Tom Pittman's WebLog

Last year / Later this year

2015 June 30 -- The Video Game Method

Let's say you're being attacked by blue orcs and you need to know which of the weapons in your arsenal to shoot at them. Most of us don't, so we try the flame-throwing crossbow -- nope; OK, try the laser defragger -- nope again; what about the photon grenade? When nothing works, get on the internet and download the cheats. Aha, it was the magic potion I neglected to pick up on Level 3 that I need to use on these orcs. The purple orcs on Level 5 are different, and the defragger works. If you're a gamer, figuring out these puzzles is fun; if you have a job to do, it's a pain in the wrong place.

Except for a few people I can count on the fingers of one hand, pretty much everybody I meet in Texas is greedy and rude to the point of sociopathy. SuddenLink may or may not be a Texas company, but they have the cable monopoly for this hick town, and they have been infected by the virus. Paying technicians to stand by and wait for customers to have problems costs money, which is anathema to greedy corporate execs, so they keep the staff to a minimum, which results in very long wait times with obnoxious commercials playing a sequence of lies -- only the "I am different" line is true, because other comm systems in my experience actually work. The wait time today was projected to be close to an hour. So much for the "sudden" part of their corporate name.

Enter the Video Game Method: randomly press buttons until something works. Today it started jabbering at me in Spanish, but I kept pressing random buttons and pretty soon it was back to English and somebody actually answered in under a minute. Even more surprising: she solved the problem in another couple minutes (half of that was waiting on her computer). Used to be when I got a telephone robot, I just put it on speaker and waited until a real person came on; now most robots hang up if you don't respond, but the Video Game Method usually gets through to somebody: just keep pressing buttons until you get a ring tone. The person you get is trained in whatever procedure the sequence of buttons you pressed gets to, but they usually also know how to do other things too. Once or twice they switched me back to the main robot, so I started over (different random sequence, different result). If nothing else, the satisfaction one gets from gaming the abusive system is worth it.

2015 June 29 -- Internet Back up, Texas Style

The drivers in Dallas area -- perhaps in all of Texas, but I don't know for sure -- are either untrained, stupid, sociopathic, or some combination of the above. My friend here offered a fourth: "in a hurry" but that actually comes under the Stupid category, because you won't get anywhere in a hurry by crashing into the car in front, and unless he is also a Texas driver (that is, stupid, which they pretty much all are) that guy in front will be forced to slow down for safety, and you still won't get there in a hurry. The Sociopathic part is that nobody here wants to give the other guy a fair shake.

That applies also to telecommunications. Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post a couple weeks ago, I proceeded to Plan B, finding dial-up from the one POTS provider willing to serve me. Google turned up two dial-up servers, plus a bunch of dish and cable providers saying how much better they were than dial-up. So I went with the cable folks, but the "better" part is a lie. Their cable modem refuses to talk to my computer at all. It wasn't that the modem is broken (other than in that broader sense) because it talks to OSX just fine (but I don't). It wasn't that my computer died in transit, because it talks just fine to the previous DSL modem that I brought with me (but of course it's no longer connected to anything). I think the internet is trying to un-Grandfather my computer: Wikipedia no longer works either.

Back to Plan B: I called one of those dial-up services (obviously based somewhere other than Texas), and I now am on-line with a cable-modem phone talking through a dialup internet connection. It's no slower than the dial-up connection I had ten years ago, and in some ways better -- except that email takes an hour or two to get through to me. Please don't send me long attachments. Dallas is not Hell, but you can definitely smell the sulphur.

Speaking of which, you can tell this house was formerly a rental: all the walls and ceilings have a uniform thick coat of off-white latex paint (painting is apparently cheaper than washing off smudges), which covers all the fixtures, rendering them unsightly (from the paint flaking off, because it never sticks to the greasy smudges it is there to cover up) or inoperable or both; it also nullifies the acoustic ceilings thus painted over, so all sounds reverberate like a medieval gothic (stone) cathedral, except the sounds die out faster because the paint is softer than stone walls and the distances are much shorter.

Owners tend to keep the premises tidier than renters, and the kitchen cupboards were uncleaned, some of them filthy, a few cluttered with prior tenant's stuff. I'm still cleaning out shelves before I can put my own food and utensils away...

Another tell-tale is the ineradicable reek of dog, but I guess owner-dwellers might also do that. When I took possession I noticed that the previous tenants had paid to have the carpets steam-cleaned, and I considered cancelling the cleaners I had engaged, but the smell was still there, so I paid for a second cleaning "plus deodorizer." The fine print disclaimed any guarantee, with good reason. In the Providence of God, my nose is mostly stoppered up all the time, but in the few minutes of clear breathing so far this week, I can tell the smell is still very much there.

It's a tiny house in a small town. Yeah, in Texas, where everything is supposed to be big. In Bolivar I had to wait forever for the shower to warm up, enough time for me to undress while waiting, but here it's hot in the time it takes me to step into the tub. In Bolivar (and also in Calif) I was on a cul-de-sac with no traffic noise except the occasional car that failed to notice the dead-end sign; here I'm on a busy corner with cars and trucks constantly rushing by and hitting the numerous deep potholes hard. Now that the computer is up and making its usual roar, I don't notice that so much.

The town is about the same population as Bolivar, but not a county seat as there. There's no grocer in town and the nearest is Wal-Mart 15 miles away. In Bolivar I could walk the three blocks. I'm still learning about the other things not available locally.

2015 June 17 -- Internet Shutdown

Starting next week I'm going off-grid for an indefinite time.

I'm moving to Texas, and I took possession of a small house there this week, but telecommunication service there seems problematic. Except for water (handled by the local city) the utility situation in Texas is unbelievably chaotic (as I mentioned briefly a couple weeks ago). I just want to pay money for internet access and POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), and everybody I can find in the yellow pages or on the internet tells me AT&T has the service monopoly there, but AT&T apparently wants to be in some other business. I am already in a business relationship with several banks, and I do not want my telecom provider to become one of them. I have all the identity theft I need, so ditto.

I called the Texas Public Utility Commission to complain, and the guy there told me that AT&T is unregulated. I asked for somebody who is regulated, and he gave me the names of six companies who (so he said) are authorized to offer telephone service in Royse City. None of them are listed in the Dallas area phone book white pages (neither are any RC businesses, and RC has no phone book of its own; like I said, chaotic) but one of them has an ad in the internet section of the yellow pages. I called their number, and yes they could give me POTS but not internet. Go figure. Nobody offers dial-up access any more.

Still hoping for a single provider (like I have here in the State of Misery, and like I had in California and my sister has in Iowa), I decided to try for Skype through whatever internet service I could get. Most of them also want to be in the identity theft business, which is a non-starter. The Dallas yellow pages has three identical ads for HughesNet differing only in the toll-free number to call. Apparently they contract out with independent agents, who are paid on commission. Anyway, one of them tried really hard to be helpful, and he said he was also an agent for AT&T, and he seemed to think he could set up the account substituting extra money in place of the identity theft option, but AT&T cancelled the order then tried to run me through one of their own agents, then followed up with a couple harrassing calls after I politely told her I wanted services that AT&T does not provide on the script they gave her.

The bottom line is that maybe I will go with that one company for POTS, and/or maybe I will find an internet service provider who is not looking to expand their identity theft business, but it doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. Fortunately, all my websites are hosted by other companies, saner people who are willing to take my money. UNfortunately...

Beginning 2015 June 22 I WILL HAVE NO INTERNET ACCESS, no email, no blog posting, no updates to my web sites. You can tell the blackout is over when and if I start posting here again. sigh

2015 June 8 -- KJV vs Greek

Long long ago, in a far-away place, I went to seminary so that God could call me to be a pastor (He didn't), but mostly so I could read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew. I forgot from disuse most of the Hebrew, but I kept the Greek up, and eventually got to the place that I only read the New Testament in Greek at church. One pastor, seeing the brick-red book in my hand, commented that "Seeing The Red Book in church strikes terror in the heart of every pastor," the implication being that anybody in the pew able to read the original Greek can verify what is being preached. Some preachers say they want the congregation to read it for themselves, but few really hope for it.

A few years ago I bought an interlinear Hebrew Bible, which I now carry to church, but like I said, I lost most of my knowledge of Hebrew, so I mostly look at the English gloss line. But I got brave, and two years ago I started my daily Bible readings in the interlinear Hebrew. After a few months I was able to cover the English glosses and peek only for the words I don't yet know. Some books that's now only once or twice per verse; others (mostly poetry) use a lot of infrequent words, so I'm looking all the time. But I'm getting better at it. It goes a lot slower than reading English, so my mind is seeing the text at a different pace, with different insights.

Anyway, I still am looking at the Greek (and Hebrew, but this preacher doesn't refer to the Old Testament very often) during the sermon. One thing I learned is that the preacher (he refuses to refer to himself as "pastor") at this church claims to read Greek, but he doesn't, at least not very much. Yesterday the sermon was from 2Tim.2:15 (in the NIV it reads "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved..."). You can tell a KJV-only preacher when he preaches a Bible-study sermon from this verse. Only the King James Bible translates as "study" the Greek verb SPOUDAZW ('spudazo' which really means "work hard"). Some 4000 words in the English language have changed meaning since the KJV was translated, with the result that the text is essentially unintelligible to the average modern reader, and in many cases (like this one) just plain wrong. There are places in the Bible that teach Bible study, but this isn't one of them. The guy who gave the closing prayer was obviously one of the confused, because (in reference to what we should have learned from this sermon) he asked God to help us "try hard..." (which words he got from his own Bible, not KJV), then hesitated, then added the words from the sermon "to study..." before continuing the rest of his prayer.

In his sermon on Bible study, to illustrate how not to do it, the preacher referred to 1Cor.7:10,11, where the Apostle teaches that divorce is wrong. He didn't say so, but there are two ways for that to happen to a person: they can initiate the legal action themselves (Paul uses the Greek word AFIENAI "release"), or it can be done to them (Greek word CWRIZW "separate" used in the passive). Both are forbidden, but if you are the stuckee through no fault of your own, then don't remarry (either remain single, or else and hopefully be reconciled). Serial polygamy is not permitted by this text. In the first century, when Paul wrote this, only men were allowed to divorce their spouses, so he quite reasonably told the men not to initiate and the women to avoid letting it happen to them, but if it did, and so on. In our increasingly genderless culture, either party can initiate or be victim, so the proper interpretation of these two verses is as I described it above: don't. Bible translators sometimes need to choose which sense of a verse with multiple senses to carry into English, when the double meaning cannot be preserved. Maybe they chose wrong for this verse, because they preserved the man-woman distinction, but not the active-passive distinction. The result, as this guy pointed out, comes off as "Don't separate yourself, but if you do, then..." which is foolish. It's like telling kids, "Don't have sex, but if you do, use a condom." That gives them implicit permission to ignore the prohibition. However, because he did not read this verse in the Greek, this guy chose to resolve the contradiction by inventing a past tense for the "if you do" clause, reading it as "if it already happened to you (before you saw this command), then..." There is a Greek tense (perfect) for something that already happened with lingering results, but it's not used in this verse. Both times CWRIZW is (simple action) Aorist passive, with the same implied time frame. Don't let it happen, but (because you may not be in control), if it happens, then..."

The guy means well, but because he gets his theology from the KJV text (and perhaps also his denomination-friendly commentaries) and not from the Greek text, he makes blunders like this, and only people reading The Red Book can know. A couple months ago he was preaching on deacons, and claimed that Acts 6 is not about deacons "because the word 'deacon' is not used there." The Greek word DIAKONOS is usually translated "deacon" but it really means "servant" and its verb form (usually translated "serve") is in that passage twice, and again as an abstract noun ("service"). People who insist that Acts 6 is about deacons in the church obviously were reading it in Greek; this guy was not.


2015 June 6 -- The "Sin" of Unbelief

A little more than a year ago, while I was still trying to make peace with the new pastor at the church where I then regularly parked my hiny, he was preaching through Mark and came to 3:29, where Jesus specifically tells us what the Unforgivable Sin is. As far as I can recall, I never in my life heard a preacher tell us "This verse means what it says." Pastors cannot do that with this verse, because it might be taken by some contrite but uninformed sinner as irreparably damning him to Hell. So pastors always explain it away and give some other specification for the Unforgivable Sin, something that the contrite person is guaranteed not to have done, usually dying in unbelief. This guy was no exception. So I blogged my annoyance at his lie.

One of the insights that came out of that analysis is that unbelief is not a sin -- indeed, it cannot be a sin. If it were a sin, then belief (the same Greek word as "faith") would be non-sin, a righteous act, and since we are "saved by faith," as the good Apostle tells us, that would make us saved by our own good deeds, which the same Apostle goes on to say in the very same verse, is not the case. Faith or belief is a mental state, not something you do. It amounts to accepting something as true upon insufficient evidence. Where the evidence is sufficient, we call it "know," and where the evidence is contrary, we call it "fantasy." Christian faith is no fantasy, but (despite what many claim) it's not the same as knowing either. The evidence is good, but still incomplete.

Today my friend saw some remark I made resting on that insight last year, and challenged it.

If you keep reading past John 3:16 for just two more verses it says, "but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
The problem is, this verse is about condemnation rather than sin. Everybody (except Jesus/God) sinned, and the wages of sin is condemnation. Yet Jesus told Nicodemus (or maybe only John told us as commentary, because there is no close quote in Greek, and we don't know where to put it, but no matter, it's ALL God-breathed ;-) that some people are not condemned. In particular the release from condemnation of those (some, hopefully all, but not all want it) people is/was the mission of Jesus 2000 years ago. He did it by paying the price on the Cross, and that payment is transferred to our account by faith (that is, belief) in Jesus. So in that transaction, belief is effectively an invoice we sign to get the bill paid. The sin required payment, and refusing to sign the invoice does not change the debt -- but it does affect who is going to pay it. Everybody starts out condemned (because they sinned), and those who refuse to believe are still condemned ("already") because they refused the payment.

My friend went on to argue that

Also, the 1st of the 10 Commandments pretty much implies that having no other gods means that you should believe in the one true God.
Maybe that's a credible inference, but it's not what it says. It says you should LOVE (give all your devotion and worship and attention to) the One True God, and not bow down or give first place to any of those other fake gods. Now I suppose it doesn't make much sense to love an entity you do not believe exists, but if you are that stupid (Ps.14:1) you deserve what you get. I think the First Commandment never intended to address atheism (which is so stupid as to not deserve God's time in the Ten), but only priority. In actuality there are no true atheists, because everybody has a supreme being in their life whom they trust for ultimate decisions, and whose wishes they are eager to gratify. For a few of us, that's the God of the Bible; others it may be Allah or Shiva, but for most people -- including all atheists -- they are their own god. The First Commandment is about Who is on top, nothing more.


2015 June 5 -- Auditions for 7th Hell

I never saw so many people trying so hard to prove they are worthy of the worst punishment God has for the wicked, solely on the basis of their vehicular activity. Or maybe I did see them, but not being the recipient of their evil, I didn't notice. LosAngeles drivers always stood out in my mind as the worst in the country -- closely followed by Colorado, who follow so closely that there's no room for a car to fit in; they all know that, so when they want to take an exit, they move over to the right lane first chance they get, up to 5 miles before the exit, because everybody knows they won't get another chance. California law unconditionally (and rightly) blames the driver who rams the car in front, and most drivers there have been properly trained to leave enough distance to prevent it. Many states, I suspect the drivers get their licenses off the backs of cereal boxes, completely without any training in simple physics like, How fast can you stop, and how much space do you need to do it? The failings of LA drivers can probably be traced to the wetbacks who didn't go through the legal process of licensing. That may also be the problem in Dallas. It doesn't take many bad apples to spoil the whole barrel, maybe 20% untrained drivers.

So why is that wicked, and not merely stupid? First you need to understand the nature of the message Jesus taught. The question "How to get eternal life?" is explicit in the gospels, and Jesus answered it, but most American evangelicals prefer to believe he lied. They even say so (but without actually using the L-word). Jesus answered, "What does the Bible say?" and the guy replied "Love God 100% and love your neighbor as yourself," which is absolutely correct, according to Jesus in the alleged lie. "And what does it mean to love your neighbor?" is the very reasonable next question, and Jesus answered that with a story. Y'all know the story. If somebody in your face needs help that you (if you were there in that condition) would want, then do it. It's the Golden Rule, and everybody understands it. But they don't drive like that in Dallas. If you can't do that 100% of the time 24/7/365, then people will be frustrated (like I was in Dallas yesterday), and if God were to let into Heaven people who do that kind of selfish evil, then Heaven wouldn't be Heaven. And if you don't want to do GR now, what makes you think you'd like it any better in Heaven, anyway? So all the Dallas drivers -- or at least the 20% who make Dallas streets and freeways Hell for the rest of us -- will not be in Heaven. What's that other place? Right, that's where they are going, I don't need to tell them to, God will.

Maybe it's the atmosphere in Texas. I was trying to get service providers set up for when I move there later this month, and pretty much everybody, including the laws governing the place, are in "screw you, me first" mode. Maybe I'll save that for another post. sigh

2015 May 25 -- The Story About Stories

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler -- attributed to Einstein

All generalizations are false, including this one -- Mark Twain

My friend is from Athens (as sometimes also am I) -- but that's an inside Christian joke [Acts 17:21]. I guess maybe a week or so ago, my friend acquired (again) from some half-baked Relationshipist preacher or novelist the idea that the Bible (and Christianity in general) is all about telling stories. It's a convenient generalization, but false. It appears to make one's understanding of the Bible simpler -- if becoming ineffective could be understood as a simplification. I already did the analysis a couple years ago, but here we go again.

There are numerous stories in the Bible, and sometimes people in the Bible tell stories, but never does any person in the Bible tell a story as part of persuading or attempting to persuade somebody to change their religion and follow Jesus Christ. There are 24 accounts in the book of Acts where somebody is evangelizing, and not one of them uses a "story" to that end. There are five instances in the same book where a "story" is told, and all five of them are judicial settings, where the guy (mostly Paul, but once Stephen) is on trial for his life. I'm no lawyer -- certainly not a first-century lawyer -- but I could guess that telling a story might be the approved manner of self-defense at that time. It didn't seem to help much, as we shall see...

I live alone, and I have nobody to talk to after I'm too tired to work, and while eating. I used to read -- maybe I'll go back to reading -- but a few years ago I discovered that the local library had movies to lend out, and I inherited my mother's TV and VCR player, so I started watching movies over supper. I guess I did a few flicks before then, but it was a hassle. Anyway, by and bye, I discovered that I was recognizing some memorable scene. I've always had a lousy memory, but now I'm getting older, and I have something to blame it on. But I'm also a problem solver, so I solved the problem by scanning in the library tickets and writing a program to build an alphabetical list of everything I've seen. I now carry it folded up on a piece of paper when I go to the library. The print is very tiny, because there are a lot of movies on that list, every one of them a "story". Some of them get mentioned in my blog here from time to time.

In the Goode Olde Dayes, movies were about bravery and adventure and skill, or else about romance. We still have lots of "chick flicks" where girl meets boy (in that order), crisis happens and gets resolved, and they fall in love and have sex (it used to be they got married) and then they live happily ever after, not always in that order. There also are occasional movies about some guy skillfully doing what guys do, bravely and adventurous, often in apposition to demands that he give up his masculinity for the girl (so-called "date flicks"), but much more often the anti-hero of the show is a bumbling idiot who merely lucks into success, or a skillful woman who discovers that romance is where it's at after all, and (sometimes, but not always) that she can have both. In other words, some form of "feminazi" agenda. There are far fewer "good" movies than there used to be. Why is that, if "story" is the best thing since fried ice cream? They are all "stories".

Then it came to me what the problem is. A story only works when it is built on a worldview shared by the teller and the recipient. I hate fantasy because the physics is all wrong. They build a world of make-believe, but I'm a realist. There is no common ground. I'm not a feminist, I'm a Biblical complementarian. Men and women were created by God to be different. There's no common ground between me and the feminazis. Some flicks -- I think "X-Men" among them -- are heavy on the Darwinist propaganda to try to give a pseudo-scientific explanation for their fantasy, and it spoils the whole story for me. One of the infomercials on a chick-flick had a female Darwinist trying to express the Battle of the Sexes in Darwinian terms, which was sort of funny, because the feminazi lie is essentially anti-Darwinist (and she almost, but not quite, said so).

It isn't that I'm "anti-story" as my friend accused me: I like some flicks. The difference is whether there is a common ground. Weekends I bring home a stack of flicks, so I have something to do on Sunday afternoon, because I try not to "work". This week it was a mixed bag, including a Chinese propaganda film (default in Chinese, I had to explicitly choose English dubbing), very strong on artistic colors and grandeur. The hero was heroic, but martial arts is more fantasy than real (in the infomercial the actor even strongly distinguished the choreographed "movie martial arts" from the real thing), and in this flick they used a lot of wires to hold the combatants up in the air while fighting. They digitally remove the wires in post, but guys on wires have a fluidity of motion not there in real life. It's fantasy.

Another was the remake of War of the Worlds. I don't know if I saw the original 1953 film, but about the same time this one was being promoted in theaters a decade ago, the library got a hokey version that claimed to be accurate to the book. It was really hostile to religion, which largely spoiled it for me. I don't know why Tom Cruise was willing to act in this one, they had him play an idiot, which can be understood as part of the feminazi American established religion propaganda. Not my religion (both of them), so not a fun movie. Besides which, (like most modern movies) it was built on a premise of serial polygamy, so ditto. Another chick-flick was much better, totally predictable, but they had the girl and the guy doing what they knew how to do well against each other. It was credible, and it worked.

I usually avoid explicitly religious flicks, and I don't know what came over me this week, but there were two in this pile, one the usual Relationshipist mush, complete with the invitation to become a Christian addressed to the person who has already gone most of the way. It was so bad, I stopped and set it aside, and didn't finish it until all the rest were done. The other was from a subtly Roman Catholic perspective, promoting the same Relationshipistic message, but so delicate that it didn't spoil the otherwise delightful story. I'm no Papist, and overly lingering mood music in the cathedral was an eye-roller, but The Way was far and away the best movie the whole weekend, for me perhaps even the whole month. Why? The guy was competent in his specialty, but stepping out past his comfort zone. He didn't really want to share his very personal pilgrimage with the other travellers. I could see myself in him, much more than in the teen of the other flick who did everything right and (except for the obligatory crisis) was already well connected to his peers. I was a loner at his age. No common ground.

So why is it that Jesus told stories to his disciples, but did not use nor recommend stories for evangelical purposes? He told the disciples when they asked: it was to hide the truth from the unbelievers. There is no common ground -- hey, even the disciples were confused, and he had to explain everything in private afterwards (presumably without additional stories, certainly none we know of). You tell bedtime stories to the children because they trust you -- they must, because their survival depends on that trust -- but teenagers are not interested. Except teen girls go for romances, and teen guys (if they read at all) go for adventure and bravery, in both cases what they imagine for their own future. The morals of the childhood bedtime stories (and similarly, Sunday School Bible stories) are pretty much lost on the children, because their mental capacities are not developed enough to understand the metaphors, but nobody seems to care. Jesus drew children to himself, but there's no record he ever told them stories. He told the stories to adults, who could understand the meanings (and then only with a lot of help).

The bottom line is that stories are a fun but lousy way to communicate important ideas, and they don't work at all across foundational gaps. Maybe my friend will figure that out, or maybe his utility to the Kingdom has come to a (ahem) storybook end. We shall see. Or maybe not. Only in stories do things come to a neat end.

2015 May 7 -- Religious Bigots and Civil Rights

World-class journalist Mindy Belz -- she's "world-class" in three senses: (a) She's pretty good, (b) She writes for WORLD magazine, and (c) She mostly travels to far-off countries like the Middle East to do her reporting from there -- was some time back awarded her own opinion page (column) as part of WORLD magazine's (and all dead-tree media's) continuing trend away from hard news and toward personal opinion. I can't say I approve of the trend, but you can easily find worse columnists than in WORLD magazine. Her comments in the current issue is one of the better of them. A couple of sentences in a paragraph near the end got my juices flowing.
At a time of genocide, sexual enslavement, and a refugee crisis overseas, the [liberals] are fixated on the right of a gay couple to bully a businessperson into performing a service for a wedding he or she is religiously opposed to -- when that service is readily available elsewhere This isn't civil rights, it's a send-up to the 2 percent of the population who identify LGBT, are mostly above-average in income, and are highly represented in media and academia.
What we have in this country is a tiny minority -- less than 2% -- with disproportionate wealth and political power, bullying another small minority and seeking to deprive them of their Constitution-guaranteed civil rights. The free exercise of religion is a right granted by the First Amendment, as is the freedom of speech and press. There is nothing in the Constitution nor any ratified Amendment thereof granting people the unbounded right to engage in physical acts contrary to nature and which burden the public health system, which now by Federal law and tax (thanks to Obama and his lapdogs) imposes a huge financial burden on the rest of the country.

There was no such thing as photography in 1789, but printed pictures closely resemble printed text in appearance and function, so a photographer who chooses what pictures to "print" is indeed exercising the Constitutional right to freedom of the press. A baker who decorates a cake with a text message is doing the same thing. The next page after the Belz column reports on a vendor in Kentucky who prints slogans on T-shirts, and who is being hassled by the same bigots. That is unequivocally freedom of the press they are trying to abridge. The Supreme Court has already held that "compelled speech is not free speech" (I was unable to find the source of that exact line, but Wooley v. Maynard 1977 certainly expresses the idea).

All three vendors are granted (if they choose to apply for it) Copyright protection to their expression by the same Constitution. All the more so when their choice of what texts to display, or what events to photograph, represent a sincerely-held and historic religious belief more than two thousand years old. It just happens to be different from the religious beliefs of the LGB-whatevers (their self-approved name keeps changing, along with their beliefs and bigotry) who have chosen to violate the Law of the God of the Universe to serve another god, and who apparently (like the Islamists in some countries, and the atheists in others, and even the uninformed Christians in a few) suppose that by terrorizing people of a different faith they can prove themselves Right and the others Wrong.

Make no mistake, the LGB-whatever bigots are not being deprived of any civil rights. They have more rights to exercise their religion in this country than I do. They have complete freedom to make and view pictures of their unholy unions, and to decorate cakes to celebrate that activity, and to decorate and wear T-shirts with almost any message, and there are plenty of photographers and bakers and shirt printers willing to help them do it if they choose not to do it themselves, without infringing the Constitutional civil rights of people of a different religion than their own. The vendors are not discriminating against them on account of their sinful behavior -- they will sell to them (as to anybody else) cakes and T-shirts and photographs bearing any acceptable message -- but they only and reasonably refuse to be party to promoting sin. Can you imagine a LGB-whatever baker being asked to decorate a cake with the words "God Hates Fags"? He could (rightly) refuse and no court in this country would require it of him, yet he insists on denying that freedom to the other side. They are hypocrites and bigots and (increasingly) terrorists.

However, this country is still so far ahead of whoever is in second place -- it's easy to tell, because people still want in, not out -- that the left-wing bigots can still do a lot of damage before we change places with the next in line. But I don't regret not having grandchildren. Their lives will be a lot tougher than mine.

"I will die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will be executed in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has so often done in human history." -- late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, quoted by WORLD Magazine

2015 May 2 -- Non-News

Most of my life I have not had a working TV. Most TV shows are not worth watching, and the news isn't any better. They had a TV in the faculty lounge at the university here, and I looked at the CNN news a few times, but abandonned it as too left-wing political. It is, however, sometimes useful to know what is going on in the world -- if only so I don't appear stupid when people talk about it at church. My parents read TIME magazine, and so did I most of my life, but like CNN, they became too left-wing political in their reporting, gradually replacing their news coverage with far-left opinion pieces. So when they neglected to offer me a renewal one year, I took them up on it. I tried NewsWeek, but it wasn't much better.

So now I'm reading World magazine. They never had as much news as TIME did in its "weekly news magazine" days, and they also have replaced much of their news coverage with opinion, but at least their politics is closer to what I believe. During one of the election cycles, when I was still reading TIME, it was fun to compare the reporting. TIME would report that "the Rupublicans are struggling, and the Democrats have this opportunity..." at the same time World reported it exactly the other way around. I used to sit down and read through (whichever magazine) each Tuesday (or Wednesday) when it came, but with the reduction in news content, I now relegate it to the Reading Room. So I'm a couple weeks behind...

Marvin Olasky's back-page editorial from April 18 is particularly noteworthy. He admits to having been a card-carrying Communist Party member back when he was young and stupid. In this editorial he compares modern Islamists to the Communists of his day: Both groups offer[ed] young people a choice: virtue or vice, wake up with pride, or wake up with a hangover. There really isn't a third alternative, and (he didn't say this, but) we Christians also offer people the same choice. However, the Islamists and the Communists were and are prepared to kill non-participants. Christians alone extend that choice throughout the other person's natural lifetime. Olasky does not make this point, but I certainly do: We alone have a God who can fight his own battles, so we do not need to do it for Him. In their hearts the Muslims know their god is weak and powerless, so they must do his killing for him; the atheists have no god at all, so likewise.

On the previous page is the regular opinion piece by Andree Seu (now) Peterson, who sometimes has awesome insights on what being a Christian is all about. This one was -- I would describe it as "too clever by half," which phrase I originally heard as meaning "appears more clever than it really is," but apparently means something different, but still relevant -- it was odd.

Basically her point was to criticize some psychology prof for building his whole college course on Seinfeld episodes, as if fictional characters could be instructive concerning the psychology of real people. In general she'd be right, and I often belittle movies and novels in exactly that way: "It's fiction," meaning, "the real world doesn't work that way" -- like "131 Degrees North" last October, and maybe a half-dozen similar remarks since then, and lots more before.

The "by half" part is that a really popular TV show does need to have its thumb on the collective pulse of the viewers, or it wouldn't be popular. That may not tell the prof's students much about real psychology, but it certainly can tell them what the American public thinks is true. But most of what they teach in college "soft science" courses (psychology, sociology, economics, stuff like that) is fiction anyway. They did a controlled (scientific) study once (or maybe several times), dividing people with mental problems randomly into three groups: a third of them went to see a shrink, another third went to see their pastor, and the last third got no formal help at all. There was no statistical difference in recovery between the three groups.

That might even be true of regular medicine, to some degree. When I was in grad school and regularly attending the weekly Christian Grad Students meetings, one of their speakers was a doctor with some astounding things to say. Mostly he spoke about demons (including the lack thereof in some instances), but he started out saying that "apart from broken bones (you need to set them) and a few things like that, if you don't get in the way, the human body will heal itself." That's certainly been my experience. My sister -- she probably has as many hypochondria as the average woman, she certainly takes enough pills each day -- keeps telling me to see a doctor about this or that minor ailment. A couple times I did, but he told me it was nothing. Mostly I just wait it out. I don't take any pills. A little OTC caffeine (aka soda pop) to sharpen my wits when programming, and a good variety in my diet, that's all. It's now too much hassle to get pills to stop a runny nose, so I prevent it by sleeping more. What can ObamaCare do for me, other than make health care UNaffordable? Fortunately, the Conscience Penalty Tax (the second highest tax increase on low-income people in the history of this country, after FDR raising taxes to pay for his war) doesn't apply to people with so little income as I have.

2015 April 30 -- Eclipse = Failure

Many years ago tape cassettes became obsolete. My car is older than that, so I have a cassette player -- it was one of only three add-on extras I asked for when I bought it. Actually the dealer told me I would be better off going down the street and buying an after-market product, but he did install the "factory" air conditioning. The third, cruise control, was only available in a $2000 package including a bunch of stuff I most certainly did not want, so it did not happen. Probably just as well. Anyway, I bought or borrowed over the years numerous tape novels and sermons and stuff to listen to on my long cross-country trips. Then they became unavailable, replaced first by CDs, then by mp3. I found an electronics store that sold an adapter which looks like a tape cassette with a wire that plugs into the speaker hole on a laptop computer. The next three or four long trips I played mp3 novels and downloaded mp3 radio broadcasts. But controlling the computer while driving the car was essentially impossible, so the trip I made earlier this year (I was hurrying to get there, and stressed over the ice returning) I didn't listen to anything.

We can do better than this. The local Wal-Mart sells an mp3 player for $15, but neither they nor the vendor's website could tell me if it could play a whole novel (about a hundred mp3 files) in file-name order, nor even if 4 gigs would hold 30 hours of play time -- I subsequently learned that mp3 packs about an hour into 100K, so 4G would hold something close to 40 hours. They also had no way to keep it playing in the car for those 30 hours.

Next I made the long trek to BestBuy. At first they wanted to sell me an iPod. You may recall from four years ago that there's no way I will willingly buy an iPod (nor as I subsequently learned, any recent Apple product, they all share the same usability deficiencies), but BB also had essentially the same product as Wal-Mart, but 8G for $20, and they did sell me a car adapter.

I think everybody is taking lessons from Apple on usability. Apparently this vendor knows that: they have an email address to get people over the difficulties. It took maybe a half-dozen cycles of less than lucid replies, plus a lot of what I call "the video game method of debugging" (Hmmm, how do I get past these blue orcs? Try the laser defragger, nope. How about a photon grenade? No again. Light saber? Nope. Aha! It was the magic pixel dust I neglected to pick up in Level Three). So the mp3 player is probably as hard to drive as the computer, but at least it's not such a tempting target visible through the window. I think it's linux under the hood, incredibly slow and crashes a lot.

Ruing the vicissitudes of life after this bummer, it occurred to me that the product name "Eclipse" is a Greek word. The noun is not used in the New Testament, but the verb form means "fail". The vendor accurately named their device "failure". They probably didn't know that, the word is normally associated with the failure of the sun or moon to give off light, but modern science tends to think instead of the cause, something getting in the way of (and therefore presumably better than) something else. Maybe the Eclipse is better than iPod, but not by much. I will always think of it in the Greek sense, as a total failure. Maybe partial: it's still usable, but barely. I wouldn't want to be in front of a car driven by somebody trying to pick the next thing to listen to on an Eclipse.

2015 April 20 -- Something Old and Something New

I had always heard it preached that "everybody should be evangelizing" based on Matt.28:19,20. Nobody seemed to read it in context, where verse 16 clearly tells us this was given to the Eleven (the Twelve Disciples, less Judas), and not to the whole church. After making my own failed efforts at it, it became obvious to me that Eph.4:11 was applicable, and not everybody was an evangelist; some people were teachers, others were Apostles or prophets, and God decided who should be what, not we. The same principle is repeated in Paul's letters to Corinth and Rome.

At my age I have pretty much heard every sermon that pastors steal from each other -- nobody seems to make up their own sermons any more (or maybe they never did) -- but once in a long while I hear something new. Yesterday was one of those occasions. The preacher was teaching the same worn-out dogma that everybody should be evangelizing, still from Matt.28, but he added the observation that in verse 20, the Eleven were to teach their converts "everything I commanded you," including the command to evangelize. Thus, he said, it extends to the whole church. It's not obvious, so maybe he got it from somebody else, but I'd never heard it.

I am disinclined to let syllogistic reasoning nullify the direct teaching of Scripture -- the Calvinists use it to nullify the warning in Heb.6:5, and the Arminians use it to nullify Rom.8:29 -- so I probably won't change my position on the universality of the Gifts (including evangelism), but it did give me something to think about.

2015 April 11 -- Politics in Fiction

A half year or so ago, another patient (that's what you do in the dentist waiting room: be patient, because they never take you at the scheduled hour) saw what I was reading and recommended a couple more thriller novelists to me. The series I was reading got tiresome, so here I am alternating between these two new (to me) guys. They're getting tiresome too, in a different way. These are mostly serials started before 9/11, and before Bush got the Patriot Act passed. One guy excepted (John Ringo five years ago), most writers are on the down side of "Those who can, do; those who can't teach/write," which I first heard from my father when I told him I was taking a course in the Education department. He added, "...and those who can't teach, teach teachers." He was absolutely right, the course was utterly worthless.

Anyway, I'm not particularly fond of giving the evil government more power to harass innocent citizens, but they are no more evil than the greedy corporations they try to regulate, or the terrorists they try to stop, or the slackers trying to get on the gravy train. Wickedness is the human condition, but left-wing politics tends to denigrate private industry and the military, while right-wing politics denigrates the welfare state set up by the left-wing politicians. IMHO, the left-wingers tend to be more ignorant about how things work, and are more likely to put incompetent politicians in charge of important government agencies, resulting in more graft and corruption and ultimately, more harm to the citizens. Obama is by far the worst of the lot, with only 10% competent appointees (90% political); the next worst I think was Clinton at 30%, most others in the 40-60% range.

Both Lee Child and David Baldacci seem to be of the left-wing persuasion, because as I get into their novels from the Bush era, they are growing more anti-military. George W. Bush, as you may recall, was more to the left than most Democrats on most issues, so the only way anybody could attack him was with the made-up political fraud called "global warming." After a while, his war in the Middle East got tiresome, so these novels (written just before the 2008 election) are very anti-war. Maybe they will get over it after they see the mess Obama made of things, or maybe I'll stop reading them before I get there. sigh

The movie I watched today is another anti-war bombast, so one-dimensional that their soldiers are just psychopathic animals. With everything politicized as they are today, I doubt you will find any fiction that mentions the military in anything like a realistic, 3-dimensional character. More's the pity.

2015 April 8 -- "One" = "Us, Not You"

It was a half paragraph incidental -- almost irrelevant -- to the article which contained it, but oh my, what it said:
They are emphasizing the unity of the community, including those who have been excluded as sexual minorities. "OneWheaton" is a different kind of appeal than "TrueWheaton" would be.
In a context of "shame" this pogrom clearly intends to exclude a different class of individuals from their "One", people different from themselves -- which is exactly what they claim to be overcoming. The only difference is the class of people they are excluding.

They have their own website. I found this contradiction there:

OneWheaton is not a church or a denomination and does not promote any specific religious faith or belief system. Our unity and common ground comes from our shared experiences as Wheaton alumni and as individuals who embrace and affirm LGBTQ identities and relationships.
In a Christian context (Wheaton college is a Christian college), violating the clear teachings of Scripture is indeed a different religious faith than we read in our Bibles. Some of us, our conscience is bound by the Word of God, and we cannot depart from it. Others -- obviously including these people -- have a different religion. There is no common ground, no "One" to rally around. They really do intend to exclude from their "unity and common ground" all people who were instructed (presumably at Wheaton) in the Word of God and choose to adhere to it faithfully. Suppose somebody came along claiming his or her "identity" included killing and eating fellow students and alumni? Would "OneWheaton" accept them with open arms? I don't think so. Murder and cannibalism are forbidden in the same Scripture that forbids sex outside the formal man-woman union that formerly was called "marriage".

Scripture has an answer to people with desires contrary to God's Word: Repent and abstain. It's the same answer for theft and murder and lying and fornication and mistreating your neighbor and teaching atheism. The "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all" is the same faith that the Apostle preached in Ephesus and it does exclude unrepentant sinners, whatever the sin they refuse to repent of.

2015 March 26 -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When the writer, the producer, the director, and the lead role are all done by the same guy, you know he's full of himself. The flick my sister was in was that kind of thing, but it was a "Roots" thing for him, no pretense at being an epic blockbuster. Today I watched a more pretentious effort. The story -- because it was (mostly) true -- was good. Hollywood has to work harder to mess up a true story. Not that they can't, just they have to work harder to succeed at it. This guy didn't succeed. I pretty much didn't like George Clooney because of his politics from a couple elections back, but I didn't notice it was him until the "Making of" docu-commercial. One of them. The DVD producer tried really hard to make it difficult to watch their flick -- and they succeeded for one of the bonus docs: I just didn't want to click through another dozen or so commercials again.

Speaking of which, it's pretty obvious that Blue-Ray is losing market share. Otherwise why would they force people to sit (or click) through 5 minutes of promo for it before even putting up the menu screen? One of the ways that Windoze has OSX beat is that on the WinXP movie player, I can click past the commercials, while OSX isn't so smart. So guess which system I watch movies on? If Blue-Ray is as much smarter than DVD as DVD is than VHS, and if I ever find myself with more dollars than sense in a video store wanting to buy a flick that comes only in DVD+Blue-Ray combo pack (I see them at the library, where the librarians are smart enough to split them out into separate check-outs), I think I will ask the vendor for a discount on "only the playable one" (DVD), and being refused, break the package open after paying for it and ask out loud if anybody wants a free Blue-Ray. Then turn and tell the vendor "You could have made money on that." But maybe he couldn't. That's why they bundle them. That's why they push them so hard in the commercials.

2015 March 23 -- Values in Fiction

It was some five years ago now, I became less enthusiastic about programming software that had no obvious chance at being used, so I got tired sooner and took up reading fiction in my down time, a practice I had abandonned when I started college (see "Heinlein's Moon"). After working through the authors I knew, I asked the librarian for help, and she pointed me to two new sci-fi novels on their "recent additions" shelf (see "Leisure Reading"), one of them (I think it was) the first of Timothy Zahn's Quadrail series. The library never bought the fourth and last in the series, but last week they got it for me on inter-library loan. I mention it today because of two curious insights the likes of which one seldom sees in modern fiction.
"...You have honor about you, but I do not yet know to which person or ideals that honor attaches."
Um, maybe Zahn (or the guy who said this of the hero) has a different notion of what honor is than I do. If a person is honorable, then he is honorable in all cases, that is, it reflects a moral absolute, independent of any person or detachable ideals. Zahn is trying to make this guy out to be one of the Good Guys, but the author himself is so infected with moral relativity that he got muddled.

This happened again a couple chapters later, where another alien (who is later shown to be a Bad Guy) argues against the hero and against abortion:

"Despite what some Human cultures believe, all sentient life is sacred and must be protected and nurtured to the fullest extent of our abilities."
We later learn that the Bad Guys are doing genetic engineering on the unborn child, with the aim of making slaves of all humans. Enslaving humans is a common sci-fi theme, and the hero always foils their attempt, so this isn't exactly a spoiler. Maybe Zahn is trying to deprecate the pro-life position by putting these words in his villain, but more than halfway through, the hero has taken positive steps to protect the still unborn child. I sort of wonder how he plans to escape this moral dilemma. In the older movies, some catastrophe befalls the person caught in the difficulty, so that the Good Guys don't need to off the people who cannot be allowed to live. It's "deus ex machina" (God stepping in to solve plot problems the hero cannot), but fiction sometimes does that.

2015 March 11 -- "Love" in Fiction

A larger portion of last year than was seemly I spent butting heads with a local preacher. I blogged several insights that came out of that encounter, the most notable being the observation that "God loves you" is a rotten apologetic to be directing at guys (see "Earning the Preacher's Pay"). Not only is there no such "gospel" anywhere in the Bible, it is nonsense to and counter-productive for its intended audience (assuming preachers really do want to reach men and not women only).

Anyway, in the heat of this confrontation I began to notice the gender differential between male and female interpretation of "love" as portrayed in fiction, which is probably as accurate a use of the language as anything you will ever find. First it was how Mitch Rapp related to his girlfriend, which I blogged several times, as it permeated several of the Flynn novels.

Then it came out very clearly in a Transformers flick I saw about that time, which had the interesting quality of using both the word "relationship" and "love" but the definition was very different for both of those words than anything you would ever hear in church. It's a standard guy flick, going fast, making loud noises and breaking things. I think the word "relationship" happens only once, but it's very pronounced, where the hero Sam says with some hesitation, so the word stands out, "I'm in a ... relationship." There can be no doubt what he means. It has nothing to do with family: not his dufus father or his idiot mother, he's there at college to escape that connection. He has no brothers or sisters that I could see in this flick. It can mean only one thing -- and the movie carefully set it up earlier -- he has a romantic connection to his girlfriend back at home, which precludes any competing liasons. Everybody in the audience (even the few girls) is expected to understand that.

We get the defining moments for "love" in two parts, first where the romantic connection is being set up. His girl (I don't remember her name) is trying to get him to "say the L-word," and he refuses. He knows what the word means -- as does every Y-chromosome testosterone-filled guy in the audience -- and it would be a lie, it's not who he is. But he's willing to use a faux-synonym that means affection without all that baggage. The other side of the definition happens near the end. Sam is given a job to do, to save the world from total annihilation, and he must do it. It's his "destiny" (using that word). His girl, who has been tagging along through the whole movie, grasps him and says "I love you and I need you." She doesn't mean she is sacrificing her wishes for his sake or for the sake of the world, but rather the opposite. It's a selfish, clinging sentimentality that seeks to prevent her guy from risking his life fulfilling who he is, his God-given destiny that might take him away from her for even a short time. Every guy when he hears it from his mother or his wife or girlfriend, that's what he understands her to be saying. Men put up with it for a while, but ultimately it's destructive of who we are. Sometimes the guy feels warm fuzzies and says it back, or maybe it's a lie to keep her, but Sam was a Good Guy, not a liar.

That was a guy flick, aimed at guys and using their language. This week it was a feminazi date flick. It was written and directed by guys, so the sexual perversion is all misogynistic and the "love" is strictly from the guy's perspective: clinging and controlling. I guess the women in the audience are expected to overlook the misogyny and focus instead on the female domination of the super-heroine(s) over the guys, which incidentally also reflects the modern understanding of "love" as women on top and calling the shots, and guys (if they accept it) being essentially wimps.

Yup, when you preach a gospel of "love" you get wimps for guys in church. God did not make men to be wimps, and they don't like that role -- just look at the guy flicks -- so they stay away. Men care about Truth, Justice, and Duty. Preach that, and the men come. And by the way, that's the Biblical message too, far more pervasively than any "love" message.

See also: Relationshipism (and links) and Apologetics

2015 February 28 -- Smarter Fridge?

Isn't "global warming" wonderful?

Before the idiots got to Washington and figured out how to abuse the citizens, some of whom voted them into office, refigerators were designed simple. You get a single thermostat in the main fridge area, which tries to keep that temperature somewhere near 40, cold enough to slow down the food from growing (turning green and fuzzy), but not cold enough to freeze the veggies. The freshly cooled air from the compressor passes through the freezer section first, so it gets coldest, but only in proportion to what the unit is set for in the other section.

Then we had all these people who don't have a clue how things work, they just want to get rich off the poor people of the nation, so they invent this pseudo-science thing called "global warming" to beat up on the political party that does know what they are doing -- they couldn't fault Bush on education, he was to the left of the Dems; they couldn't fault him on  AIDS, ditto; they couldn't complain about the war, because the people supported him on that; they really didn't like his religion, but to say so would be (in their own thinking) unConstitutional; so they invented this thing that Bush happened to be on the correct side of good science, but who cares about truth in politics anyway? -- and all the lefties in academia saw a gravy train and jumped on (just like they did back when Reagan announced "Star Wars" which also couldn't work, but it scared the Ruskies to death and ended the cold war anyway). Reagan may not have been the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but unlike Obama, he surrounded himself with smart people, and (some) Good Things Happened.

Anyway this "carbon footprint" nonsense drives up the cost of energy at the same time that the weather is cooling (sunspots, not fossil fuels), a burden which falls disproportionately on poor people -- did I mention that Obama's party hurts the people who voted him in? They don't understand How Things Work like the very rich who also supported him (because they know how to get richer, see my "Electioneering" post a couple years ago).

So my heating costs are astronomical this winter, even though I keep all the house heat turned off. The kitchen is icy, and my fridge dutifully reduces its efforts to keep its contents cool because it's already 40 outside, so opening the door does not warm it up. As a consequence, there is no super-cooled air flowing through the freezer section. If I turn the thermostat to "Coldest" everything in the main section freezes, and everything in the freezer still melts.

I wonder if anybody makes a fridge with a separate thermostat for the freezer section? This fridge is getting old, and moving out of state in a couple months would be a good time to replace it with something that knows how to compensate for stupid politicians in DC. I went to the library and read up on refrigerators in ConsumerReports, and no, nobody makes smart fridges. I subsequently bought a fancy (but not new) refrigerator which does have those controls. I guess that's part of why I no longer pay for a subscription to ConsumerReports.

2015 February 27 -- Somebody in Hollywood Gets It

It's been a while, hasn't it? I finished up the library NCIS collection, but last weekend when I was in Texas getting relocation started, the motel TV had one channel (out of many) showing back-to-back NCIS episodes from a later season than I had seen, and it reminded me that for all their faults, it's still better than the insipid political correctness of its knockoffs. Curiously, the library NCIS collection is in one of the branches, which I called up to find out what happened to a book I had requested, and she told me incidentally that the main library was closed due to weather that day -- actually not bad, but apparently they could not get the ice (think: "global warming" ;-) cleared from their parking lot -- so I drove the extra 15 miles to the branch. While I was there I noticed another TV serial I had not heard of, which turned out to be even better than NCIS. Well the first season is; who knows what will happen after they escape from the book it's based on and the writers have free rein to demonstrate their ignorance and bigotry.

The Unit is based on a book about the Delta Force, and does a remarkable job of evading PC bigotry: while they have their token blacks (including the sergeant in charge of the team), there are no women on the team! Duh! They need maximum performance from team members, and women are no equal to men in those kinds of things. So we get a beautiful -- and realistic -- division in the story line between the guys, who are all about Truth, Justice, and Duty, vs the women who (except for the sergeant's wife) are credible credulous, clinging, emotional wrecks. Interestingly, the writers for the episode I just finished are one each, male & female names. Maybe that's true for most episodes (I didn't notice), but women (and feminazi guys) tend to write stuff that women like to watch, and real guys write stuff that guys want to watch. There's no overlap in this program, just two story lines side by side.

One thing annoys me about these made-for-TV flicks, they really do a great injustice to the lead characters by denying them a place in the credits. This sergeant guy is a good actor -- think: next-generation Morgan Freeman -- but I don't know his name, and the credits don't tell us, so I have no way of judging a flick by whether he's in it the way I can with Morgan Freeman or Harrison Ford. Frex, when Air Force One came out, TIME magazine panned it, but I knew it would be good because of Harrison Ford. Well, also because TIME panned it: most of their reviews were (at the time, I no longer read it, so I don't know about now) exactly backwards.

2015 February 10 -- Knowing vs Knowing About

The current issue of ChristianityToday has a feature essay by Alister McGrath subtitled "The day I realized knowing about Jesus was not enough." He explains, "I was like someone who had read books about France but had never visited." It seems to be common distinction that people make, but I don't see it. I have been to France on several occasions, but I know less than if I'd read a bunch of books. I once visited Athens and looked at the Parthenon, but it was through the tiny window of a sardine-can airplane, without ever setting foot on Greek soil. The plane landed and people got on or off, but those of us with a more distant destination just sat there. Is being there better than reading? I don't think so. Is walking around on the Acropolis better than seeing it from a mile or two away and a thousand feet up? Yes, but not better than knowing what's there (by reading books). I've done a lot of walking around famous places, and I've done a lot of reading. I know the difference, but I don't agree with McGrath.

Now I will admit that most people are only marginally literate. I can read something and get a lot more information from it than most of the people I know. For example, I got goose bumps sitting in the bus driving through the Negev desert and seeing a green highway sign in English, Hebrew, and Arabic "Ashkelon 26Km" (or whatever it was). This was my "Roots". I never set foot in Ashkelon nor Gaza. I mostly walked around Jerusalem. Do I know more about Israel than I got by reading about it for forty years? I doubt it. Looking at the Garden Tomb is certainly better than looking at pictures of it, but only because the bandwidth is greater. A picture doesn't show how big it is. No description I ever read expressed the impact of stepping through the doorway and turning right to see the shelf where the corpse had lain -- but they could have. It's a difference of degree, not kind.

McGrath goes on to ask "Did knowing Christ trump everything else I loved and valued? Or was Jesus just one interest among many?" as if these are the same distinction. Whether Jesus trumps everything else for me -- which is the essence of being a Christian -- or is just one interest among many, has nothing to do with whom I "know" or how much I know about him, but is only about how I align my priorities. A new convert would typically give Jesus top priority knowing hardly anything at all about Jesus, let alone "knowing" him in the sense that McGrath wants to distinguish that concept. There might also be people for whom the reverse is true (but I wouldn't necessarily want to defend that supposition to a dogmatic Calvinist).

Your mileage may vary. If you do not process written data as efficiently as I do, and if you are not a Cessationist -- that is, you allow for the possibility of direct revelation from God apart from Scripture -- then you might reasonably suppose that you can "know" Jesus through that direct revelation, and that such knowledge is better in some way that what you can get by reading the Bible. However, many people who claim a "relationship" with Jesus and/or God (which is approximately what McGrath seems to have in mind) are Cessationists; McGrath might be among them, but he didn't say. So how is it that the Cessationists "know" Jesus in any way different from knowing a lot of stuff "about" Jesus? McGrath didn't say. I don't think he is able to make that distinction in any well-defined way. Most of the people I have met who claim to "know" God in this way seem to know a lot of stuff about God that is contrary to Scripture. I get the impression that they have an imaginary model of what they want God to be like, and then -- Presto! -- they "know" God is like that. In other words, this God (or Jesus) whom they "know" is a figment of their imagination, with no real substance at all. Maybe on Judgment Day they will be among those who say "Lord, Lord..." and Jesus will say "Depart from me..." Me, I wouldn't want to risk that.

What does the Bible say? I did a search and found two verses that mention "know Christ" and eight for "know God". All but two of them clearly connected that knowledge with things we do or don't do, basically what I call "1+2C", and the two exceptions didn't say how to know. Jesus spoke of knowing his own, and more often than not, that also was connected to what we do or don't do. There doesn't seem to be any other form of "knowing" in the Bible that I can find. If you have reason to believe otherwise, I would like to hear it.

2015 February 9 -- My Sister the Movie Star

Well, not exactly, but close. Where to start? I have two sisters, one who calls every week and tells me (often) that I'm her favorite brother, and the other somewhat more distant in several ways, including physically: she lives in "La-La land" (southern California). So I hear all the family news from the older sister. She also sends me stuff from time to time. She sent me the "God's Not Dead" DVD I mentioned last month.

Another DVD arrived last week with her return address, but no explanation. I figured it was another flick she enjoyed and was sharing, and settled down to watch it after church yesterday. It was a Christmas movie, you know, where everybody makes an impossible wish at the beginning, and then everybody gets their wish at the end. Unlike most of them, this one gave a favorable nod to Christianity, but you couldn't really call it a "Christian" movie. Mostly it was a Greek cultural thing. It turns out that actor Bob Krantz was born Haralambos Karountzos, and I guess this was his "Roots" thing. The back of the DVD jacket gives a website with a Greek-sounding name "" (no link: the website is broken, but "Ellinas" is approximately how the word "Greek" is pronounced in Greek). The story revolves around title family Karountzos, with Krantz not only writer and director and producer, but also playing two lead characters, and in the course of the flick, one of the kids is willing to "convert" (to Greek Orthodox) and is offered the baptismal name that sounded like "Haralambos".

So we have all these Greek people around the table speaking Greek (with subtitles in English). I do not know modern Greek, but I do have a fair working knowledge of New Testament Greek. The pronunciation and a lot of the vocabulary is different, but I did recognize several Greek words (by comparing what I heard to the subtitles), so I'm pretty sure they were really speaking Greek. Being interested in languages, I waited for the credits to see how many of the actors had Greek names (this was before I googled Krantz). There were several among the actors and actresses doing this little solo dance at the end with their names -- and then there was this very non-Greek name "Becky Brown". Whoa! That's my sister! It was already on to the next by the time I recovered from my surprise and reached for (now backup, then) pause, and sure enough, that was her face, a little older and rounder than when I last saw her. She doesn't know any Greek that I know of, so I went back and reviewed all the scenes where the three "yah yah" (probably Greek for "grandmother") old ladies were prominent, and two of them spoke Greek (with subtitles), but Becky spoke only English. It was definitely her voice. If you'd told me ahead of time that Becky is in this, I might of picked her out as the only possible candidate, but not because I recognized her. Without that heads-up, I was totally blown away when I saw her name. It's not that she was heavily made up, because her skin color was pale pink, lighter than any other woman there, and certainly lighter than all the (Mediterranean complexion) Greeks in the flick.

So (including Q'orianka Kilcher, with whose grandfather I might have been on a first-name basis as a child) I now have two near misses with the movie industry, this one a little closer.

2015 February 2 -- Sexist TV Serials

I mentioned a half year ago a TV series about a "forensic anthropologist" that the local library got the DVDs for. Like another TV series the previous year, it was based on a real person, but only the first season credibly resembles any real person. After the effects of that person's contribution to the story line has worn off, we are left with the vapid and contentless imaginations of writers who cannot imagine any actual person being like the character they are tasked to write stories about, so they invent random and inconsistent characterizations for the poor actress (or actor, but not recently) stuck with playing the character. I first saw the effect in Monk, and to a lesser degree before that in MacGyver. Anyway, I think I won't be going back for a third season of the forensic anthropologist, she's no longer credible. Besides, the whole show became oversexed. What are the pea-brained writers going to do for dynamic tension? Everybody knows that sex works the way the Christians always understood it, not the way the atheists prefer, so the disconnect between what's really going on and what people say they believe creates conflict, and conflict sell ads. But not to me.

I guess the library got their 2015 budget last month, so in addition to the rest of Bones, they picked up another crime show, apparently aimed to capture some of the drama in the NCIS medical examiner (the witty Scot), but with (no big surprise) a female doctor. Basically they are trying to do a complete role reversal, and it's so bogus. This is another see-one-disc and give up. sigh

2015 January 31 -- On Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn was just learning to read and write when I binged on all the sci-fi in all the libraries I had access to, so I didn't know about him until a few years ago, after I resumed my apetite for sci-fi and asked the local librarian for help. She went to the recent acquisitions shelf and pulled off one of his Quadrail books and also Ringo's Live Free or Die. Ringo's writing style ranges from awesome (Live Free or Die) to awful, but Zahn seems consistently good, although I have not yet got up the motivation to try his Star Wars stuff. The movies were OK, but I wouldn't much want to read such stories in dead-tree form. Obviously Zahn is not Lucas, so they will be different, but I don't know how much.

The Wiki article on Zahn made a sexist remark on how his earlier writing was "sexist" and maybe that's why I like it: the modern government-established feminazi religion is socially and scientifically wrong-headed, and fiction presented from that perspective annoys me.

Anyway, Zahn writes -- or at least wrote -- classic sci-fi. The Wiki article listed some of his short story collections, so I asked the local library about them, and was told that they don't obtain short story collections. The librarian has not yet responded to my question why. It's not like they have the same stories in other forms, these were originally printed in pulp magazines. Whatever. Anyway, the book I'm currently reading -- I had to order it on interlibrary loan from St.Louis, because the closer libraries they usually get things from apparently have the same stupid collections policy -- it has one dragon story, but Zahn tweaked it so the "dragon" is actually a robotic machine that pops in and out of our dimensional space by remote control (brain waves, which the hero can watch on a computer screen), but it looks like magic. That's the difference between science fiction and plain fantasy, where there are no rules, so there's no way to "think the author's thoughts with him." Maybe there are rules in fantasy -- obviously the readers who like that genre can follow along -- but they are different from the real world.

2015 January 26 -- Two Flix, Two Pointers to Decay

I got to the end of the library NCIS holdings, so now I'm looking at other stuff. One of them this weekend the makers called a "sci-fi thriller" but the "sci" (science) part was mostly "fi" (fiction). The guy was supposed to be able to glimpse two minutes into his own future, which is not science at all (only supernatural beings -- God and maybe the demons -- can do that), but it did make an interesting story. What we see happening in flicks like this is the deterioration of science as it track (follows) the deterioration of Christianity in America. The atheists prefer you to believe otherwise -- they themselves certainly do -- but modern science was invented by devout Christians, and by nobody else ever. The atheists can copy the science values of Christians, but they cannot invent it, nor even sustain it once they gain control. The result is non-science masquerading as science in fiction, and probably a new "dark ages" (where all of the knowledge of the past is conserved in a few Christian institutions, but completely gone from the general public) perhaps by the end of this century, other things being equal.

Another flick I watched this weekend was "God's Not Dead" which dramatized the abuse Christians receive from the atheists at colleges and universities across the country. It's a Christian movie intended for Christian audiences, so it's mostly done from a Relationshipist perspective, but they did spend a significant amount of screen time on logical answers to atheist claims. That's a good thing, and sorely lacking in all the other Christian flicks I've seen. Wiki pretty much panned it, but that's to be expected. The Dark Ages are beginning even now.

2015 January 9 -- Reading Material

I mentioned last month that I was picking up another Crichton novel I had not previously seen. I guess that must have been because it was a paperback, since it seems to be one of his earlier works, and not fiction at all. Reading The Great Train Robbery was interesting enough, I went back for the novel it mentioned on the cover blurb, which also seemed unfamiliar. It turns out I had read it, I just didn't like it, so it went back immediately.

This library does not stock most of the better Christian fiction, but I can usually order them on Inter-Library Loan. I'm currently reading a legal thriller Directed Verdict by Christian lawyer Randy Singer. He's not as good as some of his secular counterparts, and it suffers a little from Randy Alcorn's "Four P's" (Predictable, Polite, Preachy, and Poorly written), but not as much as most. At least his main topic (law) is something he knows. I just skipped over the page where one of the supporting characters is told how to become a Christian, and it's pretty obvious which other character will not convert -- in Christian fiction, only "nice" people become Christians. The predictable part, the lead and his female associate are obviously headed into matrimony, and probably also faith, and their improbable law suit will most likely be found in their favor, nevermind that the title suggests otherwise. If you don't deliver on these positive outcomes, the feel-good Christians who buy this genre won't read (and recommend) them, and the books won't sell, and therefore the publishers (who know what sells) won't publish them. I know: I wrote a short story with an unhappy ending, and everybody hates it. I don't mind the "polite" part, I have no desire to fill my mind with gutter language and gratuitous sex. So all in all, it's a reasonable diversion from what I've mostly been reading.

Update: I was wrong, partly. The author spent a lot of obvious effort making one of the characters look like a villain, only to nullify it at the end. That person was the only other one to (sort of) become a Christian before the end of the book -- although the hero came close. Anyway, I guess I should transfer a few points from the first "P" to the fourth because of the surprise, but good authors don't jerk their readers around like that. You can do suspense without lying to the reader. I know because this is the first one that did it to me.

2015 January 5 -- NCIS Follow-Up

One of the more important characters in NCIS is the medical examiner -- OK, this show has two guys who are not played as idiots: the team leader and the M.E. -- a Scottish fellow named "Ducky" (short for Dr.Mallard) who loves to reminisce about irrelevant details of his youth. His domain is the morgue, and they almost always have one or more of the crime victims naked on a stainless steel table for him to cut open in the course of his autopsies. For the first five seasons, these corpses lay there completely uncovered, but with a very bright light centered on its crotch, which completely washed out all details. On one or two occasions the camera angle was low enough that you could clearly see that there was nothing there for the bright light to wash out. Beginning season six, it appears that they got their corpse manikins from a different supplier, and their loins are now always covered with a beige towel. The bright light is still there, but not quite so bright that it washes out the texture of the towel, nor the fact that there is a significant (and probably now anatomically correct) bump under it. Real hair cannot be entirely washed out by a bright light. I suppose these manikins are normally used for teaching medicine, because when Ducky cuts them open, there is credible muscle and bones and guts for him to rummage around in and pull out parts of.

They seem to favor some kind of cliff-hanger for each season gap. At the end of Season 2 they killed off the adolescent feminazi former Secret Service agent character and in the next season replaced her with a much better Israeli agent on loan from Mossad. A year or two later they retired off the other smart guy, the team leader, but brought him back soon after the next season started. Then they killed off the agency director, and her replacement -- African ancestry: it wouldn't be politically correct to have a white male in a leadership position the way it generally is in real life -- dispersed the team. We found out part-way through the next season that it was just a ruse, and everybody eventually came back together. The end of six was no different: Ziva, our Israeli spy, gets in a tiff with the idiot guy who is the lead grunt and essentially goes off in a huff. Like Napoleon Dynamite and other flicks of that genre, he's essentially an idiot who consistently but improbably lucks onto successful outcomes, so it's easy to understand her (scripted) perception. Me, I do not find stupid to be entertaining, but there are enough smart characters on the set to overwhelm his stupidity. However, when Ziva goes I'll probably stop watching. Especially if they replace her with another feminazi.

Anyway, at the front of Season 7, while Ziva is still gone (presumably back in Israel, but with glimpses of her doing other things) the team leader is instructed to select her replacement, which he then delegates to the remaining two guys by dropping a foot-high stack of resumes on the desk. The idiot guy who does all his thinking between his legs suggests it could be narrowed down by limiting it to females, and is told he already did. Stop. Wait a minute. That is sexism, pure and unadulterated, and against the law in almost any workplace in the country, let alone in a government office. Except obviously a TV studio is apparently allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender against male actors who obviously cannot play a female part. At least not this year. To carry that over to the scripted decisionmaking for choosing a Federal agent is simply unrealistic. Well, maybe not, but certainly unlawful.

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