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2014 December 23 -- Thanking God that Nobody Cares

Meditating while reading in the Psalms this morning -- my regular readers (do I have any? I have no idea) would know where, but it matters not, the theme occurs in many of David's Psalms -- I observed his cry out to God to rescue him from his enemies, and it seems that I do not share this particular calamity. I have no enemies that I know of. Indeed, as far as I can tell, nobody cares about me at all in sufficient measure to be my enemy.

It seems more poignant this last couple months, after leaving the previous church. This new one, a few people come over and introduce themselves and say hello. They do that in churches everywhere, including the previous one. But nobody really wants to become involved. They pay the pastor to do that. They have their friends, and they talk for a few minutes to the best of them, and then they bundle up the family and go home, and you don't see them for another week. Nobody, not a single soul, cared about me enough to ask about me leaving that other church. If you want to see how important you are, put your finger in a glass of water, then pull it out and see the hole it leaves behind. I guess I left no hole behind.

I have a sister who calls once a week and talks for an hour. She'd probably call more often if I encouraged it, and she often insists I'm her "favorite brother" (which as her only brother, I'd be that even if she hated me), but I think it's mostly because I politely let her talk. Last week I actually tried to say something a couple times, but she was too busy talking to hear me. But what would I say? She's not at all interested in technology. When I try to say something technical, her eyes glaze over so completely I can hear it on the phone, 400 miles away. She occasionally brags about her "simple" faith, mostly I think as a way of telling me she also does not want to hear about my theological insights. It's like the people at church.

From time to time I get to engage people via email, but again, I must be careful not to say too much or too significant, lest they stop replying. I step over that line often enough that I know clearly where it is.

So I wondered this morning, which is worse, having enemies to flee from, or having nobody who cares at all. Then I thought of the Christians in Rosenberg's "NAMEstan" (North Africa, Middle East, and a bunch of 'stans). They have enemies. No, they are much worse off than I am. David the Psalmist lived in that region. So I thanked God that my worst problem is that nobody cares.
 

2014 December 20 -- Lethal CO2: 5000 ppm?

Unlike in the fiction they write, nobody is super-competent in every discipline, not even the authors themselves. This is a thriller, a real page-turner, but he killed a central character -- well, he became central after he was dead -- by asphyxiation, a lethal concentration of CO2 at "5,000 ppm (parts per million)" which is 0.5% -- at least that was the label on the canister. I suppose you can buy CO2 in metal canisters, but I doubt you can find anything labelled at that concentration. Usually it's sold as reasonably pure, often frozen as "dry ice" (one million ppm).

The average atmospheric concentration over the whole earth is 0.3%, so any downtown city street, or cooking in a kitchen with a gas range, or next to a campfire, or even sniffing the aroma of soda pop, is likely to exceed 0.5%. You die from 10%, not 0.5%, and not because it removes the oxygen (it doesn't) but because the human body cannot get rid of its own CO2 against that concentration.

So why would an author give such totally bogus specifics like that? Maybe he was preventing people from "trying this at home," nevermind that you can't buy that kind of concentration. I think it's more likely that the author is a great writer and a lousy scientist. Me, I'm closer to the other way around.  Michael Crichton has pretty good science, and is a pretty good author -- sometimes (see my reviews). I saw some more of his books on the library shelf since I last read any of his six years ago, so I'm about to find out if the crummy stuff I last saw is a blip or a trend.
 

2014 December 18 -- She's in Ministry, He's a "None"

The current editor of ChristianityToday is probably their first woman on the job, and it shows: they've had one female columnist for several years (less than a decade), but now they regularly run several of them, often with nothing more to say than touchy-feely fluff. Their feminazi weblog (there is no corresponding guy's blog) is getting a lot more prominant space now.

That's not what attracted my attention this month. The regular "Editor's Note" usually says something inconsequential about their cover story, or else (I assume) another story that almost made cover. This month the cover is about the Pope, and to exemplify the good vibes the article tells about, she mentions her own brother, who is a "None" (unchurched). If you've been reading my blog very long, you already know why she has a high position in ministry and he avoids Christianity altogether. It's a gender thing -- or more precisely, a personality thing, with a significant gender component. Most everybody (except you and me) they are all clueless.

For more information, see the links near the bottom of my home page.
 

2014 December 13 -- NCIS, Round 2

I mentioned NCIS a couple months ago, how it is different from the other TV series DVDs from the library, where I tried one show then sent it back because there's nothing there. NCIS started out that way too, but they killed off the adolescent former Secret Service feminazi team member and replaced her with an Israeli agent on loan from Mossad. Female of course, no TV show in this century would dare give a competent role to a guy, but unlike every other character in the show except the lead guy, she's an adult and she knows her stuff. Well, the techie (also female, of course) knows her stuff, but she's indistinguishable in every other way from a Goth-obsessed teenie-bopper. There is no way a person can become as good at the technology as her character is played by spending nights and weekends on the detritus of appearance as she also does. But it's fiction. One of the bonus documentaries had a real NCIS guy commenting on the TV show, and he carefully hedged his remarks to almost (but not quite) say it's accurate. He also said there are mostly men in the real one. It's the real world. TV is mostly religion, what people want to believe, nevermind it conflicts with the facts.

Anyway, for humor with the Israeli they focus on (American) English-language idioms that she consistently mangles instead of gender wars, and it vastly improves the show. If they'd kept the person she replaced I would have stopped shortly into the third season. It's also fun (for me only, not for your average couch potato) to listen to her talk Hebrew to her Mossad superiors, or French or German or some other language to other people as appropriate. I know a little Hebrew, but mostly I read it; I also know a little French and German and Spanish, so I can recognize when she's speaking what, although not always to fully understand it. But her accent is very good, she even sounds like an old-world foreigner. I never would have guessed (as I learned later) that the actress is Latina (I know what a Spanish accent sounds like -- think Antonio Banderas -- and probably also many European language accents). I guess on their budget, they can afford good dialect coaches (see my comments last year).

Anyway, at the end of season three they retired off the lead guy, and I was ready again to throw the rest away. Apparently he had other admirers, and he was back within a few episodes of the next season. Wiki hinted that he had problems with the show's creator and sometime director -- the same guy I didn't like at the beginning -- and the actor won the contest. So I'm still watching it.
 

2014 December 3 -- Relationship, the Third Great Commandment

One of the book reviews in last month's ChristianityToday (I'm a little behind in my reading, the December issue already arrived yesterday) offers an interesting Relationshipistic enhancement on what Jesus taught about what our faith is all about. The pastor of the church I was at this last Sunday -- yes, the same guy -- preached a clear and Biblical sermon on The Two Great Commandments (see my "1+2C"), better than I've ever heard anywhere else that I can remember. Most American churches preach some other gospel, a gospel of "relationship". This guy, either the reviewer or (probably) the author of the book he was reviewing, I couldn't tell which, seems to have tried a little harder to ascribe Biblical authority for Relationshipism by a curious literary device:
Christians don't worship God, serve their neighbors, and connect with other people merely because of external rules; such impulses are inscribed in our DNA.
I can't say I agree with his point here -- we are by nature sinners, prone only to hate God and neighbor except by the regenerating work of God's Holy Spirit -- but the first two of the three things he says Christians do are (slightly paraphrased) The Two Great Commandments. The third item is given exactly the same weight and duty, like if it were the Third Great Commandment given by Jesus and Moses and Paul, whereas it actually is the opposite of 1+2C and not taught in the Bible at all. It is the nature of Relationshipism, which is the religion taught in most churches instead of 1+2C.

Now it may be true that (for the half of the population who are MBTI Feelers, who populate all the churches in America, and who write all the books and reviews from a Christian perspective, including this one) seeking connectivity -- read: affirmation -- is built into their psyche. I don't know if it's in their DNA or something that gets hard-wired in some other way, but there is a clear gender difference.  Anyway, that's another distinction between the first two items in his list and the third. A remarkable insight, if you can step back and see it within the Big Picture.
 

2014 December 1 -- Baptismal Regeneration

It's in the Bible, and several Christian denominations teach some flavor or another of baptismal regeneration (baptism as an important component in our salvation), but most teach otherwise (which is also in the Bible). I wouldn't call it a contradiction, it's probably more like a difficult concept for mere human minds to fully grasp, so we have these different perspectives on it that only seem contradictory. Anyway, this pastor teaches it with a vengeance, finding it even in texts that say no such thing. The lesson text yesterday was the first few verses of Paul's letter to Rome, chapter six, which mentions baptism but not salvation nor the forgiveness of sins. He said this is one of only two texts that are crucial to understanding salvation. At least that's what I think he said (there were no handouts, no powerpoint, nothing to help fix his thoughts in our minds). The other was I think some other Pauline letter, but I did not recognize it as relevant, and he didn't read or quote it, so I don't remember where.

Anyway, I got to thinking about a verse four chapters later in the same epistle, which explicitly promises salvation upon confession "Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead," no mention of baptism. This guy later cited (but did not read) that verse (I don't wonder why), but it seems to me we have a problem. Did the great Apostle make a mistake and attach salvation to the wrong verse? I don't think so. The crucial requirements for salvation are these two only: acknowledging Jesus has the right to tell us what to do at all times, and believing that God ratified that right by a violation of physics on Resurrection Sunday. Other things are important, but not crucial -- at least not in Rome. We (21st-century Gentiles) live in Rome, not Jerusalem.

Peter does preach (in Jerusalem [Acts 2:38]) the need to "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." In Peter's first general epistle [1Pet.3:21] he wrote, "baptism now saves you," albeit somewhat ambiguously, so it could easily be understood as a metaphor. And then in the gospel generally attributed to Peter's authority [Mark 16:16] Jesus tells the Eleven (still in Jerusalem) "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be damned." That one is interesting, because there are four quadrants in the Venn diagram, but Jesus did not tell them (and us) about the fourth quadrant, the one who believes but is not baptized. We do know that Jesus promised "paradise" to the thief on the cross, who obviously could not and was not baptized, but that might be dismissed as a special case. On the other hand, everybody who got saved in Acts pretty much got baptized immediately.

The 1st-century Jews saw baptism as a ceremonial cleansing, and we are told that observant Jews did it all the time, including pots and pans and (I seem to recall, but can't find it today) even furniture. Yes, the word is "baptize". Archeologists can reliably identify a 1st-century Jewish town by the proliferation of "mikvoth" (baptismal pools), so it's easy to see how, at least in that context, baptism could be seen as an important component in repentance. The people at that time understood what John the Baptist was teaching. That isn't to belittle the importance of baptism today, but our cultural understanding is different. That's why nobody (except the Mormons) bothers to "baptize for the dead" today. It's an unnecessary symbol, at least today.

This particular denomination seems to put more emphasis on the words in Peter's sermon on Pentecost, than in the words of Jesus when he gave us the baptismal formula we have recorded in Matthew. We need to be baptized at least in the name of Jesus (and preferably in the name of the whole trinitarian Godhead), but formally specifying the purpose of the baptism at the time of dunking doesn't seem so critical. At least Peter didn't say so, and nobody else did either. If it were important, I'm sure God would have said so clearly -- and more than once (off-hand), so that "at the mouth of two witnesses [it can be] established."

Anyway, if I'm going to be sitting in that church on Sunday mornings, I need to keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I may again find myself disinvited and looking for another church. Believing what the Bible actually teaches, and not what some denominational dogma or hack preacher says it teaches can get tricky.
 

2014 November 28 -- Trusting God

I can't remember when I started reading through Psalms and Proverbs, one chapter each day, probably during grad school or shortly after: my major professor read one chapter of Proverbs each day (on its day of the month), and it seemed like a good idea. Except I extended it to include Psalms, 150 chapters in five months, both together every six months, arranged so Proverbs comes on 31-day months. Then I slice up Psalm 119 (the long one) and do pieces on the 31st of other months.

Anyway, on November 28 I always read Psalm 118. This is the first year I'm reading it in Hebrew. Actually, I heard a verse or two in Hebrew 30 years ago, when I was in Jerusalem. It was the day before Palm Sunday, and the Messianic congregation was meeting in a tent because (I think it was) Mea She'arim zealots had burned down their church building, and the city was dragging their heels on permits to rebuild. The sermon was mostly in English, but they read the Psalm text in Hebrew. The memorable line in verse 25 is "Hoshi'ah-na" (Hosanna), but it's not a hymn of praise in Hebrew. Well, maybe in context it is, but literally it means "save now!" It's what people need from their all-powerful God and King during times of trouble. The "King" part was added by the enthusiastic Jews 600 or a thousand years later, when Jesus was riding a donkey down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. "Barukh habah v'shame adonay" (Hebrew for "Blessed [is he] who comes in the name of the LORD," verse 26). Except the people chanting at Jesus in the streets added a word not in the original, "Barukh hamelekh habah..." ("Blessed is the king who comes..."). The preacher pointed that out in his sermon that Saturday as I sat in the congregation. Jesus was the king who came to save his people. It got him crucified. The "King" part was still future.

Ps.118 has some other memorable lines, several of which tend to be made into songs for Christians to sing in church. It also has a couple verses (8,9) that don't get preached or memorized in any of the churches I've ever been in. But there they are: Trust God, not people. Trust God, not government. I always knew that -- that's why I hate ObamaCare -- but in Hebrew it seemed more forceful. The pastor of the church I left earlier this month was gushing some months earlier about the packaged SundaySchool program he bought for the church. He called this particular event "the trust fall," where people fall backward, and trust others to catch them. The Pentecostals call it being "slain in the Spirit," but it's the same thing. The problem is, it's contrary to Scripture. You're not supposed to be trusting other people to catch you. You shouldn't be intentionally doing things that need that kind of trust. That was the temptation of Satan: "Jump," he told Jesus, "the angels will catch you." If you are doing what God gave you to do, and if God wants somebody to catch you, He will make it happen (trust God). "And if not," as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told the king, we will still do the right thing. I didn't say anything to him at the time. Maybe I should have, but it would only have made more trouble than I already had.

What is this thing that Relationshipists have about trusting each other? It's an affirmation, which lies at the core of their religion. When you are seen to trust somebody, you are affirming them, you are (in effect) praising their ability to earn that trust before you have any reason to. But people are fallible. They cannot consistently earn that trust. Relationshipism is a religion you cannot live, not all the time. At least God can keep His promises, but we must be careful not to put promises in God's mouth that He didn't make. People who say "thus saith the LORD" when the LORD has not spoken, only deserve His wrath. Anyway, like I was saying, they can't live it. Here I've been going to that church for over ten years, never missed a Sunday for most of that time, then I disappear, and nobody says anything. It's like the pastor told them to "shun" me, Amish style. Maybe he did, I don't know. Relationshipists never love or care for anybody enough to tell them what went wrong. That would be disaffirming. It's against their religion. But they can gossip behind a guy's back. One person, in one of those moments of honesty (I call it "not-angry" because the perp usually denies being angry), said everybody was telling him negative stuff about me. There were no specifics, so I assumed at the time he was just trying to be hostile, but it fits the Relationshipist model. God isn't like that. The Bible is full of people -- and God -- telling people off to their face (if they're wrong) and not behind their backs, at least not the people God cares about.

There is no way a Relationshipist can be true to their own values -- by any definition of "relationship". If they mean the dictionary definition (connectivity), they are making no attempt to preserve the connection. If they mean the social definition (sex), they never were in it. If they mean the religious definition (affirmation), they are not affirming anybody by their silence. If they mean the pseudo-Biblical definition that pastor gave me (family kinship), even secular brothers or sisters go after their strayed siblings. Their silence is also contrary to the true Biblical religion. They can't live the religion they profess. At least I can live mine (Biblical, orthodox Christianity). I did that, more or less. I made mistakes, but they were mistakes, not failures of the model.

Oh well. Relationshipism sucks. No wonder the famous "45%" never darken the door of any church. Fortunately, God isn't like that. There are actually a few people among the millions who call themselves Christians who are not like that. God told Elijah, who was feeling the same kind of estrangement at the time [1Kings 19:18] as I am now, "I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him." That's like maybe 0.1% of the population. Paul repeated the line in his letter to Rome, and said it's still true. Jesus said "Many are called, but few are chosen." I have met a few of them. They love you enough to tell you the truth when they are in full control of their temper. But there are not many. Everybody else drank the Kool-Aid. 0.1% of the hundred people in that church is zero.
 

2014 November 25 -- Tradition

One of the opinion pieces in the current issue of ChristianityToday argues that "tradition is vital for understanding Scripture."

Maybe so. One pastor I know would be lost without his "Cliffs Notes" telling him what Scripture teaches. The problem is, some of his books tell him things that aren't there, and he cannot know otherwise. Maybe he never learned to read. Maybe nobody does. The American edu-factories are a pretty shoddy excuse, dead last (among industrial nations of the world) in math and science. I don't think the reports I read said anything about other reading material, but it can't be much better. Words is words.

Anyway, this author admits that even the evangelicals detached from classic denominational traditions have their own creeds or "statement of faith" (same thing) which they use to color the Biblical text as they read; he calls that "tradition" in the same sense that the ecumenical creeds qualify as tradition.

I watched this happen in SundaySchool a few months ago. The teacher was trying to make the case for the congregational model of ecclesiastical authority, and one of the missionaries supported by the same church was in the class. It was the missionary (who should have known better) who insisted that Acts 15:22 was proof of congregational voting (see longer discussion here). The text says no such thing, but denominational tradition allows the professionals and their acolytes to discolor the text and read into it anything they want. The Baptists claim they don't do it, but here they clearly did.

So I ask myself, Do I do that too? I like to believe otherwise, but so do the Baptists, and they are obviously wrong -- at least in this case. Am I the pot calling the kettle black? I cannot think of any instance where I might be letting tradition override Scripture, but the nature of self-delusion is that we don't know.

One defense against that is to get conflicting opinions, the see which best fits the actual text. I mentioned last week that I'm church shopping. This week it was an Arminian church. Their denominational dogma clearly rests on Scripture -- which the churches I grew up in must explain away, because it contradicts their own dogma -- but the pastor didn't hesitate to inject his own tradition to explain away some of the text in his passage (see my Feb.10 post earlier this year). I wonder how long I can sit quietly before I get in trouble again.

The CT author went on to point out that Scripture itself approves of tradition, just not when it contradicts well-understood teachings of the Bible, like honoring your parents by providing for their support in old age. That sounds like a good middle ground to me. In fact (as I pointed out last month), we can tolerate a lot of disinformation from the pulpits, so long as it doesn't impact what people need to be doing. This last Sunday, the preacher (obviously no deep Bible scholar) tried to argue that "type/antitype" have the same Greek root as "topography" but it's not true (one is 'typos' the other 'topos', a difference which is preserved in the English transcription). Nobody cares. It's irrelevant. OSAS (the "P" in the Calvinist "TULIP") has a bigger effect on people's lives, more on a par with the effect "corban" had on the people of Jesus' day.
 

2014 November 22 -- Church Shopping

I did it. I pulled the plug. I should have done it quietly six months ago when it became clear that the (ahem) relationship was a total loss, but my personality type is to keep trying. I need to remember that only makes things worse. Like I also need to remember NEVER talk about my personal life (except on a need-to-know basis), because people like him tend to turn it into weapons to use when they lose their temper and want to hurt somebody (me). I probably should say so when they start prying.

Anyway, last Sunday, the first week after leaving, the weather turned cold (think: "global warming" ;-) and my car wouldn't start, so I walked to a church nearby. He didn't say so in my hearing (I arrived late), but the sermon text was a quote sometimes attributed to Edmund Burke:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
The preacher had another slide he put up twice, with a face and name he expected people to recognize (I didn't) and a slightly longer message I could barely read and didn't write down, which was the same point only different. He also put up a couple Scripture references, but they did not teach his main point, which was essentially that the Bad Guys in government are making our Christian faith illegal because we Christians aren't doing anything about it. That may be true, but it's not an idea taught (nor even permitted) by the Bible. People had no say in the government back then, and God never taught violent overthrow. Right, the American Revolution went against Scriptural teaching. I don't disagree with his politics, but it's politics, not Bible. That was the problem in the church I left behind -- except it was denominational dogma instead of politics. Maybe that's the same thing. God is very hostile against preachers who teach "Thus saith the LORD," when God has not said those things. This pastor did not actually say his sermon was from God, but preaching it behind a pulpit sort of implies it.

I don't think I will go back there.
 

2014 October 31 -- True Love

I almost didn't take it home. I'm not much into sports, and this was obviously a baseball flick. Except it wasn't. It's a love story. Love, as y'all know from my previous posts, is making the other person give up everything they consider valuable, so that you don't have to give up anything at all. Yup, that's how they played this one out. When the pouty heroine learned that the hero had decided to sell his RedSox season tickets out of love for her, she decided to marry him after all. He didn't sell the tickets, but she also didn't (never even considered it) give up her 90-hour/week career. "Love" is what the guy does for the chick, not what she does for him.

On another level -- we get to see the hero thinking about this, but without the theological overtones -- any devotion to anything or anyone (other than God) is idolatrous. He was a gung-ho RedSox fan, she a gung-ho working woman. Neither would give anything priority over their respective deity, not even each other, although the tension over that is what made the story. Does anybody love God like that? Not in this part of the country, where they cancel church for Christmas. I like to imagine myself different, but I lack the cojones to stand up to a preacher who repeatedly deviates from Scripture. Or maybe it's just that God didn't call me to be a prophet. Whatever.
 

2014 October 27 -- How Babies Were Made

Y'all know my opinion concerning Biblical Archeology Review (BAR) , so I don't need to repeat the whole prologue. Editor and once publisher Hershel Shanks is apparently a non-believing Jew, but he knows most of his readers are Christians, so he religiously runs evangelistic (non-science, non-archaeology) pieces promoting his chosen (atheistic) faith from time to time, which I mostly don't waste time reading. The current issue is bloated with three of them, one of them too foolish to let go.

The author disclosed his religious bigotry in the first paragraph, so (full disclosure) it was unnecessary for me to read any farther. He is guilty of two, maybe three, religious errors, most significant of them being naturalism, the atheistic crock of baloney that the physical "cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be." Therefore, virgin birth is impossible because virgin birth is impossible -- yes, the argument really is circular, but who cares? This is religion, which needs no proof, not science, which should (and until recently) did. The announced purpose of Andrew Lincoln's opinion piece is to prove that "virgin birth" does not need a virgin.

The second religious fallacy in Lincoln's piece is again based on his personal atheistic dogma, pseudo-Darwinism. It is important to recognize that this is not the real McCoy Darwinism, the supposition that it takes millions of years to achieve significant changes in organisms to become noticible -- although that idea is equally false -- but like many movies and other fictional works when they mention "evolution," it is supposed that it happens quite rapidly, major changes in a few generations (usually less than one). So the prevailing prejudice that clearly underlies this bigoted opinion piece is that first-century humans were stupid, and only modern humans are smart. Wikipedia's timeline tells us the first "humans" appeared 2.5 million years ago, and the first "fully anatomically modern humans" about 200,000 years ago. So by evolutionary standards, the 2000 years since the birth of Christ is 1% (actually only 0.08% but who's counting?) of the timeline, making first-century people essentially indistinguishable from us in intelligence. It is curious that BAR science articles (that is, archeology) from time to time express astonishment at what people accomplished two and three thousand years ago. The people back then were not stupid, at least not as stupid as Andrew Lincoln is, if he thinks his readers are stupid enough to believe his modern invented fairy tale.

Third -- and Lincoln might conceivably be excused for not having done his homework, since he is a "Professor of New Testament Studies" (the word "Studies" is a dead give-away that his is not a scholarly discipline, but just a bunch of modern made-up fiction unfounded on any scientific or factual data, sort of like "Women's Studies" or "Multi-Cultural Studies") -- but the Law of Moses, which every Biblical author knew and Lincoln obviously does not, gave hard scientific forensic evidence for virginity, and that was more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. No, these folks understood how babies were made, and the Biblical authors were careful to tell us that. They were not stupid. Modern atheists are the stupid people.
 

2014 October 25 -- Disinvited

I don't think that's what he intended to be doing, but even a Relationshipist could have seen it was a brush-off.

I guess I'll ease out gradually, so he won't think it is out of anger. Maybe a little bit, but nothing like he was. Anyway, how can you be angry at a guy who is guilty of nothing worse than Clue Deficit Disorder? Everybody knows that Sunday School is not for learning, it's for making nice to people. Learning is disruptive. That's a no-no in the social clubs we Americans call "church". sigh
 

2014 October 20 -- Why This Church (Not That One)

Ten years ago I was church shopping in this town for reasons I need not get into today. There are a lot of churches here in the Bible Belt, including some I did not consider because of known denominational theological problems. One church I visited, the preacher preached against me (actually against my politics, which is close to the same thing). His church did not make it to the short list. Several others, I (no spring chicken) was the youngest person there; they suffered a similar fate. The church I chose was full of young people. The pastor and his associate were college teachers; they read their Bibles and preached what they read. It's been one of the best church experiences I have known in my whole life.

Then they got a new pastor. He preaches against me. Now if it happened that he were right and I were wrong, then I would need preaching against, but I did my homework, and he did not. Scripture does not support his claims, three or six times so far. That's not a compelling invitation, at least not for an Inerrantist like me. If you preach against somebody in the audience, at least you should get your facts right. I'm trying to find a middle-ground compromise, but that's not his style.

He's a free moral agent (under God) in a nominally free country, it's his church, and he can preach anything he wants to. I'm a free moral agent (under God) in a nominally free country, and one of the freedoms granted by this country (but not necessarily by God) is that of association: I have the right to opt out from hearing his preaching when I have good reason to believe it deviates from Scripture. One way I can opt out is by not becoming a member, and one way his preaching deviates is by insisting God requires otherwise.

So I may be out church shopping again soon. sigh
 

2014 October 17 -- Learning...

I learned something from the preacher this month. I suspect he would be offended at being the vehicle of this particular nugget of wisdom, but nobody in his church reads my blog, especially not the pastor.

Here it is: Faithfulness to Scripture is not terribly important.

Well, maybe it is, and I don't intend to become a slacker, but this guy wanders all over the place with impunity, and nobody complains. Nobody even notices except me, and if I say something, he gets all huffy.

I think the function of a modern American preacher is to stand up there and make people feel good. That's what they pay him for. He can say anything he wants to -- so long as it is distant from where they actually live -- and they will pretend to listen. He is basically fire insurance: "We take care of him in this life, and he takes care of us in the next." I heard somebody actually say that (not in this guy's church). But they all act like that's their religion, just enough religiosity to escape the fires of Hades, a little money in the plate, be nice, that sort of thing. This church wants him to grow the church, that was part of what he was told when they hired him, but they want him to do it. The previous pastor had (another) day job, so the people were expected to do the work of the ministry; one of the criteria for his replacement was that he would be full-time. And he does it with vigor. He is working on what he is paid to do. Maybe he does it well (I wouldn't know).

But his Bible teachers never taught him how to study the Bible to see what it says. Instead, they taught him what he should find there, and the proof-texts to support that dogma. Sometimes it's really there, sometimes not -- theologians call the process "eisegesis" = carrying meaning into the text instead of extracting it out from the text (exegesis); I suspect his teachers learned the same methodology from their instructors, so they didn't figure anything out for themselves either -- but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Like all preachers everywhere in America, this guy is a Relationshipist, and 95% of the people in his congregation are Feelers, so that's what they want to hear: "God loves you unconditionally" (no life changes needed). You won't find that in the Bible, and Thinkers like me, who care about truth, justice, and duty, will be offended, but these preachers have Clue Deficit Disorder. All the Feelers in this town already go to church somewhere (or recently left it because Relationshipism broke down for them, as all false religions necessarily must). So if this guy actually grows his church, it will be by what some pastors call "sheep stealing," drawing people out of other churches. He talks about a recent Gallup poll that 45% of Americans are unconnected to any church, and hopes to attract them, but nobody even suspects that they are all Thinkers, nor what is important to them. More of the same Relationshipism is not going to attract people already offended by that unBiblical message. The nearest church I know of that does something about it is two states away, in Dallas.

The really funny thing is, after I abandonned all hope of meaningful dialog with this guy, and after I quit trying, then he thanked me "for a more productive way of communicating," while at the same time making complete nonsense out of what I had been trying (and gave up trying) to say. To a Relationshipist, the only thing that matters is affirmation (see "Relationshipistic Communication" 2 weeks ago). Useful information is often -- perhaps mostly -- disaffirming; otherwise, you knew and accepted it already so it isn't worth much (except to make you feel good for being such a smart person). I can affirm him from time to time, and he can feel good about (and blissfully ignorant concerning) his little piece of irrelevance, and everybody will be happy. At least he will. He can be incredibly insulting. Maybe we all can, if we don't know what the other guy holds in high esteem. I may have nuked him as many times as he nuked me. I probably need to find another church, where the guy isn't so obviously clueless.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out how to stop listening. Some of the guys (who seem to be there for reasons other than personal preference) sit in the back and surf the internet during the sermon. There's gotta be some middle ground...
 

2014 October 13 -- 131 Degrees North

It must have been an "Easter egg" put there to be found by the cognoscenti. When I see stuff like that flash by, I rewind the flick and stop and look. Like the guy's tool belt, which he put on the X-ray conveyor, and we get to see the image flash by (so fast, I had to try twice to get it to stop with the image showing), but there are no tools in the belt, no dark metal shafts representing screwdrivers and hammers and wrenches. A competent guard watching that should have noticed it's bogus -- and it was: nothing more than a ruse to get our guy in the door.

But the opener was much more bogus. These guys are riding giant snow tractors (like they use in the South Pole) up and down hills, looking for a 200-year-old stranded and buried ship. In hills? Finally their GPS announced that they had reached the spot and its display flashed on-screen for a half-second -- so only the very quick could hit the pause to look -- "131 (degrees) 25' 17''N" (maybe I remembered the seconds wrong, but no matter). Does anybody know where 131 degrees north is? I didn't think so. It doesn't exist. The pole is at 90 degrees north, everything is south from there (less than 90). Maybe it's like the bogus security systems that the movie heroes so easily bypass, intended to mislead the public so as not to tell them how to actually break in: if you try any of the things they show you on-screen, you won't succeed, and most likely you will set off an alarm that sends people with guns running toward you. I know, I spent 20 years writing software to support alarm systems. They also had some of that (breaking and entering, emphasis on breaking) in this flick too. They don't tell you how the hero had GPS coordinates for a ship lost at sea 200 years ago. It's fiction, like the bogus GPS and breaking in past the alarm systems and vast treasures surviving being hidden 2000 years. Fiction, but a jolly good story.
 

2014 October 10 -- Blame

I got into this email dialog with a guy who seemed to be trying to justify how he arrived at a theological opinion. He went into great lengths to explain that he heard this idea in Bible college (or seminary, I don't thnk he said specifically), and then read some books (apparently recommended by his profs there), and they all said the same thing, so his opinion was formed. It's only when the books disagree that he bothers to go see what Scripture says.

Me, I do it the other way around. I look to see if I can form an opinion from Scripture, then look at what others are saying to see if I missed something, but only if there seems to be some contention.

In this case the guy was claiming that "prophecy is forth-telling, so any modern preacher is doing the same thing as the Biblical prophets" or words to that effect. The problem is that in the Bible the prophetic utterance is always unintermediated: God takes control and the prophet says God's words directly without involving other sources. Modern preachers mostly study their text(s) then think up something to say about it. If it's from God, it's second-hand, like Baruch taking Jeremiah's message to the temple. Baruch was a "scribe" but not a "prophet" in that text, only Jeremiah got his message directly, and only Jeremiah is called a prophet. Besides, prophecy and teaching are given separate listings in Romans and Ephesians; that would be superfluous if they were the same function.

But maybe there is some Scripture equating the two functions, and I didn't happen to notice. So I Googled the equivalence. Several of the hits argued for the equivalence, but none of them ever mentioned any scripture in support of their position. If Scriture existed, somebody would have mentioned it. Arguments for the distinction were full of Scripture references. The claim that "prophecy is forth-telling" is bogus, a clear case of cessationists trying to arrogate to themselves some divine support for their preaching.

Anyway, I got to wondering about this guy's defensiveness, like as if he were trying to ward off blame for coming up on the wrong side of the question. I'm not particularly interested in casting blame, but rather seeking to encourage repentance where needed. Then it occurred to me:

Blame is only useful for enabling and evaluating repentance.
If somebody is responsible for a problem, then fixing blame enables him to take responsibility for it and to change his future behavior so as not to repeat the problem. Knowing the cause of the problem also helps in evaluating whether the proposed changes will fix the problem. But if it's not his fault, then blame is undeserved. If he is responsible, but is disinclined to make the necessary changes, then blame is a waste of time and unnecessarily makes people angry. I would say that's the Christian perspective on it.

Feelers and Judgers go at things differently, creating chaos and/or hard feelings. Feelers don't want to be told they are at fault, and Judgers don't want to be told anything at all except "Yessir!" They prefer to pass the blame to somebody else. Neither is honest. Neither fixes the problem.
 

2014 October 9 -- FJ's

I had a run-in with two different people this week, both apparently MBTI "FJ". I'm "TP" myself, and I don't do well with "FJ"s. The feeling is mutual.

The "F" in "FJ" is for "Feeler", the people who value affirmation over truth, as y'all already know from my previous posts on Relationshipism. American churches are run by and for the exclusive benefit of Feelers (Thinkers not invited unless they check their souls at the door), so 99% of the people in the churches are Feelers or Feeler-wannabes, or else they are there only to make the wife happy ("When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"). Me, I prefer the truth, however uncomfortable it may be. The best way for me to (ahem) relate to a Feeler is to think up something true and affirming to say, then shut up and stay out of their way.

The "J" in "FJ" is for "Judger", the people who dislike open issues, and who therefore like to be shot-callers. In any disagreement, they want to win. I have no problem with Thinker-Judgers, because they care about truth and justice, so they are not trying to control people in false or evil ways. They still want to make the decisions, and (as a "P") that's generally fine with me. The problem comes with Feeler-Judgers, because they do not value the truth. Usually it's far more important to them to win any conflict -- because winning affirms them -- than to be on the side of the truth. I have no problem letting them win -- unless it's Wrong. They are not willing to lose, not even if they are wrong, and I am not willing to be on the side of Wrong. And because I am on the side of truth, the facts are on my side (if not, I switch sides immediately, usually so fast the other guy doesn't notice I did) so I happen also to mostly win. Not that I care about winning, I just want to be Right, win or lose, but being Right tends also to win. This makes the "FJ" exceedingly angry.

So I got this email out of the blue, some guy affirming my BibleTrans work, and inviting me to affirm him back. The trouble is, his efforts are more like a hobby: in 21 years he has gotten his program to the point I usually get to in a month or two (a couple times now). So I gently offered him some advice to better inform his goals. I should have known better. Anybody interested in Bible translation is in the church, and therefore almost by definition, a Feeler. I should have said something mildly affirming like "That's interesting. Have a nice day," and been done with it. "Have a nice day" is a slightly affirming brush-off which might be a modern translation of the "Be warmed and filled" in the KJV Bible. Few people read and know their Bible well enough to realize that God condemns such brush-offs (specifically in that context), but what can you do? The guy really didn't want any help, he just was fishing for affirmation. He blew up. I got the most vile and bilious response from him as I have seen in a long time. Obviously he was very "not-angry". A good Feeler (read: "Christian" meaning church member only) does not say those kinds of things, particularly since he does not want to receive them, but Feelers are not good Christians (in the Biblical sense).

The other guy was much more Judger than Feeler. I'm not even sure he really is a genuine Feeler (he insists that truth is very important to him), but he certainly has drunk the Kool-Aid. I call such people "Feeler-wannabes." But he's an off-the scale Judger. You know, clean desk, and he's a "my way or the highway" controller. He wants to win -- even if he's wrong. He was doing a Bible study in Mark, and got one of the parables wrong. I sent him a private email (in the spirit of Matt.18) pointing out how that was inconsistent with other Scripture (including the rest of its chapter), and the next time around he made a public show of rejecting my interpretation. So I backed off. The parables are mostly no big deal, and that one has no effect on anything anybody is involved in. This last week it was a bigger bungle, a more significant pile of bovine excrement, and I really stepped in it. I had a dozen specific Scriptures on one side; he had none, just some nameless books he read. But he is going to win. No reply from him so far, but I can expect another public rebuke. I just won't be there.

My father once told me a story of two guys who met in the middle of a one-lane bridge. They were yelling at each other to back up. One of them said "I never back up for an idiot!" The other replied, "I always back up for an idiot," then got in his car and backed up. Besides proving who the idiot was in this altercation, there is a deeper significance here. Control freaks try to impose their will on others (contrary to Jesus' teaching, Matt.20:25-28 and elsewhere), often by refusing to budge. Both drivers started out that way. Neither was having any effect. What changed? Or rather, who controlled the outcome? As a Perceiver, I am free to look for a different outcome. That means I am in effective control of the situation that the control freak only thinks he's controlling.

Not that I care, but Justice -- that's the Thinker in me -- is served by working out an equitable solution. By not going to his Bible study, I do not have to give tacit assent to his heresy, but  he can still feel like (pretend) he's in control. The other people there are not really at risk: nobody listens to those things anyway. If they did, if they paid real attention to what the Bible teaches, I wouldn't be the only one complaining about the nonsense. And the church would be on fire. It ain't gonna happen, not here in the Bible Belt.
 

2014 October 3 -- Relationshipistic Communication

I had an epiphany today.

I had been trying to communicate with a Relationshipist, mostly because I didn't know he was a Relationshipist. He kept talking about the First and Second Great Commandments as if they were important to him. He kept insisting that he cares about truth, but his actions told me otherwise. He became offended when I told him the truth. I asked him questions, but rather than tell me what he truly thinks, he refused to answer at all, like as if he thought the truth is offensive (it usually is) and didn't want to offend me.

He thinks he understands me, but how could he? Once I figured out he's a hard-core Relationshipist (several months ago), I shut down the communication channels. I don't say anything to him that isn't inconsequential or merely affirming. He hasn't said anything significant to me since we met -- except once long ago, I got a little too honest with him, and he became "not-angry" and told me some of the hostile things he probably thinks of me all the time.

Then it came to me this morning: Relationshipists communicate on an entirely different wavelength than Thinkers.

The highest value to a Relationshipist is Relationships (unearned affirmation). The highest value(s) to a Thinker is Truth, Justice, and Duty, which is about as opposite as you can get. When a Thinker talks, he wants to know what is true (the bottom line), what is just (that is, what needs to be fixed), and how we can get there from here. You see that in guy-fiction (like the Mitch Rapp novels I've been reading, and action movies). When the guy goes home, there's nothing he can do to fix, no information that needs transfer, so he says nothing. It drives his wife nuts. The lead guy in the NCIS TV series I mentioned earlier this week is like that. On the other hand, the Relationshipist just wants to be affirmed. Chick-lit is about warm fuzzies, romance and fantasy. That TV show, the women (of both genders) want to be affirmed, it's what the show is all about, according to its creator (although he didn't say so in those words).

Anyway, it seems to me that a Relationshipist believes they have effective communication when they affirm each other, the actual words are unimportant. They like the line, "I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care." That's not strictly true, when they go in for brain surgery, they probably care a lot more about how much the doctor knows than whether he has warm feelings for them.

A Thinker, it's the other way around: it doesn't matter how you feel about the content, but what the content actually means.

So this Relationshipist I was telling you about, he tells me, "When it comes to spiritual gifting, I am a teacher, and it is my desire to help lead people into a better understanding of Christ..." Except I have listened to his teaching, and the "Christ" he is leading people to is somewhat different from the Jesus I find in my Bible. And I know some of those people, and I don't think they heard a word he said. They just learn the right magical phrases to repeat, and tell him what a wonderful sermon it was, and everybody is happy. He has communicated. That's what he is paid to do, and he does it well, like the prophet Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, who prophesied peace and prosperity, "God loves you unconditionally," but God never said that. It doesn't matter what he actually says, the people feel affirmed and smile, and everybody is happy. I don't think he has a clue whether they are getting what he thinks he is teaching or not. He doesn't give tests. They are all "Christians" so they wouldn't dare tell him the truth (and judging from this guy's reaction when I tried, I don't think he wants them to). His predecessor was very intellectual, and people admitted to me all the time they didn't understand him, but they never told him that.
 

2014 September 29 -- Feminazi Flops

I mentioned a while back, the library picked up a lot of TV serials for their movie collection. I guess they get a lot of screen time for not very many $$ that way. Mostly you get what you pay for. The risk being so high, I usually try just one (unless it's a sitcom, in which case I don't waste any time on it). This crime solver started out OK, but pretty soon I was feeling a lot of annoyance at their feminazi gender bickering, you know the stereotype: the only smart people are female, the guys are all high-testosterone idiots, and they argue like pre-adolescent spoiled kids over gender roles. If the feminazi agenda were true, there would be nothing to argue about, so the fact that they are arguing about it in every blinking TV show proves they are wrong. Compare for example, the proposition that there is no mental difference between people of dark skin and light skin. To argue otherwise (either way) is racist, and nobody does it. If men and women were cognitively equal in the same way, then arguing about it would be like arguing that cherry pie tastes better than apple. If, on the other hand, men differed from women like cats and dogs, arguing about it would be equally nonsensical. Anyway, the lead guy basically saves the show's bacon, but he doesn't talk much, so you don't get to appreciate his smarts.

On the last disk, the "Making of" infomercial explains why they have so much religion and so little science. The creator and sometime director said "It's not about going from A to B to C, it's about what they're doing while going from A to B to C." He interleaved his fingers to focus on the spaces between them. "That's what makes it so interesting and so much fun." The narrator said the guy was picked to develop the show because he seems to have his finger on the pulse of American viewers, but it's certainly not interesting and fun to me. The forensic anthropologist series I watched a few months ago at least spent a lot of effort trying to get the science right -- or so they said in the infomercial, although I'm not sure I believe their laser hologram projector, nor the ease with which the (always female) computer geek can pull a complete and recognizable human face out of a few bone fragments -- but mostly that doesn't even seem to be on the table for this series.

The episodes are not completely independent, so I have been bringing them home one at a time -- I don't want to order two from the branch library where they are shelved, and have the second arrive but not the first (because it's checked out). Anyway, I watched the first episode from the second season, and the childish bickering was minimal. I guess they rotate writing and directing around between several people, some of them more creative, some just more religionistic (the American government-funded established religion, aka Feminism). I had held off sending away for the next disk, but if at least one more episode lays off the childishness, I might continue the series. sigh
 

2014 September 13 -- Scary Novel

I picked up another novelist recommended by that woman in the dentist waiting room, and I'm only eight chapters in -- it would have been a lot less, but I'm getting ahead of myself -- but I don't like this guy very much. He writes in the first person, his hero starting out as a "drifter" (read: loser). I've said it before: stupid is not entertaining to me, so I was somewhat disgruntled on the second page. Then it turns out he's actually quite skilled and smart even, but given a raw deal by the Federal and local governments (in that order). Y'all know I'm not particularly fond of some of the governments in this country, but it's still waaay ahead of whoever is in second place, but somebody has to be the villain in a story, or people won't read it (I know).

Anyway, the guy ends up in the slammer for something he didn't do. I have spent a lot of time thinking about being in that situation, none of it pleasant, and this author makes it clear that it's far worse than I ever imagined. It got my adrenaline up so much that I couldn't go to sleep, so I had to read another hour or two to see the guy safely out of jail. Artists sometimes consider the nature of art that they can jerk people around emotionally. This guy succeeded, but I don't like it. I'll finish it out to give him a chance to redeem himself, but I doubt I'll go back for its sequel. [November postscript: it got better, so I am ready to start the third in the series.]
 

2014 September 11 -- Catching Up

Hmm, I just noticed the date as I start this, the anniversary of the infamous event that put "9/11" into the American vocabulary, and also the anniversary of when I started this blog. There's nothing magical about today, I'm just waiting for the computer to compile my program. It's getting big enough that it takes a while.

I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist a month or so ago, reading another Vince Flynn novel, when another patron noticed it and offered the opinion that I might also like David Baldacci. I guess he's OK, a little more sex and profanity than I care to fill my mind with, but it's rather a page-turner toward the end. You know the hero is going to win, because losers don't make best-sellers, but the Bad Guy keeps beating him at every turn. I didn't spoil it for you, should you decide to read it, but I did finish rather sooner than I planned (think: not much sleep that night), so I'm reading back magazines until I get to the library for another book.

Usually I just look at the cover on the IEEE member rag then toss it onto the stack of things I probably will never get to, but the August cover this year breathlessly announced "The Collapse of Internet Privacy." Not me, I thought, I do not allow cookies and other intrusive stuff on my browser. But I set it aside and read the article this week. It turns out cookies are so yesterday. People got wind of what the greedy corporate pigs are doing to them, and started deleting the cookies. So now they are using browser fingerprinting -- examining the user computer for a list of details (browser version, screen size, installed fonts and other stuff) that together make a pretty unique picture of each computer. How do they know this stuff? They run a script (that's the polite word for "virus" = code downloaded onto your computer and run there with or mostly without your permission) to gather these details. I breathed a sigh of relief. I'm still safe: I also don't allow viruses on my computer. It's a manual switch you can turn off (like cookies on the older browsers). Another reason to prefer my setup over the newer, more vulnerable systems with flashy animations and other stuff that takes up valuable computer power to distract you from what you're there to do.

Another magazine, which isn't exactly the house organ of the government USA Government religion (but you wouldn't know that from reading it), and not known for its scientific quality (likewise), ran an opinion piece bemoaning the tiny proportion of women at a recent Google technical conference. Anybody reading my blog more than once or twice knows that men and women are physiologically different, with substantial impact on how we think. Men are predominantly Thinkers, and women are predominantly Feelers. Those are values, which lead men to behave differently, and seek different kinds of employment, than women.

Official government religion to the contrary, most employment in this country is meritocratic. The jobs fill up with the people who can do them best. There are more women bank managers than men, because their values lead them to do that job better. There are more men cowboys than women for the same reason. This writer admits to being a novelist, which means he is (or imagines himself to be) more skilfull at fabricating contrary-to-fact fiction than in doing the kinds of things he writes about. "Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach (and write)." He made a number of observations that, if anything, argue against his conclusion.

He observes that female penetration into the tech industry in India (where he is from) is 30% (compared to 18% in the USA). That means that the women have achieved 100% of their potential penetration in India. It also reflects that the American techie is, as he says, "a male risk taker, eager to isolate himself from society for long stretches of time as he makes a bold thrust forward into dangerous territory." But he prefers to believe otherwise. As I said, he likes to fabricate fiction, so he proceeds to imagine a more relational programming workplace the way he says it is in India. That may very well be. But one should also recall that Indian programmers work in sweatshops driven by American innovation, not the other way around. It's those risk-taker cowboys, not the relational managers, who drive American (not Indian) technological innovation.

However, he does have one factor in favor of his alternative scenario, which is the Feeler-dominated American educational system. But I suspect that will not drive more women into technology, but rather drive the feminized mindless USA-educated boy drones away from technology. Countering that, the USA still has a huge (relative to the rest of the world) Christian subculture, and (never mind that the churches, like the schools, are dominated by Feelers) the top Christian value in the Bible is Truth, not Relationship. We are the tech leader of the world because we are the Christian leader of the world. A century ago the Brits held both top slots, and a century or two before that the Germans did. Christianity may be losing its market share here (and with it, our scientific supremacy), but we have a long way to go before we trade places with whoever is in second place.

This guy's conclusions do not fit his own facts, first because his chosen profession encourages him to fabricate alternate worlds instead of looking at the real world through the cold clear lens of Truth, and then because he has let the fiction-based religions of his own country, and now the fiction-based government-funded religion here, cloud his thinking so that he does not -- or cannot -- see that his alternative world is not workable with the kinds of people God created.
 

2014 September 8 -- Anachronism Ruins an Otherwise Good Flick

A couple weeks ago one of the library movies I checked out was the first of a 2-DVD collection of Jackie Chan movies, dubbed into English. I'm not all that enthusiastic about martial arts -- they are essentially a romantic throw-back to the days when manual skill was needed to win in combat; today cleverness and better technology (cleverness again) win, but thinking is hard work, it's much easier (and more fun) to imagine that one has skill and strength -- but Jackie Chan does it with wit and pizazz and not a little slapstick. For this last weekend I got the second disk, but all four movies on it were blocked by the infamous "blue screen of death": the player hangs on the blue image of a warning against piracy, as if the vendor does not want anybody watching their movies, not even those who rightfully paid for it; many of the multi-movie collections use the blue screen of death to hide their products.

Antonio Banderas is a younger actor with some of the same wit and pizazz as Jackie Chan -- or perhaps, according to the "making of" doc, it's only his writers and director, but he's the one we see. The "making of" doc also said Banderas did his own stunts (again like Jackie Chan). That kind of enthusiasm in actor can overcome a lot of blunders in a flick. But not all. The recent Zorro flick I got at the same time as the dud Jackie Chan disk had some serious anachronisms, which is all the more surprising after the "making of" doc told us how they went to so much trouble to get the train and dance scene into "period". One of the more glaring anachornisms was an unattended telegraph receiver which printed a ticker-tape strip of paper with the incoming message, some 30 years before such an instrument was invented (and much smaller than it ever was).

The most annoying anachronism, which essentially spoiled most of the flick for me, was when the heroine divorced her husband apparently because he was unwilling to "love" her -- that is, give up being who he was: a guy whose highest value is Justice, Truth, and Duty. It was only at the end that we learn her motives were different, but divorce for trivial reasons like that did not become legal in California until more than a century later, and certainly not in the Catholic-dominated Mexican legal system they were under at the time of the flick, especially not for a woman to do it. This is essentially a feminazi make-over on the Zorro theme, where the guys are all bumbling fools and the women are the super-heroes. Not totally so, but enough to overwhelm the positives, so I would not recommend it.

Another mild anachronism, but more of a technical misstep (probably intentional misinformation, presumably to discourage viewers from succeeding at copying the supposed technology) has the villain making nitroglycerin from soap. According to Wiki, Glycerin is a byproduct from normal soap manufacture (after the glycerin is removed, you have soap), not a component in it. But in today's misandrous anti-tech climate, who cares about Truth?
 

2014 August 25 -- Atheist Folly

My friend pointed me at somebody's blog, where the blogger offered five things atheists could do to be more credible, which were mostly variations on the theme of "be humble/honest" (they being essentially the same thing in his analysis). Of course he's a Christian, so the atheists won't pay him much attention, except a few of them prattled on nonsensically in his comments section, thereby proving correct his analysis (and mine, here to follow).

The most interesting of his five was the last:

5. Stop Trying to Position Atheism as Merely a Lack of Belief
This one requires some careful analysis. The word "atheist" is artificially constructed from the Greek prefix "a-" meaning negation and the the Greek word "theos" meaning god. A theist is a person who affirms the existence of one or more deities. Traditionally, the negation applied to the content of that affirmation, namely the existence of deities. A classical (let's call him a "dogmatic") atheist denied that existence. It's an illogical and self-contradictory position to take, because to make the claim, you must first search the entire universe -- and all possible supernatural domains outside the physical universe -- all at once (because shy deities might jump around, so to be in whatever place you are not looking at that moment; if you were able to do that, you would be a god, thereby disproving your claim.

I guess the logic of this syllogism is too obvious for even atheists to ignore, so they responded by staking out a position traditionally called "agnostic" but differing from the dogmatic version of their faith only in name. You can tell they are still dogmatics, because they really do care about the question: otherwise they wouldn't be there on a Christian's weblog trying to argue against him. Essentially they insist that the negation implied by the Greek prefix "a-" refers to the act of affirmation, not the content. They claim that they neither affirm nor deny the existence of deities, but have no belief with respect to them. True agnosticism is an unstable ground to stand on. If you really don't know if there is a God or not, then you have a moral obligation to find out, because the consequences of being on the wrong side of whatever deity might exist are unspeakably horrible. At least the dogmatic atheist can claim (however foolishly) to have answered that question in the negative, but the agnostic "atheist" who is not diligently searching for an answer is just plain stupid.

But nobody (except the atheists themselves) ever accused an atheist of being smart. Perhaps they are smart enough to realize that if they ever actually set out honestly to discover whether there is a God or not, they probably will be forced to admit that the evidence for the Christian God is pretty strong. And there is nothing quite so stupid as shaking your fist in the face of a God infinitely more powerful than you are and saying "I won't!"

I'm not sure I believe it, but rumor is that ostriches bury their head in the sand so they won't see pending danger. It's not the sort of thing that contributes to the survival of large birds like ostriches, so I doubt they really do that. Meet the new ostriches: they call themselves "atheists." It's not the sort of thing that contributes to the survival of their kind, any more than it helps the birds of that reputation, but like I said, atheists are not the brightest birds on the planet.

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2014 August 14 -- Music & Emotions

I get what little current news I see from dead-tree media, which mostly have abandonned reporting news in favor of offering opinions. I have plenty of opinions of my own, I don't need to read other peoples' blunders. As a result, I don't hurry very hard to read the non-news portions of this magazine I get, and here it is a whole month after its pull date that I see a feature article on some orchestra conductor (Manfred Honeck) with heart. I'm all in favor of putting your heart into whatever you do, so I don't begrudge his exuberance, but it reminded me of a remark I heard from a musician friend a couple months ago and have been mulling over ever since.

I don't remember her exact words, but it was something to the effect that Bach composed his music before people learned how to make music express emotion. I suspect Maestro Honeck would disagree. The article quotes him as referring to how "Mozart and Bach have a positive influence on the healing process..." in a paragraph that begins "Through music you can touch the soul... people sometimes cry if they hear beautiful music." If that isn't about emotions, I don't know what is.

It seems to me that it is the nature of music is to convey emotions. Different music conveys different emotions. Perhaps my friend has a very narrow notion of what constitutes "emotion" and supposes that only romance qualifies. Hate (rock music) and joy (baroque) and sadness (blues) are also valid emotions. The Mozart Requiem does an awesome job of communicating fear.

We have a 5000+year recorded history of people making music. Even if you restrict emotions to romance, I am not so selfish and narrow-minded -- I think the usual term for it is arrogant -- as to believe that only in the last 2% of that time did they figure out how to do emotions.
 

2014 August 13 -- Gold Bug

Sometimes the novels I read at bedtime offer (usually laudatory) opinions about other authors. I mentioned a couple in previous blog posts: Gold Goast was a dud, but I thoroughly enjoyed Anabasis. Maybe it has something to do with age, because another author praised Edgar Allan Poe's mystery stories, and (so far) I agree. But you can tell Poe was not a mathematician. Apart some minor mistakes (possibly transcription errors) the cryptography in "The Gold Bug" is reasonably good, but he has his main character calculating where to dig for treasure based on extrapolating from a drop from the "left eye" of a skull high up in a particular tree. His assistant -- this was written before the days of political correctness -- was confused and dropped the marker through the wrong eye, three inches east of where it should have landed. Poe is careful to tell us that they measured 50 feet in a straight line from the nearest point on the tree past the marker, and dug a circular pit about four yards across. After correcting for the wrong drop point, the new dig site was "several" yards from their original hole -- obviously at least 12-15 feet away. Anybody who paid attention in high school geometry would know that the 12-15 feet is proportional to the three inches (1/4 foot) in the same ratio as the 50 feet is to the distance of the drop point is from the tree, at least 50:1, which makes the drop point one foot (or less) from the base of the tree. However, Poe also carefully told us that they cleared a circle of "three or four yards in diameter" around the drop point, and that the assistant had to crawl out on the limb some distance before finding the skull through which he was to drop the marker. From the measurements given, the first dig site could not have been more than one yard from the correct site, which would have been well within their original hole. Or maybe Poe knew that, and (apparently correctly) assumed his readers wouldn't notice.

The other mistake in the same story is more subtle. The parchment with the encrypted instructions for finding the buried treasure has a picture of a "kid" in one corner, from which the guy (correctly, according to the story) deduces that this was Captain Kidd's note, so therefore the cryptanalysis should assume an English plaintext -- which is important for Poe's English-speaking readers. He actually points out that the pun on the pirate's name would not work in any other language, which is true: puns don't translate, but you need to be fluent in more than one language to know that. Most modern Americans lack that skill. Anyway, the problem is that a juvenile goat carefully drawn by a skilled artist (let alone a rough sketch by a non-artist pirate captain) would be hard to distinguish from a lamb or adult sheep or a dog of any age, so why would our sleuth so readily recognize it as a "kid"? Like I said, very subtle.

Neither of these errors really spoils the story, which is quite good, considering Poe is given credit for being the first mystery novelist. But it does put one on notice about how hard it is to get the real-world details in fiction correct. I assume that's why my novelist friend prefers to write fantasy. She claims it's harder than historical fiction, but that's because she never tried it.
 

2014 August 12 -- Incrementalism

I don't know if anybody is reading this, but if you are, you probably know by now that I've been ramping up my search for gainful employment. Part of that includes learning to program mobile devices (Android), which could turn into a source of income if I can make something people want to buy, or at least it looks good on my resume. My email friend also recently started a new job, and his employer is involved with so-called "agile" programming, which seems to be the fad du jour. Like OOPS (object-oriented) and structured (GOTO-less) programming in previous generations, agile certainly brings some good insights to the table. Also like OOPS and GOTO-less, it drags in its share of goofy nonsense. We all program with GOTOs all the time, but they are not spelled "goto" but rather "break" and "return" and "continue". A pure structured language wouldn't have those useful commands. OOPS is generally given credit for a lot of good programming practices that better languages than C have had for many years, like strong typing -- which C++ still lacks, although many C shops repair some of the damage with a hodge-podge preprocessor called "lint". Almost nobody recognizes the one really good thing OOPS gave us, which is strongly-typed callbacks. But overloading is an awesome way to make code absolutely unreadable.

But today's story is agile. It is contrasted with "waterfall" programming, which supposes that the software designer is a god who can get his software design perfect, and all that needs to be done is implementation and testing and deployment (in that order). There is only One Creator God Who got His design perfect on the first cut (in six 24-hour days); the rest of us need to debug our work, not only the code, but also the design itself. Agile writes that repair cycle into the plan. Unfortunately, they went overboard, assuming that all design can be incremental. I suspect they have drunk the Darwinian Kool-Aid. Waterfallists were obviously closet Creationists: maybe they didn't believe in the One True God, but they certainly considered themselves to be gods. But incremental improvements cannot get to every good design, nor even very many useful designs at all. Usually you need what some of the more honest (but still foolish) Darwinists call "punctuated equilibrium," a radical departure from a working design to something totally other. Of course that doesn't happen in nature, but given millions of years, frogs can be imagined to turn into princes. In the real world, both the frogs and the princes were designed by Somebody Who knew what He was doing, and they are different from each other. The frog-to-prince fairy tales -- both versions -- were also designed by smart people, and did not evolve from simpler stories by time, chance, and natural causes.

So, if I get hired into a hard-core agile shop, I will try to serve as requested, but they won't be getting all the value I can bring to the table (and that they presumably are paying for). Their problem, not mine. If they hire me to write good code, I will do that, but some of the process won't be purely "agile" (as they define it). Also not my problem.

Curiously, the real world is encroaching on the imaginations of these agile purists. I found a web site that goes to great effort to condemn the creative efforts of programmers doing non-incremental design but calling it "agile". Obviously a lot of people are doing that, just like a lot of people still use GOTOs (in their more modern spelling), and efficient code still cannot be coded in OOPS languages like C++ or Java. Actually, the C++ compilers all accept non-OOPS code, so who's to know? Same with agile, which is why we see these rants by the dogmatic purists. If people lived by their restrictive rules, the rants would be unnecessary -- and probably also impossible, because so little software would get to market.
 

2014 August 8 -- Blurry Fonts

There's a lot in OSX to dislike, besides being uinx. Today it's the way they do fonts. Maybe it's because it's unix, but I have no proof of that. The MacOS did fonts correctly, but it was labor intensive. Way back when, the unixies at Adobe invented a way to program approximations to glyph shapes as a computer program that the font engine can run to prepare a shape for display. Through some kind of political machinations (probably reacting to the corporate greed at Adobe, which has always been hostile to spreading the wealth, a value Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki called "The Macintosh Way") the unixies at Apple and Microsoft came up with an alternate way to do the same thing, which became "TrueType". Or maybe it was invented at Apple and sold to Microsoft as a way of screwing Adobe. In any case, the tactic worked. As I recall, TrueType (and probably also the Adobe version) includes ways to tell the font renderer what to do for small faces, but it seems to work without those hints, so nobody bothers. Or maybe it's another misbegotten effort at greed, because the computer programs of TrueType are protected by copyright law, but the actual images they generate are not. So the glyphs are made blurry as a way to cover up the fact that they are really ugly.

It's not as readily accessible as on the Mac, but the OSX Keyboard window uses these blurry fonts for their keycaps, with the result that the key caps are completely illegible unless you stretch the window to fill half the screen. I spent several hours sliding the Keyboard window around -- alternately up where I can see which key to press for which letter, then down so that only its title bar shows at the bottom of the screen and I can see the rest of what I'm trying to do in a screen diminished by the stupid Dock continually bouncing up and covering valuable screen space -- all to collect blurry images of Hebrew letters. My OSX guru warned me about trying to scale fonts, but I think he was the pot calling the kettle.

It seems like I get to do everything manually anyway. It's The Macintosh Way, and it looks far better than the blurry castrated smudge that is (Apple's version of) unix. See for yourself:

OSX  Mine

Stand back far enough and you can almost read the OSX version, about as well as the clear sharp-pixels version at the same distance, but to see it clearly, you need to be closer, and only sharp pixels are legible up close.
 

2014 August 6 -- Dizzy Flicks

Walt Disney is a classic case of a successful corporation taken over by bean counters and lawyers after the founder is gone. Microsoft and Apple are now well into the process, but not at the end. Disney is at the end of the trail. The management is completely clueless about what constitutes quality product, but they can fiddle around with the parameters seeking some evolutionary (incremental) way to improve profits. Their best profits now come from buying up other companies still run by their respective founders, like Pixar.

The Disney brand name has a history of being suitable for family viewing, but that's now gone. Librarians don't know that, so when they buy up DVDs, Disney flicks get high priority for the "G" and "PG" shelves. The one I watched was dated 2010. The "Alpha" in the title normally refers to "alpha male" among pack animals like wolves, but this is a post-modern shill for the government-funded established religion of the USA (and most other western countries), which aims to deceive little girls into believing they have a red "S" on their chests, and little boys into believing they are idiots with no purpose other than goofing off. It's a lie from the Pit of Hell. I almost turned it off after they introduced the young lead heroine wolf as an "alpha." What a crock! The real world does not work that way, and no amount of propaganda from the religious bigots (at Disney and elsewhere) can make it so.

The other thing about Disney branded DVDs I have been noticint lately is that they run a bunch of half- to 5-minute commercial shorts at the front before you can get to the movie. Normally I just click through them, but the next flick on my stack simply quit playing before it got to the end of the ads, bean-counters at work. I guess I will not be taking any more Disney trash home from the library.
 

2014 August 2 -- Knowing That You Know

Senior pastors, like business CEOs, tend to be controllers. Evangelical pastors know they cannot force people to become  believers, but they seem to want as much control over the process as possible. Almost every church I have spent much time in, the pastor likes to ask people to bow their heads during his invitation, "nobody looking around" -- except of course himself -- and then he asks for everybody who knows they are a Christian to raise their hand. I did that once or twice, and then it occurred to me that if he was asking for information, he saw my hand last time. So I stopped.

More recently I started to think that my certainty might also be misplaced. As I told the Mormon missionaries, I work in an industry where I must deliver an error-free product or I don't get paid. But I make a lot of mistakes. Most of them I catch myself, but some get through and the customer tells me about them. Despite my best efforts, I make mistakes. I could be mistaken about other things not so easily verified, like which religion is true. In my business, logic can be used to determine where a bug is (but not necessarily if there is a bug, according to a mathematical proof). Once I know there is a bug, I can usually find it perhaps with God's help. But I'm getting ahead of things.

The point is, I can use the Scientific Method to determine which religion best fits the objective data. Unless you are being illogical, Christianity is the best fit (as I show elsewhere), despite that both the Christians and the Darwinists are disinclined to look at the data very closely. I would guess that's because Darwinism is the government-established religion of this country, and they don't want to lose their monopoly. And because they have this monopoly on religion taught in the public schools, most Christians are told only the Darwinist lies about science (see my essay on it), so they have no reason to believe Christianity could win in a level playing field. The Darwinists know (or are afraid that) we can, which is why they suppress the truth by political force instead of scientific argumentation.

But I could be wrong. There could be some scientific principle that negates entropy. The Darwinists know of none, they just wave their hand as if a larger laboratory or longer time does the job. It does not. Or everything could be nothing more than random quantum fluctuations, with the result that there are no laws of science to be violated by evolution -- but wait, that cuts the feet off the Darwinist position. I could be wrong, but the science at this time does not suggest it.

I could be wrong, which means I wasted my whole life being good enstead of enjoying the pleasures of sin. Oh wait, some of the Darwinists argue for being good also, but they have no philosophical basis for it -- other than as an ethic borrowed from the Christians: being good sometimes results in a comfortable life, sometimes not; I suspect goodness is more profitable in a society run on Christian values, because nobody is happy in the countries run by atheists, but that again cuts the feet off the Darwinist position. Mathematics has the interesting property that no matter how you work your proof, (unless you made a logic blunder) you get the same result if you get any answer at all. If and to the extent that science is mathematical, no matter how you go at the question, Christianity fits the data better than Darwinism.

If I embrace Christianity and it proves wrong, then I lost a little "fun" (defined as being mean to somebody), and I wasted a little time praying to a God who isn't there (but who answers some of those prayers anyway, like when I need help finding bugs), and then I die, and that's the end of it. If it's true, then of course I spend eternity having fun (defined as helping people, which I already know is fun). If I embrace atheism, then everything is random and inexplicable and meaningless. If it's true, I still die, but I'm not sure the life in the middle is better. If Christianity is true but I reject it, then the eternal result is too horrible to imagine -- it's actually the Just and even loving thing for God to do, the greatest Good for the greatest number of people, obviously not including those who self-select to non-participate. Anyway, it's called Pascal's Wager, and it really looks bad for the atheist. But how much I personally benefit isn't the point. What matters is, Is it true? That also looks bad for the atheist.

OK, Darwinism is a lost cause. Maybe there's some other religion that fits the data better. I know of none, but that doesn't mean there is none. In the meanwhile, the Judeo-Christian religion dates back to the beginning of time (in their model), which says a lot for its accuracy.

So do I know? Not exactly, but it's a pretty good guess, at least better than the assumption that a truck won't run me down on my way to church tomorrow.

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