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2018 March 19 -- Providence

So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided." Gen.22:14 [oNIV]
There are many ways to divide the world up into two categories, some of them useful for understanding things. For example, some atheists ask hard questions -- which they hope cannot be answered -- as a means of justifying their irresponsible theology. I knew one such guy who came to the professor's Bible study. His problem is that we answered his questions -- and then he came up with another. So I asked him, "If we answer this question, will you become a Christian?" He said "No." It seems he had this "relationship" (his word, meaning a sexual thing with a girl) which if he became a Christian, he would have to give it up. And he was Biblically correct, nevermind what the other Christians in the group were trying to tell him. The other kind of atheist has honest questions, and when the Christian apologists are asleep at the wheel (like my colleagues in the Bible study) and the bus goes over the edge of the cliff, Christianity makes no sense to them. I was thinking that I might have been one of those atheists, except for Providence.

I think really slow. Not stupid, just slow. Or maybe no slower than anybody else, just that I consider all the angles, and that takes time. Thinking fast makes misteaks. People who pride themselves on their fast thinking can't understand that. Providence. So most clever young guys are asking the Hard Questions in their early adolescence, but I didn't get around to them for another ten years or so. By then God had also provided somebody willing and able to answer them. Which is rather remarkable, given that the Christian church in the last hundred years has abdicated its responsibility to "Go make disciples." Preachers and evangelists seem to be satisfied with making (nominal) converts. There are going to be a lot of surprised people on Judgment Day. "But Lord, I walked the aisle and said the magic words!" Jesus will say to them what he told his disciples, "IF you keep my commandments, then God loves you." People who tell you God's love is unconditional are liars and thieves -- or at least they don't read their Bibles. But I'm getting off-topic.

So here I am thinking about (God's) Providence, and about how the (English) word is derived from the verb to provide, and how maybe the whole theology of Providence might be built on Gen.22:14 "In the mountain of the Lord it will be provided." I decided that would be a good verse to be able to quote from memory -- perhaps in Hebrew to my Jewish atheist friend: "B'har Adonai yire'ah." Oh wait, the Hebrew verb does not mean to supply (the modern English sense of "provide") but rather to "see," that is, "to make pro-vision." It should read,"In the mountain of the Lord it will be seen." Oh my. God did not magically put a ram in the bramble at the top of the mountain, He used natural law to get the animal there. Then He told Abraham about it at the right time -- again probably normal physics (the ram bleated when Abe was ready to listen, and not before). There are plenty of true violate-the-laws-of-physics miracles in the Bible, but let's not belittle the awesome power of God by pretending every little fortuitous circumstance is a "miracle." God is so in control of His Creation that He can make things happen without miracles, if He so chooses. That's Providence.

2018 March 14 -- Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Neal Stephenson is unique among novelists, that he understands the geek mind, so he tends to be recommended by geeks. I previously read both his Cryptonomicon and his earlier Snow Crash (reviewed two years ago) because of references in (I think it was) WIRED magazine. Last year while visiting my friend, the only other guy I know of in the whole world who is both a serious Christian and also an unashamed (MBTI) Thinker, he mentioned approvingly a book he had just finished, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. So when I saw it was in the local library, I added my name to the list of people waiting to read it. It came up and I was notified, but by the time I went to check it out, the book had vanished -- perhaps a library staff member wanted to read it? -- but a couple months later it showed up again.

I was immediately disappointed to see the author(s) "Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland."  Usually when a successful author starts taking on a co-author, it means he is retiring and the quality goes down substantially (see the farce Griffin's successor made of his thriller series in my post  "New Town Woes" slightly over a year ago; Tom Clancy's successor had the same problem). Female authors (and male authors emulating them) write for a different audience than me. I knew all that a year ago (see "Feminazi Coming-of-Age" last year). This book reads like Galland was the primary author -- essentially ghosting for Stephenson, but adding her feminine values -- and even writing in the first-person of the obligatory (smartest person) female lead (two of them), but he did some first-person inserts from the male perspective. It's definitely post-modern, and if you believe that nonsense you might like it.

The gutter language and hostility against religion is somewhat subdued compared to the two of his earlier novels I previously read, but this is another time-travel thing based on the unscientific atheist "multiverse" alternative explanation for the fact that the universe we live in is fine-tuned for human habitation, which makes no sense at all apart from a God Who designed it that way. Even the atheists recognize that religion is very significant in all of history except the last hundred years or so, so our female character is not quite as hostile to it when speaking to people she visits in the past. Or perhaps Galland is not personally as hostile to religion as Stephenson; I'm not about to read some of her past novels to find out. (more...)


2018 March 10 -- Blue State Taxes the Poor More

Doing my taxes this year, the first full year in Oregon, I noticed a peculiar anomaly: This is the first year in my life I get to pay substantially more income tax to the state than to the Feds. I think a number of years ago I once paid a trivial amount -- maybe $20 -- to California and nothing to the IRS, but that hardly counts. Oregon has a flat tax rate (except below the Federal poverty line they reduce the tax rate slightly) but a substantially lower standard deduction, so even though the highest Oregon rate is (slightly) below the lowest Federal rate, low-income people can wind up paying a bigger share of the load to the state than they do to the Feds. No big deal, the tax system has always been about the rich and powerful abusing the poor and weak for as long as there have been taxes, at least two or three thousand years, and for all the left-wing claims about "not one dime" in new taxes for lower-income citizens, they still do it as much as or more than the right-wingers. Now I have ammunition (personal experience) to fire back when I hear that nonsense.

By the way, this year I get to pay some of that "not one dime" extra tax that the left-wingers imposed on low-income people, the second-highest tax increase on bottom-bracket taxpayers in the history of the country. It's all part of the lie that is ObamaCare. Everything about it is a lie. Oh well, paying taxes is better than not being taxed (which usually means you have no money). Been there, done that, rich (and paying taxes) is better.

2018 March 6 -- Eunuchs Losing the CyberWar

The title on the anthology is Combat, but it refers specifically to techno-combat, which (according to the editor who was also the author of the first short novel in the collection) The Hunt for Red October revived the American interest in military fiction after the VietNam war fiasco soured the whole nation on the military. I'm a techie, I'm more interested in the technology than in fisticuffs (see "Violent Fiction" four years ago), so these stories are mostly interesting. Except the one about cyber-war. Like all these techno thrillers, there's a lot of description about what's going on, but unlike the others, there aren't enough specifics for me to believe they got it right. Or maybe I know more about the technology, so I'm more demanding.

The problem is that these geeks (Bad Guys and Good Guys alike) just swish right in and control the military computers in the other country in a few minutes. Maybe they can do that, but if so, the military programmers are idiots. My first full-time job out of college was programming for the military, and I didn't know very many idiots there.

Now it is a fact (known to me, but not many others) that the Unix security model is broken, and the story mentioned several times gaining "root" access (which is a unix term), so maybe they really are all idiots. I don't believe it. A good secure computer system cannot be penetrated without the active help of somebody inside. Fred Cohen, the guy who invented computer viruses, said it took less than an hour to gain root access on any mainframe -- but he did it with Trojan horses (software that pretends to be other than it is) which persuaded real people with root access to run them. Maybe that's still true, and the story is merely disinformation ("don't try this at home, folks, because it won't work") like MacGyver opening locks and disabling burglar alarms with his Swiss army knife. Many (perhaps most) of the security holes in modern operating systems are flaws caused by a very bad programming language (C and C++). I read once that where Unix (programmed in C) had something like 159 known security flaws, the MacOS (programmed in Pascal) had six. That was 30 years ago, when there really was a MacOS (which I still use, it's more robust than anything sold today). Now everything is either Unix or a unix-wannabe, all programmed in C. So maybe they really are all idiots. I still don't believe it.

Yes, hackers get into military computers now and then -- because it really is unix -- but certainly not as easily as this story wants you to believe.

2018 February 22 -- Unsafe At Any Speed

Texas drivers, I learned, 90% of them are untrained, stupid, and/or sociopathic. Nobody told them how to drive safely, they can't figure it out on their own, and they don't give a darn what kind of danger they put other drivers in. But the police have been properly traind (except in the city of Wyle). Oregon drivers, there are only 60% or 70% making life miserable for the rest of us, but the police are among them.

Oregon, Texas, Missouri and California all have as part of their Vehicle Code the "Basic Speed Law" but only California makes knowing it part of the requirement for getting a license. As explained in the California booklet for getting a driver's license, if you are going too fast for safety (even if it's below the posted speed limit) you are speeding. If somebody is tailgating you, slow down. The Calif book said that too, but nobody else mentions it. That is the only correct and reasonable interpretation of the law, and it is the only known way to get rid of tailgaters, but only 95% of them. The other 5% are sociopaths, and when you find yourself in the same room with a sociopath, you leave the room ASAP.

Oregon drivers prefer to be familiar with their obstructing-traffic law, which they all -- including the police, as far as I can tell -- interpret to mean that the posted speed limit is a lower limit, and if you are driving below the limit, you are obstructing traffic, even if there's a vacant lane next to you. In 2005 the Oregon appeals court disagreed (State vs Tiffin), but the cops are not trained on case law.

So here I am on a rainy night, the only car on the road, maybe two or three cars pass once or twice every five or ten minutes -- usually after some encouragement from me: First I blink my brake lights at them twice quickly without slowing down, which gets rid of about a third of them. Then I slow down veeerrry gently, flashing my brake lights at them, blink ... blink ... blink, then faster as I get slower, and that gets rid of the other half. The last 5%, I look for a safe place to pull out so they can go by. Usually they are very unhappy at me for letting them by (honk or salute), but it's the right thing to do, so I do it. You can't do that on the freeways, so I stay off the freeways. Except very late at night. I plan my trips to and from Portland to do the interstate-only southern half of the trip in the dead of night.

Portland to GrantsPass is about 250 miles, about half I can do off the interstate, and half of that I had only safe drivers behind me. Maybe 30 or 40 cars or pickups came up unsafely behind me, and all but one of them took my advice and passed. The one idiot was a cop. I drive a little sports car, and his patrol car is bigger, so when he's hanging on my bumper his bright lights -- even in the non-bright setting -- shine down on my mirrors making it very difficult for me to see the already hard to see lines on the wet pavement. When they do that to me, I need to duck my head and shift to one side or the other to get that glare out of my eyes. I guess that changes my perspective of the road compared to my fenders (that's the only way to know if you are centered in the lane), which might cause my position in the lane to shift. He said I was weaving back and forth. Well Duh! You are making it unsafe for me to drive, and I'm doing the best I can. I didn't say that. I didn't even think of why I might be weaving back and forth until after several hours of careful analysis. I think slow. Good thing too, my first reaction (after an hour of hard thinking) was disappointment that he didn't give me a ticket. I could have won on the grounds of entrapment. Probably not. Anyway, I don't want to drive back to Eugene to fight it.

Then I realized that the obstructing-traffic law, which he said I was violating, said something about "reasonable," and I needed to look up the exact wording. I did that today, which is how I found out about State vs Tiffin 202 OR App 199 (2005). But I didn't know that for the next three hours of my remaining drive home, so I imagined how I would defend myself. First, subpoena the arresting officer as a witness for the defense. The last time I got a ticket (45+ years ago) I prepared to defend it, and the arresting officer didn't show up, so the case was dismissed without my getting to use all the prep. Not gonna happen next time. Not if I must drive a couple hundred miles to be there. Maybe not anyway, if I put all that work into it. But he cannot skip out on a subpoena.

So I can ask him in court, "How far from the defendant's vehicle were you when you first saw it? ... Did you measure the defendant's speed when you were that far away from him? No? Then you cannot say to this court that the defendant was in violation of section 811.130 before you began to threaten his life?" He won't like that one. "How heavy is your cruiser? You don't know? I have here the specified weights of several police cars used by your department, do you recognize your cruiser among them? Do you believe these numbers to be accurate? Now, how big is a Miata? I have here a data sheet I downloaded from the internet, do you recognize the defendant's car here? Do you know what happens when a 4000 pound car rear-ends a 2000 pound car at 55 miles per hour? And if the larger car or pickup rides a little higher than the Miata, it goes right over the top and takes the driver's head off. Are you prepared to tell this court under oath that the driver of a small car being tailgated by a larger car is not reasonably in fear for his life? Remember, this is a rainy night, your bright lights are shining down on his mirrors, the driver cannot see your light-bar, he cannot even see the road in the dangerous condition you created for him."

"811.130 refers to 'in a manner that impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.' Would you please tell this court whether violation of a different section of the Vehicle Code constitutes a 'reasonable movement of traffic.' Are you familiar with 811.100? ... Then you don't know if the defendant was acting in compliance with 811.100 or not, do you?" Or even if he does know it, I can turn to the judge to point out that the arresting officer knew that he was issuing a citation that he knew to be false and unenforceable, and that making me drive 260 miles to defend this case constitutes unreasonable harrassment. But judges can make the law mean anything they want it to, so I probably wouldn't win anyway.

So for the next hour or so I tried to think of how I could persuade a cop not to give me a tciket. No. Can. Do. Cops get into that business because they are control freaks, so nothing you can say or do will change their mind -- except a higher power (which I ain't). But it was three hours of driving for which I needed no chemical stimulants (caffeine) at all. Only two cans the whole trip.

But I know more now than I did last week. He can't ticket me when there a vacant lane to the left, because I'm not impeding traffic when there's no traffic to impede. I'm not impeding traffic when the only traffic is the patrol car who chooses not to pass. And the "2-second rule" is only safe for dry daylight driving (and according to many experts, is inadequate for even that), wet nights require greater distance for safety, and he was denying me that safety. And I'll probably get pulled over again: Ore-gone seems to be the only state in the union where drivers believe they have a Constitutional right to drive 20mph over the posted or statutory limit in the right lane (without passing), and the cops support them in that belief. This is not a state any reasonable person would choose to grow old in -- and maybe that (not growing old) is what will happen to me. Oh wait, I'm already old. Doubly damned. sigh

2018 February 14 -- Repealing the Laws of Nature

A news item in last month's issue of the IEEE Spectrum (professional society house organ for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, of which I am a member): "The Netherlands' Carbon Dilemma: Sequester or Recycle?" The motivation for this silly action by the government of Holland is the absurd notion that we humans are sponsible for the current spate of slightly warmer temperatures, and that a small number of leftist governments (not including the two largest nations in the world) can take it upon themselves to reverse that effect globally.

First the premise is wrong. Did you ever hear of Greenland? It's a very large island -- much bigger on the maps than it really is in nature, because it's so far north that the perspective is wrong -- which is covered with ice hundreds of feet deep. Do you know why its name is "Greenland"? It used to be green and livable when the Vikings discovered it. That was hundreds of years ago, long before there were enough people in the world to drive SUVs that presumably make things warmer. "Global warming" is a fraud perpetrated by leftist politicians and the pseudo-scientists who feed at the public trough. Temperatures go up and down every year. Some years are warmer, some are cooler. We didn't do it, God did. The world won't die from a half-degree rise in temperature over the next decade or three (until it cycles back to cooler again). That's right, it's one half of one degree over decades. The pseudo-scientists are stumbling all over themselves to explain why it's so little.

Leaving the bogus scientific premise aside, what does the tiny nation of Holland propose to do about it? They (single-handedly) are going to pull CO2 out of the air -- or at least out of their smokestacks -- and stop global warming. What are they going to do with this CO2? That's what's undecided. The article said the Dutch people are opposed to what their government is proposing, but didn't say why. Small wonder! It will cost millions or billions of Euros, for nothing.

You need to understand -- apparently the Dutch government does not -- that CO2 is the waste material from energy consumption. It is a high-entropy material. The coal or natural gas it came from is low entropy. The Second Law of thermodynamics says that entropy increases and never decreases (except by added energy, which increases the total entropy, even if not at the location where you are doing it. Anything you do to CO2 to get it out of the air will cost energy (which you get by burning more carbon, making more CO2). Especially if you think you will turn the CO2 into methane or alcohol to use as a fuel (the "recycle" part of the Dutch plan). How do they do that? By electrolysis of water (which like CO2 is the waste material from energy consumption, with high entropy) and converting it into hydrogen and oxygen. The only way to do that is by burning more fuel than you make from the CO2. Unless the laws of physics are repealed. Guess what? God alone can do that, not the Dutch government, not their idiot science advisors, and especially not the politicians everywhere who are bamboozled by the leftist pseudo-scientists. And if God chooses to do it, it won't be before Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead, because things get worse (not better) before the End of Time. God said so. And things are indeed getting worse (see my "Only Evil Continually" post two weeks ago). It's called "entropy" when the scientists understand it, and "global warming" when they don't.

2018 February 5 -- Thanking God for Hardship

Four years and a few months ago I was thanking God for factory farms and processed food, which contributed toward making the USA the richest country in the whole world (and probably in all time, Solomon's kingdom posibly excepted), and how that enabled people like me to spend time doing other things -- things to benefit other people -- besides just feeding my face.

Yesterday I was reading the current issue of ChristianityToday. The article was on "Reformed Charismatics," which I suppose was intended as a semantic pun, the "Reformed" part referring equally to the Protestant Reformation that transformed Christianity 500 years ago, and also to how the face of the charismatic movement is being "reformed" to include more of the theological rigor of Calvinism. Me, I'm inclined to consider that both the charismatics and the Calvinists got it wrong, and that the combination of the two collects together some of the worst in both excesses -- I used to tell people that "I'm a two-and-a-half-point Calvinist" (5-point being the top, like a 5-star restaurant in the Michelin Guide), but it later decreased to 1-1/4 points and now hovers around 7/8ths of a point (God is Sovereign, but I find no support in Scripture for Irresistible grace); the full five points are the product of what Ralph Waldo Emerson reportedly called "A foolish consistency [which] is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Where Scripture speaks, we speak, and if the total appears inconsistent, it might just be that our minds are too small to grasp the entirety of what God understands. Otherwise we would be as God, which is the lie from Satan.

Similarly, I find no support in Scripture for either Cessationism or Continuationism (the term I found in this month's CT article, see my blog post a couple years ago). Scripture does not support the idea that we should expect signs and wonders and miracles and tongues all the time, even today, nor that we should refuse to believe they can happen. The great Apostle tells us that those things are for immature Christians, and we should grow up and get beyond that stuff. Jesus told my namesake, the Apostle Thomas, that the greater blessing is for those who do not need to see miracles in order to have faith. Peter said the same thing in his epistle. That doesn't mean that God can't do anything He wants to do -- and sometimes miracles happen (mostly in third-world situations where they are needed) -- but we do not get to tell God when and what that will be, but rather He tells us. Or (more often) we find out after the fact. God likes to do things that way, He said so in Isaiah. Which brings me to my point today.

I'm reading this CT article, and there in the middle of discussing what each camp brings to the union of charisma + Calvin (rigorous theology) is this paragraph:

Many believers in the non-Western world don't have the sort of wealth and conveniences that can obscure one's reliance on God. [p.56]
It hit me like a two-by-four: the wealth I was thanking God for can obscure my reliance on God. I know that's true, I have experienced it. When I was a child my mother used to say (to other people, but in my hearing), "It's hard to trust God on a salary." That's one of the reasons I valued my non-salaried consultant status so highly, I didn't want that difficulty. But money in the bank brings on the same problem. I need to work extra hard to maintain that connection with God.

God does not leave me dangling, He helps me do what I need to do -- by giving me difficulties, so I am forced to go to God and ask for help. And He does! [See "Asking God for Wisdom" three years ago]. But not always when I ask for it. Why not? It's because God already knows that wealth and conveniences that can obscure one's reliance on God. Up until three or four days ago, I felt like the Dom DeLuise character in the Mel Brooks movie "Twelve Chairs," where he looks up to Heaven and cries "You are so strict with me!" The movie character was simply greedy, but I prefer to think my goals are more altruistic (see "Random Thoughts" at the bottom of this page, and "Going Beyond the Spec" last year).

The verse that comes to mind thinking about the difficulties is Deut.8:3, where Moses tells the people of Israel that God "humbled you, ... to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." So yesterday the Pastor gets up in front of the church and asks us to tell him what exciting things God is doing in our lives. One person near the front mentioned a healing, another offered some other blessing they were thankful for, and then it sort of died down, so I said "I thank God for the difficulties, because they remind me that 'Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Jesus quoting the same Deuteronomy verse to the Devil in response to his suggestion that he solve his hunger with a little miracle). The Pastor kind of liked it -- he should, it's what he preached on the previous week, although not exactly those words -- but the more I think about it, the more I like it too.

Everybody likes to quote 1Th.5:18 "In everything give thanks," to which they quickly add that it does not say to give thanks for everything. They have a Jefferson Bible, with all the disagreeable verses cut out with a pair of scissors. Three books earlier, almost exactly the same verse [Eph.5:20] Paul tells us to give thanks to God "for everything." Yes, it really does say that, and I try to do that, because God is Good, and nothing escapes His notice and control.

So today (and yesterday and last week and hopefully also tomorrow) I thank God also for the hardship. It brings me closer to God the way pleasantries do not.

2018 February 1 -- Only Evil Continually

The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. [Gen.6.5 oNIV]

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. -- Jesus [Matt.24:37]

The 30-day grace period (see "Do [Not] Call List" two weeks ago) expired, and the liars and thieves stepped up their wickedness to every day (not just once a week).

I go to the library each week to get fiction (novels and movies) to pass the time when I'm too tired to work, or just plain "resting" (on my Day of Rest). My first love is sci-fi, but when I had gone through all the small-town library in Bolivar (in the State of Misery, several years ago) had, I started in on thrillers. The library here is bigger than either Bolivar or the smaller town in the State of Taxes I left a little over a year ago, so I started over on their sci-fi (they have quite a few I haven't seen) but I thought I'd alternate them with thrillers. Except this library has no separate category in their catalog for thrillers, they are mostly mixed in with mysteries, or else in the main fiction category. So each week or so I take out one sci-fi and one mystery. Mixed in with the sci-fi are their fantasy novels (on the same shelf) but separately tagged with a unicorn icon on the spine instead of a planet Saturn. Y'all know what I think of fantasy (see "Fantasy vs the Truth" and its links), so I happily skip over the unicorn-tagged novels -- as well as all the Saturn-tagged novels by the same author, and all the novels with a female author's name on the cover regardless of the icon (as I indicated last year in "Story of Your Life" and elsewhere) and the more blatant feminazi ones (female lead, according to the cover blurb).

I mention this in connection with today's theme because the "sci-fi" novel I got earlier this week is more fantasy than sci-fi, complete with shape-shifting and shadows that you can drink -- and then that person has no shadow, so they cannot sleep but they can reshape themselves into a glider and fly; what kind of "science" is that? I figure the mis-tagged book is because it's an all-volunteer library, and volunteers who are not paid for their work have no incentive to do a good job. A month or two ago I picked up a biography of living people (one of them a scientist) also tagged as sci-fi.

Anyway, this story is essentially about a dystopia. I should have known better, I've never seen a dystopic story I thought worth the time to turn its pages, let alone read it (see "Dystopia" two years ago). The cover blurb said it was "post-dystopia" but a third of the way through I did not yet seen any post. Some of it must be the zombie effect -- it's OK in fiction to do wicked/gory things to zombies, because they are not human and they will kill you if you don't kill them first, which gives the author/screenwriter and his audience permission to fantasize over being evil with no repercussions (see "Enjoying Evil"). One of the mysteries I read in the last couple months by (and about) a TV personality admitted that playing the Bad Guy was more fun than playing the Good Guy. Same thing.

I think it is because "every imagination of the thoughts of their heart is only evil continually." Some French guy with a forgettable name once said that "Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." Now (except in the churches) nobody even bothers with hypocrisy, every imagination of their heart is only evil continually. It's hard to find a recent novel with no raw sex and/or gutter language. It's hard to find a sci-fi novel for which the author did his homework instead of throwing science to the wind. Laziness (Sloth) is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, which nobody cares about any more. The growth in our culture of "only evil continually" is one of the marks of the soon Second Coming. I used to have a friend who in times of difficulty would lift his eyes toward Heaven and say "Now is good." I agree. "Even so come, Lord Jesus."

Something else just now occurred to me: God is Light, and Every Good and perfect gift comes from God, so as people more and more openly reject God and His Light, all that's left is evil and darkness. Shadows are the absence of light, where God is not. That's why you can't "drink (or sip) shadows," there's nothing there to take. People don't fail to throw shadows because somebody took the shadow away, if there's no shadow there, it's because the person is radiating more light than he blocks. It is Good (=Light) that overcomes shadows, not evil. That's why this novel is so Wrong. I stopped reading it.

2018 January 25 -- Expired

Biological systems are incredibly variable. Some people die from smoking, others do not. Some people get sick from eating tainted food, others eating the same meal feel fine. The first time I had a tooth filled, I received the standard dose of novocaine, but it wore off before he got around to doing his stuff. It hurt like crazy, but I survived.

We've all seen those TV shows -- it doesn't happen in movies, perhaps their higher-paid writers know better -- when the hero or somebody he cares about has a lethal dose of some poison, and they will die from it if they do not receive the antidote within 24 hours, so of course the antidote is administered at 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 57 seconds, and everybody breathes a sigh of relief. In reality it's never that close. It could be 30 hours or 48 hours or even 20 or even 15 hours, depending on the person's metabolism, what they ate recently, and other medications in their system. Most delays, you can't even tell closer than 20% without a stopwatch.

So they put expiration dates on the food you buy, usually a little over a year, which tends to clear the shelves for the next year's crop, but sometimes a couple of years. Perishables like deli cuts might be three months, or a single week for bakery goods. (Canned) Spam is known to have a shelf life in excess of 12 years, and 3000-year-old wheat found in Egyptian tombs has sprouted.. The vendors know about the variability, so they put conservative dates on things. Most grocery stores, when their bakery products don't sell timely, on the last day they reduce the price by half or a third and give it three or four more days.

Obviously, eating it after the original sell date isn't killing anybody. I used to buy really old and hard sourdough bread for a quarter at the Parisian bakery store in San Jose when I lived there; it was hard all the way through, but I sliced it and buttered it with one of those soft oleo products that's half water and stuck it in the toaster oven for a couple minutes, and it came out soft and tasty and edible (with a crunchy crust), like good sourdough should. When my veggies get wilty, I cut a thin slice off the stem (to let the water in) and put it under water in a covered dish overnight in the fridge, and the next day it's crisp and crunchy like fresh. When I was in a large metro area with CostCo or PriceClub, I bought big four-pound bags of popcorn, and there's no way I could eat it all up before it got soft and mushy. So I spread a thin layer around on the toaster oven shelf set to low, and after a couple minutes it came out crisp like fresh-made. The same trick works on crackers and corn chips gone soft from exposure to humid air.

Anyway, I try to eat up older canned goods before opening more recent cans, but I don't worry about it. Cans of food never harmed me even two years after their nominal expiration. Less now, but it used to be hard to find canned soups without MSG, so I stocked up when I found some. I think it was about four years ago I was at Aldi's (a great store to get commodity groceries at better prices than WalMart, but they're only in the midwest), and one of my favorite soups had a slightly different label, a curvy banner instead of the previous square, so I thought to myself, "Oh-oh, they probably changed the recipe," so I read the label, and sure enough, it now had MSG. They still had some of the previous batch (no MSG), so I took all they had. I just finished up the last can last week. It was fine, two years after expiration. Not so much any more, but clam chowder used to be really hard to find without MSG, so again at Aldi's, when I saw some, I bought up a couple flats. I still have three or four cans. I had one for supper tonight. The potatoes had settled to one end and I had to dig them out with a spoon, but other than that, it was great.

I know a family in this area, where the matron is death on expired foods. "Throw it away!" she insists. The other woman in the household was expressing dismay, so I told her, "Throw it my way." A couple weeks ago she cleaned out her freezer, and I got a bunch of stuff, including a zip bag of tiny shrimp hand-lettered "2016" and a couple unopened bags of frozen fruit with the vendor's date also 2016. The fruit was iced over, and I had to bang on it with a mallet to knock the accumulated ice off, but it tasted fine. I had some of the shrimp in a salad for lunch today. It had a very strong seafood smell, but the salad was fine.

I tell people "I'm on a see-food diet, I see food, I eat it."

2018 January 19 -- Do [Not] Call List

Liars and thieves* the lot of them. Mostly thieves.

It started a couple months ago, about a year after I moved into this house. I guess that's when the new (electronic) directory came out and I started getting robot-dialed telemarketing calls. It's easy to tell that's who it is, because if a real person calls, and I pick it up and set it back down, they call back. A robot goes on to the next number on its list.

It turns out Ore-gone has a law -- one of those "unintended consequences" things that show up more frequently in blue states and under left-wing governments, because the left-wing bigots have no industry experience and they assume that everybody is Kum-Ba-Ya sweetness and light and will do exactly what the government tells them to. Not -- the Oregon law gives the telemarketers permission to harrass citizens indefinitely, so long as the villains hang up in 12 seconds. So they do that. "Hello, I'm Susan here to bother you about your" You don't have to say a thing beyond the initial greeting that tells the robot you're a person, not another robot (something short, because answering machines and voicemail all talk interminably). Yes, they really do that here.

Just about the time California was getting ready to pass a draconian anti-telemarket law allowing customers to sue, Congress -- bought and paid for by your local marketing lobbyist -- passed a pre-emptive law specifying a "Do Not Call" registry, which among other things exempts non-profit and political callers, all of whom use commercial robot dialing services (so it should be unlawful, but try to tell them that). They have a 30-day window of opportunity, which I learned the first time I put my number on the registry: I was overwhelmed with nuisance calls. Sometimes -- like the spammers -- I listen long enough to know what business not to patronize, but mostly I don't buy their products anyway. Their harassment does them more harm than good, as far as I'm concerned.

After the 30-day grace period, the nasties died down to a couple of liars and thieves whose robot would dial through all possible numbers -- I know this, because I had two lines at the time, both near each other but one unlisted, and they would hit both numbers on the same day each month -- and whenever they hit a number not in service, they would save it and use that number for their Caller ID. Those of us who paid for the feature used to know that if there was no number, it was a robot dialer, but then the phone companies started letting them supply whatever number they wanted; if I tried to call back, the number was not in service. The phone company didn't want go to the bother to suppress calls from unworking numbers, and the Feds who were supposed to administer the registry said it's a fly-by-night firm that closes its doors and re-opens in another state under a different name.

So when I moved to Ore-gone, I didn't waste the effort on the Federal registery. What I should have done is put my number up last July, just before leaving for Portland for a month. But I didn't know about the stupid Oregon law at the time. sigh

Mostly now I just look at the caller ID and if it's out of town but still area code 541 (all of Oregon except Portland), I pop the cradle. If you need to call me and I don't recognize your number, call again immediately and I'll know you're not a robot.

* "Thieves" because they steal my time, "Liars" because they pretend dishonestly to have something I might want or to be somebody I might want to listen to.

2018 January 9 -- Control

I'm reading through Deuteronomy, and because I'm reading the Hebrew text, it goes a lot slower than when I read it in English. Chapter 18 has a lot of words that don't show up anywhere else: sorcerers, magicians, diviners, even "cloud-readers" -- I guess that's something like tea-leaf readers, trying (or pretending) to make sense from some random visual pattern in a world full of stuff we do not understand. The Israelites are told that when they dispossess the land God is giving them, they are to drive out all these practitioners of the magical arts. Why is that? Moses didn't say, but I can make a good inference.

The function of a sorcerer or a magician is to control the supernatural. Diviners and "cloud-readers" interpret the incomprehensible and make sense of the unknowable, because knowledge is power and when we understand How Things Work, we can control them. At least that's the thinking. We Americans don't believe in the supernatural any more, but there are scary things in our lives to control, and there are people called "engineers" whose specialty is to control them. A famous sci-fi author offered the opinion that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It's all about control -- or the lack thereof.

I am a software person. Software is about control: the computer does just exactly what I tell it to do, even if I didn't want to tell it to do that. Except when it doesn't, like today. We call them "hardware problems" and drag in the engineers to fix them.

After telling them to eject the magicians, Moses reminds the people that when they heard the Voice speaking to them out of the fire and smoke on Mount Horeb, they pleaded not to go through that again, "lest we die." God is scary, because God controls everything, and we do not -- we cannot -- control God. OK, as you wish, God will not speak to you directly, that's what His priests and prophets are for. And then he gives the promise of a future Prophet (like Moses), Whom we Christians understand to refer to the Messiah, and he opened up God's Goodness to all of us, Gentiles and Jews alike, the "Light to the Gentiles" that God promised to Abraham, we now have it.

The God of the Bible is Good. Also in today's reading (the 9th day in January) Proverbs 9 invites us to be taught by God's Wisdom, so that things can go well with us, the same promise Moses gave to Israel in the Plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. But you must accept the responsibility to Do Good.

Attributed to that same sci-fi author is the observation that "one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying." That's probably why modern science came out of the Christian faith and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, and not any other way ever. The Bible (forgotten in Christendom for over a thousand years) teaches people to be Good, and when they have achieved that, then they can do science, and not otherwise. Or maybe that's only how it looks to a godless sci-fi writer, and the real issue is control: God controls the universe, and we do not; the best we can hope for is to get connected to the God Who is in control, and then He will tell us how to navigate the treacherous waters of the scary real world around us. Magicians and cloud-readers are frauds; engineers without morals are liars and thieves (same thing), and Clarke was right: they do self-destruct.


2018 January 8 -- Oregon Special Election

My opinion of government deteriorated considerably after moving to Ore-gone -- the word "oregon" is Greek for "longing" and perhaps when they named the region it was a desirable place to come to (and therefore to long for) -- but now (near as I can tell) the government here is not nice to people. The government in the state of Misery is not nice to people either, but in different ways. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. I'm trying hard not to be, and as near as I can tell, the best way for me to do that here is to avoid the government as much as possible.

Against my wishes and all good sense, the government put me on the voter registration. When there is somebody worth voting for, I will sign up to vote for them, but until that happens, the most accurate vote I can cast is "None of the Above". I did that by staying home. I could also return a blank ballot with the same effect, but it's more effort and more unnecessary (and harmful) entanglement with the government.

Case in point: This being a "blue state," the left-wing bigots in the state legislature are Shocked! -- how could they not expect it? The right-wing bigots all over the country have been telling them for eight years that it's financially unsound -- at the excessive costs to administer ObamaCare, and decided to do the only thing they know how to do, which is raise taxes and make matters worse. The other side of the aisle, the only thing they can do in a polarized society like modern USA, is to put it to the voters and hope. By making it a special election (greater taxpayer cost, but who cares? Nobody ever gets called on the carpet for overspending), the party in power is hoping to reduce turnout and maybe get the measure defeated.

The "temporary" tax raises the cost of health insurance by 1.5%. First, there are no temporary taxes. When their two years run out, because it will already be the law, they can and will extend the term indefinitely and increase the amount. The problem they hope to fix will only get worse between now and then, because Insurance is the problem, not the solution. I said that eight years ago.

It's not like I have a dog in that fight. I self-insure (at far lower cost than ObamaCare could ever hope to do for me, even after paying the Conscience Penalty Tax), so the proposed new tax does not apply to me. And because I avoid government entanglement, there's no benefit for me in what they hope this tax will pay for. Other people have different circumstances, let them fight it out in the polls.

Anyway, they didn't send their expensive pamphlet only to registered voters, they put it in every mailbox. In France everybody is required to vote (under penalty of law), but not (yet) here. If they force that on me, I will vote No on everything. In the meanwhile, I vote "None of the Above" by staying home.

Some people will be offended, but it's a simple matter of mathematics. My vote is a zero. Whether I vote or not will have zero effect on the outcome. My sister says we have an obligation to vote, but that's foolish. We have an obligation not to vote for the wrong people (and measures). I have more important things to do than educate myself (on the inadequate stuff the Secretary of State sends out? Ha!) to the point where I actually know which way to vote, so my time is better spent doing the work God gave me to do, which does have a known effect on other people. That's actual work that has an effect; my opinions (as expressed in the ballot box or otherwise) have no effect at all. I'm a zero.

Nobody cares what I think. If I express an opinion, nothing happens. If my opinion were the same as a million other people, then my 0.0001% of the aggregate is just that: so tiny as to be smaller than the amount of dirt left on my dishes after they have been through the dishwasher a couple of times. But I'm not a lemming, my opinion is not the same as a lot of other people, and most everything I voted for (when I thought it worthwhile to vote) had zero effect. I'm a zero, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

2018 January 2 -- ICR Ups and Downs

Whenever somebody tries to put out a regular (like monthly or daily) periodical, the quality of the articles tends to vary up and down, because the real world does not conform to our schedules. The current issue of Acts&Facts from the Institute for Creation Research is in an up phase. The founder's son is the current CEO, and not being a scientist, his monthly remarks are usually more preachy than informative, but I thought his insight this month was better than usual. He still tried to make a sermon out of it, but the key insight is that people who have their facts wrong tend to substitute irrelevant arguments like studying what scholars thought of what scholars thought of the basic issues, instead of studying the issues themselves. I got into a tiff with one of my seminary professors over that: The first question on his first midterm was "What commentaries did you read in preparation for this test?" I answered "None, I prefer to read the Bible over what other people say about the Bible." He flunked me the whole test on that one answer. I remain to this day unrepentant. Maybe that's why I'm a scientist and not a preacher.

Later in the same issue, another guy who is also not a scientist (his specialty is said to be apologetics) tries to answer the problem of how we can see distant stars. It's a hard problem IF you accept the uniformitarian presuppositions of the atheists. ICR claims to do otherwise, but this guy is not entirely free of the bias. The real question is, "How do you know how far the stars are?" The atheists and their lackeys all answer "Brightness." Really. That's like saying we know how far a guy holding a flashlight is by how bright his flashlight. But first we need to know what make and model flashlight he's holding, and whether it's pointed directly at us, and how used up the batteries are, all kinds of things that we cannot know about distant stars. For a more detailed explanation, see my comments on Supernova 1987a, four years ago.

The point is that because we do not know how far the stars are, any attempt to explain how long the light took to get here is futile. Suppose the stars are only thousands (or hundreds) of light-years away (instead of billions). We do not need to postulate a God creating light in transit from distant stars that were't there to emit it, nor different speeds for light, nor any other unscientific legerdemain to harmonize science and the Bible, because it is sufficient to observe that light from the half-dozen visible planets (also called "stars" in the Biblical languages) would be seen within hours on the first day they were created, and the more distant stars would pop into view over the years as their actual light arrived, no special miracle needed -- not that God couldn't do those kinds of things, but that doesn't seem to be His style. God makes miracles when miracles are needed, but not capriciously. The fossils ("billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth") are not explained by Creationists as a "miracle" because a global flood with natural (but unusual) causes could have buried them. "God speaks in the thunder," but not by miracle, only natural electrical storms. Science works because true miracles are very rare. We know God acted when He did because true miracles are very rare.

2018 January 1 -- Random Thoughts at the End of the Day

In the last century or so the accepted purpose of "art" has made a transition from uplifting your soul to just jerking you around. It's true also in fiction. Modern novelists feel incomplete unless they fill their books with sex, dirty talk and a description of what each character is wearing. The book I finished today -- maybe I should say "The author I finished today," because I probably won't go back for more of his stuff -- writes from an Hispanic perspective, religiously more pagan than the atheism that permeates most fiction, but the hero mostly couldn't make up his mind (until the end) if he wanted to believe it. There was no outright magic, just people who believed in it as an alternative explanation of the plot line. I guess it's good that he does not deny the supernatural, he just misses out on The Real Thing. He used a lot of Spanish words, usually with the English equivalent in the same context, but if you didn't know the Spanish word, it was often hard to tell that this was its translation. Frex, he spent a lot of time telling about the cottonwood trees in town, and this or that "alamo" tree, but I didn't know that was Spanish for cottonwood until I looked it up. His sex is slightly more abstract than other novelists, and (almost) all his dirty words were in Spanish (untranslated). I didn't know those words, but it's easy to tell that they are being used as insults (like the English language dirty words), or else so devalued as to be nothing more than fillers of an empty mind. My sister didn't even want me to tell her about them. I think she has a good perspective. So I won't be reading more of this guy's fiction.

I did the early part of New Year's Eve at my nephew's place. As the time came closer to midnight, people shot off more and more (firecrackers and) guns. The family dog seemed to think the gunshots were threatening dog barks, so he growled and barked back. It made it hard to hear the dialog on an old Humphrey Bogart flick I'd gotten from the library. The story was already hard to follow: we found out later that they'd done some substantial retakes to enhance the actress's image and to adjust it for a post-war audience. The short explanation flick showed before-and-after versions of the make-over.

My program is working, but badly. The self-driving car drives in the simulated go-cart track and in a simulated floor with white lines taped on the floor (same simulator, just different data), but it quickly runs off the edge of the track. It was working better, but ran off on the tight corners, so I decided to get clever and have it watch for when it gets too close to one edge and apply some extra torque to the (simulated) steering wheel. That's when it stopped working. The problem is not so easy as I previously thought (see "Racing vs Driving" last year). Nothing ever is. I'll look at it again tomorrow morning when I'm fresh and not so full of holiday leftovers.

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