Tom Pittman's WebLog

Last year, Later this year

2014 March 27 -- Violent Fiction

That last novel was such a downer, I decided to try for a pick-me-up. According to my sister, my grandmother loved Louis L'Amour novels, and a friend here does too and loaned me a couple a year or two ago. The two I read seemed to have the same plot (Bad Guy chases Good Guy but Good Guy wins) and my friend agreed, but the language is clean. The library has a stack of his stuff, including a collection of short stories (volume 5, but probably no dependency on previous collections).

I'm now most of the way through, and they definitely don't all have the same plot, but I noticed he spends a lot of ink on blow-by-blow descriptions of fisticuffs. In the bio at the back it says that (among other things) L'Amour learned pro boxing. In one of the stories the lead character, after trouncing a bigger guy, explains that with training you can learn a lot of unobvious stuff that different people figured out over the years. It seems to be another case of writing what you know. Me, I've been pretty much non-violent all my life, so I don't know those things. It's not that I was a philosophical pacifist, but more that I avoid getting involved in things I don't do well. Recently my thinking on "2C" (the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus) leads to something resembling philosophical non-violence (who wants to get beat up? I don't; therefore don't do it), so reading about it gets tiresome. That probably applies to all sorts of conflict -- and as noted earlier, stories without conflict are boring -- but physical violence is more immediately painful.

The thing I like about Vince Flynn is that his conflict is mostly cerebral. The larger-than-life hero shoots straight and is stronger than his opponents, but mostly he outsmarts them. Some L'Amour stories are like that, but there's a lot of variability. Maybe part of what I disliked so much about Gold Coast is that the Bad Guy outsmarted the hero.

2014 March 18 -- Relating to the Bad Guy

It was a horrible book. I probably won't read anything else by Nelson DeMille. Unlike the last Ringo book I read, the primary character, the first-person narrator in this case, is not the one with the foul mouth, but the story revolves around the Mafia guy who needs a soapy toothbrush. People like that exist, but I do not volunteer to associate with them. Our narrator didn't either, but he got suckered into it. The narrator had other faults, and I prefer not to read about them either. I seriously considered just sending the book back half-read.

But then I got to thinking about the central theme of this novel. There are Bad Guys out there, but how does a conscientious Christian relate to them? By retreating to our ivory tower or monastery in the desert? Byzantine Christians did that, but Jesus told his disciples not to. That's why it took four or five centuries for them to start doing it, and it's why we today don't do it.

I once worked with a guy that I got along very well with. John was co-founder of a tech company, and he brought me in to do their computer work. I learned a lot of things from him, like the point of being in business is not profit, but to help people; if you make a profit, that's evidence you succeeded. When asked if he was a Christian he said "Yes," but I think it was a cultural thing, like he wasn't Muslim or atheist; as far as I know, he never confessed Jesus as Lord. Anyway, there were four of us working together in the company development lab, John and I and his technician Nayan (from India) and another Christian, junior programmer Steve. The company got sold to a conglomerate who brought in their own guy to run it -- mostly into the ground, but that's another story -- and John took early retirement. I left to do other things, and eventually came here and lost contact with John, who also moved out of state. After a few years, Steve contacted me to tell me John had died and his former coworkers at the company were holding a memorial service for him there in California. Among them was a marketing guy who Steve informed me was a homosexual, and Steve wasn't sure he should participate. It must have been from God, because I normally don't think this way, but I told him the service was to honor John, not this other guy; if he didn't make an issue of his domestic preference, Steve could be polite and ignore it.

It still seems to me to be good advice. God sends His rain on the just and the unjust alike. If a Mafia don moved next door to me, I think I should try to be polite, as if I didn't know what his business was. In this book, the narrator never had first-hand knowledge of his neighbor's criminal activity, it was only hearsay he read in the newspapers or saw on TV. The guy was never convicted of any crime, nor did he admit to any. He asked our narrator to do something unlawful, but so also had one of his "good-guy" friends. It was a complex story, and our narrator was no saint, but a good novelist can make you think about how you and I would act in the same circumstance. DeMille did that.

I would like to hope I wouldn't fall so hard, that God would help me to do The Right Thing. Maybe that's why I hated the novel. The ending was such a downer. But that's like the pot calling the kettle black: my own first novel is a downer too. It's the real world. According to the author's introduction, Gold Coast was not a runaway best-seller like his other novels. I can see why.

2014 March 12 -- Race and Service

Two of them came to me almost back-to-back, movies emphasizing the racial facet of domestic service in America. It's unfortunate that people -- neither the people who made these two flicks, nor the people they criticized in them -- nobody understands what Jesus taught about service. Everybody wants to be chief, nobody wants to be the indians. God favors the indians, He made a lot of them. Y'all who want to be chief, you have your reward, don't expect any in Heaven. Jesus said so.

The Butler is a marvelous story about a man who understood the nature of service and his place in it. It had some poignant personal moments, but the racist nature of its overall theme, clearly expressed in the "Making of" documentary, and only partly muted during the film itself, spoiled it. The first half was far superior to the back end, and it left me with a sour taste. It turned out to be a political flick, celebrating probably the most incompetent President this country has had in over a century. It could have been so much better than that. It was only "inspired by a true story," but totally fiction. Unfortunately, it's a topic that majority screen writers don't dare touch, so if we're ever going to see a remake, it will probably be colored by the same racial hate-mongering as this one. There are worse movies, but not many.

At least The Help was non-political. As in The Butler, there were unavoidable racial elements to the story, but they were integral to it, not laid on top with a thick dollop of political animosity. It also had one of the funniest scenes I have seen in a long time. Y'all know I don't laugh much, but God laughs at the wicked, and this (fictional) woman was as abusive as any atheist could be, so she certainly deserved all the ridicule this flick subtly heaped on her, and they did it in spades. It's potty humor, but uncommonly funny, and worth watching.

2014 March 11 -- Writing What They Don't Know

Biblical Archeology Review (BAR) is a great magazine for learning about the land of the Bible, but you need to recognize that its publisher (and editor) is a Jew who probably does not actually believe the faith of his ancestry. I think he knows very well who his subscribers are, so he keeps on printing great stuff for us, but he also runs opinion pieces by unbelievers. Take the current issue:
What we in academia observe is a stubborn refusal by large sectors of the population to accept climate change and global warming as factors to be taken seriously. But cancer research -- everyone takes that seriously. The study of religion -- and especially the Bible and archaeology -- often falls into the former category.
The writer, Eric Meyers, holds an endowed faculty position at a secular university and is director of the Center for Jewish Studies. That means that, unlike computer programmers and truck drivers and the editor of the magazine he wrote this for, he doesn't really need to know anything to get paid. He just needs a good reputation among his atheist friends, including the left-wing bigots who generally populate academia and who get to decide whom to give an endowed chair to.

In this case, I believe he is more accurate in aligning his chosen specialty with global warming and against cancer research than he probably would want to admit. Everybody knows somebody who died or is dying from cancer, so we all know it's real. Nobody ever died from global warming, but a lot of people froze to death this last winter. Remember those 52 scientists studying global warming in Antarctica? They were stuck in record-breaking ice and had to be rescued. Global warming is a political crock of baloney, which everybody knows except the (left-wing) politicians and the pseudo-scientists who feed at their money trough.

So-called "Biblical scholarship" is a pseudo-academic field populated by atheists trying to discredit the Bible. Like Pekka Himanen (see my review of The Hacker Ethic) and modern sci-fi TV writers, they believe "there are no guidelines, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" The remarkable thing about these people is that for hundreds of years (this is not a new phenomenon) each generation comes up with academic or scholarly reasons why the Bible is wrong, then new (actual, spade-in-the-ground) research shows that those opinions were wrong, and the next generation comes up with different new opinions why the Bible is wrong. The Bible never changes, it's the opinions of those who oppose it that change.

If cancer researchers fail to find a cure, people die. If a truck driver is factually wrong about how to drive his truck, people die. If a computer programmer gets a few bits wrong -- especially in a medical application, or the structural analysis of a bridge, or an aircraft flight controller -- people can die. People also die because the global warming theory is factually wrong. So what happens when a "Biblical scholar" is wrong? People die. They go into eternal damnation, which the Bible tells us "is the second death." We don't see that happening, so it's easy to pretend it doesn't, but imagining that it's make-believe doesn't make it so.

Eric Meyers imagines that "Having a more nuanced view of Israel's origins need not run counter to Biblical faith..." At least it won't be a problem if your "Biblical faith" is "make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" But that's not Biblical faith. The faith that Jesus and Moses taught is a faith based on history. If the Biblical history is wrong, then why should anybody believe any other part of it? Fortunately, history always sides with the Bible. You might think of it as professional courtesy. Current "scholarship" will go away and get replaced by new (equally wrong) ideas, but the Bible remains. Archeology has proved that the "obsolete" Biblical history of 100 years ago was correct, so they replaced those errors with new errors. We do not yet know these new theories are wrong, but our grandchildren will, and will need to cope with another generation of wrong ideas. History always sides with the Bible, it's the atheists who choose otherwise.

Meyers ends his essay by announcing (soon-to-be) resources for educating the public in the (current) errors of the academics. It's a waste of time and money, because if the Bible got the history wrong, then (as the great Apostle put it) "we are to be pitied more than all people." People understand that. The ones who do not believe the Bible, cease to be Christians. Maybe they become academics, but it doesn't make sense to call themselves believers -- except when accepting an endowed chair in religious studies -- so why would they waste their time on (fake, contrary to the Bible) religious stuff? And the people who do believe all that Jesus taught, they certainly don't want to waste their time on fictions from the atheists. Darwin got one thing right: natural selection causes life to give rise to life, and those who stray from Life, die off and do not fill the earth with their kind. It's an awesome insight.

Check it out: the Bible was written by eyewitnesses who saw what they wrote about. The "scholars" like Eric Meyers were not there, and are only guessing. They don't know anything at all of what they write about. They only reason they have a job at all is that there are people who believe that the Biblical text is trustworthy, and are willing to pay people like Eric Meyers to tell us more about the incidental circumstances -- even if that information is contaminated and adulterated by their atheism.

2014 March 7 -- Writing What You Know

One of the things that really impressed me about Jurassic Park is that when I set the book down, I asked myself, "Did this really happen?" It could have, the science was so real. A few days later I began to realize that the computer errors were not credible. I know computers, and Michael Crichton obviously did not. I've read everything Crichton wrote (that I could find) so now I'm reading other authors. They don't know the science so well, so the flaws are more glaring.

Take Vince Flynn's Third Option (which I just finished). I don't know enough about politics and combat to know whether the intrigue and the fights he tells about are credible, but I do know technology. His Good Guy is chasing the Bad Guy around DC, trying to track the guy's cell phone, but (according to the tech guru in the story) they can't get a fix on him from his cell phone until he takes (or initiates) a call. Pure nonsense. The cell phone company cannot send a call to your cell phone unless it knows where your phone is, that is, it must be connected to some tower in the network. Maybe that information is not available to the police, but I doubt it. The only way they cannot place you within a one-mile radius from your phone is if it's physically turned off. To be completely safe, I'd remove the battery too, because in modern appliances, "off" isn't always really off.

Flynn does a lot of product placement -- or maybe it's just details to add verisimilitude -- and this book mentioned author Nelson DeMille. Sure enough, he's a real author, and the local library has a lot of his books. Gold Coast is not a "thriller" like Flynn's books, but he's writing about a part of the country that he knows. Whether it will grab me and draw me back to his other novels remains to be seen. Flynn mentioned DeMille's "wry" sense of humor, and I've already seen that.

2014 March 3 -- Technological Devolution

I was in a grumpy mood to start with. My (primary) phone line had died, and the phone company could not offer any time to fix it before Monday. It probably died earlier in the week, but I don't get that many calls, and I don't always look at the desk set so to see the "LINE IN USE" message on the display, so I didn't notice until the CallerID light came on Friday afternoon, but I never heard the ring. People could call me, and I could see their name and number (on one phone only; the other one saw nothing) but the line was dead and silent. Probably shorted out somewhere upstream from the box on the side of the house. I'd had problems with that line before in bad weather, it gets staticky and the phone chirps like it thinks it's ringing, but only in short little chirps, not a whole ring, and when I plug a phone into the Telco box on the side of the house, it's clean and clear. Probably some old wiring under the house is open to the weather. This time it was dead at the Telco box with the house unplugged.

Then a winter storm covered the streets with a half-inch of ice. Unlike a couple months ago, when it was snow I could drive through, I didn't want to risk this one. The church usually calls when they cancel services, but like I said, the phone was out. I saw the CallerID that she tried -- twice -- so I called her back on the other line. I had been a little more pro-active: when I saw the line was out and the weather looked bad, I called another church member who knows my cell number (I don't pay for the minutes, so mostly I don't give it out), and asked them to call me if services were cancelled, and they did.

But going to church on Sunday is part of who I am. All the four years I was in Kansas, I don't think they ever cancelled church for the weather -- I remember once trying to walk (that car wouldn't start in cold weather) and not being able to brave the cold, so I turned back -- but here... Anyway, I'd seen an ad for sermons from D.James Kennedy, so I tried them. They had video and audio and text buttons. The video stuttered badly, and the audio button(s) were non-functional. I didn't try the text buttons. So I went back to the Watermark site I patronized in January, and their streaming audio was also non-functional, but I could download the mp3 file so I listened off-line. At least the DSL line was working. Things could have been worse.

Sunday afternoons, I try not to do things resembling "work" so I usually end up watching movies. I only had one left from the stack I got from the library, and it wouldn't play on the PC. I think it's some kind of restraint-of-trade conspiracy by the MPAA to prevent people from buying the services of their industry without also buying new hardware to watch it on: Most of the Disney flicks have a half-dozen short commercials before the movie starts, but I can click to the end of each pretty quickly, so lately they also started blocking the click-throughs, in some cases making it impossible to get to the main movie at all (even without clicking). Spielberg took a different approach, and just blocked the whole thing, no menu, no nothing. But it does play on the otherwise lame OSX player, which prevents the click-throughs. I normally keep that catastrophe of a system buried away out of my sight, but it was already out to listen to the sermon.

So like I said, I was in a grumpy mood to start with. This flick started up by explaining how global warming had drowned all the coastal cities -- Amsterdam and New York (and one or two others I can't remember) by name -- and the "more advanced" countries had passed anti-fertility laws, so robots were replacing people. Even when the movie was made, global warming was a political crock of baloney, how much more so today with ice covering the ground? And the only "advanced" country today with anti-fertility laws in place is that backward nation in Asia that is now beginning to realize the folly of their ways and backing away from it. Some of the more civilized nations are actually offering bounties for childbirth. But all this happened after whatever idiot wrote that script. When the robot face opened up, I realized I'd already seen it, and shut it down, and went back to the PC to watch movies downloaded from They are trying hard to make their product unavailable too. What's with these guys, anyway?

2014 February 24 -- "Theology in Story"

The glowing review might have been written by somebody who actually read the book, or it might have been cribbed together from the publisher's blurb. But a few years back, my friend put to me the notion of conveying theological ideas through fiction -- which I tried, for example, in my Lazir (which nobody likes) -- so the idea of "Theology in Story" intrigued me. The library didn't have this novel, but they decided to order it. They could have saved their money. It's heavy on theology, weak on story, little more than a dialog between a retired preacher and his grandson doubting his faith.

I guess it was a couple years ago Randy Alcorn ran in the same magazine a long review of "Christian fiction" to which he attached a memorable Four P's (predictable, sugar-coated [polite], preachy, and poorly written), mostly to argue against the concept. His own novel (reviewed elsewhere in the same issue) certainly fit the model, as have most of the "Christian fiction" I have read since then. This one has it in spades. Like people who need to tell you "Trust me" because you shouldn't, author Trevin Wax has his main character insist that "I'm not preaching" because that is in fact what he is doing through the whole book.

The theology he preaches is good conservative evangelicalism, some of it clearly from the Bible, some of it not, but none of it linked to any particular Scripture references -- probably because that would embarass those parts with no such links possible. Although he never used the word "relationship" that I noticed, the author and his main character (which is realistic) are definitely Relationshipists, with all that implies. That's enough in itself to be a spoiler, if not for all the other flaws. First novels can be better (see my review of Vince Flynn last month).

Like all good Relationshipists, the author obviously excels in self-esteem, and provided study group questions so people could use this book in Sunday School or a church-sponsored home group -- but still no links to Scripture, like as if he thinks more highly of himself than Scripture. With such links added, a second edition might be useful in that context, especially for people stuck in older or "standard" translations of the Bible which are so unintelligible, and who are therefore unwilling or unable to do their own theologizing.

2014 February 18 -- The Nature of Fiction

Reading is a relatively mindless way to recover from work fatigue, and books are often less dopey than movies (another time waster, suitable for while eating alone, which seems to happen to me a lot). Anyway, I've pretty much consumed all the sci-fi at the library, along with most of the other authors I have reason to believe might be tolerable, so when I read a good review (like Vince Flynn last month) I try it out. In the middle of that second Flynn novel, I looked into Steven James. I forgot where I saw mention -- probably some Christian magazine -- and the local library does not have his books, so I ordered the first one on inter-library loan. When it arrived, I postponed the current reading (which can be renewed) in favor of the ILL book.

You know the guy is a Christian (no cusswords at all, and his mention of Christians -- one only, and she died before the story began -- is not derogatory). Unlike classic "Christian fiction" James does not fit Alcorn's Four P's (predictable, sugar-coated = polite, preachy, and poorly written). Well, his text is polite (no cusswords), but he confines his "preachy" part to one page or less, and there's no religious conversion of the hero -- at least not yet, after finishing the second in his series; maybe later. Obviously I thought it better than "poorly written" seeing as how I already finished the second book.

But there are several qualities that are distinctly Christian. One is that a major part of  the plot line running through both books so far (and probably for the rest of them in this series) is the tension between the hero doing his sleuthing job solving crimes, and trying to be a single father to his rebellious teenage step-daughter. No non-Christian gives that much priority to family affairs. The Bible doesn't either, but who reads the Bible these days? I think it's an important part of Relationshipism, but Steven James is not a Relationshipist. However, to maintain membership in good standing at any American church, you need to act like you believe in Relationshipism.

Anyway, the teenage daughter of his deceased wife (the only Christian in his story) is a curious mix of gothic (dresses in black) and super-smart. It's the kind of problem Christian parents obsess about, and pagans basically ignore. So it's fiction. He mentioned a college where another character got his undergraduate degree: Biola, which letters used to stand for "Bible Institute Of Los Angeles" (both my parents and my sister went there). No self-respecting pagan would mention a Christian university except to criticize it.

The topic of today's post is an interesting insight into the nature of fiction, where the girl is commenting on how she likes Poe as an author because bad things happen in his stories. She goes on to say, "Maybe we like stories so much because there's something in us that just wants to see other people suffer." She may have something there. I don't like to see suffering in fiction, so when I tried my hand at writing, I left that part out and nobody liked it.

Then there was a math puzzle, a story to show off the girl's mental powers. These two guys were dividing up the loot after a bank hold-up, and one complained that the other wasn't treating him equally. It seems that if the one guy gave the other one stack of bills, they'd both have the same amount, but if the other guy gave him one, he'd have twice as much. I like math puzzles, and this one is easily solved with algebra, but not in a couple seconds as in the story. So it's fiction. I could like her if she weren't so rebellious. Stupid is still not entertaining.

2014 February 11 -- The Sky Is Falling

The cover story in the current issue of WIRED proclaims gloom and doom because "the U.S. almost killed the internet -- and ... still could." Although they mostly vote and think as left-wing bigots, the digital wannabes who write for and edit WIRED tend to adopt the anti-statist attitude described in Pekka Himanen's Hacker Ethic. It seems that a lot of demographic groups can't stand one or more of the public policies of the political party falsely called "Democratic," but I guess they like even less the imagined (but never real) theocratic aspirations of the other party. Go figure. Anyway, the secret NSA document disclosures by Edward Snowden last year seems to have pushed a lot of people over the edge of reason.

Please understand, I like my privacy too, but some of us -- I'd say most of us who were doing this stuff twenty years ago -- always knew that anything sent over the internet is public information. If you have secrets, keep them off the internet. Keep them off of any common carrier, including telephone, especially cell phones. Before they went digital, anybody with a short-wave radio could listen in on cell phone conversations. Now it's harder, more like tapping a landline, but still possible -- and people do it. At least when the government does it, they have rules to follow. Part of the NSA brouhaha comes from the relaxed rules they were given after 9/11. Obama, being of left-wing (socialist) persuasion like the former Soviet Union, is of course perfectly comfortable with giving his cops unnecessary power over the people. That's what socialism is. But having seen what overly powerful central governments did to minorities like Christians (and Jews and any other minority they happen to dislike today) in the former Soviet Union, many of us do not want that kind of thing happening, not in the NSA, not in ObamaCare, not anywhere.

There are bad people out there, and most of them trying to attack innocent people in the USA happen to have religious reasons for doing so. I'm all in favor of stopping them. I'm less in favor of the guilt-by-association that the Obama administration, more than any President before him, paints peaceful Christians with the same "terrorist" brush he listlessly uses on the bad guys. We do not know whether the massive data the NSA is collecting on private American citizens will actually catch any bad guys or not; their secrecy sort of makes that kind of analysis impossible. And no, I don't trust them. There are bad guys in government too... But God is bigger than the government, and despite Obama's best efforts to the contrary, the USA is still so far ahead of whoever is in second place, that people still want into this country, rather than out of it. That's a good thing.

That said, author Steven Levy's whine about how the NSA data collection can kill the internet is no more informed than Obama's Department of Homeland Security calling Christians "terrorists." One major effect he complains about is that numerous countries are now considering requiring that information about their citizens must be stored within their country. That's completely unenforceable. Nobody can stop data from crossing borders unless they pull the plug on all communications. And they can't do that without shooting down all the satellites. It ain't gonna happen. The most they can do is slow it down some, as is already the case in China. The hackers proclaim that "Data wants to be free" (in the sense of being let out of any cage), hardly realizing that it means that their private data also wants to be let out. It does. So long as there is an internet, data will get out. Nothing is private, once you put it out there on the net. Encryption is worthless.

You can do something about it. Nothing I care about being private goes over the internet, at least not with my say-so. That means I cannot buy things off the net, but so what? They can't steal my credit card if they don't know it. I bought a prepaid card for when it's necessary to do something over the net, and the card has a limited balance. That's the most I risk. Google knows nothing about me, so the NSA can't get anything about me from browsing Google files. Facebook knows nothing about me at all, so ditto. The government already has my bank records any time they want it, but I mostly pay cash for things I buy. The grocery store has a "points" card, but I hardly ever use it (mostly I shop at ALDI with cash, because the prices are better). The government could figure out I drive across the country once every year or two, from the credit card I use to buy gas, but so what?

If you want to do something antisocial like killing lots of people -- I guess that's what they are hoping to find out by spying on everybody -- you need to use an anonymizer web site to hide your tracks. There are a lot of them around, and they can be compromised, but it's not easy. So bad guys can still do their bad stuff undetected, and all that data the NSA is collecting won't prevent it, but at least it makes them feel good about themselves. Everybody who went through Kindergarten (I didn't) knows self-esteem is the most important thing. Maybe that's why homeschoolers are on the DHS list as "potential terrorists" because they didn't get brainwashed in the K-12 edufactories. Last I looked, none of the mass killers since the recent uptick were home-schooled, but the DHS can feel good about themselves for identifying somebody to look at while the real terrorists drive by behind their backs.

Bottom line: all that data collection is a waste of time and tax dollars. It won't even kill the internet. It's a zero.

But it's a nice cover picture. The top of an "@" pure and white as the driven snow represents the internet. Its bottom fades into a blood-red skull jaw, what the mean nasty NSA is trying to do. I happened to look at it in the dark this morning, before turning on my light, and in the dim glow from the clock the red had faded into the black background, leaving only the top 80% of a partial cranial "@" surviving. Very metaphoric.

2014 February 10 -- Fudging Scripture

As you know from last month, I go to church on Sundays. I missed once maybe ten or twelve years ago because I was sick, and a couple times since then because of weather (most recently last month). I went, but nobody else did, so I sat in the parking lot. The church I normally attend cancels for weather (and other things) more often than most, so I have an alternate church on the other side of town where I go on those occasions. The preacher yesterday was somewhat more theological than the guy who preached the previous times I had been there, so I got to learn about some of the differences between their denominational doctrine and where I have spent most of my life.

I am not a Calvinist, but many of the preachers I sat under most of my life were. The problem with Calvinism is that they elevate human reason over the clear teaching of Scripture. That is, they pick the "important" doctrines from the Bible, then ignore or explain away (same thing) those Scriptures that seem to contradict their understanding of those doctrines. I spent a lot of time in a Lutheran church, and they do the same thing, but it's a different set of Scriptures they ignore. I usually try to choose a church where the pastor fudges the least. That happened to be a particular Lutheran church (for a while, until they asked him to teach at the denominational seminary) when I was in California; here it was a different denomination, until the pastor retired and they invited the associate to leave. I'm still waiting to see about the new guy.

Yesterday the sermon was hard-line Arminian, which like Calvinism and every other -ism, ignores those parts of Scripture that seem to contradict their "important" doctrines from the Bible (different from both the Calvinists and the Lutherans). He was preaching through Romans, and came to 8:29 "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son," (preaching from the King James, which the more careful preachers tend to favor for some reason I have not yet figured out). Now the plain sense of the text is that God knew ahead of time who would be saved, and "predestinated" them to be saved. It's where the Calvinists get their doctrine, but it seems to contradict the idea that we can choose, which is in a different Bible verse.

The guys who actually preach from the offending Scriptures need to say "This does not mean [what it says]." The Calvinists and the Lutherans and the Arminians all do it. This guy did it. I might do it too, if there is grammatical reason to believe the text is metaphor or some other kind of figure of speech. But there is nothing in the context of Rom.8:29 to support that interpretation. It was a fudge. I heard once Calvinist R.C.Sproul on the radio fudge Heb.6:6. They all do it. Sproul's fudge was very creative -- he called it "hypothetical" -- but it was still a fudge. That verse makes no sense in its context as a warning if it is only hypothetical and not an actual possible catastrophe. Rom.8:29 makes no sense in its context as a comfort to believers (which this preacher agreed it was) if God is not actually calling and predestinating believers. The Lutherans don't fudge those two verses, but they have their own fudges. They all do it.

Scripture is too difficult for any one simplifying theology to get it all right. That's to be expected if God wrote it, and not of human origin -- assuming of course that God is bigger and smarter than us puny humans. That's different than finding mistakes in the Bible. If I don't understand how the pieces fit together, that's probably because I don't understand it, not because there's a mistake. If I do understand what's being said, and it doesn't fit, then it might be a mistake. I haven't found any of those in the Bible.

Consider for example, I don't understand quantum physics, so if waves and particles seem incompatible, it's because I don't understand it, not because it's wrong. I do understand Natural Selection (NS) -- it's an awesome idea -- so I can say with confidence that the Darwinists are wrong, NS works, but it does not create anything, it only culls out the genetic errors to keep each separate created species strong (thereby preventing rather than causing evolution as they understand it). And when we look at the actual scientific research the Darwinists themselves are doing, it confirms what NS can and cannot do. According to Wikipedia (accessed today) Richard Lenski's so-called long-term evolution experiment on E.coli stopped evolving at around 20,000 generations, basically when they reached the edge of what E.coli are. It doesn't say all that, because Lenski is a Darwinist and he would lose his research grants if he openly admitted that the Darwinist hypothesis was disproved by his experiment, but that's what happened. He's now at 56,000 generations. They stopped evolving. Lenski is now looking for other interesting results from it. Look at their chart. There is a difference between a mistake (like Darwinism) and lack of understanding (me with quantum physics).

So it was a very informative sermon, although perhaps not in the way the preacher intended.

2014 February 5 -- God Is Good for You

The cover story on the current issue of ChristianityToday helps to nullify the atheist whiners who have claimed over the years that Christian missionaries have done more harm than good. Robert Woodberry did his homework -- a stupendous amount of in-depth research -- on the effects of missionaries everywhere in the world, and there is much more democracy, education, and prosperity in the regions (now countries) where (non-government) Protestant missionaries were active, compared to places where they were not. For example, British missionaries in colonial Ghana established a whole system of schools and printing presses, leaving a legacy of vibrant scholarship today; whereas the French in neighboring colonial Togo only educated a small intellectual elite, with the result that today the University of Togo library has fewer books than Woodberry's own personal library.

It wasn't that the missionaries were social activists, but Protestant theology equalizes people, so they need literacy to read the Bible for themselves; therefore the missionaries establish these institutions and cultural values that survive for hundreds of years. Other religions don't do that. Not mentioned in the article (but obviously true), the USA was built on a whole invading culture of those values, with the result that we effectively invented modern democracy. Other countries and people of other religions can (and do) borrow some of the social and economic structures they see working here, but without the religious underpinning, it doesn't work as well (if at all). Just look at what the USA tried to do in Iraq and Afganistan. And as those religious values are forced out of the American public, we will start to lose the effects they had on making this country great. It will take time, perhaps a hundred years or more, but we can see some of it already today.

2014 January 29 -- Piper's Pickle

I was not aware that people need permision to link to another person's web page, but there it was. Maybe they wanted to embed the link in some page form that would alter the environment I designed it for, which might qualify as a "copy" for copyright purposes. Whatever. Anyway, they didn't make it particularly easy for me to find the website where they wanted to put the link, and when I did, it was not at all clear at all to me why they would want to put on a web page that deviates from Scripture, a link to an essay that criticizes John Piper's deviation from Scripture. It must be that affect thing, otherwise known as guilt by association, as if it doesn't matter what the facts are, only that you are fer'im or agin'im.

Let me make it clear, I only read one book by John Piper. It so annoyed me that I never picked up another of his books. However, he writes other things, and I have from time to time read some of it, and most of it is not bad.

This group -- let's call them "unJustice" -- their website seems devoted to solving problems of abuse by adding additional sins to it. Neither I nor (apparently) Piper -- plus a lot of other people they included in their blacklist -- agree with that methodology.

Unprovoked violence against defenseless people (especially women and children) is an evil that the Bible has plenty to say about, but unJustice does not offer any of the remedies God recommends. It's a hard problem, and in our statist/individualist society we tend to prefer solutions that seem to resemble Piper's "hedonism" more than God's Word. Selfish humanistic solutions do not make things right, and they do not honor God. There is a Godly way to solve such problems, and maybe if anybody cares, I'll post what I think it might be.

I'm sure the unJustice people mean well, but so does John Piper. If they can't stick to the plain teaching of God's Word, they should at least be more restrained in criticizing others who (at least in this case) did. Yeah, Piper waffled a lot in his treatment of their topic -- at least as quoted on the unJustice web page -- but that was because the Scripture he was looking at was as inconsistent with his own "Christian hedonism" as it was with the unJustice interpretation.

2014 January 28 -- (Not) Living the Atheist Lie

My friend pointed me to a blog which quoted an atheist telling his comrades to suck it up, that the only thing worth doing is to propagate your DNA. It's good Darwinist theology, but it tastes bad. At first I thought it might be a pseudo-Christian hoax, but the website owner insisted the guy -- he gave him the pseudonym "John" -- was for real.

The really interesting thing is that (assuming this guy is telling the truth about himself) he cannot live his own religion. He says propagating his DNA is the only thing that matters, but he doesn't live it. He really lives the idea that "truth is important" and even though his facts (Darwinism) are wrong, spending his efforts trying to propagate truth (as he sees it) is more important to him that propagating his DNA. He got that part right, but he did not get it from his religion (Darwinism), he got it from our religion (Christianity).

He would do a much better job ensuring the survival of his DNA if he lied about his belief system and (pretended to) adopt the majority religion in America, or even better, if he moved to southern Utah and (pretending to be a rogue Mormon) married a half-dozen wives and had thirty children, who themselves each would grow up to have thirty more of their own. A good second best would be the culturally approved serial polygamy of the rest of the country, impregnating a wife for as many children as she's willing to bear, then divorcing her and moving on to the next. Unfortunately, that would leave the kids without a father in the home, which is the best predictor of crime in the streets and homosexual orientation, neither of which does a very good job of carrying on the family DNA. But religious people have more children than atheists, so Darwinian theology holds that they are more "fit" (better survivors), and if "John" really believed it, he would be doing that, nevermind what he thinks might actually be true. Truth is a Christian virtue, not atheist. The fact that "John" is spending so much effort on what he believes to be true proves that he is wrong about what is true.

God made us to care about truth. Darwinists might counter that natural selection caused that priority to evolve in us because it made people better able to survive in their environment, but as we see in the case of "John" it is less effective at propagating his DNA than just having more kids. Bugs don't need to care about truth in order for them to propagate and have lots of baby bugs, and people don't either. They only need to do things that make for survival, regardless of whether they understand why or call it "true" or not. The Darwinist claim cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny, it only makes sense in a context of circular reasoning (humans care about truth, therefore that priority confers survival, therefore humans who care about truth survived), which is invalid logic, again contradicting the premise. If a concern for truth is a higher evolved survival trait, and the Darwinists are more evolved than the Christians, then the Darwinists should be more logical (not less) than the Christians.

Maybe "John" will convert, but probably he won't. His grandchildren, however, will be Christians. Atheism is illogical, and people care about truth. It usually takes two or three generations for people to forget (or see through) the illogical reason that caused their parents to reject God. Sometimes Christians also fail to teach their children why they believe, and they become atheists, but only in very tiny numbers. The owner of that website, Jim Warner Wallace, was once an atheist. He got smart.

I wish the Christians already in the churches would get smart too, but I mostly don't see it happening. That's why we have atheists like "John" but in very tiny numbers.

2014 January 21 -- Global Warming, NOT

With the demise of most dead-tree news media, I don't see much news, and this one is a little delayed, but the report was that it took five hours for a Chinese helicopter to rescue their 52 scientists studying global warming (GW) in Antarctica, because they were stuck in the sea ice which has increased to record highs (instead of decreasing as the GW theory predicted). For those of you who believed the science and were not bamboozled by the GW politicking, it's another factoid to throw at the clowns. If you are one of those bozos who still think burning fossil fuel is the cause of global warming, Wake up!

It was a political thing (not science) from the get-go, as I pointed out here almost eight years ago. Carbon dioxide is not a bad thing, it makes the planet green. More CO2 makes more trees. Remember, all that carbon now in fossil fuels was once in vegetation, and before that it was in the atmosphere. It didn't kill people then, and it won't kill us now.

2014 January 20 -- The Money Masters

My friend was at the time somewhat predisposed to bogus conspiracy theories, so when he argued a few years back that the Federal Reserve was a private (non-government) corporation, not (like the US Postal Service) a "private" corporation owned by the US Government, and he neglected to tell me who (other than the US gummit) did own the Fed, I was disinclined to believe it. That was then, this is now.

I try not to do "work" on Sundays, so I often watch library movies during the time I'm not otherwise occupied. The local library shut down for most of last week for some remodelling, and I used up all the flicks they would let me check out at one time, so this weekend I watched some I downloaded from's freebie site. One of them turned out to be a very long rant against the Federal Reserve, The Money Masters. Like most conspiracy theory stories, they presented only one side, so it's much harder to evaluate what the truth might be, but at least they didn't say anything I could easily prove false.

I wouldn't normally waste your time on it, but some of the things they were saying are consistent with Biblical truth, although they clearly were not arguing from a Biblical perspective. Their main claim is that the Federal Reserve is a private corporation owned by a secret cabal of investors (many of them foreigners), which operates for the profit of its owners, not the welfare of US citizens. It follows in a 300-year-old tradition of government endorsed (but still privately owned) central banks traditionally held by very rich bankers like the Rothschilds in Germany, France, and England. So-called "fractional reserve" lending enables these central banks to loan out money they don't have, which increases the money supply of the local economy, then when people are over-extended, they recall their loans and everybody must sell their assets (to the bankers) at a fraction of their value, which transfers the wealth from everybody else to the bankers during the ensuing depression. The claim is that the Federal Reserve intentionally caused the Great Depression (and other "contractions") for the purpose of transferring wealth to the rich bankers.

Maybe this conspiracy theory is true (I have no reason to disbelieve it), and maybe not, but it's not entirely under the bankers' control. The Bible warns us that "the borrower is servant to the lender" [Prov.22:7] and generally discourages us from borrowing money unnecessarily. If people didn't borrow that money from the banks, the whole scam would fail. This flick even pointed that out indirectly, during the 70-odd years when the USA did not have such a central bank, American corporations grew their business out of profits instead of borrowing money. The bankers became alarmed because this would have destroyed their power over the economy, and worked all the harder to get their central bank re-established in the USA.

It's still wise to not borrow money. When or if the bankers decide to cause another depression, only the people who are in debt suffer. Don't go there. That was one of the things this flick advised at the end. Especially if you claim to be a Christian, you should be a servant of God, not a slave of the bank. I became debt-free (except for a few open accounts I have the funds to pay off at any time, and which I do pay off immediately when billed) more than a decade ago, and it's great not needing to worry about it. If you run a business, there is a way to increase the cash for expansion without going into debt: it's called selling stock, and it's both legal and moral. Of course you lose part of the profits, and the stockholders have a right to insist that you run your business for their profit, but TANSTAAFL (nothing is free). At least you are not a slave to the bankers, with everything at risk when they choose to take it.

Easy money is another temptation that the Bible warns against. "The love of money is the root of all evil," and if you do not fall into that trap, the easy money when it is available from the fractional reserve bankers would not lock you into their clutches when they decide to pull the plug. This flick was made before the housing bubble burst and "Dot-Bomb" before that, or they surely would have blamed those two catastrophes on the bankers too. Greedy people abound, and the bankers cannot alone make disasters like that, they need greedy suckers to prey on. Greed makes suckers out of anybody.

The film offers a political solution to the bankers' tyranny, but it's not clear to me that it's much better to have stupid and greedy politicians doing in the light of day what the smart and greedy bankers now do in secret. Just look at ObamaCare. The bankers cannot be blamed for ObamaCare -- yet -- it's just the greedy politicians and their greedy corporate owners doing that to us. Shortly after the last election I pointed out that the smart rich guys (aka bankers) supported the politicians who benefit them (the rich guys) best, namely Obama. I thought it curious that this flick blamed ignorant Democrat politicians and their rich supporters for lying to the American people to get the Fed made into law in 1913. Not much has changed in the last 100 years, has it?

It gets worse: the film also blamed the bankers for causing WWI and WWII (they loan money to both sides on the condition that the winner pays the loser's debts, and that the loans are secured by taxation, so the bankers can't lose) and also the Russian revolution, which they funded under the same conditions (the Czar had refused to cave into the banker's demands for a private central bank, but like most leftists, the Bolsheviks were easily duped). Lenin is quoted, "The state does not function as we desired... It moves as another force [the capitalist banking establishment] wishes." The flick summed up the political aspirations of the bankers, "Communism, or more accurately socialism, is not a movement of the downtrodden masses, but of the economic elite." It reminds me that the worst education in this country is where the teachers are paid the most (in the nation's capital, run by leftists), the worst violation of civil rights (the murder of innocent children) is by the party that claims to be for civil rights, and the second largest tax increase on poor people in the history of the country came from the guy who promised "Not one dime" of tax increase on them, all the same (pro-socialist) political party. The highest tax increase on poor people was Obama's hero, FDR, who needed it to pay for his war. Guess who was being paid by those taxes. Not that the other party is any less abusive, they just are not so successful at lying to the American people, probably because the traditional journalistic watchdogs of the country are now owned by the party of the first part (or rather by the bankers calling the shots).

Me, I don't need to worry. Not only am I out of debt, but God is also bigger than the bankers.

Speaking of which, the final battle will be between the forces of God and the bearers of the symbol of commerce (666, the measure of wealth pouring into Solomon's kingdom in one year), otherwise known as the bankers. Kind of makes me glad I'm not in that business. "The love of money..."

2014 January 18 -- Term Limits

The magazine I was reading mentioned in its annual "Who Died Last Year" story, some thriller fiction writer whose first novel made the best-seller list. The Wiki article on Vince Flynn cautioned "Profanity and adult themes are common," so I tried out his first novel with some trepidation. I guess they must have been referring to his later stories, because I found fewer cusswords than chapters, unlike John Ringo, who packed the filth into almost every sentence. Both authors seem to hate the left-wing bigots currently in power (Flynn wrote his first novel when Clinton was Prez), and both avoided making their books into Feeler-Fantasies, so maybe I'll try his second novel. The first one had very few hints at being a first effort, a little repetition, some math he got wrong, mostly excusable. It's not like it costs me much to get a book out of the library, so if the filth gets unbearable, I'll just take it back.

[14 October 18 Postscript: the gutter language took a big jump in a later novel, plus the plot line got rather thin. Maybe he used cusswords to fill in the gaps in the story. The first seven or eight are OK, then stop.]

2014 January 14 -- Food inc

When I first saw it on the library shelf, I figured it was probably a bigoted political propaganda piece from the "military-industrial complex" of organic promoters, and passed it by. Yesterday I picked it up, and it was. The best lie, my friend the former CIA agent told me, is 99% true arranged to give an impression that is 180 degrees opposite to the truth. This flick is an example of that. Yes, some kid died of food poisoning a decade or so, and nothing can replace him in his mother's heart. Millions of children die of starvation in countries that do not have factory farms, and nothing can replace them in their mothers' hearts either. The odds are extremely good, if you eat processed food grown in factory farms, you probably won't die from either food poisoning or starvation. I like those odds. This flick did not tell you about that.

Instead they tried to line up that one grieving mother against all the factory farms that are not poisoning your food and hinted (but never actually said) that they are one and the same. That's as big a lie as if they'd said it in plain words.

They did say -- in a different context, so you wouldn't notice what exactly they were saying -- that buying local organic food would cost you more (see my "Agricultural Sustainability" and "Giving Thanks" posts last year). They interviewed a family who said they couldn't afford fresh food, compared to a $1 hamburger. That is true, and it's not bad. This flick was made when Bush was President. They don't make films like this when the Democrats are in the White House. Why is that? The Democrats don't genuflect at their "local organic" altar any more than the Republicans do (they even said as much), but the political agenda they ran at the end just before the credits was as far left-wing as anything Obama could have said when he was lying to the American people. Oh wait, maybe he still is. So are the "organic" promoters.

In the political "invitation" they encourage you to "vote three times a day" -- and people do just that. The factory food industry is not going to gouge the people who buy their products, if there were an affordable alternative. They even had a grocer saying that. Joel Salatin (an organic farmer in someplace like Virginia, whose web site I looked at when I was researching my insights last November, and they interviewed in this flick) is not an affordable alternative. He may try to scale up with integrity, as he says in this flick, but his children and his grandchildren (basically, whoever takes over when he dies) will do the same thing Sam Walton's heirs did when he died, which is turn it over to the lawyers and the bean counters. They only care about making a buck. They are why WalMart is the world's largest corporation today, and why three meat packers today control 80% of the country's meat (compared to five, who controlled only 25% a century ago), all figures from this film.

Part of the problem is that the film maker, like all the corporations he criticizes, believes the evolution hogwash. Evolution teaches us that there is no Right and Wrong, only "survival of the fittest." Organic farms are not "fit" in that sense. If he wanted to argue moral absolutes, then he might sing a different tune. He also would need to stop deceiving his viewers.

Near the end (I think it was) organic farmer Joel Salatin saying that nobody knows any farmers, that it used to be, one farmer could barely feed six, now one farmer feeds 120. And that if people ate local organic they wouldn't be sick. All of which I thought rather funny. Maybe the "120" is an average, because most factory farms feed thousands of people. I'm no farmer, but I have known farmers on and off all my life. One farm family I know reasonably well today -- he insists he is a rancher, not a farmer, but the difference has more to do with where he lives than what he does -- he can barely feed his family of 6, and must hold down a 40-hour/week day job to support them. They eat mostly local organic (I think they buy from the Amish what they don't grow), and are sick all the time, something like half the Sundays in any given year one or more of them is home sick. Me, I eat processed food, and I missed church due to sickness once in more than ten years. The "local organic = healthy" folks just got it backwards, judging from my immediate knowledge.

There is a place for government regulation. I wish the Food and DRUG regulators would force the soft drink industry to disclose how much caffeine drug they are putting in the can, so I can make an intelligent cost-benefit analysis. But fundamentally, the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, so that we need wicked and evil greenies to speak out against evil and wicked factory farmers, and both need to be heard by the evil and wicked government regulators, and maybe -- just maybe -- the checks and balances our country's forefathers intended might achieve some balance. I think mostly that has happened, and as a result we are the wealthiest, richest, healthiest people in the world. Factory farms and processed food did that, don't knock it. Even the people who can afford to eat organic food, they can afford that luxury because of factory farms and processed food made them rich.

2014 January 6 -- unChurch

The church I attend is the cancelingest church I have ever known. This is the church that cancels services for Christmas. Here in the State of Misery, they also cancel it when the weather is (pun intended) miserable. Like yesterday. The snow was maybe 4 inches deep and still falling. And it was cold (think "global warming" ;-) I already knew about problems getting my car up the mild slope to the garage, so I shovelled off two tire tracks in the drive, then drove off to the alternate church I go to (different denomination) which is usually still open when the primary church has cancelled. This was one of two exceptions in the last decade or so, but I didn't know yet.

The fresh snow was pretty slick, and there were no snow plows out, so I drove slow and took the longer, mostly flat route. The church parking lot was plowed and empty, but I was early so I parked and waited. Pretty soon a pickup drove up, one of the deacons (or whatever they call them in that denomination) to post a notice on the door that they had cancelled services. He expressed doubt about my being able to get home in "that car" but I had driven the previous (smaller) car through deeper snow, so I wasn't worried. 12mph, coming and going, 4 or 5 miles each way. I finally saw a city plow coming up behind me about halfway home, so I moved over to let him by. I saw maybe four other cars out, the whole trip. The worst trouble I had the whole time was getting the car back into the garage, but the wheels were definitely going faster than the car up the final slope to my street.

I don't have a working radio or TV, but I have the internet, and I have a (truly horrible) OSX computer sandboxed to access virus-infested websites when I need to. It's somewhat more difficult than on my primary computer, and the OSX hardware (or software: I can't tell which) has trouble recognizing that it is connected, but I managed to Google "church 9am streaming" hoping to pick up some service I could watch, if not be there in person. There were numerous hits, including one church in Carol Stream with no obvious video link, and then I realized that I needed to find one in my time zone. Most of them did not say, neither time zone nor city, but a couple said "EST" (so I didn't bother with them) and one said "New Orleans" which is the same time zone as the State of Misery. I was not overly surprised to see something resembling a rock concert band, smiling and bouncing around to their music and occasionally singing a few words, which they repeated often enough that I could recognize them as no song I knew. Then a guy came on and announced that we should expect miracles and other fare readily recognizable as Pentecostal in nature, and they went back to the music. I paused it and tried the only Google hit that said "CST" which was The Potter's House with more of the same kind of music, but their band was less glitzy.

I guess I'm spoiled. At church I'm responsible for making sure the people can see words to sing, but that didn't seem to be a priority in these two netcasts. I paused this one too, then went looking for whatever I could find at Watermark, where my friend in Dallas is a member. Actually, I tried them first, but couldn't find anything live. They had the previous Sunday sermon viewable, and a bunch of previous "media links" videos for download only, but I didn't much want to wait 55 minutes to see one. The previous Sunday sermon was pretty good, but stuttered badly because my net connection is too slow -- the rock concert netcasts had stuttered mildly too -- so I listened to the audio only, which did not hiccup. It was a good sermon, better than anything I can find locally, but not the same as being there. sigh

One of the hallmarks of being a Christian -- what I do because I am a Christian -- is go to church on Sunday. If I could have found any church at all holding services here in town, I probably would have gone, regardless of their theology or lack thereof. Well, maybe not Mormon or Jehovah's Witness. But like I said, nobody was out.

2014 January 4 -- Doctor's Orders

The current WIRED magazine cover story features "wearable tech" as the new smartphone. If, as they say, that will get rid of the constant and obnoxious password entry -- one of the reasons I despise and refuse to use Linux and OSX -- it will happen. But two square inches of display on your wrist does not have the visual and data entry bandwidth as a thumbable 3x5 in your hand, and (except for a few predefined keywords that can link to a phone number without being understood) speech recognition is still nowhere near the reliability needed for personal computing. At the end of the story, the author admits to another reason it isn't going to happen soon: something you wear must be fashionable and individual; wearable tech has a long way to go before it gets there.

Not featured on the cover is a different story, some doctor who offers a dozen or so rules for long life. Prominent among his listed patients is Steve Jobs. I was older than Steve Jobs when he died a couple years ago; if he was following this doctor's regimen and he died... I'm not following the rules, and I already outlived him, why should I change that? Maybe the rules are good things to do, maybe not, but the proof of their effectiveness is whether they accomplish their stated objective, and here we have evidence that they do not. Two people is not a statistically valid sample, but Steve Jobs did die before the median lifespan of Americans today.

The science in WIRED is not the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but you knew that.

It turns out that the doc is an oncologist, and his (controversial, it seems) goal is to extend the life of cancer victims. It's not even clear he does that.

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