Tom Pittman's WebLog

Later this year

2012 July 30 -- Christian Fiction

"I never read Christian fiction. It's predictable, sugar-coated, preachy, and poorly written!"
So began one of the feature articles in the annual WORLD magazine summer books issue, earlier this month. That's pretty close to my opinion on the same topic. The author, Randy Alcorn, went on to argue that it may have been true 20 years ago, but not now. Two pages earlier was an extended review of three Alcorn novels, and while I thought his (non-fiction) book on Heaven was rather Relationshipistic, at least it was tolerably close to Biblical teaching, so I decided to give him a fair hearing.

The first hint of what I was in for came when I went to the library to check out the first of the trilogy. Their catalog showed they had the book, and it was in, but I could not find it on the shelves. The librarian explained, "It's in the Inspirational Fiction section." That was a bad omen. True to form, the book is predictable, sugar-coated, and preachy. Very preachy, with whole chapters set in a fictional Heaven modelled after Roman Catholic theology, complete with an ersatz Purgatory (he actually uses the word "purge" on p.141 in the same sense that it names Purgatory) and prayers offered up by the Saints already there. I started skipping over those chapters, as they were too fantastical and did not seem to contribute anything relevant to the rest of the story. There are also long monologues against abortion, which gets blamed for all the evils of his story. Maybe that's true, maybe not, but it's tiresome in a detective story.

Advice to new writers always includes the instruction to "write what you know." Alcorn is not a newspaper journalist, and it shows. Much of the text reads like right-wing political prejudices and a wish-list for how to solve the evils of the left-wing bigots controlling the media. I happen to agree with Alcorn's apparent politics, but his characterizations of the left-wing bigots are no more credible than their characterizations of us (which Alcorn accurately quotes and then debunks). It makes the suspension of disbelief in this story rather more difficult. The rampant Relationshipism is also grating, but you sort of expect that in "inspirational" fiction.

The predictable part is coming out, too. In "Christian" (in quotes, because it doesn't match the Biblical model) fiction the hero always starts out an unbeliever, and slowly -- never suddenlly, like the Apostle Paul, nor any of the Disciples or the conversions in Acts -- but he slowly becomes nicer and nicer, until pretty soon he says the Sinner's Prayer and becomes the Christian he was already living. At three-quarters of the way through, I have not yet gotten to his inevitable (predictable) conversion, but the jacket blurb assures me it's coming. Or maybe it was the review. Anyway, it's not a spoiler, the genre requires it. Already he's changed his old behavior and become more of a Good Person. Sound Christian theology says it doesn't happen that way, and as a pastor, Randy Alcorn should know better, but I think most readers and buyers of inspirational fiction -- Relationshipists all of them -- would find the story too incredible if he deviated too far from the "predictable, sugar-coated, preachy" formulaic model by having salvation happen suddenly.

In all fairness to the author, I intend to finish the book, but I doubt I will go back for its two sequels.
 

2012 July 25 -- The God Particle

If physicists didn't sound so smart, you'd swear they were making half this stuff up.
It's the opening line of an article deemed so important that TIME brought in senior writer Jeffrey Kluger to write it. And he's more right than he would want to admit: They really are making this stuff up! But his education is in law, not science, so he doesn't know that the essence of science really is making this stuff up -- and then trying to prove they got it wrong. Sometimes the scientists and other people think they are really trying to prove they got it right, but they can't. All they can do is discover that the real world does not work the way their theories say it should.
But when something really big happens, all that can change.
That's when science happens. The theories change. Failing to discover that the theories are wrong is also doing science, but it's boring. It doesn't prove much of anything. It doesn't make headlines.

But this article is interesting, not for the science, but for the religious overtones that pervade it.

There's a strange mixing of faith and physics in all this.
Of course modern physicists must be very careful to display only atheistic faith in public, but modern physics got its start with open Christians. No other worldview makes any sense of it. If you really believed there is no god, then nothing has any meaning, there are no rules, and there is no physics to discover. If you have a small god (like the one whose name is usually spelled with an "A"), then his universe is small and simplistic, and there is no need for bosons.

I think the real God created the universe with all this complexity just to give the atheists something to wonder about, so on Judgment Day "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall have them in derision." [Psalm 2:4]
 

2012 July 21 -- Army Suicides

The cover story in this week's TIME magazine features the growing epidemic of suicides in the Army. The chart they offered showed the other services pretty flat, but the Army rate took off when we entered Iraq, and is high enough now that more people died (in active service) by suicide than in battle in Afghanistan.

I have a young friend at church who is planning to enter the Army later this year. For a while he was reluctant to do so because of Obama. That suggests to me that the problem might be the same thing we had in VietNam, where the nation did not support the soldiers. The TIME chart did not show suicide rates during the VietNam war, but I wonder. The left-wing bigot media in this country was very hostile to our engagement in Iraq, and with Obama's pledge to get out (leaving a mess very much like VietNam), the soldiers could very well feel unappreciated for their risks and efforts. Of course TIME is not about to take credit for the damage they (and their favorite Prez) did and continue doing, and I don't have access to the relevant statistics.
 

2012 July 18 -- Apes & TV

I've been a member of the IEEE (a professional association) for some 35 years now. I joined in order to qualify for membership on the then-new Microprocessor Standards Committee, which supervised international standards for floating point (the arithmetic logic in every new computer made today, 754) and a variety of computer interfaces like FireWire. I was on the original draft committee for 754, but that's another story.

Anyway, the IEEE sends out a house organ magazine every month, and I mostly look at the cover then pile them up unread. This month was different. The cover story shows a bonobo great ape playing with a tablet computer and a teaser about apes learning to talk. I suspected a bunch of Darwinist hooey -- and it's there, but less pronounced than I expected -- plus a mostly anecdotal story about apes learning abstract visual symbols for words, then constructing sentences from them. The author mentioned the criticism that the apes are only responding by conditioned reflex, but did not offer any rigorous disproof of it. "How do you get an ape to pee?" the veterinarian wanted to know. "Well, you could just ask him," the researcher said, and pointed to the "lexigrams" (symbols representing words) for pee and please. The ape went and found a plastic cup and returned with a specimen. We are not told enough to know whether that's a learned response or true understanding. I doubt they know, because (as the article pointed out) there are so few bonobos alive in the world; a rigorous double-blind test would be hard to pull off.

Earlier in the same issue is an article on "smart TVs" that merge the capabilities of smart-phone apps, so that they can watch what your choices are and offer "intelligent" guesses at what you want to watch next. I think it works because people who spend a lot of time watching TV appear to be no smarter than the bonobos, or the TV itself. If a really smart TV watched my viewing habits, it would offer to turn itself off. The library has several TV series on DVDs, and I tried one or two before refusing to even see the first episode of the rest. The TV I inherited from my mother died last week -- just a single bright line across the middle -- but I won't be replacing it. I've seen most of the library movies, and I can watch DVDs on my computer. Besides, I blame my recent weight gain on too many movies (and salad). I'm trying to cut back, and be less like the apes.
 

2012 July 12 -- Balance

It's not often I get such honest feedback -- especially from Christians. Usually I must figure it out the hard way, by the investment method (see my BS Detector). People will not invest their own personal resources in a lie, but the hot air to speak a lie is essentially zero cost. Liars abound -- especially in the churches -- but investors are much harder to find.

I wrote this novel (Lazir). I think four people were willing to read it. Two of them told me honestly that they hated the ending. I sort of expected that. It's a Christian ending, not a feel-good Churchified ending. I did not expect the anger they displayed, but in my experience, that's the only way you can get most Christians to tell the truth. Another guy "Dan" said he was hoping for a sequel. I guess that's a sanitized way to say he hated the ending. My sister refused to say anything meaningful about it at all. But I can't change it, it's not my story.

I did, however, try to learn from the experience. My next attempt starts with a short Biblical text (one verse in Genesis), then builds a completely fictional account around it. I still feel the constraint of Scripture, and the ending is sort of the same, but I can tone it down some. I did that. Only two people were willing to read it. Dan gave me some feedback, and I was able to improve the text based on his comments, but they were little things. Two more people started, but then apparently stopped. "Nancy" keeps promising to get to it, but she doesn't. It's not worthy of her investment. It's feedback, but rather nonspecific. I finally nudged "Pete" this week in an aside to another topic, and he said he had finished reading it. It's Pete's critique that got my juices flowing.

I think Pete is the only person I know, other than myself, who is an unadulterated Christian Thinker. My new novel isn't worth reading. But even Pete's honesty has been corrupted by the Christian dishonesty all around us. He had to end with an (sort of) affirming encouragement:

I think you should keep writing until publishable books start emerging.
What he did not say, but it's the raw truth, is that people don't want to read books with true Christian values. He came close when he admitted that the "challenge was and is how to create characters that readers would care about at all." I think therein is the reason nobody reads their Bible. God has not written a book with characters that readers would care about at all. We should care about them, but mostly we don't.

I thanked Pete for his honest assessment, and then got to thinking. Is it possible to write fiction that people want to read, which does not portray characters dishonestly? I couldn't do that in Lazir, but it wasn't my story. I had more freedom in Tubal, but they were real people. I'm not going to lie about their life. Fictionalized, but realistic. The trouble is, it's boring. It's less boring when everything there is to say about a guy is in one sentence, one verse of the Bible, but that's not a novel.

So thank you, Pete, but I wonder if "publishable books" (meaning, readers are willing to invest their money to buy them, and their time to read them) will ever start emerging. I don't know if I can can do it honestly. I'm trying to find some kind of balance here, but I have not yet succeeded.

I watched the 1972 Winter Olympics on TV. Mostly I have not been in a place to do that (no TV, and/or better things to do with my time), but that year I particularly recall the Grand Slalom. Some skiers were in perfect form, every turn neatly executed. Others were completely out of control, and spilled out long before they reached the bottom. Pretty soon I was able to predict which ones would make it to the bottom after seeing their first two or three turns. One guy was remarkable: you knew he was going to lose it, arms and legs flailing on every turn. But he actually made it to the bottom still standing up. He won the gold medal. There is a fine line between boring on the one side, and spilling out on the other. The winner is the guy who gets closest to the line without crossing it.

A car race works the same. You want your engine to blow up just as you cross the finish line. If it blows too soon you won't finish at all, but if the engine is still running at the end, you could have pushed it harder. They tell me pro basketball is starting to look like hockey, with players pushing the edge of fouls without getting called. Businesses do that with ethics ("just don't get caught"), which is why "Chinese junk" is no longer a descriptor of an oriental sailing vessel. Honest business owners aren't only boring, they are bankrupt.

The novelist whose characters are not realistic has spilled out. He has not told the truth. We all know about the boring ones. I seem to be there. In software development I run rather closer to the edge. I have spilled out a few times. I got fired for taking a risk (I was a little too honest in that case: the Christians don't want truth, they want affirmation).

Balance.
 

2012 July 9 -- Judas Obaminus

1. Barack Obama lied to the American people.
"If you make under $250,000, you will not see your taxes increase by a single dime."
The deceptively-named Affordable Care Act not only raises taxes on honest American people, it does so at a higher rate on low-income people than it does for the very rich. A person with $9501 "adjusted gross income" in 2016 (when the tax bite is fully phased in) will pay $695 in new tax to the IRS, a whopping 7.3% of their income. Absent ObamaCare, that same person would pay the IRS $0. A middle-income person earning $28,000 or more (up to about $250,000) would pay at a much lower 2.5% rate. The very rich, for example earning $6 million or more that year, would pay a miniscule one tenth of a percent (0.1% or less) in added ObamaCare tax. Of course each of these people can avoid the tax entirely by spending more money than the tax on insurance they cannot use and don't want. Or by being an American Indian, or belonging to one of the religions unConstitutionally established by the new law. People can also evade the tax by having less than $9500 in income.

But Obama promised to raise taxes only on the very rich; he said low- and middle income people unconditionally would not see a tax increase. I have a college degree in mathematics, and by no math I know of is $695 (or $6000) in new taxes less than "a single dime."

When the Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare is a Constitutional new tax, President-Trainee Obama did not say "Oops," he did not say he changed his mind, he took credit for the law and his campaign people are still trying to lie about the new tax.

2. Obama wants to invade your privacy.

This one is curious, because it is usually the left-wing bigots who complain most about the government intrusion on personal privacy. Obviously excepting when they want to do it. From the so-called "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act":

The Secretary may, as the Secretary determines appropriate, incorporate reporting requirements and incentive payments related to the physician quality reporting initiative (PQRI) under section 1848, including such requirements and such payments related to electronic prescribing, electronic health records, and other similar initiatives... [p.279]

The Secretary shall provide for the coordination of relevant Federal health programs to build data capacity for comparative clinical effectiveness research, including the development and use of clinical registries and health outcomes research data networks, in order to develop and maintain a comprehensive, interoperable data network to collect, link, and analyze data on outcomes and effectiveness from multiple sources, including electronic health records. [p.622]

There's more gobbledy-gook that's even harder to understand. Google "ObamaCare requirement electronic prescription" to see what the doctors who have to do this stuff think of it. They are not happy. You shouldn't be either. It sounds optional, but that's the government's option, not yours or your doctor's. Your doctor is required to send in electronic form all your medical information to a central database, where it is available to every government bureaucrat in the country, and to every "doctor" in the world, and incidentally to every corrupt politician and computer hacker and thief in the world (especially those bad guys in Russia and China and the USA). Of course the data is "secure" (which means honest people are denied access). I have a PhD in computer science, I know. The "Patient Protection" part of this law's name is just as much a lie as the "Affordable" part.

If the data doesn't exist in a single national registry, then it cannot be easily accessed by corrupt politicians and thieves.

3. Obama's political party promotes racially-motivated genocide against people of African origin.

What we now know -- and have documented -- is that there is not one state in the union without [abortion] centers located in ZIP codes with higher percentages of blacks and/or Hispanics than the state's overall percentage. In fact, Hawaii is the only state that does not have facilities located in ZIP codes exceeding 125% of their overall percentage. Not only is this racial targeting widespread, its scale is often enormous. We found 42 states with family planning facilities in ZIP codes where the black and/or Hispanic populations exceeds 200% of the state's overall percentage. More telling is that these percentages routinely go far beyond even this level. Numerous states have facilities in ZIP codes that range from 250% to well over 1,000% and it is not uncommon for them to have facilities located in many such ZIP codes.
This is from a pro-life website, based on statistics from the abortionists themselves. Of course the killers don't like to be seen in this light, so they put their own spin on the numbers. But the fact is, they kill proportionally more black babies than white. Why would any black politician want to support that?

Why would any thinking American want a betrayer like Obama for President?

Not that Romney is much better. OK, a little better: He has repudiated his previous pro-death position, and he has more experience -- both in business (Obama has none, and it shows) and as the head of a large government. But "Robama" invented what became ObamaCare, and as far as I know, he has not repudiated his contribution to it. He says he wants to "repeal and replace" it, but with what? Another RomneyCare? I don't want that, do you?

Permalink (with notes)
 

2012 July 5 -- The Church of Darwin

I don't often feel the reward of people paying attention to me, so as to meaningfully change their behavior. Maybe this isn't one of them. Maybe it's just an idea whose time has come, and my letter had nothing to do with it. They didn't say. Some people need positive verbal affirmation but don't much care what you do behind their back; for me the effect is more important, and is its own reward.

A few weeks back the publisher of WORLD magazine Joel Belz ran in his regular front-page editorial a plea for readers to identify "in 25 words or less" just one issue "that you think is terribly askew in our culture today, and then were granted as a gift from God the ability to set that one issue right, what would it be?" Then he wanted to know how his magazine helped me come to that conclusion. I responded:

I think if everybody would recognize and acknowledge "secular" as the current (government-funded) establishment religion in this country in competition with Christianity and the other minorities, it would go a long way toward achieving a level playing field for people of all persuasions. That's an education issue, suitable for magazines like WORLD. Are you up to it? It's probably needless for me to say, WORLD's reporting has not helped much so far in promoting this perspective. The key distinction that we need to overcome is the false dichotomy between "science" = facts and "religion" = feelings, nevermind that most American Christians have bought into the lie. Darwinism (the religion) doesn't have any actual facts, and Christianity in particular should be firmly based on the historical facts of Creation and the Resurrection.
In the not-quite-current issue of WORLD, the back-page editorial (by editor Marvin Olasky) began by mentioning his visit to two New York City churches the previous Sunday, the second being "the Church of Darwin" otherwise known as the American Museum of Natural History. He then proceeded to describe the "perhapses and maybes" of some of the exhibits, which reveal the uncertainties within Darwinism. The MNH was being rather more honest than most Darwinists. But never before had anyone called it "the Church of Darwin" as I have been doing for several years now.

It may take a few years for this new awareness to enter the public conscience, but "abortion = murder" has achieved that goal over the last four decades, and this can too. The Supreme Court has already held that atheism counts as a religion, but the Darwinists are still supporting their religion from public funds, while denying a hearing for the alternative. This should stop.

For additional details on the false dichotomy, see my essays "What's Really Important" (the logical and scientific basis for Christian faith) and "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?"
 

2012 July 4 -- Unemployment vs Deficits

My friend "Peter" at church often has good sense, but he also has some really bogus ideas, so I need to check out what he says. This one is good. The chart on "Bush vs. Obama -- Unemployment Rates and Annual Deficits" is rather startling: unemployment tracks deficit spending, up and down through both Bush and Obama administrations. It's a right-wing website, but they cite government figures as the source (Google is not very helpful locating source data, so I was unable to verify the actual numbers). Note that while he had a Republican Congress, Bush went deficit only for the war effort, but it still tracked, so it's clearly the deficits that cause unemployment, not the other way around. Our current President-Trainee's economic policies are unmistakably a failure.
 

2012 July 2 -- Apealing to Caesar

My first reaction was Obama lied to the American People. Well, what else is new? Obama never stopped lying to the American people. One guy at church yesterday said "You can tell when Obama is lying: his lips are moving." That may be an exaggeration, but Obama's speech on his own website dated the day of the decision has at least one blatant falsehood:
First, when uninsured people who can afford coverage get sick, and show up at the emergency room for care, the rest of us end up paying for their care in the form of higher premiums.
Actually, if they can afford health insurance, then they can afford to pay their medical bills, and the hospital will go after them for payment -- and get it. It's the people who are on government-controlled MediCare -- and soon ObamaCare -- and the people who cannot afford insurance, whose medical expenses the rest of us will have to pay for in the form of higher medical costs. This was already true three years ago, and it's not going to get better. The people who cannot afford medical insurance today, most of them cannot afford it under ObamaCare either, but the Conscience Penalty Tax only applies to those of us who can afford medical care but not insurance. We get hit with increased costs plus a massive new tax burden.

I call it the "Conscience Penalty Tax" because it is imposed on responsible people who conscientiously pay their medical bills -- which is the only way to make health care affordable in this country (INSURANCE IS THE PROBLEM NOT THE SOLUTION) -- and don't spend other people's money on our own benefit because that is greedy and evil. There are people like that, but Obama wants to tax us out of existence.

A week ago I was hoping King SCOTUS would decide for common sense. They didn't.

Maybe the People will decide for common sense in November, and "throw the bums out." Or maybe they won't. We don't really have much choice, do we? The inventor of ObamaCare vs the perpetrator of it. Maybe the people will throw the bums out and replace them with a different set of bums, who won't or can't do it any better. I'm not overly hopeful.

Two years from now, when and if the Conscience Penalty Tax kicks in, I guess I will probably have to go to court and fight it. It's still a violation of the USA Constitution as written, but that doesn't mean much. The King gets to decide what the Constitution says and doesn't say, not the actual words on parchment. Roberts was right that it's a tax, and Congress can lay any taxes they want on the People for any reason they want. The 16th Amendment allows them to tax incomes in any way they like without restriction. Obama lied about who was going to bear the burden of his new taxes, which fall more heavily on middle- and low-income people, but Congress does have the right to tax us into oblivion.

But ObamaCare is in violation of the First Amendment to the USA Constitution, and King SCOTUS did not address that issue.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
ObamaCare is a law that Congress made, which respects and establishes some religions (for example the Amish) as exempt from punitive taxation -- make no mistake, this is intentionally a punitive tax: $695 tax on the first dollar I make over $9500 in 2016 (slightly lower tax in the previous two years) -- and prohibits the free exercise of other religions not so established, insofar as participants in those religions prefer to render unto God (and not to Caesar = Washington) the homage due only to God for our health care and the funds to pay for it. As a Christian, I am obligated to pay all taxes due, and I will pay the Conscience Penalty Tax, but as an American citizen I have a right to fight unjust and evil laws, and I will fight it so long as God gives me the ability. Or maybe I won't make enough money to owe the tax. Government meddling has done that to me too.

Hmm, I see I'm not alone in this complaint. Christian Science practitioners are up in arms too.

Additional remarks on ObamaCare (with links)
 

2012 June 26 -- Biblical Criticism

I have mentioned Biblical Archeology Review (BAR) in the past, and the editor's preference for anti-Christian scholars. The current issue has another one of these. It's worth mentioning because the position he advocates just won't go away. In his essay (you can read it online here) Ronald Hendel claims to be surprised that conservative scholars like Alvin Plantinga have such a low opinion of what he calls "critical Biblical scholarship." He shouldn't be. The debate is older than both of them put together. The only thing new is that the conservatives are beginning to do their homework, so we can no longer be dismissed out of hand as backwoods hicks. But they keep trying.

It seems to me that Ronald Hendel is guilty of the same sin he accuses in Alvin Plantinga, except that he has presupposed the opposite conclusion. He has a nice scholarly-sounding name for his presupposition, "methodological doubt" which he explains as refusing to "accept the conclusions of authorities or tradition but rather submits them to doubt."

When I apply this method rigorously to the data that lead Plantinga and Hendel to different conclusions, it takes me much closer to Plantinga's result than to Hendel's. I get a result resembling that of the critical scholars only by exempting one important authority from the method: the presupposition of an atheistic universe, in which God cannot or does not act in history.

Perhaps Hendel has a better explanation for this discrepancy, but I have personally observed in numerous philosophical discussions, when one party uses a term that has multiple and different definitions, one of them claimed by that person as definitive, the dialog tends to silently slip back and forth between the various senses of that word, where a syllogistic proof using one of the senses is taken as proof of the others. "Doubt" in this context is such a word, because it also means (particularly among the atheists) an unconditional rejection of deity. Thus the atheistic position appears to have already qualified as "methodological doubt" by (the other) definition, so its alternative is never given proper consideration within the method -- except by those who consequently end up as conservatives.

So yes, critical Biblical scholarship properly applied is useful -- at least once every five or ten years -- to remind us that the traditional method (which is faster than, in Plantinga's words as quoted, using nail scissors to cut your lawn) still gives correct results. But scholars who come up with the same answer year after year don't get published and don't get considered for prestigious professorships like Hendel's. I do not know if Plantinga did his homework or not, but his conclusions as reported by Hendel are consistent with having used the method correctly.

BAR is an excellent resource when it sticks to covering its namesake, Biblical archeology. But stay away from the nonsense offered on unrelated topics by people who hate the source of Biblical archeology.

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2012 June 22 -- Truth vs Propaganda

From time to time I get an email out of the blue, some guy offering "advice" on my analysis of Darwinism. They seldom tell me, but I'm guessing that they were Googling some search string like "evolution" and found one or more of my essays. Because Darwinism is a lie propagated by the established religion in America and elsewhere, feelings run high when it gets criticized. That's the nature of religion. If it were science, then all they'd have to do is show us the evidence, and the discussion would go away. Nobody argues gravity or a flat earth (except in fictional accounts of the so-called "Dark Ages"), because the evidence is repeatable and incontrovertible. Darwinists don't have that kind of evidence, and many -- perhaps most -- of them know it. I have been diligently looking for scientific (not hearsay, but peer-reviewed science) evidence in favor of the Darwinist hypothesis of descent from a common ancestor for some thirty years now, and I have not found any at all. None. If you believe such evidence exists and know where to find it, tell me about it.

Not many people are as open as I am to new evidence. I spent the first half of my life thinking Darwin was probably right, until somebody challenged me to look at the evidence. I looked. There isn't any, so I switched sides. I can switch back. Maybe people think that makes me an easy mark, but it's really quite the reverse. I have been looking for so long, and seen so many fraudulent answers, you need some good, real data to get past my increasingly robust BS Detector.

One sure sign of a lie is if the presenter is not interested in truth. If a person cares about what is true, they will try to tell you only the truth. If they have some other agenda, then their stories won't hang together. Truth is consistent with reality -- that's the best definition of truth -- including parts of reality that you or I don't yet know. Somebody who is unwilling to adjust their ideas to fit new data does not care about the truth, and therefore is probably lying about everything else too.

Anyway, these followers of the Darwinist religion seem to think me an easy convert -- I am! Just show me some science! -- but they are not interested in truth themselves. When it comes to "put up or shut up," they go away. They don't care about Truth, they just want me to shut up. Maybe they consider my ideas dangerous. Truth generally is dangerous to lies and liars.

This week's propagandist tried a novel tactic. He didn't try to argue any alleged facts of Darwinism (he saw my essay ;-) Instead he tried to convince me that linking Darwinism to atheism is offensive to Darwinist "Christians" [my quotes], including pretty much everybody in his country. Now I suppose it is possible for a true Christian (who loves God more than in name only) to also be a Darwinist temporarily, but the two religions are fundamentally in opposition. I have met people claiming such divided allegiance, but they can't really do it. They are like the Samaritans, who "feared the LORD but served the [other] gods." They say they are Christian, but they give preference to atheist dogma in any conflict. They love the friendship with this world and with the atheists in its power structures rather than friendship with God, which is life everlasting.

I explained some of this to the fellow. He didn't reply. Truth was not on his agenda. The feelings of other Christians probably was not either. I feel sorry for him.
 

2012 June 20 -- Physics vs Games

My regular readers know that WIRED magazine is not a reliable source of information, especially not science. I guess that is consistent with its being a reasonable window into the American pseudo-intellectuals, since among the world's industrial nations, the USA edu-factories scored dead last in teaching math and science.

Anyway, video games are a part of what WIRED magazine is all about, and I know a little of what makes video games good (see my essay on Tennis). So I read with interest the "Imagination Engine" article in the current WIRED. It turned out to be little more than an infomercial for the Unreal4 game engine. The 2-line author bio informs us that he has written about games in a previous issue. He may be qualified to write about games -- he may even be qualified to play them -- but he knows zip about the physics that make games playable or realistic, and therefore nothing about what makes a game engine like Unreal good or bad or mediocre.

The give-away was in the second paragraph:

Tall and thin, with hair slightly unkempt and glasses thick enough to focus sunlight into a lethal, ant-killing beam, Sweeney...
The editors were nice enough to show us a picture of Sweeney on the opposite page, thick glasses and all. His hair was neatly combed straight back, and his face, no bigger than a fingernail in the printed image, was turned slightly to one side, giving us a clear view of the refraction of his face through the glasses lens. They weren't very thick at all, and there's no way lenses like that would focus sunlight into any kind of beam. The author just made that part up. Maybe he invented the whole story out of nothing, except for the parts he cribbed from their press release. Or maybe that's invented too. Who knows? Once a person has started to lie to you, nothing he says can be trusted.

Even though the face in the picture is small, you can clearly see the edge of his face through the lens, and it is shrunken away from the edge seen below and above his glasses. These are negative diopter lenses, the kind worn by near-sighted people like me. Really thick negative diopter glasses (like mine) tend to show a white ring where the refraction is too great for the size of the lens in its frame, sort of like the "event horizon" near a black hole; there is no such event horizon visible in his glasses. They aren't really that thick.

But lack of thickness is not what prevents them from frying ants, it's the negative diopter lens. To focus sunlight you need a positive diopter lens, like a magnifying glass. If he were wearing positive diopter lenses, his face would be larger and fill the lens in the picture, unless his face were turned much farther.

Nerds like myself -- and I presume also Sweeney -- spend a lot of time looking at things very close, so our eyes adjust to focus comfortably to that distance. It's built into the human anatomy by God, and it works well. Evolution could not have caused this facility, because there is not enough time since books and computers were invented, and besides, uncorrected near-sightedness reduces the ability to survive and reproduce. Except of course in very modern information-age times, much too recent for natural selection to have had any effect. The problem is that well-intentioned but misinformed optometrists -- which in this case is probably most of them -- keep insisting on "correcting" our vision to sharp focus some twenty feet beyond what we spend all day looking at, and they use more and more negative lenses to do it. Every time I got a new pair of glasses, I could see wires on the telephone poles and the sidewalks were ten inches below where I knew my feet were, and I had headaches for six months while my eyes fought and strained and struggled to get the focus back to what I was looking at. I figured out what was happening in my early twenties and stopped buying new glasses. And I stopped getting headaches.

When I got my "bionic eye" (lens replacement), the ophtalmologist insisted on setting the focus back out to infinity. He seemed to think he knew more about what I look at than I do. He actually set it too far, so I wear a positive lens on that eye. I kept my God-given eye on the other side, so when I take my glasses off and hold them out, the positive lens focusses the sunlight into an ant-killing hotspot, and the negative lens spreads the sunlight out over a wide and diffuse area, both at the same time. Sweeney is too young for the surgery, and his glasses lenses are both are negative diopters. No lethal ant-killing beams.

By the way, the God-given corrective action is back at work, albeit somewhat slower at my age. The headaches, if any, were not obvious, and it has taken six years to overcome the far-sightedness the ophthalmologist put in against my wishes. Did I mention? I didn't go back for the other eye. There are two optometrists in this small town. One of them gives me the prescription I ask for, so I can see what I'm looking at. Guess who gets my repeat business and recommendations.

The point is, I understand the physics of optics and gravity and the stuff that makes game engine play realistic. I would guess that Sweeney does too, but author of this article has Clue Deficit Disorder. But fiction is such a fun read, isn't it? WIRED editors bought the fun read, rather than the truth.
 

2012 June 18 -- Balto Bunk

Although substantially "enhanced" from the true story it was based on, the original "Balto" movie was reasonably inspiring. The sequel was a mish-mash of politically correct NewAge Native American nonsense. The execs at Disney seemed to think they could improve on the truth. I have nothing against "Native Americans" as people, but this animated flick did not involve real people at all. They just included pagan spiritism in the style of so-called Native American tribal medicine as an important component of the story line. If and to the extent that pagan spiritism actually offers supernatural insights (as in this flick), they must be demonic and cannot be Good the way God is Good, and as portrayed in the movie.

OK, I'm prejudiced. There is good historical evidence that Christianity is true and therefore all other religions are false, but I'm willing to give credible contenders a fair hearing (see notes on Islam and Mormon in my essay on why I am a Christian). Native American paganism offers no supporting evidence beyond their own post-modernist tradition.

On another topic, not having children of my own -- I seem to have bungled my chance at that -- I occasionally get a Father's Day greeting (usually a card) from my niece. Yesterday she called, and in the course of the conversation she called my attention to Psalm 119:68: "You are good, and what you do is good." I knew that the Bible consistently teaches that God is Good, but I had not previously noticed this compact statement of it. I guess that's not so unrelated after all. God is Good.
 

2012 June 12 -- Turning the Ship

I guess I could have Googled the results a week ago, but I didn't think of it until this morning, when I was reading a forward-looking story in an older issue of TIME (their left-wing politics is sometimes so annoying, I have to set it aside for a while) about the Indiana recall June 5. The current issue was in the mail today, and so I looked to see what they had to say. The first message was that they were disappointed: no cover story, not even a full-page feature or editorial, nothing at all in the table of contents. I knew at once that the recall failed. There were a few short mentions, an inch or two here and there, which confirmed my initial analysis. TIME's right-wing counterpart, WORLD, has a longer lead time, but I expect to see a full-length feature in the next issue crowing about the governor's success. Watching these two opposites duke it out over national politics is a hoot.

Which brings me to the title of today's post.

In 1964 Barry Goldwater was running against Lyndon Johnson. The left-wing bigots were terrified of Goldwater. Students are especially mindless in political matters, and I was a student at Berkeley (a notorious left-wing college) and working for the student newspaper, so I got to see this up close. The Democrats were forecasting that if Goldwater won, he would escalate the war in VietNam and "send our boys off to be killed," and bomb Hanoi, and all these terrible things that they liked to accuse the war-mongering Republicans of. So Johnson won, and guess what? He escalated the war in VietNam and sent our boys off to be killed, and bombed Hanoi, and all those terrible things that they had accused the Republicans of.

It occurred to me that Johnson didn't really want to do those things any more than Goldwater (really) did; at worst, Goldwater was smarter and/or more honest than Johnson and his supporters. The main insight was that the ship of state is so big and heavy that no one man is going to turn it on a dime. Obama is no different. He's rather farther to the left than Goldwater was to the right, so he's made a bigger mess of his short tenure than any other recent President, but little or nothing that cannot be undone when the other side comes to power. A year ago last November, and again on June 5 this year (and several other times in between), the American people made it clear that Obama's vision of fiscal irresponsibility and intrusive government power is not what the people want. If they don't finish the job in November, they will do it in 2016. Either way -- and even the Democrats are starting to believe it will be this year -- the next President of the USA will be a fiscal conservative. He won't be able to undo the whole mess, but if he doesn't blunder as badly as Obama, the American people will let him do more the next term. Otherwise, the country will lurch back to the left again.

Half of the American people hate the current sitting President; the other half hated his predecessor. It's been that way for some 20 years now, with no end in sight. A tiny sliver in the middle actually chooses which way the country flops. Collectively, we have a short memory.
 

2012 June 7 -- Getting with the Program

My friend goes to a big-city mega-church, where they invite any and all (typically members, but he tells me they don't insist on it) to offer up short devotional readings for posting on the church website. He didn't say, but I suspect they carefully filter and/or edit the contributions for compliance to orthodox Relationshipism, because every one he has sent me so far could have been written by a pastor. Anyway, the one he sent me this week is supposed to be about Psalm 119, but mostly it's a reaction to the Psalmist's emphasis on God's word ("Law"). From the first paragraph:
Who loves laws? We roll our eyes when a new procedure comes down from corporate. We willfully ignore the speed limit, but dare not go more than ten miles per hour over because "that would be wrong." We skim over the terms and conditions of a product and sign in agreement, just to be consumed with Hulk-like rage when we are held to that agreement. Why is this? It's because we hate the law!
It got me to thinking. I know several people, "Christians" all of them, who have this attitude towards law. We are a nation of anarchists, rejecting all authority whenever possible, and the Christians seem to be infected by the same virus as the pagans. God expects better of us. I think that rebellious spirit lurks deep within me too, but I do try harder than most people I know. I read the long fine print, annoying the person waiting on me to sign the document. I obey the traffic laws, much to the frustration of the drivers behind me. I got fired for adhering too carefully to the "new procedure [that came] down from corporate." That was at a "Christian" college.

What is it with Christians and the law -- especially speed limits? Does God's command to "submit to those who are in authority" not apply to traffic cops? My friend in Texas once told me that the speed limits there are only "suggestions". Is that true, or can a cop (perhaps in a foul mood) actually give you a ticket for driving +8 miles over the limit? If you went to court, would you fight it, even if you knew you were actually going faster than he wrote you up for? Bringing in expert witnesses to prove that the police radar is unreliable is effectively lying about your speed. God told us there will be no liars in Heaven; are the people exempted who deny what their own instruments say? What if the speed limit in Heaven is 15mph, would you drive that slow? If you don't like doing it here, what makes you think you will like it any better in Heaven?

I suspect the real issue is that we often think we know better what is the appropriate speed to be driving, than the city council or state legislature who set up the limits. That would be the sin of Pride. We are in a hurry to get to our destination, and the limit is holding us back. Why is that a problem? "We must obey God rather than man," the Bible informs us, but God generally does not command us to exceed the speed limit. God tells us to submit. With very few exceptions, they are good laws, and obeying them is obeying God. Why are you in such a hurry? Did God make a mistake in your day by giving you only 24 hours? Did God err by giving you more things to do than you have time to do them in? Or -- this would be Pride again -- have we taken on, of our own free choice, more than God has enabled us to do in a lawful and virtuous manner? I did a lot of that when I was younger; now I'm trying to accept the limits God gave me. It's a whole different perspective.

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2012 June 5 -- Elementary, My Dear Watson

Last night I finished reading a collection of three Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels by Dorothy Sayers. It's sort of fun reading her works, because she presupposes a certain amount of Biblical literacy not even found in today's conservative churches. Who today would know what Peter meant by a reference to "the house of Rimmon"? It's a direct quote from the story of Naaman the leper, and in my opinion an important piece of advice to believers in difficult employment circumstances (see my blog post "Salt in the Future"). It's not like the main characters were particularly religious (except for one older woman whose moralistic rationalizing Sayers describes rather at length, they didn't even go to church), but their education 80-100 years ago included a lot of religious training that today has been replaced by the American established (non-Christian, atheistic) religion. We are the more impoverished for it.

Anyway, with detective thinking fresh in my mind, this morning I was reading in Joshua about the deception of the Gibeonites, how they put old torn winskins and moldy bread on their donkeys for a three-day trip (maybe 50 miles) to Joshua's camp, where they gave this song-and-dance about being "from a far country" and would Joshua please make a non-aggression treaty with them? Joshua was no Lord Peter Wimsey, and it didn't occur to him to evaluate the physical evidence. Wineskins do not get torn by riding long distances on the back of a pack animal, they get torn by repeated use, filling and pouring and refilling, yet these Gibeonites said they were filled once, at the beginning of their trip. If they had really come from so far, they would likely have bought provisions along the way, and thrown out the moldy bread. But Joshua got cocky and didn't ask God for advice. This is now the second time he did that. I learn slow too. sigh
 

2012 June 4 -- "The Costly Chaos of MediCare Failed"

It's a remarkable line to find in a left-wing bigot publication like TIME, especially in a pull-quote at the front of the cover story. They probably only printed it because the author is one of their feature writers -- and he's Jewish. As noted previously, the Jews in America are strange political animals: they consistently vote against their own self-interest and with the left-wing bigots. So the editors of TIME can't exactly shush them up when one of them comes up with an observation so hostile to their (politically) favorite health care model -- the one the rest of the country is hoping King SCOTUS (or a new President) will throw out. Buried inside his essay Joe Klein seems to think the kind of managed care he arranged for his parents (after he took them out of MediCare) will become more common under ObamaCare. But ObamaCare is a government pogrom like MediCare; why should we expect it to be different?

Klein's real complaint was (falsely) lodged against "fee-for-service" physicians, not against MediCare itself. The fact is, half of all doctors, and half of all care facilities, are below average competence (by any metric you choose to apply). He even admits that his father's fee-for-service urologist was one of the Good Guys, and that some of the HMOs are among the Bad Guys. Joe Klein had a choice for his parents, and he exercised that choice, mostly because ObamaCare has not yet kicked in with all its draconian coercion. Obama hopes by next year to take that choice away from the American people. I rather hope and expect the American people (or their king in nine black robes) will choose otherwise. We should know later this month, or maybe in November.
 

2012 May 26 -- King Bibi

In the USA most people mostly do their jobs with reasonable integrity. Even though they personally do not profess Christian ethics, it is in the culture as a "fumes in the gas tank" leftover from the nation's founding, and you tend to get fired for lying or stealing or other moral absolute violations on the job. Other countries with no such heritage -- China in particular, but also most of the third world -- it's deemed OK if you don't get caught. That's becoming the norm here, but still far from the majority.

So when I read left-wing bigot magazines like TIME, it is with the realization that the writers and editors really believe in their bigotry and do not realize how bigoted they are. There are rare exceptions -- like an article a couple months ago, which included a questionaire that proclaimed you broadminded if you live in a small town and actually have evangelicals as friends -- but most of the left-wing bigots only know left-wing bigots personally, and cannot imagine how a right-wing bigot (the other 80% of the country) or a Christian can honestly believe what we say. So most of what they write about is hogwash, as I have noted here from time to time. They have Clue Deficit Disorder.

There are exceptions.

Because the American churches tend to exclude MBTI "Thinkers", we have a "Two Cultures" division in this country between the atheists and the scientists on one side, and the Christians and the teachers on the other. Most of the apparent overlap is faked. Anyway, the nature of American politics is that the practicing atheists (confessed and otherwise) are among the left-wing bigots who write for TIME, who all therefore do not know nor understand any people of faith.

Many, perhaps most, of the Jews in the USA are confessing atheists, and those who actually believe in God nonetheless tend to vote with the atheists and against their conscience and against their pocketbooks and against their ethnic self-interest. As a result, the left-wing bigots know (and often are) Jews. You can generally trust what they have to say about Jews, even though you cannot trust what they have to say about Christians and Muslims.

All this to say that the cover story in this week's TIME about the Israeli Prime Minister is a good read and probably true. They honestly report the ambivalence of American Jews toward the the left-wing party currently controlling the White House, calling them "one of the few groups in the U.S. that have historically voted against their economic interests," then two sentences later, "This group regards Obama as someone who has no special fidelity to Israel, unlike his immediate predecessor."

My sister is kind of like that. She (along with everybody she knows) is quite unhappy with Obama's hostility against the American people, but not yet convinced to vote against him.
 

2012 May 23 -- Changed, But Not Improved

I think change is the mantra of the internet. Obama promised "change", so most of the geeks voted for him. He did not keep most of his promises, so the geeks are unhappy with him. I say Bravo! Maybe they'll vote for somebody else this year, hopefully somebody more competent. Anyway, geeks are from Athens, where, as we are told,
All the Athenians spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. -- Acts 17:21


My policy is rather different from the geeks: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Life is too short to be constantly forced to unlearn perfectly good ways of doing things, to be replaced by not-so-good alternatives.

When I was looking to move across the country for employment, MapQuest had a reasonably good map site. A couple years later it was broken, and never recovered. By then GoogleMaps was up and working, so I used that for a while. Then they "improved" it, and now it's also broken. That was a couple years ago. I'm back to using paper maps. They are not broken and they don't change.

Search engines still work. At least Google works fine, I have no reason to try the others. Google keeps tweaking their algorithms to thwart people trying to subvert the purpose of the search, but that's mostly invisible. Google also needs to make money on their efforts, so they added cookies (which I refuse) to better target their ads (which I don't look at), but last I heard, they were doing quite well at making money without my help. Once every few days, they put up in place of their logo, artwork to commemorate some event. That's cute, but it does not affect performance. The entry box and the results are still in the same place on the page. Until today.

A lot of websites put up a bunch of useless navigational links in the top 15 inches of their pages, so you have to scroll down a couple pages worth to get to what you went there for. Google always came up with what I wanted to look at right there at the top. Until today. Now I have to scroll the Google page down past all the useless links to get to the search engine. At least it still works after I scroll down. I wonder how long that will last?

You probably already know what I think of the "improvements" Apple made to their awesome (but "aging") 18-year-old operating system by throwing it away and replacing it with a "modern" 35-year-old system. Eunuchs, as everybody knows, are missing a vital organ so they cannot perform; the system is aptly named. Yes, I bought a new one and gave it a fair trial, but it's still unix. I spent most of the last 30 years avoiding unix, and failing often enough (most recently last year) to remind me why it's a good system to avoid. Fortunately, the old unimproved computer still works.

I use an electric blanket to minimize the cost of heating the whole house. Most everything I could find was made by Sunbeam, and it generally worked for a couple years, then the wires would break and I'd have to buy a  new one. I put it on a timer to come on a little before bedtime in the evening, then off again when I get up in the morning. Then Sunbeam "improved" their product (by having it made in China) and it stopped getting the bed warm. I could tell it was on, because the bed was freezing when the pilot light was off, but merely icy (still felt colder than the surrounding air) when it was on. If the power went off during the night (about once every three weeks here), it did not come back on. Needless to say, the timer now cannot be used. Change.

Then I found a high-end catalog which promised a money-back guarantee. The blanket was still made in China by Sunbeam, but cost twice as much and was lower quality: it kept walking off one side of the bed, and throwing all the other blankets off the other side. The pilot was so dim, I had to lift it up to the light to see if it was on. They bragged about how hard it was to feel the wires, but it seems to me that's also true of a blanket with no wires at all, which keeps me just as warm as their blanket after three months of use. Not only did it refuse to come back on after a power outage, it also forgot all its settings. Instead of a quick flip of the wrist to turn the heat up or down, I had to push mushy rubber buttons that mostly did not respond. I finally sent it back (and got my refund).

My sister told me of another blanket, so I Googled it and found it was made by Biddeford (but still in China, probably in the same factory). It's also designed to stop working in the middle of the night -- that must be a new government requirement, they all proudly announce the debility -- but their timer is made in China and malfunctions, so it starts getting cold closer to when I need to get up anyway. Better, I can put it back on my own 24-hour timer, and it restarts even if it had previously shut itself off. I just need to find a 24-hour timer that will go off for a couple minutes in the middle of the night and then back on. Anyway, anticipating that even Biddeford will probably eventually "improve" their product to non-functionality, I went back and bought a second blanket to use when this one finally wears out.
 

2012 May 16 -- Government Done Wrong

FastCompany is not exactly where you would go if you wanted to know what really happened, so I don't know if this is true or not, but it sounds credible. From page 123 of the current issue:
[Kyle] Shoaf is is tall and broad-shouldered, with a steady, thoughtful manner and an easy charm. He grew up on a Crip block, and got pulled in early. At 18, he was arrested for assault. He spent most of the next 10 years in and out of prison.

No one thing prompted him to change. He was just tired of the life he had. But he needed a job. All day, he would look for openings and fill out applications. Each time, he would check a box, admitting that he had committed a felony. Nobody called. Finally, filling out an application to work at the deli at Ralph's, he stared at the felony box. And he left it blank. and he got the job.

For a long time, he was afraid to tell his parole officer. He actually missed parole meetings, he said, because he was working, and made up excuses. Finally, he explained. His parole officer asked if his boss knew he had committed a felony, and he confessed that she didn't.

"He went to Ralphs'," Shoaf said. "He said, 'Did you know Kyle lied about committing a felony?' My boss was fine with it. I was one of her best workers. She was about to move me to a register. So my PO went over her head, to corporate. And they fired me."

... A few weeks later his parole officer sent him back to jail.

Somebody needs to fire that parole officer. That kind of behavior is evil. We want people to succeed at doing good and making a positive contribution to society, not get sent back to jail for it.

Last month Chuck Colson, famous for being Nixon's "hatchet man" in the Watergate scandal, died. Colson went to prison, because the special prosecutor was out for blood, but then he came out and founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry seeking justice for convicts inside and out of prison. This is the kind of thing he worked to prevent, but he couldn't do it alone. Good people must rise up and cry, "Enough!" Not enough good people did that in the case of Kyle Shoaf.
 

2012 May 14 -- King Arthur's Britain

To the modern eye jaded by twitch-movie fiction, documentaries are slow and boring. This one has made an effort to rise above the boredom with animated computer graphics and aerial shots of the countryside very obviously shot from a hot-air balloon, as well as from helicopters. Originally televised as "Britain AD," its remarketers gave it a flashier title, one that would also appeal to Americans enamored with the -- so this flic would have us believe -- mythical medieval king of the round table. But its biggest contribution consists in two important insights not overtly promoted.

The most pervasive insight is the post-modern notion that history is written with a political agenda. There is a kernel of truth in that, and if we want to appeal to history, as we classic Christians prefer to do, we must be very careful to check out our sources, and not merely rely on second-hand information. I have made this argument before in the case of the Darwinist religion, which has no objective basis in science. Francis Pryor is an archeologist studying British "pre-history", notably the parts of their history after the Romans left, about which written documents are few or non-existant. These are the days of King Arthur, whence the remarketed title, but also of the Anglo-Saxon "invasion" of which Pryor also finds no archeological evidence, and substantial evidence to the contrary. Apparently, so he says, the whole "Anglo-Saxon" story was invented by a late medieval monk with a political agenda. It found its way into British history and school textbooks during the Victorian period when they wanted to believe in empires (their own) and conquest.

Now -- and Pryor does not make this point, but it's there for the plucking -- the political agenda is different, so the scientists (including, but not limited to, archeologists) want to believe in a different meta-narrative, and guess what? It turns out the real history is different than we were all told in school. Which one is the actual history, the new or the old? How can anybody know? The post-modern conclusion that there is no objective truth, only meta-narratives, is not really believed by anybody -- probably including Pryor and his colleagues, although he does not discuss the deeper (post-modern) implications of his findings. The best we can do is hold these ideas with an open hand, ready to release them when a different idea comes along with better (or at least different) credentials.

From a Christian perspective, we still want to believe that the historical documents which inform our faith are reliable. So we need to be constantly checking out the opposing claims. None of the people insisting that "the Church wrote/altered the documents long after it happened" have yet offered any objective contemporaneous (that is, first or second century) evidence for their opinions. There are numerous early copies and copies of copies dated before whatever the church could have done officially in the fourth century, but none of them different. So despite the modernist and post-modern wishes of the atheists, the best evidence is still that we have the contemporary records of first-century eye-witness reports. That's substantially better than anybody can find for medieval Britain.

The second insight is rather more narrow, and concerns the darkness of the so-called "Dark Ages." Did the Romans "switch off the lights" on Britain when they left around 400AD? Pryor thinks not. Instead he finds in ancient tombstones high-quality Latin poetry, suggesting that there was substantial education among the Brits at the time. Indeed, Pryor argues that because the native Celtic language of the people was not Latin-based as in the continent, the Latin was preserved in a much purer form. The British monasteries preserved the sciences and educational levels of the previous ages better than even their neighbors across the Channel. Furthermore, tombstones are read not only by monks, so the suggestion is that the general population was also literate and educated.

The idea that the monasteries were beacons of light during that time is not particularly new. Conservative Christians on this side of the puddle have been saying that off and on for at least a half-century. Going back to the post-modern notion of relative history, I suspect that the "darkness" of the medieval period is an invention of the modern atheists, who want people (wrongly) to believe that Science is true and Religion is false. It's the same agenda that (again falsely) tells us that "everybody believed the earth is flat" at the time of Columbus.

Perhaps we should take a lesson from the post-modernists, and examine carefully the agenda of people who offer us their ideas before we adopt them uncritically. That's what I like about the Christian faith, which distinguishes itself from the other religions whose proponents are ashamed of their god(s) or lack thereof: we are not afraid of the Truth. Let opposing opinions present themselves. Let their adherents defend their ideas, if they can and are willing. Then we can make informed decisions. And we have done so.
 

2012 May 11 -- Good Clean Reading

I just finished a couple books, with not a hint of sex nor gutter language. They were good stories, one very recent (2011) and the other rather older (1939). Each was the first of a series, but let's not hold that against them, and each one I had to ask the library to send out for it. The point is, it can be done.

They can do movies that way too, if they want to. I saw Snowy River on an airplane some time ago, and it too was clean. Maybe the theater version was too, but somehow I doubt it. They can do it if they want to. They don't want to.

For a while there was a company that bought up otherwise good VCR movies and physically snipped out the offensive garbage, then resold them. Perfectly legal. But you can't do that to DVDs, so they made expurgated copies and destroyed the originals. That, unfortunately, is not legal, they were making copies, and the copyright owners sued. And won. I think now they sell a special player that skips forward when it gets to the offensive garbage, but that's not the same. They might be able to scratch or laser-zap a hole in the bad spots, so any player would freeze up then continue after the bad spot, the way all the players do when they come to fingerprints, but it would be annoying. Gresham's Law: Bad money [or video] drives out good.

Anyway the recent book was Dragon's Tooth by ND Wilson, and it was published as a "juvenile" book, where the heroes were 12- and 13-year-old kids. I saw a couple mentions of the book in magazines, so I decided to try it. The story line was a bit fantastical, and I probably won't bother sending out for the next in the series, but I enjoyed this one.

The older book was Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. After seeing (and enjoying) the movie John Carter made from it, I decided to try the book. The book is always better than the movie, and this was no exception, except some of the sentences were convoluted, and I had to re-read them a couple times to make sense of it. As is often the case, there was not a lot of similarity between the book and the movie, so it was essentially a new story. The library didn't have it, but it's a classic (the author's first novel), so they ordered it for their collection. What came was a reprint made by photocopying the original, and whoever did that turned over a double page, leaving out pages 18 and 19. However, the book is also available online, so I downloaded the text and printed up just the missing pages. It ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, so if it's convenient, I might read the next one in the series.
 

2012 May 9 -- Politics as Usual

"I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." -- President Obama
I also think they should be able to do anything they want to do, so long as it's not illegal or immoral.

HOWEVER, the government has no business granting special favors to private adult activity unless it serves a valid social purpose. The two people with the greatest intrinsic interest in raising the next generation of citizens to be valuable contributors to society are their biological father and mother; persuading them to do that job well by granting them tax breaks to stay together (that is, married) is in the government interest. Offering the same benefits to people with no such possible connection, and who have already shown their disrespect for morality and the law, is contrary to the public interest.

But you couldn't expect our present President-Trainee to know that yet. He's not old enough, and he has not surrounded himself with advisors who know any more than he doesn't. Fortunately, he doesn't get to make that decision. He might refuse to enforce the law (that would be dereliction of duty, grounds for impeachment), but he cannot make the law. The King in Nine Black Robes does that.

This would be a good time for PAC money to start educating the American people on this important topic. It's not about hate, it's about both biological parents raising their own children. We need to encourage that.

Obama-spelled-with-an-R (Romney) is in a good position to offer the American people a clear distinction and a good reason to vote out his opponent, but we really don't know what he believes, do we? I'd bet he doesn't either. Which way is the wind blowing today?

Sigh

See also my longer essay on this topic
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2012 May 4 -- BubbleHead

I have a program that builds the database for BibleTrans -- well, I used to have a program that built that data file until I decentralized the sort algorithm from my not-quite-operating-system. Now my program crashes. These things happen, and by God's grace, I'll eventually find the problem.

However, fiddling with it reminded me of a quote in a recent WIRED magazine. Apparently all the Presidential candidates were visiting Google as part of their stump five years ago. When Obama arrived and was ready to take questions, then-CEO Eric Schmidt asked him "What is the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers?" Obama replied that "the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go." You'd have to be a computer science major to know that. No wonder all the techies liked him.

Of course it was a set-up. Obama knows very little about running the country (even today), let alone technical minutiae about sorting. I think one of the blogs mentioned that this is a standard question asked of every Google employment applicant, and that Schmidt had asked it previously of Hillary Clinton on her visit, and she predictably had no answer. Somebody on the Obama campaign staff saw that, and went and found the answer for him. Barack Obama may not be much else, but he knows how to get elected.
 

2012 April 30 -- Religious Studies vs Theology

As most of you know, I regularly read Biblical Archaeology Review, which often has some fantastic insights on the locations where the Bible took place. The publisher is of Jewish persuasion, but judging from whom the ads target, I would guess that most of his readers are conservative Christians like myself (otherwise known as "follow the money" ;-) He seems to be a little uncomfortable with that fact, so he runs a regular column "Biblical Views" which is mostly written by various anti-Christian bigots attempting to debunk what the rest of the magazine implicitly supports.

This month we have a professor of Religious Studies at some college back east, who is at pains to distinguish her profession from Theology. What she cannot say (but really means), is that Religious Studies tries to make inferences and invents theories based on the supposition that the Bible is essentially not credible, while Theology studies the texts with the assumption that the texts are true. There is a third position, which she did not mention, but it's unstable, and that is the perspective of a seeker open to the data where ever it goes. Such people, if they are truly open, become believers; on the other hand, if God (through the text) makes demands on them to which that they are unwilling to submit, then they become anti-Christian academics, pretending to be open to the truth, but denying the power thereof.
 

2012 April 28 -- Liars and Thieves, All of Them Cowards

I do not respond well to telemarketers. They interrupt my work or my supper to play some robot message offering a service I do not need nor want. I am not alone in this, so the Federal government has set up a "Do Not Call" registry, which telemarketers are required by law to honor. I added my number to that registry, but there is one company which refuses to honor it. The Federal law overrides stronger state laws, which gave the victims of such abuse recourse, so there's really nothing I can do about these thieves of my time, except watch for their CallerID to come up, and refuse to take the call. They are also liars, they put somebody else's number up on the display, a different number each time. If you try to call me, and I don't recognize your number, you won't get through. Call back again immediately, and I'll know you are a real person. Robots don't retry when they don't get through, they just move on to the next number.

I live not far from the local private university. Students unwilling to pay for a parking permit have been known to use side streets (I did that myself, when I was a student at the state university), and the city typically puts up "No Parking" signs in such places. So my driveway got rather more wear than is normal for the single-family dwelling it was designed for. Being without gainful employment at this time, I prefer not to spend extra money repaving my driveway. So I planted a barrel in the driveway to discourage this excess usage by people with more income than I have. Every month or so, under the cloak of darkness, some vandal removes the blockage. They could come knock on the door and politely tell me, "I need to use your driveway to turn around in, so I'm willing to pay for the damage." But they are thieves and cowards.

Last night I received the electronic equivalent of a drive-by shooting. Somebody, too cowardly to stand up for his political opinions (which so far, includes everybody in favor of ObamaCare), apparently took offense at something I might have said in my blog. He didn't bother to check out the facts, and he didn't want to be shown up for his error, so he hid behind one of those European anonymizers, which are explicitly set up to protect "crime victims, domestic violence victims, persons in recovery, and others, such as those living under oppressive regimes." This is not that kind of situation, so this guy has stolen their time and mine, because he is too cowardly to discover the truth before calling somebody else an epithet he deserves more than we. You know who you are. "You are either misinformed or lying."

Like the Muslim extremists, too cowardly to show their face when doing shameful things to innocent people, these are liars and thieves, all of them cowards.
 

2012 April 26 -- Biblical Repentance

I was in the shower today, thinking about a recent conversation with a friend on the topic related to forgiveness, and I realized that most people do not understand the notion of repentance. It is the English translation of the Greek word metanoia, a change of mind, and has nothing to do with feeling bad or groveling. When you change your mind about how something is to be done -- and of course your behavior follows what you think and believe -- then you have repented. When your brother sins against you, and turns again and says "I repent" (meaning, "it won't happen again") then you must forgive him. I think that if you observe a change in behavior which credibly leads to the supposition that it won't happen again, that counts as repentance.

My friend seems to think that unless he has been abusive and demeaning, and unless the other person is made unhappy and grovels and begs, then there is no repentance, despite that the behavior change has already and visibly taken place. Maybe that's why Feelers are so reluctant to insist on repentance before forgiveness, as taught in Scripture.

Feeling unhappy might lead to a change of behavior, or it might just lead to changing the subject.

On the other hand, if somebody tells me that what I'm doing is not productive, I could cheerfully say, "No problem, I'll do it differently," or maybe even just quietly do it differently. That's repentance with dignity. Everybody should have that opportunity.
 

2012 April 24 -- The Feminist Lie

I think it was Rush who coined the derisive term "feminazi" for people who try to force their bogus gender ideas onto the rest of us. Unfortunately, like Germany in the 1930s, the ideologs are running the government. At least they haven't started killing their opponents. Yet.

I mentioned last week that I'm working my way slowly through Stargate One, the third episode of which I immediately recognized from its political agenda to have been written by a woman of the feminazi persuasion. I'm now about three-quarters of the way through the first season, and I happened upon another episode with unmistakable feminine fingerprints on it -- when I looked, she was the same writer -- but in such a way as to prove her first contribution to be the lie that it was. The romantic scene was only a minute or so long, but unmistakably "chick flick." No male writer ever writes that kind of mush.

There is a difference between men and women that extends past our reproductive organs. Every cell of a woman's body is different from a man's, and it has profound effects on all kinds of things, particularly cognitive (like what makes a TV script "romantic"). Not worse, not better, just different.
 

2012 April 19 -- Quo Quora

One of those older WIRED magazines I've been reading featured an article on the web startup Quora. The article painted it as a great way to get questions answered by experts, a collection of valuable information not available on Wikipedia. Wiki is great, and I go there for all kinds of answers -- except stuff like religion (especially Darwinism) and politics, where it is often biassed. If a Wiki article is in the top ten hits of a Google search, that's usually where I go.

So I decided to have a look at Quora. They seem to have changed direction since the WIRED article. They now seem to be more of a narcissistic self-congratulation society. You can't ask any questions unless you have earned points by answering them, and you can't even see any answers without logging in. Wikipedia doesn't even set cookies (let alone require logging in) to see their articles. Logging into a website permeates my firewall, so that's a show stopper. I bought a second computer protected by DeepFreeze for those instances where it's necessary, but its castrated operating system is exceedingly hard to use, so I mostly avoid it -- as I have for some thirty years now (failing often enough to remind me why unix is a good system to avoid). There was no need to dust off the "former operating system" (OS-Ex) today.

Wikipedia is still the source of choice for valuable information.
 

2012 April 17 -- Humor

I think I'm losing my sense of humor. Or maybe I never had one. Somebody once accused me of being "the most joyless person [he'd] ever met."

I'm trying to understand the Christian position on humor, and mostly coming up empty (see my post "Godly Joking" earlier this year). Except I was reading a back issue of WIRED (from when I was stacking them instead of reading) and they have this article describing the theory of humorologist Peter McGraw, which he calls "Benign Violation". The violation part is a moral violation, and if it does not harm the viewer or anything considered important, it's funny. It's a very interesting insight, and might explain why almost nothing is funny to me.

There is no such thing as a benign moral violation. All moral violations are an offense to God, and as we become more in tune with what's important to God, we cease to excuse moral violations as benign.

Now it might be that "moral violation" is an inaccurate or overly narrow descriptor in an otherwise valid theory, but it seems to explain a great deal of what passes for humor, especially the modern potty variety (movies that self-describe as "romantic comedy" are neither romantic nor funny). It also explains why I feel offense or sympathy instead of laughter when a person is being ridiculed. Puns are more of a violation of the language (rather than morality), so I guess that's why they don't offend me so much. Humorist McManus builds a set of expectations in his narrative, then violates those expectations: you think he's about to ridicule one of his companions on this hunting trip, and it turns out he's ridiculing himself over something even more foolish than your expectation.

God laughs at the wicked, for they certainly are in moral violation. It's hardly benign, they are being damned to Hell, but at least they cannot harm God nor His people, nevermind the intentions of the wicked. Is that funny? God seems to think so.
 

2012 April 16 -- TV After the Fact

It was several years ago, browsing the library movie rack for something to watch I saw a row of Have Gun Will Travel, the complete 2nd and 3rd season series on DVD. Paladin was my favorite TV program when I was a kid, and he still beats any modern TV. A couple weeks ago the first-year season HGWT showed up at the library. Paladin is one of those bigger-than-life super-heroes with no flaws -- unless you consider pretty women, fine wine, and a fast gun to be character flaws. The way Richard Boone played it, they were admirable qualities. He was even courteous to religion, a quality seriously missing in modern trash. The screenplays are only slightly (if at all) inferior to movies from the same time, while modern TV is substantially lower quality. That may be because movies keep raising their prices, pulling in more and more money with which to pay the writers as well as the actors, while TV revenues are losing ground to other entertainments, leading to a vicious cycle of ever-declining quality.

Speaking of modern TV, I am working my way slowly through Stargate One, which I mentioned a couple weeks ago (with original broadcast dates 40 years later than HGWT). As my benefactor predicted, SG1 episodes are getting better, but still far below the quality of, for example, HGWT, and still hostile to religion. One episode has the resident history and language expert reading some cuneiform and knowing that it's Akkadian, not Sumerian -- which is a rather subtle piece of esoterica: the two languages are unrelated, but used the same script. I just finished reading Gilgamish, which I found on the library shelf when I was looking for Homer's Iliad. According to the introduction in this particular book, the original story was written in Sumerian, but the most complete existing text had been translated into Akkadian and dated a thousand years later. Akkadian is a Semitic language, like Hebrew and Arabic, while Sumerian is apparently unrelated to any other known language. These are not languages you just pick up in an afternoon, but our StarGate regular was able to stumble through the text on the wall more easily than I read Hebrew, which I'm working on every day now. I do not read cuneiform, so I cannot tell if it was real text or just random symbols (one sees both kinds in movies, as I have noted here previously, and also here).

The producer did go to some effort to get the two languages correct in their context, but our supposed language expert bungled his part. The Bad Guys are an alien race with a name pronounced by the knowledgeable characters in three syllables something like "Goo-ah-oold" with a full glottal stop between the syllables. All the Americans -- including our supposed language expert, who should know better because Semitic languages (like Akkadian) have three or four different gutterals -- all pronounce the name as a single run-on syllable "Goold". That's understandable from ignorant testosterone-no-brains colonels and mindless actors, but not in an academic. It's like the pseudo-archeologists in MacGyver, and also here. TV writers just don't know much. And the SG1 writers still know nothing at all about the military. Their ignorance is so bad, it's painful.

Paladin wasn't particularly credible either, but the mistakes were improvements: he knew far more poetry and history than any real gunfighter with his experience in distant cities and acquaintance with persons in them would have time to learn about. It must have taken a whole army of librarians to dig up those quotes.

PS, Two days later I came to an SG1 episode where they actually understand "chain of command". The writer is not named in the credits for any other episode in the whole season. I wonder if the other writers learned anything from him. Probably not. Americans who believe in rugged individualism (also known as anarchy) such as found in all the other SG1 episodes -- and not in the military -- certainly are not about to take lessons in obeying orders.
 

2012 April 2 -- The Net Cost of ObamaCare

My sister told me (twice) that she saved $500 on her medications last year because of ObamaCare, which she deemed reason enough to vote for Obama in November. She seems to think a lot of people will agree.

After calculating my taxes today, I'm ready to tell her (when she brings it up again) that ObamaCare has cost me $627 so far in increased taxes that I would not have had to pay if there were no ObamaCare. So if it had not passed, she could have called me up and asked for $600, and I would have given it to her, and then we'd both be ahead of where ObamaCare has put us. The government way of doing things is like that. Nobody gets more out than somebody else put in. Poker games and the stock market are like that too, but at least the suckers volunteered their contribution in those cases.

Of course that's not the way things happened, and even if the King throws ObamaCare out this year, or a more enlightened Congress does it next year, I won't get my money back. I suspect she's going to be surprised and disappointed two years from now when the mandate kicks in (if Obama and his Congressional lapdogs are in power), and it starts costing her big sums of money. But we won't know until it happens, will we?

If it happens. But the final decision will not be made by rational people evaluating the facts.
 

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