past, so I have less from which to make donations to these ministries. The unavoidable result is that fewer of them still send me their mailings. Jews for Jesus is still at the top. It took a while for their current director David Brickner to come up to speed in his monthly comments, and he may never sparkle like Moishe, but the ministry does well under his leadership. That's more important than eye candy.

2010 June 15 -- Legalism

It's a curious word. The dictionary defines it as strict observance of the letter of the law, but I've only heard it in religious contexts as a criticism. The word is not in the Bible, and nobody ever admits to being a legalist.

When you look at the usage of the word "legalism" or its adjective cognate "legalist", it quickly becomes obvious that its function in the sentence is to rank people otherwise than by merit or grace. Jesus said "If you love me, you will keep my commands." The people who love Jesus keep his commands, and the other people, the ones who don't love Jesus so much, they call the first category "legalists." So after you do the analysis, the word simply means "loves Jesus more than I do."

Of course people don't really want to admit that, so they fish around for a suitably pejorative way to say it. Paul's letter to the church in Galatia seems like a likely candidate. In this epistle, the Apostle spells out a long list of do's and don'ts that good Christians are expected to live up to.  People don't like to be told what to do, so they ignore the specifics and capitalize the theme, which is in reference to the one item Paul did not add to his list: Jewish ceremonial law, notably circumcision. Circumcision, Paul tells us, does not save us from our sins, and it does not make us better Christians after we have arrived. To argue otherwise is anathema. All the other do's and don'ts cannot save us either, but they are good evidence that we were saved by the blood of Jesus, and therefore we love Jesus. Paul doesn't say all that here, he says it in Romans. Taking Paul's teaching together as a whole, we see that living a life pleasing to God by obedience to the (non-ceremonial, non-Jewish) moral Law of God is the essence of loving Jesus. Rejecting all those "legalistic" do's and don'ts means something else.

From time to time I seem to offend people by the notion that the Bible is not a book of suggestions. They call me a legalist. I wear the badge with honor.

See also: A previous post on the same topic

2010 June 5 -- Keyboard Woes

My keyboard died on me. In the past, a key would occasionally get stubborn, but after a day or so, it would come back. This week the hyphen key started getting stubborn, then doubling up. Then it stopped working at all. The Enter key, which I use all the time, started doubling up (two strokes for each press), then it quit working too. Then the left bracket key started failing.

Fortunately, I still had the keyboard that came with the computer. Unfortunately, there's still the reason I immediately replaced it. It seems that people only want aircraft carrier keyboards these days. It's a known fact that the more choices you have, the longer it takes to pick one. Steve Jobs had an awesome insight when he made the original Mac keyboard to have only the keys you need. He had a lot of very good insights with that system, but being the best does not necessarily translate into market success. The American mentality is "bigger and better" -- even when bigger is not better. Ten years ago I found a bunch of cast-off Apple keyboards for a cheaper system, and snapped one up. It's still clumsy (which I mostly solved by popping off and discarding the F-key caps), and being it was intended for a cheaper system that was meant to sell the aircraft carriers as an after-market high-profit upgrade, it wore out faster. At least the Enter key was reasonably close to where my hands are; on this one it's at the other end of the carrier. The backspace key, which on previous (better quality) keyboards was at the corner of the keyboard where I could find it by feel, on this monstrosity it's buried somewhere in the middle, so I'm forced to take my eyes off the screen and go hunt for it every time. I tried finding a good 3rd-party keyboard, but nobody sells them. It seems that aircraft carriers are a status symbol or something.

2010 May 31 -- "B" as in "Badly Botched" Movie

This has to be the B- of B movies, apparently a remake of H.G.Wells' War of the Worlds, dated 2005 (but not the Spielberg/Cruise flic with the same date). The first hint of low quality should have been on the dust jacket, "GUARANTEED SUPERIOR QUALITY" which if they have to say so, it usually means it isn't obvious. Like the only software that needs onerous protection measures is the junk that isn't worth stealing. However, I first noticed the problem when the carriage rides -- this was placed around a hundred years ago in England, complete with British accents and period clothes, a sort of alternative history -- sort of swayed back and forth in perfect time like a metronome or one of those kiddie rides that used to adorn the front of business establishments who didn't want children screaming up and down their aisles. The heads in those shots all had that funny sparkly edge around them that's a dead give-away for blue-screen background-added-later we learned to recognize in Topper and other "invisible man" flicks. The ships in the sea similarly left no wake and had no sailors visible; they could have been cardboard mockups or (more likely) a cheap digital animation.

The monsters and their machines were also obviously done on the cheap: they floated and bounced with their dangling legs or tentacles barely touching and sliding across the ground, like sprites in a cheap video game. They looked for all the world like marionettes on strings, and sure enough, the credits did list several puppeteers. I think H.G.Wells did describe the machines as "tripods" but there are some laws of physics that make tripod walking clumsy or impossible. It was obvious. Modern robots either work to mimic human bipedalism -- which is a very tricky balance consisting of throwing your weight to the other leg long enough to pick up your foot and move it to the new position, while the other leg begins to throw your weight back just as this foot lands -- or else a much more stable hexapod, so that you always have a stable three legs supporting the vehicle while the other three legs are being repositioned. It was also unclear how those huge machines with no obvious joints in their very long legs managed to come out of the relatively small entry hole in the lander "cylinder" less than half its size.

The most devastating quality (or rather, lack thereof) in this flick was the characterization, especially of the clergy, which it portrayed incessantly and consistently as greedy, cowardly idiots. Government payroll naturally draws the worst of humanity, but it's really hard for people to be as bad as these blokes. The producer's website claims this is the only War of the Worlds movie that is true to the author's book, and indeed much of the voice-over seemed to be reading from the book text. I do not know if H.G.Wells was personally so hostile to the church, but the book text is at least not so tedious in its portrayal. It spoiled the movie.

I watch a lot of B movies lately -- they are the only ones bad enough for people to donate them to the library, or else for the owners to let the copyright expire so they can be uploaded to for free download -- and many of them are not all that bad, but don't waste your time on this one.

2010 May 26 -- Marketing

The store had a promo, Ritz "Toasted Chips" which boasted "55% less fat than the leading regular fried potato chips." As they say, figures don't lie but liars figure.

These turned out to be nothing like potato chips. In fact, they tased like, and seemed to be irregular-shaped Ritz crackers, the kind we used to make mock apple pie from when I was a kid. Although not quite as greasy to touch as the regular Ritz, their fat content for a nominal 1-ounce serving was indistinguishable from the old crackers.

So how are they going to market these high-priced novelties? Sell them as faux-potato chips.

Sometimes I think the American people have been sold ObamaCare under the same bait-and-switch strategy. It's the same old socialism that destroyed the (now former) Soviet Union, but let's say it solves the spiralling costs of health care. It's a lie, but by the time they bought it and opened the package, it will be too late to go back for a refund.

2010 May 17 -- Missing Children

It's a missionary-minded church. It has been supporting this missionary for some 30 years. He had more than 50 pictures of his ministry, people in churches he started, indigenous pastors, buildings going up, himself preaching. But something was missing.

During the question period, one of the ladies in back noticed. "I didn't see any children. What about camp?" Other missionaries come through this church with stories of hundreds of children attending Bible camp and getting saved. Many of them start a new mission with children's Bible classes (aka Sunday School). They tell us that ministry to children brings in the parents. This guy doesn't do Bible camp. He said little or nothing about Sunday School.

His firey sermon bemoaned the lack of vision among the people, so few people willing to become preachers. Several of his startup churches had to close down because nobody was interested.

Am I the only person to notice? 90% of the people who become Christians do so as a child. Maybe he has trouble finding indigenous pastors because he's not getting to the people young enough.

When I was church-shopping a few years ago, I visited every conservative church in town -- and a few not-so-conservative ones too. Most of them, the congregants had a median age in their 60s; often I (no spring chicken) was the youngest person there. I picked a church that also had young people, college age singles and families with toddlers, the only one like it I found, because if there are no young people, the church will be dead when the old folks are.

2010 May 14 -- Leisure Reading

I finished reading all the Sherlock Holmes in the public library -- apparently there is more, but the library doesn't have it. It's a small town. In the later stories Sherlock was a little less patient with incompetence, but still remarkably polite. I suspect it's a Thinker/Feeler distinction I'm seeing here. Although MBTI had not yet been invented, Doyle and his fictional detective were both hard-core Thinkers. Most writers, however, are Feelers. As noted in my VenusMars essay, Feelers tend to find insults even where none is intended. It was a woman in the audience who thought that of Sherlock (women are more often Feelers).

I once heard attributed to C.NorthCote Parkinson, whose fame extends to (but not past) Parkinson's Law, a second aphorism: "The most effective form of denial is delay." It was said that somebody asked Parkinson if he could explain this principle, and his reply, "Yes. Tomorrow." I thought this a great insight, but was never able to confirm its attribution, so when I found a book titled Parkinson's Law by none other than Parkinson himself as I cherry-picked my late father's library, I snatched it up. The guy wrote like a pompous bureaucrat, and I doubt this later attribution is correct. In any case, I read through the book and did not find it.

Among my late mother's effects were a couple books of Spanish and Latin American short stories, which I also snapped up before sending the rest off to charity. I started reading the second one after finishing Parkinson. It turned out to be dual-language, with the original Spanish on the left, and an English translation on the right. I spent a few years of my childhood in South America, but never studied Spanish formally in school after that, so I was astonished to discover that I could read and understand the whole first story in Spanish, with only a half-dozen or so words I did not know. The second story, which purports to be a beggar/thief telling his life story, is much more difficult and erudite Spanish, so the going is much more difficult. There is a complete vocabulary in the back, along with extensive notes explaining the place names, obscure allusions, and difficult grammar, and I can always just look across the page to the English translation, but it's slow going and not so much fun as the first. As elsewhere, the English translator often took liberties with the text, capturing the intended meaning but not necessarily the exact words and flavor. Good translators do that, nevermind the promo given to the NASB Bible translation and its ilk.

This week I decided to go back to reading sci-fi, and asked the librarian to help me find some. The local library bought their computer system from the same vendor where I got my PCs, so of course it's sometimes nonfunctional. But the librarian went over to the new books rack and pulled a couple off. It seems they have blue stickers on the spine to designate the genre as sci-fi. So I'm reading Live Free or Die by John Ringo. I'd never heard of the author, and it was published earlier this year, but he seems to be a very good author. Unlike many wishful authors, he understands people. The story line is a little incredible, something like many of the hero stories where the hero is capable of incredible feats of skill and daring -- that's "incredible" as in "unrealistic" -- but I suspect that's what people buy escape lit for: they want to imagine being in a life better than their present "quiet desperation."

One of the remarkable features of this book is a line repeated a couple times, which I previously only heard from my father when I was in college, but repeated several times myself in a similar context: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who can't teach..."

Another was the hero's astonishing temerity in dealing with terrorists in the story. A couple months ago I commented on how 24 portrayed the President of the USA as unrealistically negotiating with terrorists. Ringo's President is in a similar bind, but without the ability to do anything about it other than complete capitulation; his hero, however, has the cojones (his word) to risk total annihilation -- to win. The insight he offers is that by presenting the lives of millions of people as being without value to himself, he took them off the bargaining table and they ceased to be hostages in the negotiation. Fifteen years ago I received the compliment that I was "a tough negotiator" precisely because I determined ahead of time exactly what I was willing to walk away from -- and then did. It's the same principle. I guess that's why I like this book so far (I'm only a quarter through it). I probably wouldn't deport myself as this guy did, but he's a Thinker, and I can empathize. That's the nature of escape lit.

I didn't read all the Amazon reviews, but one of them suggests that the front half of this book is better than the back. We shall see.

2010 May 10 -- An Alternative to ObamaCare that is Not Evil

This is essentially a link to my new proposal, the People's Choice Health Care plan.

We could do it immediately, if Congress had the backbone to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with something better.

I wish.

2010 May 6 -- Debating ObamaCare

I have never personally met anybody in favor of ObamaCare. Until a couple months ago, I did not have any reason to believe such a person even exists. Even our President-Trainee and his lap-dogs in Congress who voted and signed it into law carefully exempted themselves from its obligations.

Shortly after ObamaCare became the law of the land, my friend in Texas put me in email contact with one of his former high-school classmates, who apparently supports the fiasco. Let's call him "Steve" in deference to his limitations. I say "apparently" because it is not clear that he really understands what this law has foisted off on the country. Steve's wife, whose own views on the topic were never clearly disclosed, is much smarter. She recognized immediately that he could not possibly win any open debate on the subject, and like any good wife protecting her husband from the rigors and risk of public combat, put the kebosh on his participation.

So I still do not know of anybody who really and honestly thinks ObamaCare is a good idea.

But I also don't know very many people who really understand what a BAD idea it is.

The "Tea Party" faction made a lot of noise when it was passed, but they are merely a diffuse aggregate of greedy individuals seeking lower taxes in a country whose tax rate is already one of the lowest in the world. Media pundits mostly agreed that Tea Partiers will not and cannot convert their general grumpiness into political action next November.

The people most immediately harmed by the new law -- low-income people like myself whose tax rates will substantially increase four years from now when the conscience penalty kicks in -- do not have the financial resources to fight the law and win in court.

After the new law has destroyed the quality of medical care in this country and made a mess of the economy, it will be largely too late to fix it -- even if anybody has the vision to understand who the culprit really is, and the political fortitude to effect the necessary changes.

The problem is socialism. Some of the people who voted ObamaCare into law (and many of the public who elected them) are open and admitted socialists.

The National Socialist ("Nazi") Party of Germany differed from the politics of the (now former) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in few and insignificant ways. Both systems imagined that the wisdom and benevolence of a central government exceeded that of individuals motivated to look out for their own interests. Both systems imagined that the people in their party leadership were superior to other human beings, but only the Nazis set out actively to exterminate what they supposed were the inferior races; the Soviets were either too smart or too cowardly to attempt it. Both systems have received the just reward of their policies, which is extinction.

The National Socialist (otherwise and inaccurately  known as "Democratic") Party in the USA mostly shares the agenda of those two former and failed progenitors. Their public policies include the genocidal destruction of "inferior" races through targeted abortion (blacks and hispanics have always been targeted for a higher kill rate, a policy quietly but still supported by party leadership), and now (with ObamaCare) the withholding of medical care from the weak and infirm as Obama is already trying to do through the scourge of MediCare.

Most important, socialists wrongly believe that the inequalities of wealth between the haves and the have-nots can be corrected by taxation and redistribution. ObamaCare explicitly purports to do that. What really happens -- and history confirms -- is much more subtle.

What happens is that the whole economy sinks to a new low: many of the lower middle class join the poor in their poverty. A few of the rich -- mostly those in the power structure, now including government officials (see Obama income) -- stay rich, but most of them sink to formerly upper middle class levels or leave the country. Because they are no longer there creating and spending wealth, there is less money for the middle and lower classes to earn and spend. Jesus said "The poor you will have with you always." That's why the socialist vision is impossible. It's called the Law of Unintended Consequences.

But the economic consequences, evil as it is, is not what bothers me. It won't change my economic position much; other foolish laws have already done that. What offends me most about ObamaCare is the coercion. The Nazis in Germany and the Soviets in Russia forced their economic vision on everybody. Now ObamaCare does the same with health care. Obama promised last year,

No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.
It's in the law. But if they let you take advantage of the so-called "grandfather clause" then everybody will opt out of the system. They explicitly don't want that. So the law has a penalty tax. 2.5% may not seem like much, but it applies to otherwise untaxable income. Half the people in the USA (including me) did not earn enough money to pay income tax last year, but all of them (us) would be liable for the conscience penalty tax.

It gets worse. One of the things I noticed in my church's "prayer chain" is that almost all of the prayer requests are about health issues. People don't pray for what they believe they can do themselves. They don't ask for prayer that they might become more holy or virtuous, or that they might love their spouse more. Those are good things for God to do, but people don't ask for prayer to achieve that. But they do ask for prayers when they get sick. Why? Because God alone is in complete control of our health.

ObamaCare seeks to change that. Obama -- like all the socialist dictators before him -- wants the government to take over God's prerogatives. They want you to bow the knee (metaphorically only, of course) to Caesar.

Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." ObamaCare arrogates to Caesar that which is God's. The context when Jesus answered that question was the payment of taxes. Jesus said to pay the taxes because the money had Caesar's image on it. Our money still has Caesar's (now Washington's) image on it, so conscientious Christians everywhere pay their taxes -- even when they are unjust, as the case of the ObamaCare conscience penalty tax.

But it's EVIL.

It's a tax imposed on people for obeying God rather than man.

It's an excise tax on choosing not to buy a product, a tax on commerce that the law explicitly forbids being interstate and therefore under the Constitutional authority of Congress to impose it.

It's a retrogressive income tax that falls most heavily on the poorest of the nation, and on the people who choose not to benefit from the services the tax allegedly pays for.

It's EVIL in every way.

Can anyone honestly defend ObamaCare? Tell me: I really want to know

"Steve" later explicitly communicated (to a third party) his unwillingness to debate the issues. Like other people who know they are wrong, he tried to blame his withdrawal on me.

Bookmark this item

Other links:

Essay People's Choice Health Care: an alternative to ObamaCare that is not Evil
Essay "Health Insurance Is the Problem, Not the Solution"
Blog post, hospital administrator admits "I'm responsible"
My letter to President Obama
A Physician's perspective
A better solution, without raising taxes

Earlier this year
Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page