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2013 May 31 -- unBiblical Faith

This month's ChristianityToday has an unusually interesting mix of articles. Editor Mark Galli wrote (page 35) a curious not-quite-defense of Rob Bell's new book, wherein his main point is that Rob Bell is teaching exactly the same religion that most modern American Christians believe: you know God not propositionally by reading Scripture, but experientially by feeling His presence. Because he has (or at least, by his own admission, has had) those same feelings, Galli couldn't bring himself to say that foremost among those feelings is affirmation, which I call Relationshipism. When you believe that "God loves you unconditionally," then Rob Bell's conclusions follow inescapably.

Immediately following Galli's piece is an introspective look at God's transcendence versus His immanence. Immanence is important to affirmation; transcendence is more like what Job experienced when God was not answering, and what author Bobby Grow experienced upon learning that he had terminal cancer. He ends up convinced that God still affirms him (because, like virtually all pastors and writers, he is a Relationshipist), but he must draw on past theologians rather than the Bible to support that conclusion.

Skip over a couple of articles on Christian entrepeneurs in Silicon Valley, and there is an interview with Jamie Smith, who claims "You can't think your way to God," but rather it must be experienced in (according to Smith) ritual. He's a philosophy professor at a Christian college, which is the next best thing to being a pastor, so he's probably a Relationshipist -- or at least a wannabe. Whether that is his temperament or not, ritual confers feelings of affirmation. It's the same religion Rob Bell preaches, and Mark Galli can't quite reject, and Bobby Grow needs for dealing with his cancer but didn't find in the Bible.

CT has a regular feature every month, where they pick three different people to comment on some idea relevant to a recent news item. This month the news item was the Mormon church reducing the age for teens going on mission trips, with an accompanying surge in applicants -- probably only the same ones who would go anyway, only now they were bunched up for the years they didn't have to wait, but they didn't say. The question CT asked of Christian youth leaders was what we might learn from the Mormons. The summary title for one of the responses (notably a woman) is "Motivate by Grace." I think that's a fine Relationshipistic goal, but like all things Relationshipist, I cannot find it in my Bible. I found a couple references to wrong motives, but nothing to suggest that good Christians need any motivation at all. What's wrong with this picture?

A couple more pages over, in their regular (book) review section, is a fairly lengthy review of Richard Stearns' Unfinished, in which he complains (apparently paraphrased in reviewer Hansen's words, unquoted) that "Christians no longer burn with passion to change the world. Yet we still want to know our lives matter." Translation: we want to be affirmed, but we don't want to go earn that affirmation. The Mormons go out there and earn their salvation. Two of the three commenters said so. We Christians are saved by grace, not by what we do, and that is so important to the theologians, that they denigrate repentance and teach instead a Rob-Bellian theology of unconditional affirmation. It's not in the Bible.

Jesus and the Apostles taught a gospel of repentance. We don't earn our salvation by doing good things, we do good things because it's who we are: we repented of that sinful life-style and God saved us (both required, not necessarily in that order), so now we are go-gooders, "motivation" not needed. There is no "God loves you" in the Bible, no unconditional love at all. God can -- indeed is eager to -- save you out of a life of sin, but you must want it. That means stop sinning. That's what Jesus told the woman taken in adultery. Not "God loves you the way you are," but something closer to "now you can change, so do it!"

The disciples, having been adequately taught to Jesus' satisfaction, went out and preached the gospel in the book of Acts. Not once did any of them ever say "God loves you," not once. In fact, there is no mention of love at all in Acts. Paul and John say quite a bit about love in their epistles, but they are writing to people who are already Christians. There is no affirmation from God to people who persist in a lazy, sinful lifestyle, only a disaffirming call to repentance.

Jesus said a lot of people were going to be surprised on Judgment Day, mostly because they used the "right words" but did not live according to the Two Great Commandments. If you want God to love you, you must obey His commandments. Jesus said so. The past is past (God is gracious and forgiving), but the future is perfect. Make it so.

God does not forgive future sins, only repented sins in the past. So repent already!


2013 May 28 -- Still Life

It isn't fantasy (no dragons or unDead or magic), and it isn't romance (nobody falls in love), and it probably doesn't qualify as "chick-lit", but the book my sister recommended and I finished reading last night is definitely written by a woman for women readers. It's a classic whodunit, complete with a variety of potential perps and assorted clues left lying about for the reader to latch onto or (the author assumes) ignore. Like it was quite obvious that the primary suspect didn't do it, because the Chief Inspector pretty much latched onto him by the middle of the book (much too early). But, as required by the genre, (see my "Murder Mystery As Divine Justice" post four years ago), the detective explains everything at the end. The author carefully followed the formula, but with a feminine twist.

Guy stories involve going fast, making loud noises and breaking things. There was none of that. Instead, this story was a leisurely stroll through the scenery, admiring the colors and the feelings of the characters. This was nailed for me about two thirds of the way through, when we are told of the Chief Inspector, "he'd been stripped of approval." That's a Feeler value, very much appropriate for the (female) apprentice detective who weaves in and out of the plot, but less important for the guy who accepted his suspension as a consequence of doing the right thing. But for a target audience of women, they definitely want to feel that kind of rejection in the story. To a guy, it feels effeminate. The whole story did. I probably won't go back for the sequel.

There were some good insights. We don't see gems like this very often in fiction, but they sparkle when we do. I will never forget the negotiation in Live Free or Die, where the hero told the Bad Guys that he didn't care if they bombed New York and the other cities -- which essentially took the cities off the bargaining table and they ceased to be hostages in the negotiation, thus saving many lives in the process. But that's a guy story.

In the mouth of her hero, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Louise Penny says:

"Choice. We choose our thoughts. We choose our perceptions. We choose our attitudes. We may not think so. We may not believe it, but we do." -- p.80

"There are four sentences we learn to say, and mean. I don't know. I need help. I'm sorry. And ... I was wrong." -- p.82

They are good insights. Perhaps the author is trying to educate the people who will not be reading her novel. Guys are particularly weak in those four sentences (although I've been criticized for overdoing it myself, sigh) but her novel is not designed to appeal to guys. Oh well.

Although she is Canadian and the story is set near her home in Canada, I thought this next gripe rather relevant to the USA under the current administration (substitute "four" instead for "twenty"):

"Do you have any idea how much our lives have changed in the last twenty years? All the rights we've lost? How many of our neighbors and friends and family members have left because of the draconian laws here? ... I'll put my faith in individuals, not the collective." -- p.50
Unfortunately (spoiler alert), it turned out later that the speaker was the perp, so I can't tell if she wanted us to approve the stated sentiments or consider them to be Bad-Guy hogwash. They are still a valid gripe about socialist government tyranny, and I'm sure it's much worse there in Canada and particularly in Quebec than it is here (yet).

The biggest turn-off for me came right at the end (on the next-last page) when she essentially endorsed deviant behavior. It's one thing to put a couple of guys in the story as morally neutral characters, and rather something else to add, "And see it was all right." It may be politically correct to say such things, but (by definition) PC tends to be unsupported by facts. In retrospect, the book title appears to be part of that endorsement, as explained in the mouth of one of the lesser characters:

"Life is change. if you aren't growing and evolving you're standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are immature.They lead 'still' lives, waiting. Waiting for someone to save them. Expecting someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world." -- p.140, recapitulated p.304
This might in some cases be a good insight, but it's also the kind of snotty ad hominem thing people say of others whose otherwise well-founded opinions they happen to disagree with. Maybe the "change" is going backwards, and staying the same is better. In the painting that was central to the story the perp was portrayed as "facing backwards," he was not waiting for somebody to save him, he took action, albeit socially inappropriate. In this country -- perhaps also in Canada -- the government is trying to make "still lives" of all the citizens; in her story the Bad Guy was actually trying to do something about it.

Like I said, I won't be going back for the sequel(s).

2013 May 25 -- Fantasy: Post-Christian Fiction

Two library movies this week exemplified the trend against truth and science I observed earlier this month.

One of them called itself a "Christmas Story" and pretended to tell us the origin of the Santa Claus myth. Made in Finland, where they actually use reindeer to draw sleds in winter, you'd expect a modicum of truth, but I guess they are completely post-Christian there. The "Santa" part of his name is derived from the Latin word meaning "saint" or holy person; Finnish is not a Romance language, so they wouldn't know that. At least they recognized that "Claus" is short for Nicolaus, but there's no hint that they understood that there really was a holy man named Nicolaus who secretly gave gifts to people. There's nothing Christian or religious in this flick at all, nor mention that the real Saint Nicolaus was a bishop in what is now Turkey (where they have no reindeer). American movies with "Christmas" in the title are all about wish fulfillment: people make an absurd wish at the beginning, and they get their wish at the end. This was obviously not American: besides the fact that the words the actors spoke did not match their lips (the credits listed the dubbing actors), there was no wishing, just a lifelong grief over Nick's sister, who in this flick was drowned with their parents on Christmas eve (the historical Nick was an only child). Somehow that grief morphed into generosity. The flying sleigh came after the fellow died of old age, like it was a mirage in the minds of his grieving friends.

The other movie tells an alternative history of Abraham Lincoln, which made him out to be a tragic fighter against zombies. According to this flick, when a zombie bites you, you turn into a zombie within 24 hours, and must be killed to rid the earth of such scum. Abe got bitten by the prostitute he had previously patronized and now rescued despite that she was infected, so he invited John Wilkes Booth to come kill him. You could tell it was a low-budget flick, because Abe spoke with a southern drawl.

The Christian message is about Truth, but the post-Christians don't want it. Truth is boring. History is boring, so let's invent something different. God made the world we live in to be Good, and (except where we mess it up) it's still pretty good, but post-moderns seem to consider the real world to be boring. So they invent werewolves and zombies and dragons and stuff to make it more interesting. My author friend called it "the coolness factor" or something like that. Cool is the opposite of boring.

Ah, but the real world is not merely boring, it's depressing. That's why the Christmas (other than this one) movies always have a happy ending, everybody gets their wish. The real Lincoln was asassinated; the retelling had him volunteer to go. The real Mary Todd Lincoln apparently had a bipolar disorder; the movie's fictional Mary (the prostitute) was killed by Lincoln after she bit him, as an act of mercy. I'm not sure how that's better, but the film maker seems to have thought so. You could tell he was conflicted about killing zombies, because he had several of the characters criticize Lincoln for doing so. Even the pagans still have a God-given conscience.

For links to other posts in this fantasy thread, see Fantasy vs the Truth

2013 May 17 -- Musical Raspberry

It was suposed to be a love story, a "romance" -- you know, girl meets boy (the order is significant), they fall in love, crisis happens and gets resolved, they get married and live happily ever after -- but the premise was all wrong. They had some nice music, but they kept smashing it with the tuneless (but slightly rhythmical) noise and shouting that passes for music among most people today. The cellist and the rock singer did a one-night stand instead of earning their right to be together, and their love-child was sent to an orphanage by her manipulative father, who told her the kid died. Both of the child's parents left town and left their music and did other things for ten years.

This is the improbable story of how the musical prodigy with no training except that he heard "music in the air" ran away from the orphanage to find his parents by performing at a Juilliard concert. It's enough to make your heart go pitty-pat (if you're a fan of chick-flicks), or groan if you prefer something more credible. The young actor who played the kid had no musical sense at all -- maybe that's the film director's fault -- but his idea of music on a guitar was to flat-hand bang the strings (the credits listed a couple of guitar coaches, so that must have been the best they could get out of him), and when his fingers went up the scale on the piano, the tune he was supposedly playing went down; at the orchestral concert climax where he magically appeared in a tuxedo only minutes after running away wearing street clothes from his abuser, he managed to wave his hand more or less evenly, but the music editors (the credits named two) mostly did not succeed in matching the beat of the music to it.

At least the cello coaching they gave the actress succeeded in getting her bow and finger motions to more or less match the music she was supposed to be playing, but they only showed a few seconds of it. There was more of the rock-concert noise, but IMHO, anybody can shout tunelessly. I once watched a guy play a guitar by striking the strings against the frets with the fingers of both hands, instead of fingering the frets and plucking the strings with the other hand. So long as he played jazz, I had no reason for believe he was any good at it, but then he played a Bach invention. I was impressed. Maybe the rock "music" they played in this flick was good, but I wouldn't know. I fast-forwarded through those scenes.

You knew how it was going to turn out (the genre requires a happy ending), but it was all wrong. The male authority figures (including Robin Williams, whose film characters I have never found appealing) were all manipulative instead of protective, there was no disapproval of the sin that laid the poor kid's unhappiness on him for all that time, no recognition of the disaster that fatherlessness brings on children, no reality, only selfish romanticism. Two thumbs down.

2013 May 16 -- Entropy

Most great authors, fiction or non-fiction alike, only write one book. They give it many titles, minor variations in the details, but one and the same book. Some films -- or maybe it's the actors -- are the same. Steven Seagal is one of those, as I pointed out a few years back. Until 2009.

Now he's getting wrinkled and fat, like me, and not so fast on his feet (I never was). So Against the Dark is a tired old flick to match his aging reflexes (or lack thereof). He's no longer a fierce ninja warrior teased into action against his will, but something closer to the lead bounty hunter in a platoon taking out the vampires. He does some of the slicing and dicing, but mostly he sends out his privates.

Yeah, another vampire flick. They tried to dress it up with pseudo-science about some virus infection, but you knew they were vampires, not real people with a virus infection, because they had an irresistable drive toward sucking blood, and they couldn't stand daylight (but artificial light, no matter how bright, was fine). Also it seems you can't kill them with bullets, only by stabbing them with a sword. At least it gave some traditional moves to Seagal, who carried a gun too, but mostly never used it. Toward the end they shot a few vampires -- I mean infected people -- and ran out of bullets. Maybe that's why they mostly favored close-range swords and knives.

It was a B movie in the traditional sense of being "low Budget" (made in Romania, I guess Canada was too expensive), and all the Bad Guys only grunted and said "Ag-ag!" (which probably sounds the same in Romanian as English). They had problems with the electricity, too, as you might expect in a former Commie country. The lights kept flickering on and off randomly (some lights flickered, some did not) while buzzing and spitting the way bare high-energy cables do when they bump. Real electric circuits, if broken wires are bumping into each other like that, the breaker trips and everything goes dark. In a real hospital running on an emergency generator, minimal lights are on and stay on, there is no fitzing and sparking, and the exits are clearly lit. But it was a low-cost production, so they couldn't afford anybody who knew how things really work. Seagal was also the producer. He's getting old, and his age shows everywhere. When Clint Eastwood got old, his films got better. Schwarzenegger's later flicks were different, not better or worse, but at least different. Entropy caught up to Seagal faster than his colleagues.

Entropy is starting to catch up to me too. I went to the grocery earlier this week, and bought some hot dogs and sandwich meat (among other things). The next day I wanted to eat a hot dog, but couldn't find them. Yesterday I couldn't find the sliced meat either. I went back to the grocery today to buy replacements, and they had saved them in their break room refrigerator. I must have walked off and left the meats in their bagging area.

2013 May 11 -- Six Months Ago Today

Six months ago TIME magazine ran a triumphalistic post-election issue, bragging about the candidate they helped win, first by ensuring for Obama an opponent even weaker than himself (see "What the Media Won't Tell You"), then by trashing Obama-spelled-with-an-R  so that the real Obama could get elected. I was in no mood to read their boasts, so I set the issue aside, and did not renew the subscription when it expired. I was tempted: the renewal rate was the lowest I'd ever seen, I think in my life. You have to understand what that means. Most magazines get most of their income from advertizers, who pay proportional to the number of paid subscribers. As TIME gradually switched from news to heterophobic anti-Christian far-left socialist opinion, more and more thinking readers (like me) refused to pay the higher price for it. Rather than lose their advertizing revenue, they dropped the price to keep as many subscribers as possible.

Anyway, I'm catching up on my deferred reading, so I worked my way through this issue. I was not wrong about the tone. The ten-page centerpiece cover story gloated over Obama's win and dissed Romney. But the last page softened slightly, and almost became truthful about what Obama has to look forward to. "There were trends, perhaps, in the down-ballot initiatives," they said. "Voters endorsed same-sex-marriage rights in three states." I don't think it's a trend. The people who chose to vote for the candidate who now promised to destroy the God-given institution also voted his agenda when it was on the ballot; the people who had nobody to vote for stayed home.

The paragraph continues: "But a deliberately small and vague campaign came to an end without clarifying America's largest and most vivid challenges." That's a fact. Romney discarded his opportunity to make a distinction between high-ground morality and Obama's promised destruction of American values, but TIME didn't mention that. Instead they listed -- without explaining how Obama made these problems worse -- "unemployment" (which his deficit keeps high), "education..." (which his union supporters and their government lapdogs continue to deny to poor people), and disparity between the "shrinking labor force" (caused by genocide against blacks and the working classes since 1973) and "growing entitlements" (from his big-government agenda, especially including ObamaCare).

"An improving economy would certainly help with these problems. After more than four years of the worst numbers since the Great Depression," -- which like the present economy was brought on by a Republican, but perpetuated and made worse by a Democrat, in this case, one who has no clue how to run a business, and surrounds himself with more equally clueless political hacks than anybody before him, including FDR. TIME wants to blame Europe and China -- both regions caught up in the same socialist doldrums that TIME praises in Obama -- for our problems, but we have the cleverness here in the USA to fight our way out of it, if the idiots in Washington would only get out of the way. Writers and editors at TIME don't know any more about how to fix things than their man in the White House does.

Other articles in the same issue strongly urge the Republicans to go even farther to the left. That would be a good way to destroy the party. I guess they'd like that. But it might also galvanize the Tea Party into a major contender, perhaps not to beat Hillary in 2016, but not long thereafter. Of course 2016 is when the "not one dime" 7% ObamaCare tax on poor people kicks into high gear. That might be enough to kill Hillary's chance -- except its full force won't be felt until April 15 the following year. I wonder how many people will go to jail in 2017 because they cannot pay the tax, or lose their jobs because employers don't like the government attaching wages for back taxes. Hey, it's still better than what the (former) Soviet Union did to their poor people.

2013 May 10 -- Hunger Games

The local library seems to be spending money on new DVDs now -- mostly recent TV serials -- but this flick had a big public splash when it came out last year, so you can't blame the library for adding it to their collection. It's a horrible story, reminiscent of the gladiator games in Rome that ended in 404 because an otherwise insignificant monk Telemachus demanded it. There's no Telemachus in this movie, but I kept thinking there should be.

I guessed the film maker(s) wanted us to despise the government agents who put on this immoral spectacle, but I wasn't convinced of that until I saw some of the "Making of..." features and they said so. The teen heroine -- she had an odd name I cannot remember, something like "Katniss" -- was played for sympathy, so I suppose they could not make her into Telemachus, because their larger audience is largely pagan, perhaps Christian in name only.

It's important to realize that this story could not actually happen any time in the foreseeable future. No Christian or recently post-Christian culture (like ours, where the atheists openly but ignorantly adopt Christian values because the public still demands it of good citizens) would tolerate any public activity in which the intended result is the death of innocent participants. The gladiator games in Rome ended when the Christian values took over the culture, and never came back. New atheist societies do not survive more than three generations, precisely because Christian values win (in the Darwinian sense of being better), so it seems unlikely that any culture so utterly devoid of Christian values could ever arise in the future. But, as I pointed out earlier this week, science (that's Latin for "facts") is no longer a value in our culture, so movies feel free to indulge in fantasy, such as imagining a future culture devoid of Christian influence. Other elements of fantasy include computer-generated wild animals -- we watched them appear, first as wire-frame holograms above the computer screens of the game operators, then immediately (within seconds) as actual murderous beasts in the forest -- and airships with no visible means of lift except a slight down-draft on the ground.

I was too immature as a teen to pull it off myself, but imagining myself as a Christian parent in that culture, knowing that all of my children are at risk for being inducted into those games, I think I would have done as they claimed for "Sector 1" where the teens were rigorously trained until age 18 to win and then they volunteered, except I would train my children to be Telemachus, to say to that despicable woman in magenta at the induction center, "You are the personification of evil!" To refuse (like Daniel and his three friends) to eat the lavish food set out for them by their captors, but to insist on plain bread and water or nothing. To refuse to take up arms against other people for entertainment only. And yes, they will die -- but 96% of the participants die anyway; they can at least die with honor and go straight to Heaven with no blood on their hands -- but if somehow they survive, to reject the crown placed on their heads. I probably could not have done it myself, but I seriously wished our heroine would just dig the implanted tracking device out of her arm. She could have (but did not) stuff dirt into the knothole of the tree where one of the tracking cameras was buzzing. If the operators cannot see what is going on, they cannot rain down fire balls to contain it, and more important, they have nothing to show the public.

The heroine of this flick did what she could to survive; Telemachus would have refused to play the game by their rules, and died (and gone on to his eternal reward), leaving a memorable name as his legacy, a name that survives to this day, sixteen centuries later. That's a better outcome, and even the pagans should know it.

For links to other posts in this fantasy thread, see Fantasy vs the Truth

2013 May 7 -- Post-Modernism, the New Dark Ages

The so-called "dark ages" a thousand years ago were characterized by the vast majority of the population being illiterate and barely able to sustain themselves while paying high taxes to their feudal lords. For a couple decades now I've been saying they are coming again, but I did not realize how close. The high taxes part started with the Bush deficit, and the people elected Obama on promises of "more of the same" (he called it "change" but he also promised not to raise our taxes, "not one dime," which is sort of true when you realize 6950 dimes is "not one dime"). Anyway, the people I know and see at church every week are struggling, sometimes juggling two jobs to make ends meet. Part of the blame for that also lies with the current Prez, because his flagship unAffordable Health Catastrophe is already causing small business employers to lay people off or cut their hours, so to duck under the penalty tax wire. "Not one dime."

But what is attracting my attention today is the effect on literacy that post-modern philosophy is having. If there is no such thing as "truth" then there is no need to read or write about it. Science -- the kind Galileo and Newton and Bacon gave us -- depends on things being absolutely true, and we must submit to that external reality in order to discover how the world works, thereby to manufacture things that actually work. It's a supremely Christian attitude towards knowledge, which is why modern science was invented in Christian Europe and nowhere else in the world ever. And it is why modern science is dying. America leads the world in self-esteem, but ranks dead last in math and science education.

Thirty years ago I was deeply impressed by Francis Shaeffer's How Should We Then Live? in which he points out how arts and literature reflect the philosophy of the people. But I was a technologist -- still am, but unpaid -- with no time to look beyond technology for reading matter or entertainment. So I largely missed the transition. Now it's starting to nibble away at the technology that has been my bread and butter. One of the library movies I checked out this week was a pseudo-thriller about a guy who discovers he's number four on somebody's hit list. It wasn't until I got into it that I realized it's another X-Men knock-off. Mission Impossible in its heyday was a good adrenaline flick, but the activities (while improbable) were at least scientifically credible. Nobody cares about science any more, so they bring in things that are scientifically impossible, and surround it with some pseudo-scientific babble about evolution (which no good Darwinist would consider credible, let alone a scientist), and call it good. As that writer for one TV series said, "That's one of the wonderful things about sci-fi is that there are no guidelines, or like structures that you get stuck into, it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" Nobody knows nor cares about science.

When I was in high school, the classes were graded for the mainstream edu-factory drones, so I had a lot of free time. My name got me assigned a seat near the rear, so I brought a sci-fi novel to class and read it while everybody else pretended to pay attention to the teacher. I read every sci-fi in the school library, then I went through every one in the public library. I went to college in Berkeley, so I actually had to work a little, and my reading was limited to class materials. Then I went to work in computer technology, and never had time to read another novel for forty years. Now that "It's the economy stupid" has caught up to me, I have more time to think about politics and fiction (they turn out to be closely related ;-)

Anyway, here I am reading sci-fi again -- I already completely scoured the sci-fi collection at the local library -- and am discovering that they have pretty much abandonned what the critics now call "hard sci-fi" (emphasis on "science") and have turned to X-men style "fantasy". There's even a new genre category label "speculative fiction" to cover their deviation from science. Nobody knows nor cares about science any more.

For links to other posts in this fantasy thread, see Fantasy vs the Truth
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2013 April 30 -- Archeology and Dates, Part 2

A couple years ago Biblical Archeology Review admitted to a certain unreliability to architectural styles as a way to date excavation sites. My take at the time was to wonder why they would consider pottery styles more reliable than architecture. It gets worse. The editorial in the current issue tells us a tiny bit more about the traditional dating methods, that it's based on Egyptian pottery -- presumably because they trust Egyptian written records more than they trust other written records, and assume that pottery styles universally flooded the known world in zero time every time they changed. Anyway, the editor mentions Manfred Bietak as the one guy on whom everybody depends for their dates, and that he recently gave a presentation at a prestigious archeology conference, in which he compared his dating methods to carbon-14, and denigrates C14 as less accurate. He may be quibbling over plus or minus 80 years, which in most reported C14 dates is well within the margin of error, but if it's any good at all, C14 has to be better than inscriptions on tomb walls and broken pottery laying about.

2013 April 29 -- Lyin' in the Desert

The library has been adding to their DVD collection lately, mostly by large chunks of TV serials, which are typically the low quality plot lines one expects to find in TV programming. So I look at the first disk of each, then don't bother to go back for the rest. As a result, I'm running out of library flicks I haven't seen, so I'm back to downloading oldies from This weekend I watched "Lion of the Desert" which was a Muslim perspective on Mussolini's attempt to colonize Lybia. The Wikipedia article on it is credible; the contemporary (1981) NY Times review was rather more hostile.

Of course we (Americans) were no friend of Mussolini -- we also fought him (and won) -- but what struck me was the way the film presented Omar Mukhtar as a grandfatherly teacher of high principles, and the Italian general as a ruthless butcher of women and children. There is a memorable scene where Mukhtar tells a subordinate who wants to kill an Italian soldier POW, "They are not our teachers." It's a great line, but it's not true. Well, maybe he said that, and maybe his immediate team believed it, but the Lybian Muslims today continue to butcher women and children Berbers (their own people, incorrectly called "Bedouin" in the movie) who convert to Christianity, and other Muslims had no moral scruples against killing innocent women and children on September 11.

2013 April 27 -- Inflation Arrived

I was putting away a new case of Dr.Pepper this morning, and I noticed that it's smaller than the other  24-can cases of soda pop on the shelf: it has only 20 cans. Last month I found that the 24oz cans of stew I used to buy are now 20 ounces. Same label, same price, just 20% smaller. That's essentially a 20% increase in the cost of living, the tax on the poor that we all knew was coming when Obama lied to the American people about "not one dime" of tax increase. 20% is peanuts compared to what's still coming. Bernanke cannot stop it -- indeed, he only made it worse. Obama is not even trying.

2013 April 26 -- TV Values

God made us to desire Good. We -- all of us -- want that Good without needing to be good, so we try, to a greater or lesser degree, to drive out of our lives the source of all Goodness, namely, God. There seems to be a cycle of public virtue, from accepting God as the source of Goodness, to rejecting God in public while clinging (like the fumes in the gas tank) to the values of the prior God-centered society, to total paganism apart from God, then back again centuries later when the missionaries bring the gospel. It started in the Garden with God, then progressed to the next two phases, until everything was wiped away in the Flood and restarted with God again in Noah's family. Within a few thousand years everybody was already to the third phase except the Chosen Line through Abraham, who were mostly in the second phase. There were a few reluctant missionaries like Jonah and the Queen of Sheba, but any repentance they kindled died out quickly.

Christianity had one thing those prior generations lacked: we have a Book, an unchanging statement of Truth. So the line of faith persisted and grew, and we are sending missionaries out everywhere to rekindle the light of the first phase where only the darkness of the third phase had prevailed for millennia. There have been losses too: much of the (Christian) Roman world has now repaganized into the darkness of Islam, and the cycle needs to be repeated there -- at least back to phase one with God.

Anyway, the USA is well into phase two, and England is now ready to re-enter phase three. You can see that in the popular literature (also known as movies & TV). I'm watching a couple of TV series I checked out of the library, one from England, one from the USA.

The American series follows in the path of several others I've seen recently, where the people are coming back to show more openly their need for God by drawing into their lives elements of the supernatural. Previous shows offered vampires and werewolves; now we have a Medium who gets messages from the dead. Previously it was pure fiction, now it's based on a real person. That has one advantage, that the stories are more credible and less formulaic -- it seems that the real Allison DuBois is given input as a "consultant" in the TV production (but only for the first season; later episodes degenerated to the usual pablum). There are Christians who are essentially atheist in their beliefs concerning the supernatural in modern times; I'm not one of them, but I try to be prudently skeptical. The Bible does allow for mediums and soothsayers to be able to accurately tell us things not available to mere mortals, and what I saw of this show is consistent with that Biblical teaching: the heroine is not a Christian. She gives messages of (non-Christian) peace and light beyond death, like many of the actual near-death reports that fill the media. If Scripture accurately reports such manifestations as demonic, then you'd expect them to try to divert people from seeing Jesus as the only way to salvation, right? The TV medium does that, and I wouldn't be surprised to find she is consistent with her real-life namesake.

The British series is a dramatization of some mystery novels by Ruth Rendell. There is no hint of the supernatural, and the unnecessary focus on sex so common in earlier British TV fare is absent. But what caught my attention is that they portray functional marriages. That's also true of Medium: after many decades of absentee or buffoon fathers, the fictional TV Joe DuBois is actually a credible and loving father figure. The Bible really had it right all along, and the fiction writers are beginning to wake up to it. That they do so without God is both disappointing and understandable, but "Bravo!" anyway.

2013 April 23 -- Pitch Imperfect

WORLD magazine takes pride (in the sense that they are eager to tell us about it approvingly) in reporting news from a Christian perspective. Mostly they succeed -- far better than TIME, which gave up reporting news at all, but only offers opinions from an anti-Christian left-wing perspective. WORLD editor Marvin Olasky loves baseball and has told us so several times, but he didn't write the baseball story on the sports page of the current issue; perhaps he didn't even read it before it went to press.

The story heaps praise on pitcher Philip Humber, who "tossed the 21st perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball," then goes on to say of him, and quote approvingly,

Humber [had] been worshipping his own version of God: one who bases His love on good behavior. "That's totally wrong thinking," he said, and "not anything like what Jesus teaches in the Bible."
He -- and most other "Christians" I know or read about -- seem to be reading a different Bible than mine. Jesus doesn't say much about God's love at all, apart from a few chapters in the Gospel of John, where I find
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father. John 14:21 (oNIV)
God will love those who love and obey Jesus, and nobody else. It sure sounds like "good behavior" to me. I have read through the entire Bible more than a dozen times, and never once have I found any indication of unconditional love from God, nor from Jesus, not even in the original Hebrew and Greek (which I also read regularly). If you know of such a place, I sure would like to know about it, chapter and verse, please.

There is a verse (also in John's Gospel) that tells us that "God loved the world." The Greek word KOSMOS normally means what its English cognate "cosmos" means, the created universe, despite that it is commonly mistranslated or misinterpreted here by Christians to mean "people, including those who do not believe." I think the Evangelist intended it to mean that God, like most truly creative people, loved what He created (before we messed it up), and sent His Son to fix it (us) back to what the cosmos should be. The people who choose some other way than faith are condemned (in the same context, not by Jesus but by their own unbelief), not loved. Anyone who wants to believe can be loved by God, but there is no unconditional love in this verse, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

The people who want to believe God loves them "no matter what," are really saying that they want to keep on sinning and let God's grace keep washing it away. The Apostle Paul retorts, "God forbid!" In modern language, No way! But if you find some Scripture that clearly says you can do thatand God loves you anyway, I want to know, chapter and verse, please.

2013 April 22 -- Dreaming the Impossible Dream

I got to thinking about my friend calling herself "a hopeless romantic." At first I connected "romantic" to "romance" (the literary genre everybody but herself labels her preferred style of fiction) and rolled my email eyes. Nevermind what people (including her) say about preferring face-to-face over email, she obviously "saw" the rolled eyes and declined to reply. People do that.

But "romantic" is also another word meaning "idealist," a person who has a black-and-white view of the universe, and sets out on a quest to make the bleak and black world into something white and shining. "The Impossible Dream" song has been stuck in my mind all day. People need to believe in ideals. Otherwise nothing would get done. Romance novels are about ideals. People braving personal hardship to bring the gospel to, and translate the Bible for, unreached people groups are also following an ideal. My father was one of them. He never finished. There are now fewer than 500 speakers of the Wachipairi language, and most of them have abandonned the faith he brought them (see my "Roots" post a couple years ago), but he did what he did because it was the Right Thing to do. I do what I do because I'm an idealist. I got fired for it, but it was the Right Thing to do.

So here's a salute to the "hopeless" romantics! Never give up!

2013 April 20 -- Yes, I'm Still Here

My friend noticed I have not been posting much lately. I'm putting a lot of time into making my T2 compiler compile itself on Win32 (WindowsXP and later, although I don't know about Win8), but technical details are pretty boring to most people.

For a while I was spending the time I have waiting for the compiler, by (reading then) interacting with the author of a novel she recently had accepted for publication. She admits to being "a hopeless romantic," but cringes when I call her opus a "romance" -- which it is, by the definition I found on when I Googled "fiction genres". There are millions of starry-eyed teenage girls and frustrated middle-age housewives who want to find escape in romantic novels, and her novel is just the thing for them. She has embedded in it a tiny dash of Christian values -- she actually gets forgiveness right, which most people who call themselves "Christian" do not -- but not enough to stand out against the romantic themes and what I call "Relationshipism". But she is a Relationshipist, and I cannot tell her these things. I tried, but she couldn't handle it. It's the nature of Relationshipism. sigh She will sell many novels, and I wish her well. I wish I could write novels that sell, but not enough to sell my soul in the process (see my post "Balance" last year). sigh

Voice of the Martyrs sends out a prayer calendar each year, with with some prayer request in each day for somebody in one of the nations that persecute Christians. This week they are doing Ethiopia, and I am reminded again how the Muslims are ashamed of their god, who (they believe) is not great enough to fight his own battles, so they must do Allah's killing for him (and they hide their faces to show their shame in doing shameful deeds). We Christians -- and I suppose the Jews also, since it's in their part of the Bible -- are convinced that God is powerful enough to fight His own battles, and our hero Gideon took on a surname that says it [Judges 6:32]. The Real God does not need His followers to "kill the infidels," because He can let the infidels kill each other -- and they do! That's how we know they are infidels: infidels kill people. The Living God is a God of Life. "Choose life," He tells us.

Speaking of prayer, it seems that "Christians" use the words to ask for prayer, but (like the Muslims) they really don't believe it amounts to anything. I tell them that I will pray for them if they send me something that tells me what to pray about (see also my post last month, "The Social Contract"). AfricanEnterprise used to send out a monthly prayer calendar, but they stopped. Another friend, who is going through a tough time right now, tells me he appreciates my prayers, but I think he just wants me to affirm him by saying "I'm praying for you," without actually doing so, because he steadfastly refuses to send me information about what needs prayer. When I was a child, I had it drummed into me that God does not want "vain repetitions" for prayers, and I still more or less believe it. So when I run out of meaningful things to pray about, I stop. If you really believe in the power of prayer, you will keep me informed, so I can pray intelligently. If you don't believe in prayer, why should I bother? Except God tells me to pray for the government anyway. I do that. They need it, especially the present administration. sigh

2013 March 30 -- I Live in Sodom

Unlike Abraham's nephew Lot, God has not sent his angels to rescue me before the destruction. Maybe old age does that for me. I once had a friend who from time to time would lift his eyes up toward Heaven and say "Now is good." IMHO (In My not-very-Humble Opinion) now is indeed a good time for God to end it all, but God decides that, not I.

Anyway, I downloaded the transcripts from the two hearings before King SCOTUS this week. They are easy enough to find, everybody cares, so Google has many hits. You can tell from the dialog, it is going to be a very political decision, the left-wing bigots against the Good Guys. The left-wing bigots never want the other side even heard -- probably because they know who holds the moral high ground -- so they were constantly interrupting and badgering the lawyer for Proposition 8 (Tuesday), who couldn't even get out a whole sentence his whole time. Each lawyer gets a fixed time to say his piece, and when that red light goes on, he must stop. Cooper got all his time used up by four hostile justices on the bench.

Both days a substantial amount of time was taken on the question of whether the Court should even be deciding the cases, more so on Wednesday (DOMA), I suspect because Roberts could see it was going badly. Apparently they have a rule, that nobody can take a case to court unless they personally can suffer damages from the outcome. So for a law like Prop8 or DOMA, a homosexual can claim damages because they are denied the right to marry or they had to pay extra estate taxes, but a private citizen cannot argue for the other side. That makes it tough when the left-wing bigots control the government agencies charged with upholding the law. So the Good Guys had to be represented in Court by the people who got Prop8 put on the ballot, and by Congress (where the Republican leadership still nominally supports DOMA). There is no obvious damage in either case, so there is a very real chance Roberts will try to have the whole question thrown out, if that also vacates the lower court rulings as invalid.

The question of the merits went badly. Nobody is willing to say that promoting homosexuality is bad for the country, nor that the best possible environment for children who will be the next generation of citizens is their biological parents (see my Secular Case Against Homosexual Marriage), although Cooper made a weak stab at that while admitting (contrary to the evidence) that homosexual parents are indistinguishable from straights. On the other hand, the Solicitor General got free uninterrupted time to say both laws were intended as "animus" toward homosexuals, which response he repeated regardless of what question he was being asked. To his credit, Roberts did point out -- and Solicitor General Verrilli evaded, but did not deny -- that homosexuals actually have substantial and growing political power.

Most political SCOTUS rulings apparently hinge on one swing vote, Kennedy. He's a loose cannon, you can't guess what he will decide based on his questions from the bench. He seemed rather hostile this week. So we get to wait three months and find out. Maybe Roberts will throw another curve ball at us, as he did with ObamaCare. God only knows.

2013 March 15 -- The Social Contract

This is now the third year one of my sister's grandchildren has hit me up for support for a short-term mission trip overseas. It is my policy to ask for a report on how my donations are being used, and most para-church organizations send out newsletters to their donors. The missionaries my church supports all send out thank-you letters with ministry anecdotes. They know the drill. From these kids, however, the first year I got only a couple effussive letters during the training time, and then nothing. The second year there was no report at all. Maybe youth program directors lack experience in gratitude. Here is my contribution to their betterment:
One of the things you need to be training your student volunteers is nature of the social contract between donor and beneficiary. I recognize that the funds they raise flow through your coffers, so I suppose you of all people should be keenly aware of the stakes.

When I give funds for the support of some ministry, I am taking food off my own table, because I am without gainful employment, and this check represents one month of groceries I will not be able to buy some time in the future. Therefore it is important to me that it is used wisely in the service of Jesus Christ, and not just for a fun vacation in Europe. I had my own fun vacations in Europe, but I never asked for "ministry" money to pay for them.

The person I supported in your ministry last year never gave me a single word of report on what she did in my name. Did she do good things? I don't know. Are you a worthy ministry? I don't know.

There is a saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Forgiveness is a Christian virtue, but nothing in my Bible teaches me to offer it in advance of repentance. Nevertheless, here it is. Please help me not to be disappointed again. You probably won't get a third opportunity.

Follow-up: My sister formally informed me that she did not want me doing anything for her grandson, so these folks did not get this letter at all. I also discovered that I did get a report from his sister, but it was delayed so long as to fail to erase my perception of none.

2013 March 12 -- Excess Honesty

The Sunday School class teacher is rather unusual in an American church: he's a Thinker (see links at the bottom of my home page). But he does not survive in that hostile environment without making some concessions to the dominant Relationshipism. He knows (and uses) the vocabulary. He might even think he believes it, but when I ask him (privately) about some point, he readily admits the difference. This last Sunday, probably in reference to such occasions, he pointed to me as keeping him accountable, and suggested that we Christians should do that for each other. He says it, but he doesn't do it. Holding somebody's feet to the fire is disaffirming, and forbidden by Relationshipism. Once in a while, somebody will do it -- if they have to. This guy mentioned a time when the senior pastor asked him to "speak the truth in love" to a member. He's been on staff at this church more than a decade, and once only, they asked him to exercise some leadership. It's against their religion, but (as a Thinker) he could handle it. Once only.

My problem is that I'm not as smart as he is. I "rush in where angels fear to tread." I speak the truth when people do not want to hear the truth. Everybody says they want the truth, but from a Feeler it's a lie. Telling the truth got me fired a few years back. My best friend seems to have quietly disassociated himself from me some time in the last five months. Maybe I learned the habit from my mother, who got herself formally excommunicated from an American evangelical church for speaking the truth, or maybe I just learned it from the Bible, where the prophets and the Apostles were continually getting into trouble for the same indiscretion. Even Jesus got himself crucified for it.

I guess there's an opportunity for balance here. God cannot lie, but apparently that does not include saying nothing at all, for example when the Twelve Disciples asked when the Second Coming would be, and Jesus told them it's none of their business. On the other hand, in a court of law, where you are under oath to "speak the whole truth," to fail to do so is a lie. Jesus was very reluctant to admit in public that he was the Messiah, but under oath in court he said so clearly. Most of the time we are not in that position, and silence is a good option, which even Jesus exercised regularly.

Me, I'm not so smart. It's probably why I have so few friends, and certainly why I'm without gainful employment at this time. sigh

2013 March 5 -- Gender Fiction

A new ChristianityToday arrived in my mailbox today. They have a regular column, where they invite a variety of (usually professional) Christians to offer opinions, for or against the underlying theme of some news topic. What some people consider to be good Christian theology is often worth a sad chuckle. This month the news item itself was humorous. It seems an Iowa dentist, good Christian that he was, perceived a potential source of temptation in the sexual attractiveness of his assistant, and fired her. She apparently took him to court -- and lost when the Iowa State Supreme Court determined that his action was not based on gender. If you believe that, ladies and gentlemen, you might also be interested in some Florida swa-- I mean beach-front property. I don't know what his lawyer argued, but the assumption seems to have been that he would have been equally at risk from the sexual predations of a male assistant. Only in today's anti-Christian hetero-phobic culture.

I also stopped at the library for another stack of DVDs to watch while waiting for a long compile, or after I'm too tired to work productively. They seem to have picked a batch of TV series this year. Sit-coms are the reason I feel no regret over not having a working TV, but some are miniseries that rise above the noise. Last month I worked my way through a 2-season series based on a comic-book action amazon with a magical bracelet that switched into a sword or iron glove as needed to stop speeding bullets or stab opponents. She tried to play a hard New York cop who did not believe in spirits and demons and magic, but had to come to terms with the latent spiritual issues the writers had buried in her bracelet. The first season the TV show producers and writers worked closely with the comic artists to achieve a gripping (though hardly credible) story arc, but when it had run its course, they rewound the clock and unkilled all the characters for a second season dedicated to the standard meaningless TV pablum we all know and hate.

Forewarned and suitably insectoid, I saw on the shelf today another "complete series" (one season only) titled "Crusade" and picked up only the first disk. I probably won't go back for the rest. It's a sci-fi space opera of the caliber of Flash Gordon, but 50 years later they can use computer graphics instead of spray-painted cardboard for the wooden effects to accompany the wooden acting. After wading through the first episode, I flipped to the special features menu to see if anything there might be more interesting. Normally I don't waste time on the voice-over director's commentary tracks, but somehow I missed whatever clue told me that was what I selected. Right at the beginning three women introduced themselves as the writer, the director, and one of the actors, along with a male actor. No wonder the network cancelled it after a single season! Sci-fi is a testosterone domain; chicks don't get it. Some three-quarters of the way through the episode voice-over there is this very telling explanation:

...subtle nuance reveals of characters, it's about emotion and relationship -- that's unusual in sci-fi... You know, I think a lot of people crave this. Frankly, when I show my episodes often to my friends who never watch sci-fi, just because I'm directing, my friends want to see it. They are frequently totally amazed at the content and level of artistic -- I don't know what -- that we reach...
Then the voice changes, I guess to the writer:
That's one of the wonderful things about sci-fi is that there are no guidelines, or like structures that you get stuck into, it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work? So as a result you get almost the most real human moments anywhere, I think.
Then the male actor voice pipes in, explaining that the networks don't buy poetry, by which he seems to mean "emotion and relationship."

Actually, it's the networks who are the real humans with real brains. They look at the real numbers, representing real (human) viewers, and they buy stuff that real (human) people want to watch, and they cancel the rest. The producers might take a chance now and then -- Crusade was a spin-off after five years of another space opera, and they wanted to try something different. Different enough, it turned out, that it couldn't last as long.

Women want emotions and relationship, and they don't expect to find it in credible sci-fi. Men want to see stuff go fast, make loud noises, and break things, and that doesn't usually come attached to emotions and relationship. True date flicks are really hard to pull off, and certainly not on a TV show budget. Sci-fi really does have rules and guidelines -- it's called "science" -- and you are allowed to bend a few of those rules in certain well-defined ways, but you cannot do whatever you want, because the scientists will say it can't work. All the sci-fi TV show writers run out of ideas after a while, so they start bending science too hard, and the whole show goes to Hades. StarGate had that problem. It ended in a giant flop. So did MacGyver.

An important dogma of the prevailing established religion of the culture we live in is that there is no difference between men and women except for reproductive functions. This is scientific and social and Biblical nonsense, contradicted by all sorts of evidence (some of which I have mentioned here from time to time), but nonetheless believed by almost everybody -- including many Christians who otherwise claim to believe the Bible. But Christians have always been guilty of syncretism in every culture.

Sometimes it's important to see the fiction that others put so much faith in, so to be ready to give an answer for the hope within us. But it's important also to remember, it's fiction, "it's make-believe, [they] can do whatever [they] want, because who's to say it can't work?" Well, the viewers, for one. That's why they have no viewers. Fiction is not allowed to escape the bounds of plausibility. You have poetry for that. And yes, the networks don't buy it -- because the people don't buy it.

2013 February 25 -- Live and Let Live

I mentioned last year my problem with humor, how ridiculing a weaker person tends to evoke in me sympathy for the victim instead of laughter. This time it came particularly close to home: I spent some of my formative years in the tropics, which are overrun with dangerous creepie-crawlies. As a result I am perhaps more than normally sensitive (in a negative way) to the presence of God's little creatures. On this recent occasion I was not subjected to that hazard, but my host presented for our entertainment, stories of another person with a comparable fear, whose colleagues at work taunted him with rubber imitations. I did not want to offend my host, but all I could think of was the horror of possibly finding myself in the same position as the butt of such pranks.

I remain convinced that 1+2C is an awesome encapsulation of what it means to be Christian. I cannot in good conscience poke fun at another person's phobias, because I too have hang-ups I prefer not to expose to such ridicule. I cannot easily do anything about my attitude toward creepie-crawlies, and I doubt this poor bloke could either. Children are notoriously cruel to each other, but these were adults in a work environment. It's the Golden Rule (2C) to live and let live, but pranks seem to be more fun. Unless you are the butt of the joke.

2013 February 23 -- Perilous Times

Much of the fiction -- I read sci-fi, where it was especially true -- and the movies that came out of the 1960s were very nihilistic. People were terrified that the Cold War would erupt into nuclear holocaust, and that fear pervaded the fiction. Before that, "film noir" in the 1940s (according to Wiki) presented leftover gloom from the Depression. The "noir" is French for "black" and those flicks had a very dark presentation, a lot of black (and bleak) images. I'm now seeing a lot of similar but very recent movies. They are in color, but the color is subdued (almost black and white, mostly black) and the overall cast is very dark. This started with Batman, but now it's everywhere. The modern word for it is "gothic." The only bright colors are the flames of  fires, but always against a black background. There is a pervasive -- and IMHO, well-founded -- fear of where this country is going, even though most of the actors and producers (and probably writers) voted for the cause of the current depression. Obama is not the first cause of it (that would be evil in the hearts of sinners), but his uninformed policies have made things worse, not better.

Last night I watched Red Riding Hood, a modern remake of the ancient children's story, but now told as a werewolf nightmare. Like many of the movies set in and shortly after the Middle Ages, the villains were church officials who tortured and killed suspected witches without a trial. If you recognize that those priests represented the highest authority of the land, it's easy to see the same villainy rising again in our time and nation, now at the hands of anti-church officials. The government has not yet got around to killing ordinary citizens -- although some of the movies now show that as credible (think: Jack Bauer) -- but they are starting their pogrom with million-dollar-per-day fines. Remember Janet "What A Cook Out" Reno? Same political party, same tactics, killing (without a trial) people suspected of having guns. That was 20 years ago this month. Now they kill them for being black or poor, before they are born. The million-dollar fines are for religious people who resist. Soon they will be killing us too. Your tax dollars at work.

I read through the Psalms and Proverbs twice a year, one every day. Today it's Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." God is bigger than Obama.

2013 February 22 -- A Cold Winter Morning

The weather report for yesterday anticipated "freezing rain" and "sleet" with separate accumulations for each. Me, I'm from California, where we don't have such things, but I infer from the forecast that freezing rain does different things when it lands than sleet does. No matter, both put a layer of ice-like stuff on the ground that it is not possible (as with snow) to shovel off. The first winter I experienced hard white stuff accumulating on the ground here, I was unable to get the car back up the gentle slope of the driveway into the garage. So I went out and bought a snow shovel and a big bag of salt. The shovel is useless on yesterday's deposit, but I laid down a bunch of salt (now soggy -- apparently it sucks water out of the humid summer air). Maybe the water in it helps it melt the ice. I hope.

If you think creatively (that is, unconstrained by reality), you might suppose against all reason that the hard white stuff on the ground is the result of "global warming." If you believe that, you probably also were among the minority of Americans who voted for the least competent President in my lifetime, you know, the one who thinks that "global warming" can be solved by raising taxes on low-income people and giving huge government hand-outs to the rich, while telling the American people it's going to be the other way around.

Anyway, I'm not going anywhere for a couple days. No problem, the power didn't go out this time, so I can use the computer and I can heat -- if not the whole house, at least -- this room I work in. My compiler takes about three hours to compile itself, so I have a lot of spare time to do other things. Like reading and blogging.

The February issue of WIRED magazine -- it's no longer current, the March issue arrived in subscriber mailboxes last week, but still not yet online for me to link to -- features a cover story titled "think big" which supposes that "one massive idea can change the world. Here are 7." The WIRED editors have never let reality overly affect their thinking, so they have spent a lot of recent ink discussing movies (which are total fiction) and stuff like that. Among their 7 "big ideas" are "plug-in" (electric) airplanes, and a contact lens that images a computer display directly in the eye of the beholder.

The article goes into some detail, how recent efforts to reduce the fuel spent on air travel is looking at ways to cut the power in half. That's a long way from electric. A recent news item (obviously not in WIRED) reported how sales of electric cars is down, apparently far below the hopes of our current clueless President. Electric cars, it seems, have only a quarter the range of gas-powered vehicles, and the batteries wear out very quickly. Battery technology has a long way to go before a closed system can store as much renewable energy as the same weight or volume of gasoline or jet fuel. My sister tells me that her phone battery no longer lasts the whole day, and it's only two years old. Some people around here drive cars that are 30+ years old, and they have just as much range on a fill-up as they did when they were new. It costs a little more (and rising, now that the election is over, and the rich-man's puppet got re-elected) than back then, but a lot less than new batteries would, and certainly at less harm to the environment. The physics just isn't there for plug-in airplanes.

Google Glass is a prototype device that hangs a display off to one side of the wearer's head, and projects the image onto a mirror in front of the eye. Putting the device in a contact lens is a different matter. Let's assume that getting the electronics that small is not beyond the reach of Moore's Law, at least maybe a decade or two away. There are worse problems, like that pesky battery, which has no such improvement curve. How is this contact-lens-computer going to be powered? Oh, and the physics. The human eye is designed to focus normally at infinity, and with effort -- muscles in the eye, or else (in my experience) by reshaping the eye -- at closer distances. No physics or optics allow for images placed on the eyeball itself, but perhaps a microscopic laser might be able to paint the images through the lens directly onto the retina. That would require overcoming the focussing effect of the lens, all in a space a millimeter or two wide (in bright light, more in dim light, as the iris opens). This putative micro-laser needs to be precisely aimed in two dimensions to cover the fovea with a raster of pixels. Right now the only way we have to do that is by physically moving a physical mirror; getting mechanics that small involves overcoming some limits in physics. The resolution of this area is not that great, but the human flicks his eyes around to look at different parts of the image in detail, and the lens would need an accelerometer to detect that motion and shift the part of the image being displayed in real time to match. That would require some very high-speed processing, which uses more power and gets us back to that pesky battery again. We also need an antenna to receive the digital information to be displayed, and sufficient memory to store the image being displayed, because bandwidth limitations prevent it from being refreshed remotely at eye-motion speed. There are no such limits in the higher frequencies, but they are limited to line-of-sight, which a transmitter in the wearer's pocket or purse is not. The physics just isn't there for in-eye displays.

Some of their other ideas weren't so ridiculous, like filling deserts with solar energy collectors. Along the bottom of the article pages they ran a list of existing "ideas" that presumably changed the world -- some in ways that free-thinkers still do not understand. For example, birth control has achieved a curious anti-Darwinian effect of destroying the economic base for sustainable populations. By the end of the century (or sooner, if people wise up), I expect birth control and especially abortion to become forbidden and illegal everywhere. Otherwise who is going to pay into the Ponzi scheme the government is imposing on old people today?

But these are not new ideas, and it was not the ideas that changed things. It was the practical invention or implementation of those ideas that changed things. The ideas came long before our time. Take birth control. The Canaanites 4000 years ago had birth control and abortion, they just killed it after the baby came out. It limited their population into extinction, as it is doing again in our time. People had ideas about flying through the air like birds 3000 years ago, but the ideas did not change anything. It was the Wright brothers' actual flight that changed things.

Back to the weather that occasioned this blog post, it occurs to me that weather also has a profound effect on things. The list at the bottom of those six pages mentions refrigeration but not air conditioning, which is a special kind of refrigeration. The industrial revolution swept over northern Europe and the northern states of the USA. The deep south was only able to function economically on the backs of slaves, and when Lincoln turned that off, he effectively destroyed their economy until less than a century ago, when air conditioning became affordable. Here in the middle of the country, the weather is so harsh that people spend much of their time coping with the heat or humidity or cold, so they have little energy left over for productive activities. California became the source of many previously unaffordable technologies because so little effort needed to be expended on just living. In the Salinas valley, where I previously lived, farmers grow three crops a year in each field. It's fun looking at the fine print on the packages of fruits and veggies I buy here 2000 miles away, how many of them are grown and packed less than 100 miles from where I used to live. The people around here like being farmers, but California feeds the nation. They don't shovel snow, they don't need air conditioning, the food grows so easy they can feed the whole country on not very much effort, so they collectively have a lot of time left over to think up new things (not all of them useful). Silicon Valley started in California. So also, unfortuantely, did movies and the porn industry -- but the nuts running the government in Sacramento are chasing most of the good stuff out: almost all the recent movies are now made in Canada, and the electronics industry has moved to Idaho and Texas. When the Japanese want to make cars in the USA, they go to Kentucky. sigh

2013 February 15 -- The Trials of Job

I mentioned reading Brothers Karamazov. One whole "Book" (three chapters) is devoted to the memoirs of a monk Zossima who died in the arms of the youngest of the three bothers, which memoirs (according to the story) Alexey transcribed for our benefit. Unlike previous references to Scripture in the novel, Zossima had a great fondness for reading the Bible, and a substantial part of these memoirs is spent thinking about Old testament persons, most notably the Patriarch Job.

Job is one of those odd people of the Bible that nobody understands. Three years ago I posted a review of a book by a pastor or some such, who was totally clueless about Job. This fictional monk in the pen of Fyodor Dostoyevsky might be forgiven for being almost as clueless as his modern American counterpart, because a trained pastor writing a whole book specifically on the Patriarch should have researched his topic better than a Russian novelist two centuries ago.

Nobody understands Job, because nobody really understands what the Christian message is all about. It's about God, not you and me. We are people, created to serve and love God, not the other way around. Job shows us how that is supposed to work. Sure, Bad Things Happen, both to him and also (usually in much less degree, but not always) to the rest of us, but God is God and deserves our worship and praise because He is God, and not because we receive any benefits from it. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't, but God is still God. "Blessed be the Name of the LORD," Job rightly said, in good times and in bad.

Dostoyevsky, in the writings of his fictional monk, has a problem with the children:

How could God give up the most loved of His saints [Job] for the diversion of the devil, take from him his children, smite him with sore boils so that he cleansed the corruption from his sores with a pot-sherd -- and for no object except to boast to the devil! ... Many years pass by, and he has other children and loves them. But how could he love those new ones when those first children are no more, when he has lost them? [Book VI]
Jesus gave special care to the children, and we should do no less, but Dostoyevsky/Zossima did not read the text very carefully. He skipped over the numbers. Dostoyevsky said so. The numbers are important. ALL Scripture is profitable for instruction, and this is no exception.

At the beginning Job had seven sons and three daughters, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and uncounted servants. His statistical lifetime, according to Moses, was 70 years. At the end Job is rewarded for his patience by 14,000 sheep, 6000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen, and 1000 female donkeys. His actual lifetime was 140 years. He also had seven more sons and three more daughters. Everything he lost was doubled in the restoration. Everything.

But wait, he only got ten new children, same as he had before he lost them! Because, unlike you and me and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, God and Job did not see the first ten as lost forever. In the Resurrection he would have 20 children, 14 sons and six daughters, double just like the sheep and camels and everything else.

OK, it doesn't say that in the text. But why did God give us all those numbers, if we were not expected to do the math?

God is not the author of evil, nor does He capriciously deny us good things, just for some stupid bet with Satan. God is Good, and Job did not lose those children entirely. They are still his children (present tense). Jesus told the Sadducees that "God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob" (present tense), because they are not dead. Neither are Job's children, because Job prayed for them, and God heard his prayers. God is the God of the living, not the dead. Jesus said so. Dostoyevsky almost believed it, when he said "if there's no immortality of the soul, then there's no virtue, and everything is lawful." Dostoyevsky certainly believed in virtue, so he must have believed in immortality, however incompletely.


2013 February 14 -- Obama Still Hates Me

I saw this notice of some kind of town hall Q&A sessions, the next having its focus on "All-male households, including homosexuals," scheduled for the 14th and 15th of this month -- I must have read it yesterday, because I remember thinking "tomorrow." I was getting ready to blog about how that obviously was meant to exclude me, when the notice morphed from chalk on a blackboard into plastic letters like they use in an office building directory, except these were orange. So I realized it was a dream, because that can't happen in real life. Perhaps that realization woke me up.

I tried to read the new illuminated timer-clock I bought to compensate for the fact that you can no longer buy electric blankets that do what you buy an electric blanket to do, which is to keep you warm all night. They all shut down at exactly the same time, and there is no variation, no competition between brands offering more or less functionality, so I assume the government made them do it. Anyway, most of them also stop functioning on a brief power outage (you get such outages in a winter storm), but the Sears model recovered when the power is restored. So I looked around and finally found an X-10 timer that would cycle the power off and then back on every few hours, and the blanket now works the way an electric blanket should without the government bungling -- this looks like another one of Obama's "improvements". I also bought an extra blanket to use when this one wears out. Who knows when the government will force them to destroy their product even further.

Anyway, this timer has an illuminated face, which I can read across the room just fine when the room lights are on, but in the dark it's just a blur -- but that's another story (the ophthalmologist works for a state government, not the feds). It was something like 2:30 this morning. By then I couldn't go back to sleep, so I got up and started work.

I suppose that the dream came from my subconscious trying to cope with the increasing hostility this country's government shows toward people like me. Make no mistake, they are hostile, not yet as bad as China or Saudi Arabia, but definitely going in that direction.

2013 February 12 -- Incomplete Christianity

Last month I mentioned starting to read Brothers Karamazov. It's heavy going, so I'm only a third of the way through it, with a lot of deep theological stuff, mostly the main characters (the eponymous brothers and their father) trying to figure out Reality without being fully informed by God's word. Make no mistake, they know more about Scripture than most Christians I know today, but their understanding appears to be limited to the Gospels and the Apocalypse, as if their (or perhaps Dostoyevsky's) understanding is informed only by what they heard in Sunday sermons -- certainly heavier than anything preached in American churches today, but incomplete by focus only on the red letters (what Jesus himself said and did).

While struggling with the problem of evil in much greater depth than most modern writers -- including the atheists, see my rebuttal to Hitchens and also the short video on the topic -- they are unwilling to reject God out of hand, for "if there's no immortality of the soul, then there's no virtue, and everything is lawful" [BookII, ch.7]. Last night I read a particularly long chapter, mostly a long monologue by the oldest brother Ivan describing his epic "poem" set three centuries earlier in the Spanish Inquisition. It's an analysis of the nature of the three Temptations of Christ in the wilderness, with the most attention given to making bread from the stones.

In Ivan's explanation, this is not (as the Gospel tells us) that Jesus was hungry, but that making bread magically like this would serve his potential followers as in the Feeding of the 5000, and somehow thus deprive them of their freedom. It's a modern notion of freedom he has here, not the first-century Christian view, which is the freedom to be all that God intended us to be. The modern notion, which the atheists especially like, is rather the reverse, seeing freedom as the opportunity to reject God's perfect will for us, which the Apostle Paul calls "slavery" in Romans. Thus I infer that Dostoyevsky did not come up with this notion from reading the whole Bible, but only by drawing ever remote and improbable inferences from tiny excerpts. There is certainly insight in recognizing that love not freely given is not love at all, and the foreshadowing of "cargo cults" a century later, and their pseudo-Christian imitators which "believe" only because of perceived personal benefits is not true faith.

Yet, Jesus did feed the 5000, and then 4000 again some time later. God does give blessings to His believers. But God also allows Bad Things to Happen in this life. The Christians in China and Viet Nam and Saudi Arabia are not Christians because of the personal benefits they might receive, but rather because they know it is True.

Maybe Dostoyevsky gets around to discussing the nature of true faith, which survives hardship because its object is the Truth, both the Reality that is, and also because God is about Truth and expressed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Or maybe -- like so many Americans, "Christian" and unbeliever alike -- he has Clue Deficit Disorder. We shall see.


2013 January 23 -- It's the Economy, Stupid

Due to circumstances only slightly beyond my control (unlawful action by other persons, the consequences of which I was not smart enough to evade), I do not have enough financial reserves to sustain my existence for the duration of my statistical life expectancy without going on public welfare, which is contrary to my political preferences. Therefore I need to find gainful employment. Previously mentioned unlawful actions, plus new unlawful actions (hair-color discrimination) on the part of potential employers, plus the economy (another one of those political preferences, where the plurality of American voters chose to maintain the current status quo instead of risking a Mormon the chance to fix it), all work to diminish the probability of my success, but I keep trying. This year unemployment is already going up again as ObamaCare kicks in and drives employers to reduce hours and/or numbers of employees. That translates into more people competing for fewer jobs.

The first quarter in each year is hiring season for college faculty. In 2002, when I saw that my California non-profit was getting ready to roll over and do a good imitation of being dead, I sent out a couple dozen resumes to colleges, and got three on-campus interviews and two offers. That was before the Bush/Obama crash (Bush started it, Obama made it worse). Now I send out a couple hundred resumes and never make it to any short list. A couple of the search committees let me know that they were overwhelmed by "a hundred applications." Most recently one of them sent out a mass mailing and forgot to blind-copy the recipients. It was a Christian college with only a couple dozen names (applicants are encouraged to self-select to eliminate theological incompatibility), mostly hard-driving fresh-outs (read: no experience, will accept low salary) with oriental or middle-eastern names. You could tell they were still in college, because the email addresses were mostly colleges or gMail.

All the 2-year community colleges (and increasingly some 4-year colleges) require applicants to use their on-line robot. The effect of that process is to homogenize all applicants to cookie-cutter uniformity, thereby making it harder to distinguish myself from the clones turned out by the edu-factory assembly lines. I am a person, not a machine, so I stopped going to the extra trouble to sign up for those. Mostly they want the lower cost of MS-level education, so dealing with their viruses to get my name in is almost certainly futile.

I also pass up the big-name and state universities, because their primary hiring criterion is "external funding" which is again the wrong politics. The big spenders happen to be running the government this year -- that's why there are so many applicants for the few jobs -- but I'm a known and proven failure at brown-nosing them. Private schools generally eschew government funds, so they are willing to look for people who can teach.

God is bigger than the economy, so when it's time to get a job, somebody will hire me. But I need to be there with my resume. I keep trying. Or maybe the coercive jack-boots of the increasingly socialist government will force me onto public welfare -- either because I run out of money, or else because I refuse to lick their anti-religious boots (also known as jail time). At least it won't be boring.

2013 January 15 -- Division of Labor

The American Kool-Aid is that "all [people] are created equal." In some sense that's true, but not in the sense that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind. They were thinking about the fact that in the British culture they came from and were escaping, some barnyard animals are more equal than others: the King and his lords had more rights than the common folk, and our forefathers didn't want that disparity in our country -- but we have it anyway.

In every country and in every time, rich people have advantages that poor people lack. That offends the socialists (including the party currently in power here in the USA), and they try to eliminate the distinction, but without success. The (now former) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics did a better job of equalizing the wealth in that country by destroying the economy, so (almost) everybody was poor -- but in the process they created a new power structure with a new (rich) aristocracy. They did not eliminate the inequalities, they only shifted the boundaries. As always, the party in power gets to arrange it so that they remain on the side of the wealth. Don't believe for a minute that the so-called Democratic Party in the USA has plans otherwise.

The other political party is no different. It was a little more obvious this last election, which is one of the reasons they lost. If they had offered a viable moral alternative -- meaning somebody besides Romney -- Obama would have lost. But my focus today is not politics.

God made people different. Different is inherently unequal. Red is not equal to blue. In blue light, blue objects look brighter and red objects look dark; in red light it's the other way around. That does not make red morally better than blue, just different. People are different. There are different jobs, too, different things that need to be done, and that somebody is willing to pay to have them done. Different people like doing different things.

My sister Beth is an awesome cook, probably mostly because she likes to cook. I can do a tolerable job warming up a can of beans, but there are things I enjoy more. It was interesting preparing all the recipes in her cookbook, but I'm glad it's over. I'm eating leftovers now, because my present income does not permit me to discard them. Today I made fake lasagna from leftover ricotta cheese and leftover spaghetti. Beth could have made it taste good; my efforts were merely tolerable. More people can cook than can program a computer, so simple economics pays programmers better than cooks. Making a business profitable seems to be harder yet, and even fewer people succeed at it; therefore they get paid more. We call this inequality "the division of labor." People do what they are good at, or they don't get paid -- except in a socialist economy, where you get paid anyway, so nobody does what they are good at (or at least nobody bothers to get good at what they get paid for), and the whole economy goes rapidly to Hades.

By the end of this month most of my leftovers will be gone, and I'll go back to warming up cans of soup or stew. The recipes in the cookbook take a lot more time and effort than heating a can of soup in the microwave, and there are other things I prefer doing with my time and energy. I'm not getting paid for cooking or for programming, but programming is more fun -- for me; Beth prefers cooking any day over putting things into her computer. We are different. We are both good at what we like to do, and (especially in today's economy) neither of us is getting paid for it, but we each prefer to do what we like to do.

We each wrote a book about how to do our specialty, but only programmers read my book (and not very many of them). It remains to be seen who reads Beth's book.

Beth is an evangelical cook. She believes everybody should enjoy cooking as much as she does. Me, I used to think that about programming, but not everybody is endowed by their Creator with that gift. People are different.

Not too long ago Beth admitted to being of socialist political persuasion. She doesn't seem to mind being paid to do nothing. In the socialist economy there is less money to go around, so she doesn't get paid very much. People are different. I prefer to work for my income, so (again, in today's socialist economy) I get paid even less. But at least I have a hope.

Oops, sorry, this wasn't supposed to be political. I can do things very few people are able to do for themselves. That means that -- if I'm sufficiently clever and industrious and not excessively stupid -- I can find things to do that people are willing to pay for. For a while I thought that was teaching, but it turns out the academics are socialists: they are willing to pay people for not working very hard, so my added value is not much value to them. For a while I thought I could program Bible translation, but it turns out the people in that business are also socialists -- and farther down the poverty scale: there is no money in Bible translation, not even at the relatively low income level I'm willing to live on. But at least I have hope, if not teaching, if not Bible translation, then something else.

The Macintosh was radically new when it came out in 1984, and I was able to jump on it and do reasonably well, before Apple killed the product and replaced it with a (not quite yet impoverished, but already senile) socialist operating system (I think the letters "OSX" stand for "Old Socialist Former=ex"; like the political system, it rewards mediocrity). I can't compete in that market. Windoze is holding strong at 90% market share, and they have a lot of programmers looking at that soon-dwindling pot of gold, so I can't compete in that market either. Besides, both super-star founders (Jobs and Gates) are out of the picture, so neither system will be doing well ten years from now (if they survive that long).

But the USA still has a lot of very smart entrepeneurs. I just need to jump on the right one. Division of labor -- and a fairly rare specialty -- lets me do that. At least I have a hope.

2013 January 14 -- Winter

They call it "wintery mix" or "ice storm" when it's rain and ice and stuff that freezes onto the tree branches and ground leaving a layer of ice around and over everything. I never saw that in California, but the people who live here and see it every other year or so, it still scares the be-Jesus out of them -- literally: how can they "be Jesus" to the world of unbelievers if they are afraid to go to church? -- so they cancelled church. Not every church in town is so timid, so I went to church on the other side of town.

There are places in the world where going to church on Sunday is a much more scary proposition. I recently read that Somali terrorists are paying and training Kenya "Christians" (mostly unemployed youths looking for any kind of income) to be Nigeria-style church-bombers.

I am again reminded of the fundamental difference between properly trained Christians and Muslims. God tells Christians not to take revenge on unbelievers, to leave them be, because "God is not willing for any to perish," while Islam seems to teach its followers to "kill the infidels!" There is a profound difference in the kind of God being taught here. Christians learn that our God is powerful enough to fight His own battles in His own time, while the Muslims are ashamed and afraid that their god is powerless unless the faithful help him out. There is no shame in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the Islamic terrorists must hide their faces when they do their shameful deeds. They know what they do is shameful.

Another interesting feature of these ice-covered branches is that I finally get to actually hear "things go bump in the night" as the extra weight causes tree limbs to fall off and hit the roof.

2013 January 10 -- Reading My Own Library

I got a few pages into the novel I'd checked out from the library and realized the scene was familiar. When I started doing that with the movies I checked out, I began making a list of all the movies I've seen, and taking it with me to the library, so as not to check out flicks I've already seen. A few movies are worth watching a second time, but not many. The library gets most of their flicks by donation, and people don't give away movies they want to watch over and over. Maybe I need to start the same practice with books.

Then I realized I have a bunch of books in boxes in my garage that I never read. When I was young and had more dollars than sense, I bought books. If I don't start reading them now, I probably never will.

So today I started Brothers Karamazov. The box it was in had not been opened in almost 20 years.


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