Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2015 September 21 -- His "Lies" Are a Lie

The sermon yesterday was about "exposing the lie" (or something like that: this church is not very strong on providing memory aids for those of us with sagging little gray cells). Basically he had a huge list of phrases he from time to time found himself believing, but which (so he said) were lies. On the wall behing him were a bunch of these phrases arranged artistically but not very legibly, and this being a remote video feed didn't help.

Right away he lost me as an empathetic audience, because if *I* know something is a lie, I certainly am not going to believe it. The Bible does speak of self-deception, so I guess there must be people for whom that is a problem. Anyway, he had a list of a half-dozen or so that he chose to elaborate in his sermon. I think the most charitable thing I can say of his list is that they were badly stated.

The first one was "It can wait." From my perspective as an MBTI "P", this is where I live. I think God does too. Take the Second Coming, why didn't it happen in the first century, the "this generation" that Jesus referred to? It can wait. Many things, if you put them off long enough, you discover you don't need to do them at all. Some people mow their lawn every week. If I delay this week's mowing, it vanishes into next week's mowing, and I save some $$. When I delay firing off a fiery email on a contentious topic to the next day, I usually discover that my wording improves. It should wait.

He spoke of "the tyranny of the urgent" as if that somehow vindicated his calling "It can wait" a lie. However, in today's compressed time crunch that most people live in, you cannot do everything all at once, something must wait. The real issue here is not that every candidate for delay is a lie, but rather we need to choose intentionally what can wait (not a lie) and what cannot (again, not a lie).

Another one: "My past disqualifies me." He got dangerously close to calling Jesus a liar. There are all kinds of things where somebody's past disqualifies them from some future activity or benefit. If I use up my one-time IRS deduction for primary home sale, then I am certainly (short of an act of Congress) disqualified from using it again. It's the law. If I do dangerous stunts on a motorcycle, and get into an accident that amputates my legs, then I am disqualified from running in the Olympics. Hey, I don't even need a motorcycle, I can irrecoverably mess up my body with drugs and/or lack of exercise. Many people have made marital choices in the past that disqualify them from the Biblical office of Elder (although that restriction is not often enforced). The preacher was trying to say that there is no unforgivable sin, but Jesus said otherwise (see my "The Unforgivable Sin, and Other Fictions" blog post last year).

With his last so-called lie, "God's love is conditional," he actually succeeded in calling Jesus a liar [John 14:23].

As we left the auditorium we were given a piece of paper with a collection of supposed lies in one column, and Scripture to refute them next to it. That last one didn't make it onto the list. I wonder why.
 

2015 September 17 -- Politics As Usual

It was kind of a funny flick, all the hoopla over saving three whales stuck in the ice just outside Barrow Alaska. Like most of the better flicks, this was "inspired" by the real story in 1988, with great liberalities taken to make it more entertaining. One of those (probably) made-up scenes had a news reporter hitching a ride out to the hole in the ice where the whales came up for air, and the greenie who was already in the vehicle trying to deny her a ride. "You don't care about the whales, you only care about ratings," she tried to say. The journalist's response was very interesting:
The ratings keep the rescue going, which is what's going to save the whales.
That became a common thread through the whole flick. Each new person to come on board started out dismissive: The CEO of the oil company trying to bid on North Shore oil, who eventually volunteered his ice-breaker machine when he realized the good publicity could make his job easier; the governor, for similar reasons; the lead journalist for the state-side news team, who let them send the afore-mentioned woman because he didn't want to do "another cat in tree" story, then went up to replace her after it went international; and so on. They even played President Reagan as seeing the political advantage for the Republicans in the coming election.

Basically it's a post-modern spin, like there's no such thing as truth, only what's personally advantageous. Except in the making-of documentary, they did tell how the real GreenPeace woman was a sincere fire-breather, and the actress played her well. I prefer to believe that Truth is more important than the film-makers apparently do, but you couldn't prove it by the success I have in selling my ideas. Oh well.
 

2015 September 15 -- I Worship Me

I woke up this morning with a song of praise to God running through my head, "Crown Him Lord of All." It used to happen more often, but I need to train my subconscious by singing good songs in church, and this church mostly doesn't. Their "music" is done by a rock band led by a guy too young to understand the difference between singing about "me" and singing about God. The church is pretty intentional about most of their ministry, but music didn't make it to the top of their list. The guy tries hard, and I have been there long enough now that he is beginning to repeat things.

I first noticed the problem three churches ago, when I sang in the choir. A pretty robust way to know what a text or song is about is to count the words of a particular class. Church songs are filled with pronouns, "you" and "your" addressed to God, and "I", "me" and "my" (and much less often "we", "us" and "our") concerning me, myself and I. I started counting the pronouns. The most popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs -- the ones that play on the radio stations I don't listen to, and therefore the people in the congregation know, so that's what the song leaders play for them to sing in church -- generally have twice as many first-person pronouns as second person. People like to sing about themselves.

It's backwards. Jesus said that if you want to be on his team, you need to start with self-denial. The Biblical religion is all about God, not me. There are some CCM songs about God, just not many. This last Sunday the guy led off with one, and then his third or fourth song was one I actually knew, "How Great Thou Art." Count the pronouns. Sometimes that gives a wrong emphasis (as in this case), but it's a good start. Maybe it has a lot of "you" pronouns, but the song is about what "you" (God) are doing for me. It's not really about God the giver so much as it is what *I* get out of it, me the beneficiary, because it's all about me.

Me, I druther sing about God. So I don't feel bad that I don't know any of the songs they play at church -- except the one each week (average) from the classic hymns. Some of the hymns are self-centric too: a couple weeks ago they did "Come Thou Fount" which invites God to "tune my heart". Another verse, the traditional words (they changed the obscure words here, but kept the personal focus) say "Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come, and I hope..." Count the pronouns: only one 2nd-person pronoun and four first-person. It's about me, what *I* am doing to praise God. Yes, there's some God in there, but mostly me, myself and I. sigh

One song this guy particularlarly likes repeats its main line -- in so-called "7/11" songs 7 words get repeated 11 times, a slight exaggeration, but not by much in this church -- "It is for freedom that I am set free" with special musical emphasis on "freedom" and "I am". The theology is wrong. We are not "set free" for the purpose of American-style anarchic "freedom" but rather so that we can be servants of the Most High God, as Paul clearly points out in Rom.6:16-18 and again in 1Cor.7:22, and expresses everywhere by calling himself a "slave of the Lord Jesus Christ."
 

2015 September 9 -- The Atheist Does Not Exist

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." -- Psalm 14:1
They prove God right every day. Case in point:

My friend trolls the atheist blogs and chat rooms looking for people to engage. The atheist missionaries do the same thing, so they go at each other, hammer and tong. One such fellow -- let's call him "Smoker55" because he thinks he is smoking the Christians while poking along at 55 or less -- seems to have less upstairs than most, but he studies the atheist advice columns carefully, and he knows what challenges work against gullible and uneducated Christians. Which, unfortunately, is most of them. Pastors are not doing their job. Sunday School teachers don't even know how to do it.

Anyway, my friend handed him off to me. Smoker55's preferred attack is to demand of every Christian:

Why is it reasonable in your eyes to assume a god-like being exists?
This is his Big Gun pointed out over the field of battle, and his fortress is heavily fortified on that side. The atheists have spent many years and a lot of brain cells establishing to themselves that
No example of a god-like being can be found in our reality.
and
No test for a god has been devised that's ever been proven successful.
This totally ignores the fact that any Creator God there might be, by definition necessarily exists outside our universe. He cannot be a part of what He has not yet created, can He? The wording has been carefully crafted so that it does not address the possibility of a God outside "our reality" (universe). Furthermore, if God is God, then (again by definition) He gets to make the rules, what tests will work and what will not.

Fortunately, God has advised us on this question, in the Bible. The atheists in Jesus' day (they are not called that, but they certainly acted like it) demanded proof, just like Smoker55 did last week, and Jesus told them

A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. -- Matt.12:39,40 [oNIV]
His evidence is the Resurrection. It is very good evidence, but not good enough for people who choose not to bow the knee to God. In another context, Jesus said
If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [the Bible], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. -- Luke 16:31
Later we are told [Rev.9:20, 16:9] that even great astral disturbances will not be enough to persuade the wicked to repent.

If God is God, then we must come to Him on His terms, or not at all.

Similarly, if I am to reach this guy, I need to get out from in front of his Big Gun. It turns out he left the back door of his castle standing open. I went in there. I asked him:

Why is it reasonable in your eyes to assume a Smoker55-like being exists?
I think he understood immediately the problem, but he didn't let on. He said I have email from him. Actually, what I have are pixels on my screen. My business is to write computer software that puts pixels on my screen. That doesn't prove there's a person behind it -- and in the case of my software, there isn't. He said I could verify the email address, that it came from a person. Actually, I cannot. I can only verify that it came from core-aea02.mail.aol.com using a source IP address [172.27.23.2] controlled by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority located on 12025 Waterfront Drive in Los Angeles. I have no way of knowing who they assigned that IP address to that day, nor who used it to send email. Maybe it was a robot sending spam, I get that all the time. He stopped pushing that argument after I pointed out that he (Smoker55) admitted to having received "email" (the Bible) from God, and that he had read it.

This is a very powerful rebuttal. Smoker55 has better evidence that God exists, than I have that Smoker55 exists. There is a small risk here, that he might show up at my front door as proof that he exists, but I don't make that easy, and the probability that he would drive possibly thousands of miles (I don't know where he lives) to win that minor point seemed small. Anything else he might propose is no better than the evidence he already has for God.

I worked it. Because Smoker55 does not exist, I don't need to prove anything to him. How did I jump from no evidence to the actual denial of his existence? The same as the atheists do with God. They may claim that "atheist" means indifference, but they act like it means proof of non-existence. Because Smoker55 does not exist, nothing he said to me had any meaning or significance. His own non-existence just as effectively put his claims and demands out of my reach as the same argument applied to God is presumed to do for the atheists. He said he could provide evidence that he exists, but he never did. From my perspective "will not" is the same as "cannot" until "will not" becomes "did." In his case that never happened. Short of ringing my doorbell and hoping I open the door (and even then I could deny anybody is there), he cannot. He abandonned that line of attack.

He retreated to the next line of defense -- he was way out of the comfort zone established by his atheist mentors -- was to demand that I tell him,

Please tell me how whether i'm a computer or not is relevant to the validity of your position
Which I tested by asking back
Please tell me how whether "No example of a god-like being can be found in our reality" or not is relevant to the validity of God's moral demands on your life and mine.
He made a muddled stab at it, but when I responded to his question with essentially the same words, he claimed I had not answered his question. Which is true, because he did not answer mine.

I think at this point he was well aware that he'd lost it. He's a "J" control freak (see my Oct.12 post on Judgers), so he does not want to lose. He made a few more nonsensical demands then stopped responding. Since he never gave any "hard evidence" (his term) that he exists, I could dismiss most of his complaints by pointing out that because he did not exist, he couldn't make those demands. Essentially he slammed the back door in my face and went back upstairs to shoot his Big Gun at more gullible Christians out there in front.

The bottom line is that either Smoker55 does not exist, or else he's a hypocrite, demanding more proof from the Christians than he himself is willing to give on his own behalf. A hypocrite is a liar, pretending to be what he is not, and without effect to those who know. More than anything else, the atheist missionaries do not want you to know they are liars, because it melts down their Big Guns. A close second is not existing. Smoker had both problems.

Don't try this at home kids, or you might find yourself in the same pickle as the seven sons of Sceva [Acts 19:15]. Think of it instead as one of these demons that Jesus referred to in Mark 9:29, which needs a lot of preparation.

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2015 August 24 -- Only a Lawyer

I once heard a lawyer (or maybe it was only an actor playing a lawyer, but it sounded real) say,
If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. Otherwise just argue.
Only a lawyer could come up with this. My friend was using the words "prima facie" in the context of Texas speed laws, and it didn't make any sense to me. "Prima facie" is a legal term that means "counts as proof, end of story." So he sent me the link.

This guy's domain name is "DallasAttorney.com" and it says everything. He is in the business of getting people off who were in blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the law -- both Texas state law and also God's Law -- and got caught at it.

The "prima facie" clause of the Texas speed law, as quoted by this lawyer, is very clear:

545.352. PRIMA FACIE SPEED LIMITS. (a) A speed in excess of the limits established by Subsection (b) or under another provision of this subchapter is prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent and that the speed is unlawful.
If you drive faster than the posted speed limit, that is proof enough that you are driving in a reckless manner, endangering life and property, and therefore contrary to the law. That's what it means, and this lawyer knows it. That's why he quoted the whole text of that subsection of the law. Nevermind what my friend tried to tell me, this is not unique to Texas. Every state in the Union has speed laws, and if you drive faster than the posted or legal speed, you are in violation. There are no exceptions.

Well, actually, there are a few. A cop driving 100 mph while chasing a Bad Guy will not be sent to jail for it. The driver of an ambulance rushing to carry a person with a life-threatening health problem to the nearest hospital is not going to jail for it. Those drivers -- except the Wyle cops (or at least one of them) as I learned yesterday -- are specially trained so they know how to drive safely in emergency conditions. The rest of the Texas drivers have no such training. Just watch them on the highways, and you can tell.

Lawyers and judges in English common law (every state but Louisiana) have a long tradition of making special exceptions for hard cases. That's what this lawyer is trying to say, but in a way that makes it sound like there are no non-exceptions to the law. There are laws like that, like a law prohibiting abortion "except for the health of the mother" has no non-exceptions. Everybody knows that. Despite what my friend and every other Texas driver wants to believe, the Texas speed law is not one of those. If you exceed the posted (or statutory, if none is posted) speed limit, then you are in violation of the law. Maybe this or another lawyer can get you off on a technicality, but most likely he can't. Basically the term "prima facie evidence" clause means that exceptions are harder to prove than if the term is omitted, not the other way around as my friend tried to tell me. Whether that's true in practice or not is a matter of lawyer skill and judge incompetence. If a jury is involved, the law is irrelevant because the jury can decide anything they want for any reason they want; the principle is called "nullification" because the jury can nullify the law for any reason. So it depends all the more on the lawyer's (including the DA's) skill at persuading them.

As a lawyer, he is not required to get you off, he is only required to give you fair representation. If you come before an anarchist judge -- most Texans seem to be anarchists at heart, except when it's somebody else doing damage to them personally, but actually that's the human condition -- maybe arguing that you are one of the qualified exceptions might work, but it shouldn't. The lawyer gives his legally required "best effort" to get you off, and it probably won't work so you still pay a huge fine for recklessly endangering life and property, but he also gets his huge fee for representing you in court, win or lose. It's a dishonest business model, but who ever said lawyers are honest?

Let's say I'm driving 54 mph on a clear day like yesterday on a straight portion of Texas State Highway 66 where the limit is 55, and there are no other cars in sight. The "prima facie" clause tells the judge that a cop or his DA must try extra hard to convict me of speeding, because the law is on my side. Now suppose some bozo in a Texas-sized pickup comes barreling along at 80 behind me. The "prima facie" clause tells the judge that this guy's lawyer has the harder job to get him off.

Worse, when he gets close and slows down to 54 ten feet behind my bumper, he's still speeding, because the Texas law prohibits that too:

Sec. 545.351.  MAXIMUM SPEED REQUIREMENT.  (a)  An operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.
(b)  An operator:
(1)  may not drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for actual and potential hazards then existing;  and

(2)  shall control the speed of the vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with another person or vehicle that is on or entering the highway in compliance with law and the duty of each person to use due care.

If I see an armadillo on the road (I saw one yesterday), I need to take evasive action to avoid hitting it, which means I need to slow down to not lose control of my car. Otherwise if I hit the poor critter, which has armor much bigger than the clearance under my car, the collision effect will suddenly slow me down. Either way, there's no way the pickup that close behind me can avoid ramming me from behind, so he is in violation of Section 545.351 by following too close, because it is not reasonable and prudent. As far as I know, every state in the Union has this law on the books. In California the left-wing bigots in government want people to believe they are for the common people, so they educate the drivers to know things like this; Texas drivers suffer under a right-wing government which in the common opinion favors corporate interests -- think insurance companies and car dealers and hospitals -- over the ordinary citizens, and in this case they are probably right. So Texas drivers are untrained and stupid and probably sociopathic. Oh wait, I already said that.

Worse yet, this guy is now threatening me with a lethal weapon, because when I slow down for that armadillo, his truck will ride up over the top of my car and take my head off. Yes, it's that kind of car, very reasonable (and fun, even ;-) where the drivers are trained and smart and courteous, but stupid in the State of Taxes where they are not. The only safe and prudent thing I can do under those conditions -- that is, so *I* will not be speeding under Texas law -- is to slow down very gently and slowly, until I'm going slow enough that his inevitable collision is merely an inconvenience, but not fatal. California law required me to do that, and drivers must know it in order to pass their license test, but like I said, Texans are anarchists. Anyway, my defensive driving makes him incredibly angry, and pretty soon he roars around me across the double yellow line, and then we are both happier. He hasn't done anything more unlawful than he already was doing. If he's too stupid to realize that -- after all, this is Texas -- then I look for a wide spot in the road and slow down even more, very gently, and pull off to let him pass without crossing the line. He'd actually get where he's going much faster if he'd just obey the law, but who ever said Texas drivers are smart?

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2015 August 18 -- Reasons vs "Rope"

I have a friend "Bill" who seems strongly of the opinion that everybody often does things for no reason at all. I can't say I agree, but it's obvious he considers himself one of them. He explained it with a parable:
Reminds me of the farmer whose neighbor came over and wanted to borrow his tractor. The farmer told the guy he didn't have any rope. The guy wanting the tractor asked, "What does rope have to do with it?"  The farmer said, "It doesn't have anything to do with it, but one excuse is just as good as any other."  He no wanna...
No reason for it, just he no wanna. I know that's how Bill does (some of) his own decision making, because (without any evidence) he tried to say it was what I was doing (see my blog post "It Takes One to Know One"). He repeated the word "rope" out of context to make sure I understood what he was saying. Me, I don't do anything without reason. Even when I'm being selfish, I have reasons and I am aware of them.

But the situation Bill was describing with his "rope" story was not me being selfish. I had good and logical reasons for what I was doing, and I tried to explain them to Bill, but he preferred to believe otherwise. I'm forced to believe that's the way he operates.

He finally relented and apologized, but he didn't say what for, so I don't know what it is I should forgive him for, and what I should build a thicker shell to defend against next time. There were several problems, is he sorry for his part in one or all of them? Or is he only sorry that I called him on it? I don't know. It happened again. Was it a relapse, or just a continuation of what he had not yet repented of? I complained again, and he stopped replying, but I had no way of knowing if this was (possibly another) repentance, or if I made him angry, or if his work got busy and he didn't have time. No wonder nobody understands forgiveness in our culture! See my essay, "As God Forgave" for the way things should happen.

I don't do anything without reason. I don't think anybody does, really. A couple days ago I was at a social event, and four of us in the tech industry were standing there in one corner talking tech. Actually three were talking, I was just soaking it in. Three feet behind me, the women were in their own tight discussion. Two guys felt left out. They were on the far side of the room, by themselves. I saw them over there, and I knew what was happening, because usually it's me over there alone, and I knew I should go over there and join them, but I was too selfish to do what I ought. I knew that. There was no "rope" there, no reasonless wanna, just plain and simple greed. I've been out of the tech industry loop for a long time, and I felt isolated. Even though I had nothing to contribute, I just wanted to hear about what I understand.

The two guys on the other side of the room want that too, but apparently they are not techies. There was nothing for them in that discussion. I suspect the whole group knew that the purpose of the event was to discourage that kind of isolation, but we had other agendas. Me too. We all do, it's the nature of sin.

I guess it was a pagan Greek philosopher who said "The unexamined life is not worth living." The Bible also says it, not very differently, to us Christians: "Let a person self-examine before communion." I do that, all the time. There is no "rope" in my life, only compelling reasons, not all of them always virtuous, but pretty much all of them understood. If you want to know my reasons, I won't lie to you. There's no rope, no "wanna," just sound logic.

I don't know where to go with this. For a while when I was in college, I met with a guy every day for prayer. We could have had a great friendship, but his idea of a joke was to insult me. I do not consider insults to be funny, and we went our separate ways. I later went to grad school at the university where he worked, but I never looked him up. After he retired I ran into him at a Christian ministry. He wasn't making those kinds of jokes any more. Maybe being married helped, I don't know. Wives do that for guys. The point is, when people do anti-social things, the rest of us find other ways to defend ourselves. That's the point of my "As God Forgave" essay, that we really need to be fixing the problems. But that's often not acceptable in our culture. I have a lot of CDD because nobody is telling me "Don't do that!" I do something I consider good and virtuous, and it seems to offend people -- I hear these intimations, but never any details, well once, but almost never -- and I have no idea...
 

2015 August 13 -- Argo

Y'all know I've seen a lot of movies that aren't worth the time to watch them -- certainly more than I've told you about (see my explanation three months ago in "The Story About Stories") -- but this one is different. I think the main reason is that it's a true story.

Like all flicks based on true stories, some parts were fictionalized "for dramatic effect" -- like the airport chase scene: there's no way a couple of conventional cop cars (let alone an all-terrain army truck) could come up from behind a 747 already taking off, and stay with it almost to the end of the runway where it leaves the ground. Planes that big need to be going almost 200 miles per hour (170mph minimum, I just now looked) to get enough lift to take off. No cop car goes that fast, and certainly no open army truck. Even if it did, the half-dozen soldiers standing in the back and holding onto the open cargo frame would be blown clean off by the tornado-speed wind pressure. They probably did the shot with digital composition, the vehicles rushing down an empty road with green panels behind it, doing maybe 40 or 50 (judging from the way the wind flapped the shirts on the soldiers), which the computer then laid over an airline-provided shot of a plane taking off.

It's not like the tension adds much to the story, because we already know how it's going to come out: come on, it's real history that was in the news. Besides, I'd already read the story in print somewhere. In the documentary where they interviewed the real people (including former President Jimmy Carter) 34 years later, they said they got it from a WIRED article after the operation was declassified. Yup, that must be where I read it.

The point is, when screenwriters (and novelists) write fiction, they can invent a world that does not exist except in people's imaginations. The next movie in this week's stack imagines getting North Korea to the diplomatic table peacefully. The lefties (probably including most Hollywood writers) would like to believe that, but those who can, do; it's those who cannot make any thing happen themselves who write about it. The real world is no more driven by peaceful persuasion than the writers themselves are. Have you ever seen a Hollywood filmmaker who was convinced by talk to leave the dirty language out? They're not even convinced by money! They have an agenda. So do the terrorists in North Korea and Iran and San Francisco.

There was a scene near the front of the flick where they explained -- or rather, didn't explain -- the title of the fake film the team was allegedly making, which then became the title of the real film about the fake film. It had nothing to do with the mythical Greek ship Jason rode in his quest for the golden fleece, but came down to an obscene line "Arr, go [do something to] yourself!" which they repeated several times in the course of the flick, sort of like the marines shouting "Hoo-Rah!" as a cheerleader's cry. Dunno if that was one of the "dramatic effect" lines or not. The movie would have been just as good (probably even better) without all the gutter language, but it's a good story anyway.
 

2015 August 11 -- The State of Taxes

I used to joke that I was alergic to the State of Misery. My nose ran all the time, sometimes back into my windpipe, so I coughed a lot. It happened in California too, but not as much. It still happens, again not as much. I figure it's like being nearsighted, just a part of my life. Well, nearsighted was due to what I did all day and what the optometrists did to me each year. The runny nose might be related to my early years in the tropics, or it might be what I was born with. As in the Serenity Prayer attributed to St.Francis, I try not to get overly worked up over what I cannot change.

Repetitive stress syndrome can be prevented, at least in principle. 20 years ago I was getting it in my left arm, so that resting my elbow on the side of the car while driving was painful. I traced it to the way I reached for the mouse while working, and solved the problem by moving the mouse farther away and raising my workspace relative to my arm, so it rested on the desk while mousing. After a few weeks the pain subsided.

Now I'm getting it in my right arm, so much that it's painful to straight-arm lift things like the cutting board I use to prepare supper, from its place at the back of the kitchen counter. I think I'm allergic to Texas drivers, because it's worst after I've been driving around all day. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Texas drivers are either untrained, stupid, sociopathic, or some combination of those three. What do you do when you find yourself in the same room with a sociopath? You leave immediately, get out of his way. On the highway that means a lot of up- and down-shifting, sometimes to pull over and let the idiots by, sometimes to peal out of a traffic light as fast as possible, thereby to delay the point of conflict. It's a lot of fast shifting. My car can do it, but my arm is complaining. So's my wallet. Most everything is 15 or 30 muiles away, mostly over country roads with speed limits between 40 and 55, which should give the best mileage in this car, but the tank needs refilling after fewer miles than I got in town in Misery, which was 3/4 of what I got on California highways. Some of that might be the air conditioning -- we shall see how it goes after the heat wave subsides.

Anyway, the cost of living here is substantially higher than it was in Misery, but probably not as high as California. I was truly amazed in Bolivar to see cauliflower sold for less than half what I'd been paying for it in California where it was grown a couple hundred yards from my front door. It's the same product, grown in the Salinas valley where I lived. Here the price is still less than California, but much higher than Bolivar. Texas is closer (in miles) to the veggie farms than Misery. I think of it as "the State of Taxes" because the higher taxes drive all the prices up. No income tax, but they must raise revenue somehow, and taxing the poor is politically easier than income taxes (which fall more heavily on the upper and middle classes).

Right now my taxable income is too low to tax, so I pay it all in sales and property taxes, which are proportionately lower for people with more income. Not that I'm complaining, I'm still eating the condo I sold in California (the one near all those veggie farms). When it's time for me to become gainfully employed -- perhaps after the voters realize what a disaster Obama was to the economy -- then I can pay income taxes and the new Conscience Penalty tax, the second highest tax increase on low-income people in the history of the nation, from the guy who promised "not one dime!" Nope, not one dime, 6,950 dimes, almost 7% at the bottom income bracket that pays it (it was over 7% when it became law, but Obama's inflation drove the FPL up before anybody paid). In case you were wondering, the highest tax increase was when Obama's stated role model (FDR) raised taxes to pay for his war. Never mind what his political party tells you, their actual policies tax the poor more than the rich. Not that *I* can do anything about it.

That's where the Serenity Prayer comes it, accepting what I cannot change. God is bigger than the government. When it's time, I will get income. "And if not," as the three Israeli eunuchs told the King of Babylon, God is still God. Not that I want to do it, but there's always public welfare.
 

2015 August 7 -- Alternative History

The flick made itself out to be a true story cobbled together from NASA film stock but officially denied by the USA government. But it was obviously fiction, through and through.

The first tell was camera angles. There was some apparently home movie footage of the astronauts having a final barbecue in somebody's back yard. The camera jerked around more than real people -- especially driven science/military types like astronauts would have been -- would have done. The screen writer(s) for this movie are Feelers who cannot think like Thinkers. It was interesting to see that most of the production people had eastern European names, far more than the normal distribution of such names in American (or Canadian: it was filmed in Vancouver) society at large, which suggests a limited budget and not a lot of technical consultants to get the ambiance correct.

When we got to the "official" NASA footage, it was even more obvious. In something like a moon shot, the official recording cameras would have been bolted to the module, not shifting around the way a cinematographer would to capture the best angle for telling the story. Some shots lingered unnaturally long to build suspense; others cut away quickly to make it hard to get more than a passing glance at the aliens. If this were real, they would have dwelt on those, backing up and going over them in slow motion, so we could see the aliens in greatest detail. Since the aliens were fictitious, they couldn't dare to show more than a few fleeting glimpses. Any more would have required big-budget digital animation. This was a "B for "budget" movie.

The next tell was the military precision of the characters, or rather the lack thereof. You may recall from my remarks on military chain of command in StarGate (see "Feminazi StarGate" and "TV After the Fact" three years ago) that screen writers know nothing of the primary distinctive of militarism, which is that soldiers obey the orders of their commanding officers. These are military people on this mission, yet there isn't a hint of chain of command anywhere in the flick except near the end (spoiler alert) where Houston orders the command module pilot to desert the rest of the team. Mostly they just argue with, and scream at each other.

Related to that, is the lead character's fear of dying. Any astronaut worth his salt knows that the risk of dying on this mission is very high, and they go into it fully reconciled to that prospect. This guy just got hysterical when it looked like he was going to die. It's so unprofessional. As my father often told me in other contexts, "those who can, do; those who can't, teach," which I suppose is something like writing screenplays or acting in the resulting flicks. Basically this was another Feeler flick, the Big Bad Military beating up on the weak snivelling ordinary people (in this case the astronauts).

The biggest tell was the credits. Full confession: after maybe ten minutes into this, I skipped ahead to look at the credits before watching the rest of the flick. If it were real NASA footage, they wouldn't have actors playing the lead characters.

If you want to watch a good movie, this isn't it. But there are worse. There's no gratuitous sex, not even implied nor spoken of. Like I said, the production team had mostly foreign-sounding names, they definitely weren't your typical American smut peddlers. There's no obvious religious agenda (against Christianity, nor in favor of feminism or Darwinism). There's some blood, but very little, and no gratuitous cutting of flesh with arterial sprays. Even the language is relatively mild for the story line. It's just not a great story.
 

2015 July 31 -- InterNOT

You may recall my problems getting internet service from last month. There is exactly one POTS telephone company and one cable TV company authorized to own wires in any one neighborhood or town of the State of Taxes, and in this rinky-dink town, the designated POTS company is unregulated -- meaning the Public Utilities Commission can't tell them to behave. So I got both telephone and "internet" service from the monopoly cable company. They advertize that their internet is faster than dialup, but it's a lie. Their modem is incompatible with my mission-critical computer. A friend lent me a router that now sits between their broken cable modem and my computer, and that sort of works, except that their "free" email is also a lie, because their server doesn't speak the standard mail access protocols that Windstream DSL and Verizon dialup and some rinky-dink local Bolivar dialup all used (and worked) when I was there, and that the current GlobalLink dialup uses, and that my friend in Kansas (who has his own server) also uses, and which (not coincidentally) my computer speaks.

I was learning this online today, and the tech support guy had the temerity to invite me to pay $10/month more for a 50% speedup, when the service I'm already paying for is not being provided, and I already pay $20/month extra for dialup. I tried getting an email account on my friend's server in Kansas, but SuddenLink (the cable company) blocked access. They are not giving me what I'm paying for, why should I pay them more? So I'm still on dialup -- through the cable's phone, until they figure out that they can detect and block access that way too (don't tell them). The companies in this state appear to be really mean-spirited.

The internet is an amazingly inventive community, and there may still be technical solutions to get around this instance of corporate greed and dissimulation. Until that happens, I have 43KB dialup access and a lot of lost emails (if you send me something other than spam, and I don't acknowledge, it probably got lost in the dialup's server, so resend it).

And the cable company better not try again to sell me that upgrade. I don't think quick enough to tell off the tech today, and I wasn't fully aware of all the roadblocks they were putting in my way when all the previous agents made the same pitch, but now I rehearsed it for the next time.

I must also keep reminding myself that I'm like the guy complaining about no shoes, before seeing people with no feet. This is nothing like the service I had (at lower cost) in the State of Misery, but it's waaay better than most of the world has. As religious persecution is on the rise here and elsewhere, it's also waaay better than what Christians in the USA ten years from now are likely to be forced to endure. At least they are not (yet) firebombing my house or church. sigh

Postscript, my friend with his own server got me an email account on it, with a VPN to bypass the cable company blockage, so I'm back up full speed again. Thank you Mark!
 

2015 July 22 -- Asking God for Wisdom

Last month, when I was still going to church in Bolivar, the preacher there was working through the book of James and got to one of my favorite verses there, which tells us
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5 (oNIV)
He insisted that the wisdom there is the miraculous sign gift listed in 1Cor.12:8, and therefore not available to us (after the Apostles died). Then he skipped on to the next verse.

Me, I'm a believer in Paul's advice to Timothy, that ALL Scripture is useful for our instruction and training and all that good stuff, so I complained, but he did not reply. Here is what I said to him:

I was slightly disappointed (but not entirely surprised, in view of your stated interpretation of the first half) that you did not address the last half of James 1:5 at all in Sunday School yesterday. I guess if you want to see the "wisdom" there as one of the miraculous spiritual gifts, and if you are a Cessationist (which I believe you said you are), then the back half of the verse makes no sense at all.

Me, I have a scientific education, and an important part of physics is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says there's no free lunch, no perpetual motion, and (in the information domain) nothing gets smarter on its own (Darwinist evolution can't happen). Of course the Darwinists prefer to believe fairy tales about frogs turning into princes (just add millions of years in place of pixie dust ;-) but that's beside the point. For more on that topic, see my essay:

  http://www.IttyBittyComputers.com/Essays/Evolution.htm#Entropy

My point is that for *anything* new to happen in the world, information must necessarily be injected into the system from outside, and yes, that is miracle because it violates physics. James tells us that God gives His wisdom to *ALL* [people, no noun specified, but clearly more than just the Apostles and their immediate peers] liberally and does not scold. I read that as being like the rain, which God sends on all people, the good and the wicked alike.

So, in view of the physics, I must needs read the front of this verse as referring to plain old head-smarts. The unbelievers must take pot-luck, whatever God happens to rain down on them that day, but we Christians are told that we can "ask God" with the implication that we will get more than statistical pot-luck if we do.

I am professionally a knowledge worker. I invent things. I inject information into computers to make them smarter (because they cannot be programmed to make themselves smarter, that would violate physics), and I have made a lot of $$ doing that in the past. I still do it, but not for money. Anyway, the information I inject into computers must come from somewhere, usually the pot-luck info-rain God gives to everybody. And sometimes I come up dry. I'm stuck, like writer's block in a novelist. Unlike them, *I* read my Bible, and *I* know that I can "ask God" and God (so far pretty consistently) gives me the necessary insight within a day or so, because God is Good.

I don't ask God for miraculous sign gifts, I don't see anything in the Bible telling me to do that, and that's not my point today. Only that I read James as inviting me to ask God for wisdom, and I do, and then I get it. PTL! You should try it sometime, it's awesome.

Tom Pittman

I can't exactly blame the guy for not responding, he must teach whatever dogma his denomination requires of him, and people like me who ask the hard questions are a royal pain in the you-know-where, but I still think it's a good insight. If you have good reason to believe otherwise, I want to know. I need to know.
 

2015 July 18 -- Swing-Bar (un)Security device

I was just sitting down to lunch today when the guy who did my lawn came to the door wanting a replacement check. I guess he neglected to properly register his business name with the authorities and get a bank account in the business name, and so the bank refused the check I'd made out to the name on his business card. No big deal, I wrote the check and took it out to him where he was waiting in his car. The living room still reeks of dog, and I'd spent half the morning preparing for another application of baking soda (which seems to work a little), so the front door is blocked and I went out the back door.

Some previous resident had installed one of those swing-bar security latches that they use in hotel rooms, but I carefully left it open (of course, I had to open the door to go out) when I closed the door behind me. Never NEVER install one of these devices on your door. If you already have one, remove it immediately. Otherwise, you will be locked out and there is no recovery. My neighbor Googled the problem and turned up this YouTube video on how to break into a hotel room locked with the device. Maybe the ones they use in hotels work that way, but this one was malevolent. As I later learned, if the bar swings too freely, when you shut the door it can swing into play -- not the whole way, where it can be pushed out of the way by a bent credit card or one of the numerous tools we found searching the net, but only far enough so the knob gets caught in the throat of the slot in the swing bar. The door won't open, but the swing bar is not in front of the door jamb crack, so it can't be pushed. Apparently the previous tennant had the same problem and took to leaving a window unlocked. I'd had a prowler the first week I was here, so I spent a couple hours yesterday screwing all the windows shut. Besides being blocked, the front door was closed by a deadbolt operable from the inside only (so even though  I had keys, I couldn't unlock it) and I did not have on my person the garage door remote.

After two hours fiddling with trying to break in with the generous but futile help of a couple neighbors, I finally broke the window in the door and reached in to push the bar aside. It was distemper glass, so it refused to break until it was hit exceeding hard, then it shattered with glass crumbs all over. The window guy told me "two and a quarter and five days." Today being the weekend, the door wouldn't be replaced for a whole week. I bought a new door for a little over half that price, and it's now installed and locked (but no swing bar ;-) My cold lunch I rewarmed and ate for supper, and I never touched the front room. But I got to know two of my neighbors, who are definitely exceptions to the Texas rudeness I was seeing three weeks ago. I'm not much into gladhanding people I don't know, so I never do that.
 

2015 July 15 -- The Vision Thing

I cannot remember if I mentioned, but most of my professional life was spent looking closely at a high-voltage CRT display, the kind that typically generates lots of Xrays. Xrays are known to cause cataracts, and nevermind what platitudes the eye doc tried to offer, that's obviously how I got mine. As y'all probably recall, it's against my religion to try to coerce "free" medical care out of a provider without paying for it, but I have no obligation to fatten the income of rich insurance execs, so when it came time to get a bionic eye so I could pass the driver license eye test, the cost came out of my pocket.

Medical providers uniformly hold the bogus opinion that they know more about how I live my life than I do, so this guy refused to focus the implanted lens to reading distance (where 90% of what I look at is), and I in turn neglected to go back for the second eye (thus also saving a second $11K). Consequently I wear glasses with a positive (reading) lens (with a tiny strip uncorrected for driving) in one eye and a very negative lens in the other, to get some semblance of focus despite the remaining cataracts. I can still see things very close clearly with the uncorrected unchanged eye, so I sometimes use it for reading in bed.

All my life I have played games with eye fusion, so it's not really a problem that one image is 30% smaller than the other. I just fuse whatever has my attention, and the rest of the image is doubled. Except today, after some 30 hours of driving, I was too tired, and it refused to fuse at all. I think the two lenses are also not aligned properly, because the default position of the smaller (slightly blurry) image is way down and to the left of the good image. On a good day they just snap into place, but today it made driving difficult, and I had to close the unrepaired eye from time to time to figure out what I was looking at. Good thing no cop was looking, because I wandered all over the lane (and a few times out of it: God be praised, there was no traffic there at those times). I may need to give up these marathon cross-country drives in my old age.

One interesting phenomenon of the two images being different sizes is that when I turn my head or redirect my eyes, there is a half-second delay while the eyes re-adjust their aim, so to fuse the two images at the new center of attention. If I do this slowly, they track, and I don't even notice it any more. If I'm reading a book, sometimes they fail, and I must look for a distinctive feature (a picture or paragraph break) for the two eyes to aim for, then I can track back to where I'm reading. If the page is just a sea of gray type, I need to put my finger down for the eyes to fixate on, especially because of the vertical disparity.

Anyway, today, when I couldn't get fusion on the highway in front of me, I started experimenting with different angles of view to see if there was a work-around. In one experiment I just peered over the top of my glasses to see how the uncorrected vision worked -- and the two images snapped right together instantly. Obviously it's the glasses that are faulty. When I swung my head from side to side while peering over the top of the glasses, I noticed a curious phenomenon: the images de-registered horizontally from time to time, but recovered immediately. In the ten years or so that I have this situation, my eye muscles have become trained to track the registration of the two unequal images, and they continued to try and do that even when it was unnecessary! The effect only lasted for a few seconds, but I was suitably impressed by all the processing power God put into our vision system.
 

2015 July 11 -- All God's Texas Creatures, Part 2

Never in the USA, not once in the last 60 years anywhere I lived...

I read my Bible first thing each morning, sort of like telling God He has my attention before anything else. I mentioned previously that I'm doing it in Hebrew, currently in the prophet Zephaniah. The previous book was very poetical, almost every word I had to peek at the gloss, but in Zephaniah I knew maybe half of the words. This was one I thought I knew, but it was glossed differently than I expected, so I reached down for the Analytical Lexicon to see what it really meant.

Missouri has spiders. I hate bugs of all kinds -- did I mention? They tend to get very sick around me, I call it "CBS" (Crushed Bug Syndrome), where the first symptom is a massive breakdown of their God-given protective coloration, followed almost immediately by a dispersal of their internal organs in a horizontal (or vertical, if they are on a wall) direction. I used to get nightmares of giant spiders crawling over my face in bed. People in Misery warned me about Brown Recluse spiders. I don't think I ever saw any (perhaps they were living up to their name), but I did see a lot of tan empty spider carcasses while packing to move. Anyway, I got in the habit of banging on the side of the bed everything I picked up to read, to knock the spiders off.

So I did that to the lexicon, and what fell off was not a spider, but looked rather like a short piece of reddish tan string, or maybe a strip of packing tape. I never saw paper tape or string exactly that color, and certainly there shouldn't be any here, next to the bed, so I reached down timidly and flicked it with the back of my fingernail, like I did with the similar-sized piece of whatever last week. This little strip of whatever took off like a shot in a different direction than I flicked it. I never did get a good view of it, but it ran like a lizard and was about that shape, but only a couple inches long. It went around the back side of the bed and I never saw it again. [Maybe it died: the following week the house reeks of dead flesh.]

I never saw any animal that color, and other than in the Amazon jungle where I was a kid (and where at an impressionable age I was strongly encouraged to develop a deep and abiding fear of creepie-crawlies, most of which stung or bit quite painfully), I never saw a lizard inside any house. Obviously they have them here, surely I can't be the only one to see one. I hope I don't wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about being eaten by Godzilla. I have no idea how these critters got into the house, it's not like the jungle where there were quarter-inch cracks between all the floor boards and between all the wall materials (flattened palm shells). The lizards there were all green, probably because the jungle was relentlessly green. Maybe the natural state of the landscape here in Texas is reddish brown. It's all green right now because of the 100-year unseasonal rains this year. Whatever.

Follow-up: A week or so later I picked up a wedge pillow I keep near the bed, and there on the carpet was a 2" black strip that turned out to be (I suppose) the dead carcass of the lizard. Down the toilet. A week or so after that, I saw his kid brother in the middle of the living-room floor. I guess they don't look upward very much to see dangers from above like spiders do, and I clamped a jar down on him before he realized what happened. Cute little fellow only half as long as his older brother and almost transparent, but down the same toilet. It took a couple flushes, because he could swim!

The word was 'gamal' which normally means "camel" but as a verb it turns out to mean "repay". I have no idea what the connection is -- a lot of Hebrew words have very obscure extended meanings -- but this one is really off the wall. I despair of learning enough Hebrew so that I can read it without looking at the interlinear gloss all the time. Some books I can, some are just impossible. I never was good at memorizing, but now I have a hair-color impediment to make it worse, and there's a lot to memorize.

Speaking of Hebrew, I finished the last Baldacci novel I'm likely to read, and I have some Timothy Zahn works on Inter-Library Loan order but have not yet come in, so I just browsed the fiction shelf looking for something to catch my attention, and happened across an author I never heard of. The guy is a science writer for Scientific American -- which means probably not a Christian (SciAm is known to discriminate on the basis of religion) -- and also his good-guy characters cuss like sailors, and his bad guys are (unrealistic) cardboard stereotype cult religious nuts. Some of his science is bogus, too. But the hero and his significant other are scurrying off to Jerusalem in search of clues about the space-time anomaly accompanying a recent Iran nuclear test, and they mention several Hebrew words, some of which I understand even as transliterated, so it's kind of fun when the author translates it in the next sentence, pretty close to my guess. Modern Hebrew is rather different from Biblical, so there were some words and phrases that came out a little different, or I didn't recognize at all. Assuming the guy did his homework and didn't just invent stuff. After all, it's fiction.

More remarkable is this line on page 85, "The universe is information." I don't know where he is going with that, but it's remarkably similar to William Dembski's theory arguing against materialism (aka atheism), which I read earlier this year (see my review of Being As Communion). Like I said, the guy does not seem to be a Christian or even a theist, so I don't know where he's going with it, it will be interesting to see.
 

2015 July 1 -- All God's Creatures, Texas Style

During my first two or three years in the State of Misery -- I gotta quit calling it that, the State of Taxes is mostly worse in every way -- I had little gray furry visitors in my house a few times. I guess eventually they figured out (or else Darwinian "survival of the fittest" kicked in, so) that the ones who didn't visit survived. There were a lot of spiders, which pretty much kept all the other bugs down -- except for an occasional fly if I left fruit pits or peelings out overnight.

Here I have seen no evidence of spiders or mice at all. I smacked a fly or two the day after the doors were open for the movers (and not since), but...

I have been (slowly, I mentioned yesterday needing to clean up as I go) unpacking my kitchen items, leaving the empty boxes to take out all at once when I finish. This morning I noticed what looked in the dim light like a loose strip of packing tape on the carpet near one of those empty boxes. I flicked it with the back of my fingernail, and it tipped over credibly (like a piece of paper tape) so I reached down to pick it up and drop it in the trash. It was soft and squishy and wet, and I dropped it immediately right where it was and turned on the light. It was a 3-inch slug. I had never touched a gastropod with my bare hand before, and the slime refused to wash off. Eventually I got it off, and using a napkin, dispatched him to the trash, which went out immediately. After diligent search, I found and wiped up little silvery trails here and there across the throw rugs I had laid out in the kitchen the night before. I have no idea how the bugger got in. The trail seemed to originate near the fridge, which I had bought used a couple weeks ago; perhaps he rode in on that, but didn't like walking around on the tile. Neither do I, which is why I have those rugs.
 

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