Tom Pittman's WebLog

Last year, Later this year
 

2016 March 31 -- Technology in Fiction

A couple weeks ago I commented on a second-tier novelist who got his technology wrong. In my wanderings through the library I also picked up a John Grisham novel, and he also gets it wrong, satellites that "hover" 150 miles over a particular country, or travel "at a constant speed of 120 miles per hour" across it. Low-orbit satellites cannot do that. They must travel some 15,000 mph (around the world in 90 minutes) just to stay up. At 22,000 miles up they can stay in one place in the sky, but that's a long way away. To his credit, Grisham admits in his "Author's Note" at the end that he knows nothing about satellites and cell phones. He's a lawyer, so he writes about law. Some big-name authors list assistants and consultants who help get the technology and history and geography right; Grisham spent some time in Italy, so to get the geography and language credible, but technology is beyond most writers (except sci-fi). That's becoming increasingly inappropriate these days. Grisham's President was incompetent beyond all belief, too -- real politicians cannot get elected without some knowledge and skill; maybe the guy is a hard-core Democrat and this was a dig against Bush (who was certainly more competent than his successor). Whatever. It's fiction.
 

2016 March 30 -- Entertaining

My dictionary defines "entertain" with two distinct senses:
1. to hold the attention of so as to bring about pleasure.
2. to treat as a guest.
In my mind I always conflated these, with the idea that one should treat their guests in such a manner as to bring about their pleasure. More than that, and because only God (and not more than a couple of His people) -- and maybe not even God, depending on your theology -- gives unconstrained gifts, when I am a guest in somebody's house, it is important for me to offer quid pro quo, something to give them pleasure to associate with my visit. Generally this is intangible, something in the form of entertainment in the usual sense of the word, conversation that they will remember with pleasure. Otherwise they will not invite me back. OK, most everybody does not invite me back anyway, but I try, and mostly it sounds like they are enjoying it. I have nothing else to offer.

So I did that, and they sounded like they enjoyed the evening, and everybody promised to do it again (but it never happened). I hate it when people lie to me, but it's the world I live in. Later, a mutual acquaintance tried to point to that event as an example of my being able to function in real time, which I generally deny. I can prepare for real-time meetings, but if something new comes up, I can't handle it. Mostly I just let it go whizzing by, but if the meeting is important, I typically freeze up or get stuck on whatever it was, and the meeting goes on without me. I think way too slowly for real time. The case in point, I had a week or ten days to pile up interesting ("entertaining") things to say, and if they said something, I can always nod and say something affirming, and everybody is happy. I won't remember anything, but who cares? It's just entertainment.

Talking on the phone is the same thing (real time). My sister calls every week and talks for an hour. She is smart enough to know that at our age, we won't remember anything anyway, so she is not offended if I forget everything she said. I just (verbally) nod and affirm her, and everybody is happy. It's just entertainment. Church is the same. The preacher gets up and talks for a half hour, and when it's all over, it's gone. If he puts up a PowerPoint, I can see what his logic is -- sometimes before he even gets to it -- but a talking head is a total loss. They tell me that different folks take in data best in different modes. I read. I can stop and work out the implications in my mind, then resume where I left off. Sometimes (harder or impossible in PowerPoint) I go back and pick up something I missed. No way that will happen in real time. Even in movies, I hit the pause and replay buttons a lot, so to catch what I normally miss.

So I said as much to this guy, and he tried to make out like I was "rewriting history" (that's an unobvious way to call a guy a liar). Nonsense, it's just entertainment. Nothing important happened, it never does. It's just entertainment. When something important needs to happen in business, all the business gurus insist on "Get it in writing." I do that. I have boxes and boxes filled with contracts and design notes and all kinds of stuff collected in writing over the years. Maybe I remember a few things that I heard (not more than one per event), but mostly not.

Somewhere about 100 years ago, more or less, civilized humanity stopped being an aural (sound-based) culture, and began being a written culture. It was a gradual thing, as printing became automated, and paper and typewriters became cheap and we replaced the destruction of belligerence with wealth creation (including factory farms and processed food). I am a modern person, and everything important is in writing. If this guy -- or you -- think otherwise, y'all are behind the times. I suspect this guy may be functionally illiterate. He learns best by watching videos. That may be the new literacy, watching videos, being forced along at the pace of the director, so you cannot think for yourself. No wonder Obama is Prez, and Trump looks like he might be next: Nobody can think, they just absorb. I watch movies over supper, but nothing sticks. Maybe one point, if I backed up and replayed it a couple times. I do that.

But the things that move and shake the real world are still all in text. Look at any picture of a Trump rally: you don't see mug shots like in India and Africa, you see his name in text, repeated over and over on each person's sign, but it's text. Even this guy's bogus criticism, "rewriting history" is about writing. Without writing, there's no history to rewrite, and rewriting it has no meaning. I guess I don't have much to worry about from him, without writing he cannot become important. His problem, not mine ;-)
 

2016 March 25 -- Bullies vs Violence

The flick was meant to be scary -- probably less so for me because I know the technology really isn't there, and partly because the left-wing political bias of the producer was a turn-off -- but it got me thinking about what kind of people would actually do this kind of thing. It's fiction, of course, but fiction does not sell unless the characterization reasonably resembles people that the public know personally, or in the case of the Bad Guys, that they believe it to be credible (comic books and their spin-off movies excepted). Pretty much everybody in the whole wide world believes that once a person has "gone over to the dark side," they are then capable of any form of evil. Sometimes the fiction tries to convince us that we are all capable of unutterable evil, but nobody ever makes the case that a person is capable of small wickedness only, not large.

God has more or less protected me from contact with Bad People most of my life, other than the usual bullies in public school (before I learned how to stay out of their way) and occasional hostilities executed by remote on the internet -- and I almost forgot, Texas drivers. What I read in novels, and what I see in the movies, largely matches my experience in school (Bad Guys know no restraint) and on the highways, so it is without remorse that I continue to practice the same defense (stay out of their way). When somebody loses control of their temper, when they start lying about their intentions, anything can happen, and I don't want to be there to be the victim of the inevitable violence.

So this guy said to me "I've never physically threatened you," but the truth is not in him. That and his anger management problem (I suspect they teach him that dysfunction at his church) convinced me. I never replied "Yes you did," but I thought it. And stayed away from harm, under my control (as opposed to trusting a person already known to be untrustworthy [Luke 16:10]). If God calls me to go to a dangerous place, then God is responsible for my safety; otherwise doing so is contrary to Scripture [Luke 4:12].
 

2016 March 22 -- Is Crowdfunding Evil?

The current issue of WIRED magazine has an opinion piece in which author Peter Moskowitz (not apparently a regular contributor) argues that crowdfunding (like KickStart) has a pernicious effect on public works: when the politicians see that teachers can go to the public for volunteer donations to pay for services their school board is too stingy to pay, then they will stop funding those services from the tax base, and only popular services will be funded. I agree, but is that "evil"? The function of government is to promote good and punish evil, and they pretty much get to decide what counts as good and evil. When people are elected who come from the subculture that creates wealth (for everybody, even though they mostly think only of themselves), then they are reluctant to raise taxes to pay for services they deen unnecessary for the public good. When people are elected from the subculture that destroys wealth by redistributing it from the workers to those who do not do anything useful, they do not appreciate the hard work that goes into creating that wealth, so they are more willing to waste it on public services that benefit nobody but the receivers of the government handouts. Crowdfunding -- like charities through all history -- restores accountability to public works projects that socialist democracy deprives them. Now that the established religion of the USA and the government that supports it have become hostile to the traditional religions that helped make this nation great, crowdfunding, as described by Moskowitz, offers a way restore some of the balance. In other words, I may agree with his facts, but not with his left-wing politics.

In the same issue, a different author wrote a longer piece describing his experience in the world's first robot hotel. Some of his insights reflect the thinking that obviously underlies the proliferation of robot checkout lines in supermarkets. WalMart in Bolivar had a dozen humane lines and only five robots; the new WalMart here in the small Texas town I moved to, the ratio is reversed. WalMart checkers are some of the slowest in the world, but the robots are no faster, as evidenced by the very long lines of people avoiding them. My sister tells me that when the store starts to make it worth her while to do it the hard way, then she might consider the robot line. I always head for the garden exit at the far end of the store, which almost never has a line. This author apparently thinks otherwise. He started his article describing his effort to find the hotel, and the polite but clueless desk clerk at another hotel nearby repetedly trying to help by offering useless suggestions, then later commented that "No touchscreen would have spent 20 minutes guessing about a hotel's location just to save face." Technically, that is accurate, but in practice it is false. The robots are not worried about saving face, but they bog down for simpler reasons, namely that they are not programmed to answer the question you want to ask, so you still spend the same 20 minutes (or longer) trying to guess how to ask it in a way that might elicit a meaningful answer.
 

2016 March 19 -- Thor

It was one of the books in my list of "thrillers" I'd scraped from the library's website catalog last year. Most authors, if they say enough to disclose their political persuasions, lean more left than right. I suppose that's because "those who can, do; those who cannot, teach/write." If you do not have actual experience of making real stuff happen, it's hard to comprehend how screwed up the government is, and how hard they make it for the rest of us. I vividly remember the first author I read who got it (John Ringo's Live Free or Die,six years ago). Hmm, it looks like I said about the same thing a year ago. Brad Thor is more fun to read than the left-wing bigots, but not up to the caliber of front-rank authors.

His technology has numerous errors -- like the Bad Guy opened an ice chest of dry ice in a closed room to kill his victim after he left by "carbon monoxide" (dry ice is carbon dioxide, still lethal, but not the same way), then went to the stove and turned the gas on unlit so the police would blame the stove for the monoxide -- wrong again, natural gas in stoves is methane, not monoxide nor dioxide, still lethal when it displaces the oxygen in the air. The three gases have different chemical effects on humans, so any competent medical examiner could tell you which of the three was the cause of death. And bottles of hydrogen which exploded with enough force to flatten the whole building, nevermind that hydrogen does not explode unless it's mixed with oxygen (so they won't sell it in bottles like that); if the bottles got hot from a hearby fire, the valve might crack or break, causing the gas to burn as it escaped, like a torch, not like a bomb. Stuff like that, which anybody who actually did their homework in junior-high science class would know. And the reason they had hydrogen there instead of the non-flamable helium is because it has so much greater lift -- wrong again, high-school chemistry teaches us that the lift is proportional to the difference in molecular weight between the balloon content and the air outside: hydrogen is 2, helium is 4, and air (mostly nitrogen) is something over 28, so the difference in lift between hydrogen and helium is less than 10% and probably masked by the pressure differential caused by the balloon rubber. There were some electronic errors too, which I don't remember.

Anyway, I decided to give him another try, so I googled his sequence, and discovered that the book I'd read was actually #14 in a series, and not a stand-alone as the front-cover blurb seemed to indicate. Most series blurbs tell you "another of [hero's name] exciting..." or "the next in the [hero's name] saga..." or something like that, or else they list the prequels inside the title page. This one didn't. At least there was not a heavy backstory, as you find in so many other series stories.

Now having finished #1 in the series, I still see this guy as second-tier, way better than books written by women (see "Chick Lit") but not like Lee Childs or the earlier Vince Flynn. His hero is too human, constantly making stupid blunders from not being as careful as a SEAL should have been trained not to do. This is particularly annoying to me because I know people are like that (one in particular I used to call my friend before his brains and/or moral compass got fried). I don't think fast enough to do the kind of work these guys do, but at least I know to "watch your six." I don't recall thinking the same about the first book I read, so maybe this hero gets better after his first cut, I'll try another and see.
 

2016 March 14 -- Last Knights

Morgan Freeman is like Harrison Ford: if he's in the movie, it's almost certainly a good one. They both are not only excellent actors, but they also choose good flicks to act in. Other good actors did not have that skill in selection. Unfortunately my enjoyment of this flick was marred by the low quality reproduction.

Quality, as you've no doubt already seen here in my blog, is conformance to specifications, and the formost specification of a movie medium is that you get to watch the movie. DVD is lower quality than the (now obsolete) VHS. When a tape is damaged, subsequent viewings may sparkle or gurgle, but it keeps playing. All digital media are intolerant of minor corruption. Digital TV degrades to 1-inch pixelated blocks of color before freezing up entirely, but DVDs just drop out whole seconds of image and sound -- then crash the computer. Usually this happens during critical dialog or action sequences. I wiped the disk and rebooted the computer, and I could not visually see any damage to the surface, but it hiccupped badly during the first ten minutes at the front -- it barely would start amidst constant "ah-hoo-gah" re-seeks on the drive -- and then again during the climactic fight. Some DVDs won't play at all (they freeze on the "blue [or black] screen of death"), so this was better than that.

The story was about honor. Honor is hard to find in America today: I have not found anybody who cares about it more than their own selfish interests, certainly not here in Texas. It's not a modern concept, so obviously the story had to be pre-modern, with horses and swords and stuff. Beyond that, I couldn't place it in my mind. There were orientals and blacks, but the emperor was caucasian. The vast scenery could have been China, but I decided that the imperial capital was too big to be a set, so it had to be digital compositing (my first thought was "painted matte" until I looked at the 2014 date on the package). The "making of" documentary said it was Samurai, and they filmed it in Korea (and Prague), but they wanted to choose the best actors regardless of their ethnicity. That was goofy, but I guess you can do anything you want in fiction.
 

2016 March 8 -- Liars Lie

Another downloaded movie, I wouldn't mention it at all, except for the reason I decided not to watch the rest of it. It's intended to be a viral thing, but their main tactic is to lie about being associated with corporations on their hit list -- including the Chamber of Commerce -- and then say all kinds of false things in the name of the victim. If they are so willing to lie about their associations, why should I believe they are not also lying about their message? Corporations lie to us, and the government lies to us, even our (former) best friends lie to us, why not these jerks?

I call it "the Cretan Paradox" because it is related to (but not the same as) the old Greek puzzle: As told by Epimenides, "All Cretans are liars. I am a Cretan." So therefore he must be lying about being a liar. The Apostle Paul disambiguated it by affirming that they are liars anyway. Mine is more practical: both liars and honest people will deny that they are lying, so you cannot tell from what a person tells you whether they are lying or not. Of course if you have independent information (like Paul), you can compare that to what the guy is saying. Once you know he's willing to lie, then everything they say is suspect.

Moral of the story: If you want me to believe you are telling the truth, you need to tell the truth all the time, even when it's inconvenient. We already know that the left-wing politicians have been lying to us about global warming, this flick seems to have the same political persuasion, so they are probably lying also.
 

2016 March 7 -- Kite Runner

It was an awesome movie -- fiction, but the author of the novel was a doctor at the time (read: Thinker, not Feeler), and although the movie makers were all Feelers, they kept enough of the dialog and behavior from the novel that it did not lose its true nature. I did not notice any of this until I watched the rather long "making of" documentaries. I just thought it was a gripping and credible movie, full of masculine values like truth and justice, duty and shame. There was forgiveness and self-sacrifice, but not in a Christian context; the only religion portrayed was Muslim (low-key in the principals, hypocritical and abusive in the Bad Guys), so the only redemption that could be attained was by doing more good than evil. The movie makers (not themselves Muslim) talked of "unconditional love" but I didn't see any in the flick. That's important.

In another context I pointed out that high-quality compliance with Jesus' teaching of The Second Great Commandment would be mistaken by Relationshipists as good Relationshipism, even though it's not really. After seeing this movie, I think I might extend that to the Thinker/Feeler difference generally. The novelist Khaled Hosseini is a Thinker, uncorrupted by American Feeler-driven edu-factories. The original ending to his novel was very honest and Thinker-ish, but the people who read that draft liked it about as much as people liked the ending to my first story (that is, not at all, see Lazir), so he replaced it with a feel-good positive (affirming) conclusion, preserved in the movie.

Unless you are a Feeler (as I pointed out previously, most recently last week, the movie-makers are all Feelers), the story is about duty and doing The Right Thing, even when it's uncomfortable. The servant kid knew that it was not his place to attack his master, and refused to do it. Even when falsely accused, he and his father sadly accepted the order of things. A Feeler exhibiting "unconditional love" would have stayed on and been what is called "co-dependent" to the abuse. He was not co-dependent, he was just trying to do The Right Thing. When our hero went back to rescue his nephew, there was no "unconditional love" because he didn't even know the kid. It wasn't "love" for the kid's father, because his bad behavior is what drove them away. It was The Right Thing. That theme is all over the movie. The hero saw it in his own father. He saw and felt the value in his own failure to live it. This is duty, not love. It's a Thinker value, and it's a large part of the Christian message as taught in Scripture (but not in American churches).
 

2016 February 29 -- Double Feature

I was watching this B-movie I downloaded from Archive.org (no link: like Wikipedia, they stopped being open to the public a couple years back). This flick was some fanciful speculation about prehistoric women, so they mostly spoke to each other in grunts and hand-waving with a voice narrator telling us what was going on. But each person had a name, and there were a few words they repeated in specific contexts. One of the words was "aner" (pronounced "an-air") referring to the men, and I suddenly realized theirs was no "prehistoric" pre-language, but Greek. Not really, they spoke mostly only uninflected nouns, and I recognized only nine or ten words, which they pronounced as if reading them as English words. For example, "woman" was pronounced "genie" as in "misogyny" rather than like "gynecology" (which is closer to the way we read classical Greek). There were perhaps another three or four words I did not recognize (not in my dictionary), like one which sounded like "row" in contexts where it seemed to mean "hurry". The plot was forgetable, and they filled long spaces with people standing around emoting (or trying to look like that's what they were doing).

The library only lets me check out three DVDs at a time, and the reason I was watching this download was that one of them turned out to be unplayable on the PC I use to watch movies. Some producers are like the (unpaid, therefore unaccountable) keepers of Wiki and Archive.org, they don't want people watching their products. I usually try to give them their wish, but I still had some time left over in my Sunday afternoon, so I dragged out the "Old Stupid Former" (OSX) computer. It plays them, but the experience is unpleasant, so I usually avoid the hassle. I should have this time too.

The story assumed a dying earth -- not global warming, but increasing and unbeatable blights on the food crops, which is nonsense: human ingenuity can overcome that kind of thing with genetic engineering, just as we eliminated starvation in India and postponed indefinitely the dire predictions of Thomas Malthus a century or so ago -- but it was sort of scientific, enough so that WIRED magazine ran an interview with the producer last year. The WIRED article was like the difference between movie trailers and the real movie, so far from helpful that I mostly refuse to watch trailers. The article concentrated on them getting the astrophysics right, which they did -- sort of -- except the story line was one catastrophe after another, so that by the middle of the 3-hour flick there was no hope for mission success. Even assuming that wormholes are possible, it's really unlikely that we will ever find habitable planets in other solar systems, the science just isn't there, so at least in that respect the catastrophes were credible. But a movie in which the Good Guys (and especially their children, which they spent considerable time at the beginning getting the audience to relate to) all die off is such a downer that it won't sell. The producers know that. I knew that, so I figured (correctly) that they had to pull some kind of time travel out of their cinematic hat. At that point they basically abandonned science and went for fantasy. The director knew that, so he did it inside a black hole, as if that made it OK, the way "millions of years" solves the entropic problems of Darwinism. After all the scientific problems were solved and mankind saved by emigrating them to space stations orbiting around Saturn, they showed farms on these stations growing -- blight free! -- the same crops that the blight was killing off on earth.

I was reminded of the aphorism my father told me when I was in college: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" -- to which I would add that movies are basically the modern teaching method. Like the original Star Trek TV series, the media are made by Feelers, not Thinkers, and their highest value is not Truth, but "Relationship". Spock was not the commanding officer in Star Trek, but the "logical" foil against which Captain Kirk could play off his emotional values. That was true in this flick also, where "love" was the unscientific quality that transcended time and space. They said so. They must say so, if they are to attract women, and if the women won't come, the men won't either. It was a very unsatisfying film for me, and when it was all over, I was sorry I wasted the effort to drag out and boot up OSX to see it. So I don't feel bad if I spoiled it for you.

One deep insight they explained as the catastrophes kept piling up, is that nobody is altruistic when the competition is their own survival (including their children, which in the Darwinistic religion is the same thing). The hero wanted to go back to earth to be with his children, nevermind that he had spent so much time near the black hole that they were already older than he. One of the other characters was willing to scuttle the mission to "get back to earth." This insight resonates with our experience, every one of us, despite that the Christian message is totally opposite. You can't blame the atheist film makers for never seeing any exceptions, but it's more than a little disappointing to me that I see so few of them in the church. Some, but very very few.

There was another poignant scene, near the end, where the hero is restarting the boxy robot who was one of the key supporting characters. Near the beginning he had asked the robot whether it always told the truth. "90%" was the reply, because, it went on, people can't handle the whole truth. In the later scene, he's making the settings, and truth is 90% again, although he contemplates making it 95%. It seems that the Feelers who wrote this flick could not imagine anybody wanting the whole truth. I do. Worse, my setting isn't adjustable. I'm too honest for people, and it makes them unspeakably angry -- including that guy with "truth" in his domain name. Anyway, the next setting was humor, and he set it to 75%. The robot immediately announced a ferocious catastrophe just outside, and our hero adjusted humor down to 60% (or something like that, but I can't go back and check on the specifics, it's OSX), and the robot announced another problem, but less severe. Then I realized the catastrophe was just a joke. *I* would have told the robot it wasn't funny, and maybe set the humor level to 0%. The guy threatened to set it down to 55%. Humor is a problem. God pokes fun at the atheists, but never His own people. It wasn't a fun movie.
 

2016 February 27 -- Imprecation

The movie today -- I started it yesterday, but finished over lunch today -- was Jack Reacher. He was the hero of some 20-odd novels by Lee Child. This was just one of those stories (not the first), but giving it the hero's name instead of Child's title suggests that they don't plan to do another. No matter. I remember the first one I read, I almost gave it up because the central character was portrayed as a drifter (read: loser), and I want to read about people who know what they are doing and do it well. It turns out Reacher really is that kind of bigger-than-life hero, but it took the author a while to expose that. As I mentioned back then, the modern definition of "art" is that the artist tries to jerk the audience around. He succeeded. I still don't like it.

The movie did not succeed (at jerking me around) -- probably because I'd already read the book -- but I did notice that some of the scenes were not the way I remembered them. Well, duh! A novelist can invent any kind of metropolitan scenery he wants, but the movie producer must pick real live cities to film their movies in (otherwise the set is monstrously expensive, like the Hobbit I watched six hours of the Making-Of the last couple weeks). I also did not remember how bad the Bad Guys were from the novel, not like they were in the flick. Maybe that was selective memory.

I mention this because all my life I have been reading these imprecatory Psalms, where (usually David) is calling down God's wrath on the Bad Guys, or at least seeking the LORD's protection from them. I couldn't relate. It's not my life -- at least not until five months ago (see "Empathy"), but that was the worst it ever got. I'm not volunteering for the kind of persecution that happens in other parts of the world, or in other parts of this country -- I assume: otherwise the novelists and moviemakers couldn't sell their fiction, it would be too scary if it weren't real -- but I got a tiny taste of it. I never believed that such lies and bullying went on in a church context, and then there it was! The guy even had the gall to repeatedly offer "reconciliation" but that was just another shameless lie. He didn't want anything of the kind, as became clear when I tried to take him up on it. I cannot even imagine why he'd even bother with the proposal, unless it was another lie, a fraudulent act staged for some third party he was trying to butter up for his own personal advantage.

People like that are not welcome in Heaven. Jesus said so. But they're in the church. Jesus (and the other Apostles) said that too. I never met them before. I didn't have to pray the Psalms for protection, God did it without my asking. I didn't know how much I needed that protection until these last few months. It was devastating. In my head I know that all that garbage is nothing, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I keep thinking that other people -- like the guy with "Truth" in his domain name -- should care about truth as much as I do, but they don't. It makes no sense. But then, I'm not a "J" either. It makes no sense.

The bottom line is that like factory farms and processed food (see "Thanking God for Factory Farms" from a couple years ago), having no Bad Guys inflicting FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and doubt) on the population is part of what made the USA the richest country in the world, and what enabled me to do amazing things on my computer for most of my life. I would like to achieve resolution, but that's a binary function: they gotta have the wanna too, or it ain't gonna happen. And they have no "rope". That's why we call them "Bad Guys". Not only they don't do Good, they don't wanna.

The Psalmist David got it right: a pox on all of them. Like the Apostle Paul [Rom.10:1], my heart goes out to them, I wish they could be saved, but God does not seem to force His grace on the unwilling (except maybe a few Calvinists, but even those guys want to be saved when the dust settles ;-) The rest of them, "they have their reward," Jesus said. That's all they get. Don't go there, it ends up worse than your worst horror flick.
 

2016 February 25 -- Biblical Confirmation

Several months ago, when I was in the thick of it, God gave me some insights on the relationship between MBTI Judgers ("J"s) and Christian faith (see "Personality & Biblical Values" and "How to Win" and their links). I say "God gave me" these insights because as a scientist (that being different from Darwinist thinking in this particular point) I know that the entropy laws of Nature prevent the creation of information out of nothing, so it came from somewhere. I create artificially intelligent computers by injecting smarts into them; they do not get smarter on their own without any help, somebody must do it to them. It's a law of nature, and every computer programmer knows it implicitly. If it were otherwise, we'd have computers programming themselves and we would all be out of our jobs, because computers are way cheaper than human programmers. Where does human intelligence come from? It must be from God (see "Asking God for Wisdom" for a longer explanation).

Today I'm reading in the Acts of the Apostles, and some of the early chapters report on the hostilities between the "chief priests" and the Christians. These religious leaders are obviously "J"s (because nobody else wants that job), and the MBTI insight (as I previously blogged) is that "J"s stubbornly stick to their guns against all evidence, and that's exactly what these guys in the Bible do. Unlike my recent experience, they had with them a respected teacher -- "J"s make poor teachers, because a teacher must understand exactly how the student is confused before he can overcome that roadblock, and "J"s prefer to cling to their preconceptions -- so this guy is like the "TP" advisors I pointed to in telling "J"s How to Win. And you know what this smart advisor told the religious leaders? Exactly what I said: If the conflict lasts very long, "You. Will. Lose." It's a marvelous Greek word the historian used there for what Gamaliel probably told them in Aramaic, "theomakhos". We don't have any such word in English -- probably because our culture is post-Christian atheistic -- so the translators render it "fighting against God." The Greek word really means "god-fighter" and it implies much more than the English translation, which suggests only a (temporary) activity; a god-fighter's very nature is to fight against god(s). If (like the atheists) the God of the universe is your opponent, you are in deep doo-doo. You. Will. Lose. Bet on it.

Anyway, I have read this chapter dozens of times over my life, but never before having experienced what the Apostles experienced there. When they came away "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" [Acts 5:41, oNIV], it didn't make any sense to me. I just figured it was part of the "backwardness" of Christian logic, like gaining your life by losing it, or becoming King of the Universe by getting executed like a common criminal. Today, for the first time, I begin to understand the deep reasoning behind that rejoicing. It's not "backwardness" at all, but rather that I need to experience receiving the hostility before I can understand what's going on. Like I said about teachers above, they cannot do a good job of teaching unless they can get inside the students' heads, and "J"s can't do that, they are too stuck on what they think they already know.

Also in today's reading, the Psalm of the Day is the basis for a song that often reverberates through my mind, celebrating that ultimately God protects me from my enemies and the temporary and miniscule problems they impose on me:

Unto thee oh LORD, do I lift up my soul,
Oh my God, I trust in thee;
Let me not be ashamed,
Let not mine enemies triumph over me.

2016 February 19 -- Dystopia

The Bolivar library had a system of little stickers they put on the spine of a genre book to let browsers know what to expect, blue for sci-fi, purple for fantasy, and so on. So I went down the stacks, looking for blue stickers. Here, the best I can do is search their on-line catalog for the words "science fiction", which turned up a hundred or so hits. That's how I found Hyperion. There were a number of hits with "J" (for "Juvenile") in the call, but a quick glance at a few of them showed them to be pretty juvenile. Duh. Here was one with "YA" in the call, so I decided to try it (no sex, no gutter language). The librarian at the checkout counter commented on how she had liked it (that might be a plus), that it was a dystopia like Hunger Games (I hated the movie), but from a male perspective (which is getting harder to find, now that fiction is being driven by the feminazi agenda). I decided to try it. I shouldn't have.

The essence of dystopia is fantasy, the imagining of what things might be like if the world were other than what God decreed (see "Fantasy vs the Truth"), so I have a very hard time getting into it. This one was particularly annoying, because the hero comes into the dystopic world knowing nothing and asks a lot of questions, which everybody refuses to answer. I'm an information junkie, so this is particularly annoying to me, but in the last five months I personally have experienced that kind of abuse. That doesn't improve my appreciation for it, but I can now see it as part of what Judgers do to bully other people (see "On Bullying"). Maybe they teach that kind of thing in the edu-factories where almost everybody in this country gets their indoctrination.

Another quality of this anti-hero was that he somehow was motivated to do things, but didn't know why. I cannot relate to that (see "Reasons vs Rope"). Perhaps the author was trying to empathize with teens who don't understand their own hormones, or something like that, but this was not hormones. When the heroine came on scene -- like all females in modern fiction, she was stronger than the guys -- and started telepathing (yup, fantasy) to the hero, he ran away from it. I can't relate to that at all.

So for me, "dystopia" means a horrible experience, don't go there. sigh
 

2016 February 13 -- Robot Cars & Law

The house rag for the IEEE (a professional organization I belong to) comes every month, but I rarely take time to read much of it -- usually none at all. This month, however, the cover story announces:
It is the year 2023, and for the first time, a self-driving car strikes and kills a pedestrian. A lawsuit is sure to follow. But exactly what laws will apply? Nobody knows.
The author is identified as a lawyer, but his commitments are not disclosed. However, the internet is wonderful: I found that the law firm where he practices includes as clients
some of the largest multinational corporations engaged in industries such as medical devices, semiconductors, software, electronic systems and pharmaceuticals.
In other words, he mostly lawyers for the guys who will be making the robot cars, not the people they kill. Y'all already know I'm not a big fan of lawyers, but I didn't tell you why. It's a very Christian thing, something that not even most people who call themselves "Christian" would think about, but Jesus taught it as "the Second Great Commandment" -- which I usually abbreviate "2C" -- (second behind giving God first place in your life, 1C). In everything you do, you need to give the other person at least as much deference as you want for yourself. That sort of destroys competition, as I pointed out seven years ago. The American legal system is adversarial (the legal term for competition), which basically means that the smartest lawyer, the guy who can convince the judge that the law is on his side, or who makes the most entertaining presentation to the jury (they get to decide for any or no reason at all, it's called "nullification" because the law doesn't matter, only their opinion), he wins and the other guy loses. If you ever start to think the jury has any other method in mind, consider my sister, who votes for the Presidential candidate whose face she likes. People do that. Anyway, every lawyer believes it's his God-given (or "evolved", same thing) duty to scrape off the table into their clients' lap, everything that isn't nailed down. It's absolutely antithetical to 2C. So it's his (and his company's) business to make sure the cookies come off the table into the laps of Google and General Motors and Tesla and the other robot car wannabes, and not the families of somebody lucky enough to have their child killed by a robot car.

He claims (and I believe) that well-made robot cars will be safer than human drivers. Certainly safer than Texas drivers (see "Back up, Texas Style"). Probably. He proposes limiting the liability of robot cars to be no more than a human would do in comparable circumstances. The problem he didn't mention is that when a human driver runs over a pedestrian and kills him, he goes to jail as "involuntary manslaughter". It's not as bad as running over the guy while DUI, but it's still jail time. Every driver knows that. They may not alter their driving much -- at least not in Texas -- but it is a motivating influence. What does that mean when the robot car runs over the pedestrian, that the car goes to jail? Who cares about that? That the carmaker goes to jail? That's what this lawyer is trying to prevent. If a bridge or a skyscraper collapses and people die, the builder or engineer (or both) go to jail unless they prove they used "generally accepted" practices to design and build it. This guy is trying to keep a million lines of computer code out of court. He said so.

You see, the problem is that carmakers need to balance the cost of litigation (and losing) against the cost of more testing and better designs. Remember the Pinto scandal? Ford had decided the cost of litigating would be less than the cost of making a safer design. If this lawyer has his way, the laws will set that cost of litigating artificially low, so the cars will be less safe -- maybe even than human drivers. Does your iPhone never freeze up? Why do you need anti-virus software? Has your computer never crashed? A robot car has ten or a hundred times more code than a simple operating system like Linux or Windows or iPhone, and a thousand times more different ways it can break and kill people. Debugging that code costs a lot of money, and the makers will trade off that cost against litigating a few deaths. Bet on it.

Write your legislator and make sure they understand what the carmakers and their lawyers are trying to do to us. The vehicle codes are state by state, not Federal (yet). You vote. Cars don't. Car manufacturers in some other state or country don't vote here. The legislator needs to know that. But mostly they need to know that the money they get from Google or GM doesn't save lives here (in your state). The carmaker lobbyists are spending that money because legislators are cheaper than lawsuits. Don't be. We want them to work harder at their robot cars than Apple and Microsoft work at making their computers, you know the ones, which crash all the time and whose "EULA" promises nothing. We want them to promise something useful before we hand them a "Get out of jail free" card. We don't want to give them that GOOJF card at all.

PermaLink
 

2016 February 12 -- Hyperion

It's hard for an author to keep from injecting his religion into his fiction, but some genres are more pronounced. Hyperion is billed as "science fiction" but it's kind of edgy, what with time manipulation and all. When an atheist writes a spy thriller, he might have the bad guys be priests or evangelists (avoid those), but mostly religion is irrelevant to his story. That's not real-world, but who said fiction is real world? When an atheist writes sci-fi, all kinds of things go bad.

In this case the guy has a Decameron kind of plot, with seven people thrown together on a "pilgrimage" to some kind of holy site -- considering the author's aversion to all things religious, this is no spoiler: the author does not have a high view of what will happen there -- and each traveller tells his (or her) own story why they are making this journey. It's a clever idea, but the fact that two of them come from religious backgrounds, which the author cannot do justice to, ruined it for me.

The first guy tells the story of a Catholic priest. Unfortunately for him (and me) his planet Earth sank into a black hole -- he sort of hints that it's related to global warming -- so all of the religious and cultural artifacts of human history had to be moved and/or recreated on other planets in the galaxy. As a consequence, our priest is losing his faith. That's natural to an author who believes it's all a crock anyway, but it makes the story much harder for me to suspend disbelief.

Another guy is Jewish, and he also has serious problems with his faith because the Land of Promise is gone. It gets worse when he starts having visions telling him to go to Hyperion (the planet with these time problems, also the destination of the pilgrimage) and in the words of God calling to Abraham, to sacrifice his only daughter, whom he loves, there. The morality of that story in the Bible is difficult enough for believers; it's the poster for atheist critics, and this guy brings out all the usual issues in the mind of his Jewish pilgrim.

The other stories in this collection are not so depressing, but I almost abandonned it in the priest's story. If the Bible is true, the earth cannot be swallowed up in a black hole, destroying all our historical basis for faith. Well, maybe it might happen at the Second Coming, immediately to be replaced by "the new heaven and new earth" and all the Bad Guys (presumably including all athesits) meet their final doom, but this story didn't go that way. Another atheist author I read a few months ago did that, but it was even more bizarre (see "Friday the 13th + 1 Week").

Anyway, I got to the end and discovered it ends on a cliff-hanger. The climax, what happens to our pilgrims when they get to Hyperion, is in the sequel. Each participant's personal story was interesting in its way, but they all left you wanting to see resolution, and it's not provided. I would prefer the author more honestly gave us a 900-page book, so we know how much we need to read to get to a satisfying end. This guy didn't. I was so annoyed, I may not bother to go back for the sequel.
 

2016 February 9 -- The Imitation Game

Not quite eight years ago I read a very long novel, Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson, organized around the British cracking of the German "enigma" code and some of the psychological efforts they used to prevent the Germans from discovering that the code had been cracked. Unlike most of the books I read, this one was me, how I think, and I said so in my review. The novel was mostly fiction, only "inspired by" the actual historical events. This week I saw the movie, not of the novel (which is far too geeky for most viewers) but of the actual history. Well, they still did some fictionalizing, but (according to the "making of" documentary) not much. One of the prominent themes in Stephenson's novel I originally thought to be fiction, the efforts the Brits went to to fake "accidental" discovery of what they actually learned from the decrypted messages, they repeated (briefly) in the movie; obviously it actually happened.

Stephenson's novel was oversexed, but in the movie it was only a minor theme. Alan Turing was in fact convicted of "indecency" (the British legal term for being homosexual) after the war was over, and that's an important part of modern revisionism, but the movie spent more screen time on Turing's OCD (I prefer to think of those initials as being "Observant, Careful and Determined") and the social interplay between him and the other team members at Bletchley Park where the decryption took place. According to the "making of" piece, the Brits did not release any information about what went on there until 50 years after he died. By now any computer scientist in the world could (with sufficient resources) repeat what they did there, and the American NSA probably does more of it than anybody else. Maybe that was the Brits' way of thumbing their noses at the Americans.

I thought it a "two thumbs up" movie. There's a lot more of me in their portrayal of Turing than in most movie heroes I see. Maybe that's why I liked it. So many movies are about people doing stupid things and just by dumb luck making out OK. I hate those. These guys did smart things. MacGyver was supposed to do smart things, but they mostly weren't good physics; this flick did real stuff. I don't know about their computer, but it looked historically credible.

It seems curious to me that when I read Stephenson's novel I was going through some of the same interpersonal difficulties that characterized the most recent five months. Stephenson's insight concerning email is still valid.
 

2016 February 8 -- "Wrote" vs Wrote

What counts as being the "author" of a book? Paul Brand, former missionary doctor to India and famous for his restorative surgeries on leprosy victims, wrote a marvelous book In His Image, in which he described various parts and functions of the human body from a medical perspective, and then describes how each insight also relates to the body of Christ and Christianity in general (it's the sequel to  Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, which is equally delightful). Anyway, my point is that the author on the cover is "Paul Brand" with Philip Yancey below it and less prominent. Why is Yancey's name on there at all? Because he is a famous author of many books and magazine articles; he's a writer. Paul Brand is a doctor, not a writer. He probably wrote numerous medical journal articles in turgid medical prose, but Yancey knows how to write for the public, and his fingers pecked the keys on the computer for the manuscript that went to the publisher, and his brain arranged the words on the screen. The ideas were Brand's and the text was Yancey's. Brand was the "author," Yancey was only the amanuensis.

My sister is a wonderful cook. She is trying to get her special-needs son ready and able to live on his own, but he does not have the attention span to be trusted on a stove, so she reworked a bunch of recipes for ordinaty meals to be prepared on a microwave only (it shuts off when the cycle is done, and you can't burn yourself on a heating element). I talked her into collecting them into a cookbook, and she talked me into doing the production. They are her recipes, so it's her name on the cover, but I did the pictures and arranged the text. I am not the "author" of No-Stove Cooking, she is.

Every book in the New Testament but one has a specified author, most of them identified in the text, but some (the Gospels and Acts) by historical tradition and contextual inferences. Yet, as we learn from Acts 21:37, The Greek language they were written in was not commonly spoken by ordinary Jews in Israel at the time. It was an international trade language spoken by educated people everywhere, like English is today, but not by most people in any particular provincial area (except Greece and Greek colonies). Some of the specified authors were not likely to know Greek at all, and certainly not well enough to write a whole Gospel. Except Revelation, the Greek text looks like it was written by somebody with poor Greek skills. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anywhere in most countries today you can walk into a store or restaurant frequented by tourists and order in English. In France they might pretend to not understand you (they are pretty pig-headed about their own language) but they do. In Israel the shop-keepers greeted me in English as I walked up (and I watched them greet Swedes and Germans and Spaniards in their own languages). But everybody knows English. Actually, not everybody. I once found myself lost in the back streets of some town in Holland, so I stopped to ask directions. Everybody in Holland knows English -- except this guy. He didn't know French or Spanish either. If he knew German, he wasn't about to admit it (the Dutch hate the Germans from WWII). I finally pointed on my map to the place where I wanted to go, and he brightened up, pointed down the street and said "Gerade aus," which was probably Dutch for "straight ahead" but sounded enough like the same thing in German, so I knew what he meant. I did some traipsing around the hinterlands of Germany and France and Spain, and there were whole towns where hardly anybody knew English. Fortunately I had learned enough of those languages in school, so with a dictionary I got along.

Israel today is like that. Almost everybody knows English -- except for the person in Haifa I tried to ask where Abigail street was, which I was looking for. If there is somebody nearby who knows English, they always jump in to help (mostly to practice their own language skills), but not that day. I finally showed her the name in my notes, and she brightened up and said "Oh, Ahvee-guy-ill" (the Hebrew pronunciation for Abigail) and then pointed me on my way. She could read English, but not understand what she was hearing me say. I could read Hebrew, but not speak it to be understood.

Some people -- mostly in the touristy places -- know the international trade language, but the common people (think: builders and farmers and fishermen) don't. Paul knew Greek, and maybe also Matthew (because he was a tax collector working for the Romans), but not Peter and probably most of the disciples. When they left Israel to travel around the Roman world with the gospel, the disciples had to learn enough Greek to buy food and lodging and ask directions, but that didn't make them good enough at it to write whole books. You can see this most clearly in the five New Testament books with John's name on them.

But first let me tell you something about the Greek language. Greek has participles, verbs inflected and used as adjectives. So does Hebrew. English does too, but we don't think of them that way. In the sentence "Using participles is hard," the word "using" is a participle. Many of us don't say things that way. Instead we might say "It's hard to use participles," which has exactly the same meaning, but uses an infinitive instead of a participle. Different people habitually make their sentences differently. That's how you can recognize a particular author, by their writing styles. Some people write in short sentences, others use long convoluted sentences. Some use short words, others use long words. You see these differences reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. The differences mostly disappear in translation, because there is only one person (or committee) setting the style for the whole translation. Anyway, the use of participles is one of those stylistic differences. We native English speakers don't even think about it, because participles are not how we think in English.

Jews who grew up speaking Hebrew or Aramaic, they already used participles a lot, so when they learned Greek, they still used them naturally, even while speaking Greek with a Semitic accent. Some of that Semitic accent comes through in the literalistic "translations" where you see "Jesus answered and said,..." Nobody says that kind of thing in natural English today. We just say "He said,... she said,..." It's a Hebrew accent, all through the Hebrew Old Testament, and in some (but not all) of the Greek New Testament books. The "and said" is often a participle in the original. The translators didn't use a participle in their translation, because it would have sounded funny in English. Consider Mark 12:26 where God speaks to Moses in the Burning Bush, which the oNIV renders in natural English "God said to him," but the Greek has a participle, which the KJV woodenly renders word-for-word "God spake unto him, saying," (although the quoted Hebrew text uses the more common waw-consecutive form rather than a participle).

Anyway, there is an esoteric use of the Greek participle called "genitive absolute" because it does not occur as the object of any preposition or verb or possessive that takes that case, but rather stands alone to indicate attendant (usually preceding) circumstances involving somebody other than the subject of the sentence. We have nothing like that in English (we use a dependent clause), nor in Hebrew (they used that waw-consecutive, like a string of "and"s), and it's peculiar enough that it's not taught to beginning Greek students. Mostly it gets used by expert Greek speakers -- a lot in Hebrews and Luke, but surprisingly not in James, where the Greek text is almost as convoluted as Hebrews.

Here is the thing: there are genitive absolutes all over the Gospel of John, but none at all in his other four books (maybe one in Revelation, but it's not in the usual form). Obviously, John had an amanuensis to compose the Greek for his Gospel, but the last book of the Bible (and maybe his letters, but they are too short to know for sure) had no such luxury. Revelation has a number of grammar problems, which led various copyists to try to correct them (leading to more textual variants than usual involving word substitutions or alternative spellings, but fewer changing only the word order); the strangeness doesn't detract from the truth of the message, but it does suggest that John was not a good Greek speaker, and he wrote it without help.

Me, when I'm trying to read 2Peter in Greek, it's a lot harder going than 1Peter. Did Peter get more skillful at writing Greek, or did he use a different amanuensis? 1Peter 5:12 suggests that Silvanus was amanuensis for that book (as also mentioned at the beginning of both of Paul's letters to Thessalonica), but not the second epistle. We know that Tertius admits to being Paul's amanuensis in Rom.16:22, and Paul added a greeting "in my own hand" to three other letters, which suggests that the rest of those letters also had an amanuensis. Does that make those letters less authoritative? Not any more than the Gospel according to Mark, which carried the Apostolic authority of Peter, even though he did not attach his name to it, or Luke which we assume (as according to church tradition) carried the Apostolic authority of Paul. ALL Scripture is God-breathed and profitable...
 

2016 February 6 -- Cars Are Not Going Away

When they aren't gushing over movies and personalities and such, WIRED magazine likes to pontificate about a brighter and happier future made possible through technology. The current (politics-driven) mantra is carbon footprint, so the cover story this month is the new Chevy Bolt electric car, nevermind that the multiple conversion of energy from fossil fuels to electrons to a chemical battery and then back to electrons and finally to motion burns more fuel than the single conversion from oil to miles. It's not like *I* care about carbon, we have lots of coal and gas right here in the USA, as soon as we can get rid of the political party blocking it.

But today I'm looking at the next article in the feature set, a guy who tells us how wonderful it was to go to LosAngeles and not drive. Mostly he used Uber. He spent about $200 and claims it would have cost him $500 to rent a car. He didn't mention the lost time waiting for his ride to show up. Time is money. He didn't mention the actual cost for a local resident to drive around town on the same errands. The amortized cost of ownership of my car (which I bought new) is somewhere around $2/day +gas. Many people buy their car used and service it themselves, which reduces that. If the author earns as much as the average tech person, his time is worth somewhere between $20 and $50/hour, which means waiting for Uber cost him more than he saved by not having his own rental. Uber may be great in large metro areas like New York and LA, but where I have lived for the last 15 years there is no public transportation at all. Bolivar MO (the county seat where I lived until last year) had a single cab that operated only during business hours, 5 days a week; this town doesn't even have that.

He admits to the divide between people with credit cards (and money, but he didn't mention that) to buy services, and people without, and offers a plaintive hope that somehow we can erase that divide. Not only is that not going to happen, but (apart from the very rich, who can afford to pay somebody at a quarter their salary to drive them around) car ownership offers a convenience factor in every part of this country except the big, dense cities like New York. I lived for a couple years in San Francisco, which has a pretty good public transit system. I could go anywhere in only two or three times as long as it took to drive and find a parking place. So I drove everywhere. Then I lived for a while in San Jose, where some parts of town were miles from public transportation, and the busses all stopped at night. I once had to walk 8 miles home when my car broke down at midnight. I don't have that car any more, and the car I have has stranded me only a couple times in the 26 years I've had it. The very rich can pay somebody to take them where they want to go, and the poor are stuck with public transportation (or not going), but car ownership is exceedingly liberating for the other 80% of the country. Nothing is going to change that, certainly not the wishful thinking of carbon-capped left-wing bigots.

The guy threw around a lot of numbers, but never in any way that you could actually do the math. But it's not hard to Google those numbers: The Department of Transportation gives numbers like 255 million registered vehicles a couple years ago, perhaps two for every three people, man, woman, and child. Many never go anywhere (who's going to drive the third car in a two-driver family?) and most stay parked 23 out of every 24 hours. He says, "We can't just keep building more roads. That only leads to more cars, more highways, more traffic..." What nonsense! We already have more cars than people to drive them, and we're killing off new people faster than they are born, so more roads will not increase the traffic.
 

2016 February 5 -- Which Day Is "That" Day?

He began his mini-series eschatology teaching two or three weeks ago. Me, I try to switch off when they start preaching about things they don't know, or that are built up on trying to make sense of a small number of Scriptures, and ignoring a bunch of others. If you read some verses, you come out pre-millennial, read others and you come out post-mill or a-mill. I liked what one preacher said in my hearing many years ago: "I'm a pan-millennialist ['pan' is Greek for "all"], because it will all pan out in the end." If you and I are living in obedience to Jesus Christ, it doesn't really matter what the future details are, because they  don't affect what we do today. The end of the chapter tells us to be careful how we live, so His Coming doesn't catch us doing Bad Stuff. Better not to do Bad Stuff because it's Bad Stuff, and not because we might get caught with our hand in the cookie jar.

Anyway, this guy was trying to argue that "that day" in Matt.24:36 is a different time from "those days" in verses 19 and 29. Verses 19 and 29 came and went in 70AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, but verse 36 is still future. There are people who argue carefully that the whole chapter refers to 70AD (we call them "preterists" or Seventh-Day Adventists), but most conservative (meaning they believe the Bible is true) theologians argue that it's all still future. Me, I'm pan-millennialist. I won't get caught with my hand in the cookie jar if my hand is never in the cookie jar.

What bothered me about this guy was his different hermeneutic for "that" (Greek 'ekeinos') between verse 36 and the previous uses of the same word in the same chapter. I would guess he does not spend a lot of time reading the Bible in Greek, because if he did, he wouldn't make that mistake. I'm reading in John 16 this morning, where verse 13 tells us "when that Spirit of Truth comes, he will..." Does Jesus mean that there are two different Spirits, the Comforter in verse 7, and then some other Spirit in verse 13? I don't think so, and I suspect this guy would agree. The Greek word 'ekeinos' is used all over the Bible to mean "the one I just now told you about, not some other guy."

Matt.24 is no different. The word 'ekeinos' appears ten times in that chapter, first in verse 19 "those days" referring to the days he began to describe in verse 4 in answer to the disciples' question "When?" He's still talking about the same period of time (not some other time, as my preacher friend probably would agree) in verse 19, and again (twice) in verse 22, then again in verse 29 when the sun and moon will be darkened and stars will fall, and "the Son of Man will come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory and will send out his angels with a loud trumpet to gather his Chosen..." Yup, all those things will happen "immediately" after "those days," the same days he was telling about earlier in the same chapter (and not some other time). Was there a loud trumpet in 70AD and were all the Christians gathered to the Coming of Jesus? I don't think so. That's the problem with Preterist theology, it doesn't match the facts of history. "Coming in the clouds" might be metaphor in verse 30, but what about the trumpet? Why weren't the Christians all gathered up to meet Jesus?

"Those days" is repeated again in verse 38, but this guy now wants to tell us that "that day" (verse 36) is now referring to some other, different day than what Jesus started to tell us about at the beginning of the chapter. Verse 36 is singular, the other five references are plural, is that significant? Probably: the general time (plural "those days") can be recognized by all the signs Jesus told about, but the particular instant in time ("that day and hour") is not known, not even by Jesus, but only the Father knows.

There is a use of the same demonstrative in verse 43 without a noun (which is not helpful in the present discussion), but the remaining three times 'ekeinos' appears in Matt.24, Jesus is telling about the faithful servant who is doing his duty when the Master returns. The servant is introduced in verse 45, then in verse 46 Jesus calls "that servant" blessed. Which servant, the one he just told us about in the previous verse, or some other servant? Why would we want to understand 'ekeinos' in verse 46 to be totally different from 'ekeinos' in verse 36? But if "that servant" in verse 48, the same guy, hypothetically were to behave badly, then the Master of "that servant" in verse 50, the same guy, there's only one servant described in all seven verses, the Master would punish him severely when He comes.

When we start cherry-picking different hermeneutics to fit our pre-determined theology, then the theology is not from the Bible, but the other way around. Don't do that.

Maybe the Christians in 70AD remembered what Jesus said and got out of town before the Romans came, maybe not, I don't know. I don't think this guy knows either, since the only contemporary historian of that event (Josephus) mentions Christians only once in his entire history, and not in that context. Three centuries later Eusebius said something like that, but he wasn't there at the time, and he didn't cite any eyewitnesses, so maybe he was inventing it to make the Good Guys look good. We don't know.

Maybe Daniel's "Abomination of Desolation" had multiple fulfillments. Certainly most people recognize it in Antiochus Epiphanes, so much so that atheists try to suppose the prophecy was written after the event. Jesus placed it in the future, which would be a second fulfillment. Was that 70AD? Is there a third? We don't know. Me, I'm a pan-millennialist. What I do today deserves much more of my attention than what God will do "in the sweet bye and bye." Jesus said not to worry about the future, it will take care of itself.

PermaLink (with additional remarks from John 18)
 

2016 February 3 -- Democracy, the Worst Possible Government

She was complaining to me about the Iowa results. She hates both Hillary (if she told me why, I don't remember) and Trump, so she was hoping for Bernie something-or-other, and he won in her caucus, but lost big to Hillary (results this morning gave Clinton a "vanishingly small" win). So she wanted me to tell her who to vote for. As if I knew. She doesn't even like my politics.

I told her to vote for a third party, it has more effect than voting for a major party. Do the math. If you vote a major party, you will be among maybe 100 million votes, so your vote is one millionth of a percent. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning on a sunny day than affecting that outcome. If the third party pulls in one million votes (including yours), then you are 100 times more effective. More importantly, if you vote for a major party, nobody cares what you think, they are just happy you voted for them. If you vote for a minor party, the major candidates look very closely to see how they can modify their own position to recapture your vote. You actually have an effect far bigger than a tiny fraction of a percent of the outcome in that particular election.

She voted for Obama because of his race, she figured it would improve our standing among all the countries with black presidents. Her brother-in-law spends a lot of time on mission trips to Africa, and he says the Africans liked Bush a lot better than Obama. I didn't bother to tell her (she wouldn't have listened anyway) that when they had white rule, Rhodesia was the richest country in Africa (even the blacks were better off financially than the blacks in neighboring countries); now with black rule -- in her lifetime -- renamed Zimbabwe is now the poorest country in the world (or second behind Haiti, also black rule, they occasionally trade off for last place). The USA is still ahead of whoever is in second place, but not as far ahead as we were under Bush. I doubt it's the color of the face, but you gotta wonder. Especially Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, from top to bottom in one generation.

If I were quicker, I could have suggested she vote for a Latino, so to improve our standing in all those countries with Hispanic governments, but she also doesn't like Cruz or Rubio. She didn't say why, but she looks at the left-wing news media (is there any other kind?) and believes them. Ben Carson is black, but "he has no experience" -- which is true, but it was also true of Obama. The media disparage all the Republicans because of their party, and not for their qualifications. The reason "global warming" is so important today is because when Bush was President, they hated him for his religion, but they couldn't say that, so they had to find some other way to demonize him. They couldn't get him on education, he was to the left of the Dems on that. They couldn't get him on AIDS, he was to the left of the Dems on that too. They couldn't get him on the war, they whole country supported that. So they picked on climate change, which Bush was actually on the side of science but nobody knew that. Politics (read: handounts) still overwhelms the science, but the "scientists" have their hand in the cookie jar, and the Dems support government funding of every stupid project they hear of, while the Reps try not to (but not very hard).

The bottom line is that this person -- there are probably millions of voters like her -- will vote a "Presidential face" over any substantial issue, or maybe whatever she sees on the boob tube. And you wonder why this country is going down the tubes? I guess it was Churchill who famously said "Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for everything else that has been tried." I've been watching "The Truth Project" videos for the last couple weeks, and their Session #10 on "The American Experiment" is compelling, every patriotic American should see it. Democracy is unworkable apart from a moral (religious, as in Christian) people. We are losing that here, and the government must make up for that loss with tyranny. We are still way ahead of whoever is in second place (they didn't say that) but everybody is actively trying to close the gap. I reminded her that there are a lot of worse places to live -- like Iraq under ISIS. Nobody disputes that, just look at how many people want in, compared to how many want out.
 

2016 February 1 -- Half a Computer

I guess I'm now at the age when most people are looking back instead of forward -- there's certainly more to look back at for this age, but I tell people I'm a "Php.3:13 guy" (where Paul "forgets those things that are behind, and presses forward to the high mark of the calling in Christ Jesus" or something like that). But this guy called. I didn't recognize his name, but he seems to remember me. He's doing some kind of computer history, and wondered what I remember from those early days. I thought about it and came up with "Half a Computer".
 

2016 January 27 -- Whitewash

I'm watching this movie about a guy working for a futuristic company whose business is to write love letters for people who (I guess) are not so verbal or romantic themselves, so they buy this company's products. His own love life is down the drain, and the main story line seems to be his growing romantic attachment with the female voice of his new operating system. I'm doing this in small chunks, because it's hard for me to suspend disbelief in such a scenario, especially when "she" starts doing the feminine version of "love" (demanding, see "Love in Fiction").

I keep thinking about my own relational failures, most recently a guy who (near as I can tell) sold his soul for a mess of pottage, or something like that. Like the real women in the fictional movie guy's life, he doesn't want anything to do with me, but apparently (reading between the lines) somebody at church is putting the screws on him to go through the steps of Biblical reconciliation -- as if they knew what that meant -- but they certainly are not paying much attention to his efforts. So I get these emails that obviously were written not to me, but rather for the benefit of whoever he is BCC'ing them to: he uses churchy words in ways that betray a total indifference to (and disrespect for) truth and justice. It's like the Pharisees, whitewashed on the outside for people to see, but inside full of gangrene and putrifaction, and Jesus doesn't seem to be available to call attention to it. Like the guy in the movie, he's not writing his own thoughts to somebody he cares about, he's just performing to a script. It would seem that whoever is putting him up to this exercise in futility must be running a factory seminar, checking off items on the checklist without verifying their credibility. Jesus never did it that way, and neither did I: different people have different needs, and you need to address them individually, not on some assembly line. It's sad, but he's ignoring me, so there's nothing I can do about it -- other than weep. sigh

The movie got too kinky and I gave up on it. As the Prophet said, "Woe is me, for I live in a land of unclean lips." There must be a lesson somewhere in there for me.
 

2016 January 22 -- Spiritual Blindness

I'm reading through the Gospel According to John (that's its full title) this month -- and probably most of next month too: reading in Greek goes a lot slower -- and I just finished chapter 9 where Jesus draws a lesson from the man born blind, that "there is none so blind as those who will not see" (the phrase may not be Biblical, but the idea is).

Far from being born blind, my disability (if you can call it that) is that I think slowly but very comprehensively. Part of it is personality type (see "How to Win" a month ago), and part of it is a childhood that did not encourage mental haste and superficiality. I do not regret who God made me to be -- indeed it enables me to be Right more often than other people, which in the long run is not a bad place to be, besides it's a little late in my life to be changing that kind of thing -- sort of like the man born blind, it may take me a while to "see" everything, but when I get there, I can see better than the "blind" (Judger) church leaders.

Anyway, I used to have this friend, but he came under the influence of those blind guides [Matt.15:14] and fell into the ditch. Today's Proverb:

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. -- Prov.22:24,25 oNIV
That's his problem, in spades. It started off as anger (see "I Am Judge" for how he might have been thinking) or as I sometimes call it, "not-anger" (because it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but "anger is evil so I don't do that"), and then morphed into something else. So he decided that the best way to bully Tom is to demand a face-to-face meeting (see "Cowardly Face-to-Face" two months ago). When I got tired of it, I did my homework and agreed to meet with him, but he backed out. It's not the meeting that is important to him, but the bullying. He can't do that if I'm prepared.

Despite the obvious fact that it's now known to be a pretense, not a genuine offer, he still demands a meeting. This week he sent another email,

I'm open to talking on the phone, meeting in person, and making accommodations for your disability of not being able to function in real time.
It's a self-contradictory lie on the face of it. To the extent that I am not able to function in real time (which is reasonably accurate), it is incompatible with meeting in person or talking on the phone. If he would just start thinking,or if he had read any of my emails in the last four months, he would know that. If he won't read my email, why should I read (and reply to) his? If he has so little self-respect (or Christian virtue, respecting me as he wants to be respected, either way) that he cannot spend a few minutes to read my emails to him, nor even to read what he sends me, then any pretense of offering me a relationship of meeting in person or accommodating my requirements is necessarily a lie and a fraud, and his continuing in this sin for several months is evidence of unbelief. He included a Trojan Horse to notify him when I opened it, but I have a PhD in computer science, I know how to defeat those kinds of things. If I wanted to, but anybody sending Trojan horses doesn't want me to read it.

Maybe (this is only a guess) he has Clue Deficit Disorder. Being a Judger informs him (wrongly, in this case, as most often) that any additional thought about his interaction with me is unnecessary. He already has determined (again without basis in fact, but "J"s don't worry about little details like Truth) that Tom is an idiot undeserving of any actual engagement, so it doesn't matter what foolish things he does to me. He just needs to put on a good show for whatever audience he's really doing this for, and they are also all Judgers who won't be thinking about it either. Isn't it amazing what foolishness you can get into once you abandon God's Word and its command to "Love your neighbor as yourself." The Bible is full of rules and Do's and Don'ts to help non-thinking Judgers muddle along without doing too much damage, but you actually need to obey those rules for them to work. He sent me a paper copy of printed instructions with his church's logo, which he himself was in violation of. sigh

I mention all this because (like the man born blind) there's a lesson here. Once you head down the path of self-deception, getting back on the path of Truth is very difficult. It's like that "blind spot" he likes to accuse me of, you can't see it because you are blind there, but you can run experiments to prove it (see my blog post three months ago). The false accusations I take to mean he has the blind spot. The guy probably doesn't realize that his offer is not only not true, it's (as the atheists like to say) not even false. He's a Judger. He stopped thinking four months ago, and he's running on autopilot, or maybe only copy/pasting whatever the guys at church tell him to say. I know he does that kind of thing, because I was his ghost-writer for a while way back when he was being friendly to me. I think of it as being a zombie. When I had the opportunity (and before I realized how futile it was) I tried to encourage him to do his own thinking, but he doesn't have the personality for it. He's a good follower, but lousy at choosing good people to follow. Like the man born blind, he needs somebody to lead him around, but if his guides are also blind (as you know, church leaders are all Judgers, who like this guy are not open to better information when it becomes available), they both fall into the ditch. Jesus said so. Jesus is the true shepherd, follow him. But you must be able to read and understand what you are reading. Zombies can't do that, they can only twitch under the control of their master.

There is none so blind as those who will not see.

Fortunately, I have other more friendly friends. One of them (I think he's "TP" like me) recently sent me a video series "The Truth Project". I expect to have something to say about it after I've seen more, but so far there's nothing to disagree with except maybe the glitzy production, which comes off a little fake (not exactly what they might want people to perceive in a program about "truth" ;-) If that turns out to be its worst failing, I will be able to recommend it without reservation.
 

2016 January 20 -- Determinism in Video Games and Life

I almost didn't read the story, but then I saw that the game designer is a Christian and I sort of wanted to see how an atheistic rag like WIRED would treat his faith (with respect, actually). But what completely caught my attention was in the last quarter, where they took a side trail to explain the metaphysics of video games and how this particular game isn't all that different from the mainstream, except for its heavy emotional load.

I've written a few computer games (see "Tennis" and some of the remarks on Tiny Basic), but more recently I use the phrase "video game" as a metaphor for a thin cardboard imitation of reality that doesn't take as much skill as the real thing, or else trying to figure out how something works by trial and error instead of being given instructions. Here in this article was the first time I saw somebody admit that video games are fundamentally different from real life. Or maybe they're not:

All video games are deterministic; just some mask it better than others. [Jan.2016, p.95]
The game featured in the article was brutally deterministic. They explained it as arising from the faith of the designer, who believes that God decides what is going to happen and the player just needs to get with the program. I guess that's why I grumble about working with inadequate documentation as "the video game method." The theology is closer to Calvinism than Arminian, and I'm sort of there myself -- but not quite. I see no evidence in the Bible that God forces people against their will into His Heaven... Hmmm, maybe video games are like that too: the game (generally) does not force you to completion, but there is a story arc that the designer worked into the game, and you must follow that arc if you want to get to the end. There is purpose in the game, and Christians -- probably including Arminians -- believe there is purpose in life, which God has more control of than we do.

It's an interesting metaphor.
 

2016 January 13 -- Eyewitness Accounts

Five years ago I started reading through the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek (see also "In Hebrew"). I need to look up a lot of words, so it goes slower than reading it in English, and I get a different perspective on what I'm reading. This week it struck me that a lot of what the Gospel of John has Jesus saying resembles Hebrew poetry in form (see details here). It's like the Evangelist is writing with a Hebrew accent. The atheists like to claim that John was written late in the second or third century by a mature church -- perhaps trying to counter the gnostic heretics, but certainly (from their perspective) not an eyewitness account -- but the style of writing doesn't fit that hypothesis. Neither does one of the oldest fragments we have, dated to about 125AD, nor (as Alfred Edersheim points out) do the accurate Semitic observations concerning (for example) the Samaritan woman at the well. People who make that claim simply don't read Greek and Hebrew, nor do they know history.

A few months ago I went to a debate between neo-atheist Bart Ehrman and a local pastor. One of arguments he considered compelling is recent research showing eyewitness testimony to be unreliable. Not at the debate -- good quality replies never happen in real time, as I argued elsewhere -- but afterward, several evangelical scholars pointed out that the research does not reflect on Biblical eyewitness accounts for several good reasons, most notably that the research was done in a modern literate culture, where people do not need to remember details they can Google on their phones. The Bible was written by people in an aural culture: books were far too expensive for people to have easy access, and there was no internet at all, so people remembered details much more carefully. But minor variations in details do not invalidate the main points, and we need to be careful we don't try to impose a modern every-detail-exactly-right precision on people who didn't think that way. Luke has the order of the three Temptations of Christ different from Matthew. We can infer from the difference that neither of them was intending to teach a particular order, but only to tell us that all three happened. Anyway, nobody was there except Jesus and the Devil, so the evangelists got their stories second-hand. Perhaps Jesus himself told it both ways. Maybe both sequences are true, for example if some of the temptations were repeated, then depending on which ones you pick out to tell, you get different sequences. Mostly we don't have enough information to disprove or impugn the eyewitness accounts, that's not their purpose.
 

2016 January 5 -- Religion Has Consequences

He wrote this novel I think in 2006, during the heat and controversy of Bush's war in Iraq. The hero has spent time in Afghanistan as an under-cover CIA agent, so he presumably has some insight into how they think. It's fiction, of course, and I doubt author Alex Berenson got his "insight" from that kind of direct contact, so you need to demythologize the interpretation. Here from page 205 of The Silent Man:
Wells thought back to the hate of the United States he'd seen during his years in the mountains. Hate fueled by religion, and by the bitter truth that Americans had so much and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan so little. The anger only increased since the United States invaded Iraq. So many jihadis, so eager to die, to strap bombs to their chests and tear themselves to pieces.
The "religion" part is most important, because the "hate" part is derived entirely from the religious differences and their consequences. The economic prosperity of the USA and northern Europe is a direct consequence of the Protestant Reformation and the culture of individual accountability before God that the Reformation taught. No other culture or civilization ever developed as much prosperity and technological progress as started in Germany, moved to England, and thence to the USA (but is now on the wane here), generally about a century after that region's Protestant dominance in the world.

The Protestants used to teach their adherents that we are responsible to God to do Good. Modern evangelicalism tends to teach instead the unBiblical notion that we cannot do Good, but God loves us anyway. That often discourages people from trying. Doing Good (treating other people as you yourself would want, also known as the Golden Rule) creates wealth and value in the world for everybody. Selfish behavior destroys wealth. Islam is similar to evangelicalism, because there is little motivation for doing Good to others: you give alms, but success is "inshallah" (if God is willing) more than our own efforts, and yes, that is also taught to Christians, but the focus is different. Americans have a culture of "better" (aim your guns more carefully, so to hit the target dead-on) while the joke is that Muslims "spray and pray." Why bother trying harder, if it makes no difference, if the gods alone determine the outcome? That's why modern science and technology sprang up in a strongly Christian culture, and nowhere else ever.

If the jihadis were less eager to die, and more eager to do Good to other people -- even their enemies -- then their country would also be wealthy. Bombs and bullets and hate destroy wealth, not create it. The USA would not have invaded Iraq if they had not first invaded us (and our friends). We don't want war, we want wealth. We know how to create wealth. We are losing it as the atheists take over the cultural instruments of power, but there is still plenty of gas in the tank to run for decades more. England and Germany are still doing well long after they gave up their hold on Christian faith -- not as well as those who kept the faith longer, but the consequences last far longer than the faith the gendered it.
 

2016 January 1 -- I Really Want to Know

People who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar prefer not to talk about it, so I don't have a very high expectation of getting any kind of reasonable answer, but I really wish he had the courage* and integrity to tell me...
How do you reconcile four or more weeks of unrelenting false accusations and slander with God's command to "Love your neighbor as yourself"? Does anybody really like to be falsely accused? Especially to other people? I really need to know.
If he likes that kind of thing happening to him, then I might have a few of my own, sort of to return his "kindness" to me. Or failing that,
Do you really expect God to let you into His Heaven while you are still unrepentant and still continuing to do harm to other people? It wouldn't be Heaven for them (the other people) if He did that, would it?
Or, if he somehow expects to magically stop this harmful behavior at the end of his life (and not before then),
What makes you think you will enjoy not doing it in Heaven, when it seems so delightful today?
I really want to know. Me, I think Heaven is for people who enjoy doing Good. I hope so, anyway [Prov.8:13].

The only credible alternative explanation I can think of for doing evil because it's evil is the loss of mental faculties: being stupid, bamboozled, or angry. Anger is a temporary form of stupidity; bamboozlement is longer-term but still (in principle) curable. I don't think he is congenitally or pharmacologically stupid, but after three months he's still not over it, so it's probably not ordinary anger either. Anybody who can remain angry that long is willfully violating the command of God, and therefore evil. So it must be that somebody has deceived him. Yeah, that must be it. I bet I know who. Maybe he doesn't have enough moral compass to steer clear of such dangers. Like icebergs, they can be hazardous to your life. Don't go there.

* What was that line he used? Oh yes, "Man up!"

Postscript, 3 weeks later: The guy responded to my posting but pointedly did not answer any question in it nor even say anything true and meaningful (he is probably ashamed of his behavior, or too cowardly to engage me on a level playing field). Considering the trojan horse buried in his email, maybe I should reconsider the "evil" option. If insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result, what is expecting the same result? Obviously, it's the outcome he wants. God is gracious (even to the wicked) and I try to be also [Matt.5:44], so I gave him what he wants (see "Biblical Conflict Resolution").
 

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