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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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