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2019 March 13 -- Brit vs American on Religion

Alex Lamb is a British author -- you can tell, from the extra 'u' in words that end in "-or" ("colour" instead of "color") and because they use a single quote mark instead of double quote around the text of people speaking -- so in his sci-fi novel where the Evil Empire (the earth, as opposed to the colonies on other planets) is dominated by a religious pope-like character, his negative prejudice has a distinctly British cast to it. American sneers against religious leaders treat them as charlatans and thieves because we have what the atheists prefer to call "separation of church and state" (meaning the state-funded Established religion is atheism), but the Church of England and their monarchy are both publicly funded institutions in England, so Lamb's religious leader exhibits the attitude of "noblesse oblige" (the nobility is obligated to take care of the commoners), which in their view is a little better that the American perspective, but not much. The system of nobility (and with it, state religion) seems to be perceived by the Brits as a necessary evil, whereas the Americans do not understand it at all.

Rich people are more fun to write about -- and probably to read about -- than poor people, because a rich person has more resources to work with (and the author can be lazy or less creative in making a compelling story for him) so many sci-fi stories build a stratified society where their hero can have inherited wealth to fund their exploits -- David Drake's RCN series comes to mind -- but the American authors who try to do that make charlatans and thieves out of their nobility, perhaps because of the American tradition of (self-made) "robber barons" rich people in this country. People write what they know about, and rich people with no conscience is all we Americans know and understand. Everybody in this country now has no conscience (many people who hold this opinion except themselves and a few of their friends), because the Established religion taught in the schools is now atheism, which denies such a thing as conscience. The Brits at least can aspire to better. The British state religion gives their people a conscience the Americans lack. It made Lamb's book a better read.
 

2019 March 4 -- Racial Oppression

The movie came up in my weekend short stack. Its focus on the racial massacres at Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee were credible and disturbing, but not so much as their (contrary to fact) insistence on Christianity as "white man's religion." It's not, atheism is white man's religion. If anything, Christianity is a Jewish religion, but it's not even that. It's God's religion. It's the religion, which if your whole culture accepts it wholesale as the Pilgrims who came to this country did, your great-grandchildren will live in the richest and most powerful country in the world, and if -- or rather, when -- they fail to continue in its teachings, they will be in a position to oppress weaker people (contrary to the teachings of Jesus). It happened in Israel more than 3000 years ago, it happened in France some 1700 years after that, then 800 years later in Germany, then in England, and it happened again at the beginning of American history.

Strong people oppressing weaker people is the human condition since the Fall of Adam. The Bad Guys in this flick pointed out (probably correctly) that the Sioux also oppressed the other Indian tribes they encountered. I personally experience it by reason of distance (rather than race or religion). The Chinese oppress the Christians (and other religions) in China. The Hindus oppress the Christians in India. The Muslims oppress the Christians in almost every country where they have control. The worst -- see World Watch List (no link, it's encrypted) -- is Pakistan and North Korea, where it is not racial at all, they do it to their own people. It's not a racial thing, but race is easier to identify than religion or national origin, so it gets most of the action in countries where it is visible.

The human brain has pretty much the same number of brain cells, regardless of gender or race, but what you use them for strongly affects what you can use them for. You can use them to invent things that make the world a better place (in keeping with Jesus' teaching) and then everybody benefits from the wealth. If instead you focus on selfish ambition, or think in categories like race or gender, or even if you are in an oppressed condition and all you can do is try to find your next meal, then you don't have enough brain cells left over for invention. All you can do is look at and lust after the other people, the ones whose great-grandparents did The Right Thing. There is not a lot of personal benefit to Doing The Right Thing, but like the rising tide that lifts all boats, other people (some of them your own descendants) benefit.

What the American Government did to the Indians was Wrong, and there is enough of the Christian value system left in this country so that people noticed and said so. But it's the Christian value system that made that possible.

At the beginning of the flick, the lead character was told to "take a Christian name," but he did not: Charles is a Germanic name, not found in the Bible. It is common today among people of European descent because a certain popular medieval king was given the name at birth. Observant Christians often give Biblical names to their children, but his parents instead preserved a family name that predated their becoming Christians. The movie is probably historically accurate, as that is no doubt what the abusive teacher in that schoolroom said, but abusive people have never felt constrained by the facts.

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2019 February 23 -- Geeks In Fiction

Les Johnson has co-authored several books, but this appears to be his first solo effort, so we get to see what kind of person he really is. Like most sci-fi authors (Orson Scott Card and maybe L.Ron Hubbard excepted), he's rather disparaging of theistic religions. Everybody has a religion (this guy not excepted: the most obvious component being the failed notion of global warming (GW) -- but that's what religion is, isn't it? Believing what you know ain't so; you can do that in fiction, especially sci-fi, see my post "Gender Fiction" six years ago), but in 2017 when he wrote this book it's already (or still) politically safe to treat fundamentalist Muslims as ignorant savages. He generally avoids all mention of Christian religions, probably supposing us to be irrelevant. He might be right in that opinion, we have fallen down in our duty to evangelize the whole world (not just the Feelers).

Anyway, I mention this guy because, like Neal Stephenson, he understands (some of) the male geek:

He had no one with whom to share how he really felt. It was simply too hard and none of them would even come close to understanding. [p.124]
His geek hero enjoys the pride of believing himself superior to -- perhaps (but he doesn't say so) more Darwinistically advanced than -- other people, so that when he meets the alien, the alien chooses him over the others as the one to represent humanity, explicitly because he (the hero) is mentally more compatible.

His hostility to religion comes from misunderstanding the nature of religion, that it defines for the adherent what is True. In Johnson's religion, GW is True (40+ years from now Pacific islands are disappearing under the rising sea, never mind that today we are seeing record cold temperatures because the alleged warming has already stopped). The Muslims -- he never refers to them by the name of their religion, but by the name of their (already, only a year or two after his book is published) political entity "Caliphate," and the Caliph himself Johnson portrays as a power-hungry hypocrite -- have their own set of beliefs, and many (perhaps most) of them really believe it, just like Johnson really believes, against all evidence, in GW. There are other interesting facets of Johnson one might explore, but I've already said most of it in other contexts.
 

2019 February 16 -- Darwinist Hell

They don't have to wait until they die and face their spurned Creator to reap the just rewards of their selfishness, the Darwinists already live in a Hell-hole of a universe. The feature scientist at ICR (no link, they have joined the horde of encrypted websites now closed to the public, see "Is This Website Unsafe?") -- he gets the most pages in their monthly rag, although saying what little he has to say in fewer pages would probably serve everybody well -- he has been riding this hobby-horse where he distinguishes the Darwinist religion from the Real World by the presumption that in the Darwinist fairy tale, creatures are driven exclusively by their environment, whereas in God's created world (so he claims) even the lowly plants and bacteria actively choose their own destiny by some kind of unexplained but anachronistic vitalism. Like most either/or dichotomies dividing the world into mutually exclusive camps -- you heard the joke? There are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide the world into two kinds, and those who don't -- both sides have a kernel of truth, but both sides are mostly Wrong.

Me, and apart Guliuzza's claims, I never met nor heard of anybody who actually thought everything and everybody is totally passive and a slave to their environment: although some atheists try to make that case to absolve themselves of moral accountability, nobody ever actually believes that other people who do them harm are only machines incapable of moral choices, which is my main argument in favor of moral absolutes. But the theory (like Marxism) is alive and well in theoretical places like (I suppose) universities and certainly in at least one novel. The important thing to remember about novels is that they are fiction, something the writer invented out of his head, with little or no basis in Reality.

Jeter's Blade Runner sequel Replicant Night is sci-fi, and as that TV screen writer so memorably put it, "it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" I saw the book on the library shelf, the only book by this author. I'd seen the movie long ago, so I decided reading the sequel before the first in its series probably wasn't as bad as starting in the middle of a Lee Childs or Vince Flynn series. But I'm giving up anyway, only a quarter of the way in, because it's so heavily into inner turmoil. It's a drag. Nobody can live that way, so I suppose Jeter will eventually have his hero and/or heroine take control of their lives, because any book that ended as far down as this one starts wouldn't sell. But I really don't want to wait for the end.

The book opens with our protagonists -- hmm, I guess that's probably not descriptive of the two main characters, because the Greek root of the word are "primary" and "struggle" in the sense of an athlete giving it all he has to win -- but they are stuck in a refugee camp on Mars, where the Big Bad Corporation grinds them down into sensory deprivation. In this novel, people are passive pawns of their environment. In the Real World, I recently read of a guy who worked his way out of an African refugee camp by organizing political structures to serve the needs of the people so that the refugees soon were providing value to the nationals outside the camp. The guy is now in the USA doing the same for recent immigrants (no link, the article is encrypted, but if you spent a lot of $$ for a recent computer that knows the secret passwords, you could Google "Jean Pierre Gatera"). Some people are passive Blamers, but God always has His "7000 men of Israel who have not bowed the knee to Ba'al." God is in the redemption business, it's the atheists who try to turn everything into Hell before they even get to the Real Thing. You -- we all -- have a choice: Choose God.
 

2019 February 11 -- Singing for Fun

A couple  months ago I blogged, "Music is one of those things people do for fun." The church I go to, maybe the praise team members think their music is fun -- at least the players have lots of gadgets to twiddle, which is sort of a geek's idea of fun -- but the music is nothing like the church I mentioned two years ago (see "Choosing a Church") when I was still shopping.

Anyway, it is common in churches I have been associated with to do things linked to secular holidays (and pseudo-holidays like this week), and one of the things that often comes up the second weekend in February is for the guys to do something in church "for the women," like getting up in front and singing. I got invited. One of the guys picked four hymns out of the hymnbook, and we sang them.

I didn't realize, our pianist does not read music fast enough to play a song he has not rehearsed, and he had recopied the words of these four hymns onto single sheets of paper and annotated them with (guitar) chords, then played that. When he got to Amazing Grace, none of us could figure out where he was. Then it hit me: he plays for a rock band, and all rock music is march (4/4) time, but John Newton's classic is waltz (3/4) time, so I asked. That was part of the problem.

The other part is that most church pianists hit the melody extra hard so the congregation can hear the tune and know where we are; this guy was playing chords, which is what he does under the guitars in the praise team. Sometimes the guitars hilight the melody, and sometimes the singers need a lot of practice to know where they are. They once had me clicking through the (karaoke-style) words on the screen one week when the lead singer wasn't very comfortable with it and I couldn't hear her. I don't know most of their songs, so I had a tough time knowing when to click to the next line, until the pastor started singing louder from the back of the church.

So this pianist, because he's playing from chord signatures instead of a music staff, he doesn't even know which note is the melody. Besides, I'm not as good a singer as he is a player, most songs where I do not know the harmony, I have trouble finding my notes unless I hear them. This guy had transposed all the songs into a lower key, so they'd be in what he considered a male singer's (unpracticed) vocal range -- people who put the effort into extending their range, meaning most professionals and a few amateurs like me, don't have that problem. Often in church I'll sing the alto part (first tenor range in barbershop) if it's not too high. I tried to do that for these hymns, but the last hymn, I just couldn't find it. Often hymns are not harmonized to match guitar chords, and I have seen guitar annotations in hymnbooks where the bass clef has a different key than the treble clef. So I boomed out the bass line (I-V-I-V-I-IV-V-I...) which I could find. My high notes were starting to die out by then anyway. I'm really a baritone, not a tenor.

The previous church, they sang acapella, but everybody was trained to find and sing the harmony. It was a delight. Most evangelicals, they just sing the tuneless, harmony-less heavy beat they hear on the radio. Yes, they sing the hymns that way too. My father was like that, not quite tone-deaf, but my mother played the accordion loud. I learned to sing what I heard, and she made the effort to teach me to hear the harmony. I could sing in the San Francisco Bach Choir because Director Waldemar Jacobsen never turned anybody away (he just put the better singers in the middle where he could hear them, and the rest of us out on the edges). And I listened, and sang what I heard. Mostly. I'm not that good. Besides, there wasn't any competition: if you wanted to hear Bach, you went to the Bach Choir concerts -- or else drove 100 miles to Monterey. I once auditioned for the Monterey group and was turned down. No hard feelings, I'm a programmer, not a musician.

All in all, it was more enjoyable than the average song service in that church. The sermon? Well, the pastor seems to have decided he needs to focus his preaching more on "relationships" and y'all know what I think of Relationshipism. But the song service made up for it.
 

2019 February 9 -- Wine, Cheese, and now Books

Isaac Asimov could pretty much sell anything he put his name to, but I had to wonder about a book devoted to Science Fiction of the 19th Century (long before he was born), who would buy it? Besides a few libraries and hard-core history nuts. But there is was on the library shelf, so I took it home. I didn't recognize the publisher, it turns out to be Asimov's own corporate entity. I guess the mainstream publishers took one look at the title and thought the same as my initial reaction. But they are the ones pushing agendas which make modern works so deplorable.

It turns out older is better. Modern Sci-Fi collections are so enslaved to Political Correctness (read: the feminazi agenda) and the false notion that four-letter words are easier to read, most of these older stories were quite readable, despite that some of the science was just plain wrong -- hey, there was a lot didn't know. A couple of the stories wallowed in inner turmoil, probably no more fun to read then as now, but I guess some people like that kind of stuff, otherwise they would not have been selected for this collection. I skipped those. Inner turmoil is like opinions in the news media: I have plenty of opinions and turmoil of my own, I don't need to waste time on other people's.

So as I was nearing the end of this collection, I'm in the library looking over books to read next. I try to alternate Sci-Fi with mysteries, and I have been enjoying James Benn's Billy Boyle series, which has remarkably few detectable anachronisms.

Then there was this thin book Behind That Curtain, which it said was a reprint of the 1922 novel by that title. It turned out it was #3 in the original Charlie Chan series, and a jolly good read: clean language, a robust plot that didn't try to jerk you around, a true mystery. If the library has them, I think I'll go back for the rest of Earl Biggers.

Today I started my Sci-Fi phase of the alternation, and it's another anthology, this time of Baen contest winners. I'm only a couple stories in, but so far I like their editors' choices much better than Orson Scott Card's and others I've been through recently.

[Over the weekend I got farther. It's a date (calendar) thing, older is better. This book presents one winner for each of ten years, and the first two years were not yet corrupted. The next three stories were: one female author, then one female lead, followed by one saturated with inner turmoil. Each of them was the best of their category I can remember reading -- so I didn't stop reading -- but nowhere as good as the defect-free first two stories. Then I started skipping stories.]

Other than passing over female authors and lead characters, there's no way to know which books are better reads. So I bring home several books each week. Some are so bad, I just close it and go on to the next. Others are so good, they keep me awake half the night, and I still finish early.
 

2019 February 2 -- Facts vs Religion

Of all people, computer technologists are probably the most meritocratic (egalitarian). We have drunk the American kool-aid:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (pronounced "people") are created (pronounced "evolved") equal...
They stop there, because the next line in the Declaration of Independence refers to the Creator, and everybody -- especially the techies -- knows there's no such thing as a Creator. We are the only Creator there ever was, is, or will be. And we definitely are creators, more so white American males than any other ethnic or demographic group. Sometimes people notice. In the last two or three decades, the whites are starting to be replaced by Asians, but not as fast as their population ratios would suggest. But deep in our industry hearts we believe the kool-aid slogan. There is no bias. And there isn't, but sometimes people notice the discrepancy between religion ("believing what you know ain't so," see my blog post last year) and fact.

I suspect it's because our industry is so young, and changes so rapidly, we have never had nor seen time for things to settle into their natural rhythm. Or if it seems that there are inequalities, "it's probably still in flux." Or something like that.

The first few years after the dawn of the personal computer revolution back in the 1970s, all the tech magazines ran technical articles only. Then people started to notice the gender discrepancy, and the more Politically Correct rags would run a frothy "Women in Computing" piece once every year or two. After a while people noticed that Asians were also under-represented, and they'd run whole issues dedicated to "Computing in China" every year or so. They still do, but they stopped announcing it. There are more Asians coming through the universities. The Chinese are not the innovators, but you see more of them.

Anyway, I've been a member of the IEEE Computer Society since 1977, and they work really hard to be Politically Correct. Last month was the annual ComputingEdge "Computing in China" issue: One token article by a woman (see "The Emperor's New Naked" a week ago), then six in a row, all by people with oriental names and/or from Oriental (Chinese or Japanese) universities, all males except the first. That was the whole issue, two female-written pieces, six by orientals, nothing else.

Like the BlockChain article  ("The Emperor's New Naked"), they mostly picked a little-understood topic to work on (and get government grants for), then hunted around for some ridiculous area to deploy it, or try to improve it, or something to justify their grants. One of them is looking to make augmented reality feasible on smart phones. It's not, because it's compute-intensive, requiring more horsepower than the average supercomputer (smart phone), so they proposed bringing that power to the cell towers, where it's close enough to not make you dizzy from delays. These guys are in China, and in China the government controls all the technology, so the government can do that; in the rest of the world, private industry owns the cell towers, and who's going to pay for it? Not the users, all the promoters can talk about as fancier ads! Certainly not the advertizers, they don't want to be paying out to make their competitors look better -- did you ever drive down a downtown street in an American city looking for a particular address? No numbers at all! They figure that if you're looking for them, you'll see their sign, and if you are looking for somebody else, they don't want to help you. That's the quality of work you get when government grants pay for it.

We have pigs in the Americal feed trough too, but a lot more have the Golden Rule (GR, which is Christian ethics, usually without the "God" stuff) drilled into them at an early age, so they think about "How can I make something that people will want so bad they are willing to pay for it?" It's a totally different ethical system, and the rising tide lifts all boats, making the USA the richest country in the whole world and probably in all time. You don't get there by asking "How can *I* get rich with the least work?" Christian ethics is inherently unselfish, even if you don't understand its religious roots. Like modern science, it only works in majority Protestant cultures. Others can steal the mechanics, and it works for a while, but it does not survive without the moral underpinnings.

So why are the women so scarce? Different values. American Christianity teaches women to be selfish. They call it "love" but it resembles the Biblical GR value about the way castor oil resembles strawberry shortcake: probably good for the person you are trying to push it onto, but not something to look forward to.

There's more. Maybe another day.
 

2019 January 30 -- Zero

The liars tell me I'm smart, and sometimes I believe them. I shouldn't, they are wrong. I have the same number of brain cells as anybody else (unless they fried them with drugs and/or alcohol). But mostly I'm a zero. I blogged this six years ago, and I repeat it out loud from time to time, mostly to remind myself. I need to remind myself again. My reading today is Prov.30, which starts out with the same flavor as the theme of Ecclesiastes ("Everything is worthless!") although the last two chapters of Proverbs are signed by unknown persons other than Solomon, and perhaps included by Hezekiah's scribes when they edited Solomon's words [Prov.25:1].

Anyway, we were told in church that the music team was planning to take a week off each month, so one of the deacons got up to lead acapella singing out of the hymnal. He called for hymn numbers and one of the suggestions was a song I didn't know (and apparently neither did the deacon) and the caller himself couldn't do any better. When I got home I Googled "download mp3 hymn tunes" and the top hit offered 100 classic piano tunes free for non-profit use, so I called one of the church leaders and offered to put them into a format they could use on the Sundays the music team was off. He seemed to think this involved policy above his pay grade, but the next Sunday he told me not to bother, they would not be used (no reason given).

What's going on here?

First off, God has no volunteers. They don't teach that in this church -- they dare not, it would violate the Relationshipism they do teach -- but it's all through the Bible: Jesus explicitly called his Disciples, but turned away the volunteers. The Old Testament Prophets consistently all tried to refuse their calling, "I have a s-s-sp-speech impediment," Moses said. Jeremiah tried to stop, and it was "fire in [his] bones" [Jer.20:9]. Amos complained that he was no Prophet but a herdsman and a scavenger. Me too, everything I volunteer gets refused. You'd think I'd get the message.

After a few days of stewing on it, I realized this morning why they couldn't accept my offer. The music team are all young people, 20-something and less, some of them self-taught and insecure about their abilities. You-all know what I think of "plastic music" but they don't. It's better if they see the hole their off days leave in the church, than if the church gets along just fine without them. These kids have been in that church all their lives, but young people are fragile in modern churches. They go away and mostly don't come back. This church has them, but they don't want to press their luck.

Me, I'm a zero. Old guys like me are expendable. One guy came, stayed for a year, then disappeared. Nobody noticed. Another older guy -- I think he was already there when I started -- could play hymns on the piano, and maybe they disinvited him (I don't know) but he's gone too, and nobody noticed. I have nothing to offer, not even a lot of money to put in the plate. I'm a zero. The best they can do is tell me "We really appreciate you being here," but it's a lie. I'm a zero, and they know it, and I know it.

Four churches ago, two states ago, the pastor's son-in-law had been a missionary in the Middle East and was rethinking his calling. He preached on John the Baptist in Matt.11, who was rotting in jail and wondered if he'd gotten his message wrong. Jesus told him in effect that no, he was right, not only about who Jesus is, but also what John himself had said [John 3:30] about their relative importance. "Yes, I know you are a zero in jail, and that's where I want you." Those exact words are not in the Bible, but that was God's message to John. The Prophet Ezekiel [Ezek.3:5-7] was told something similar: "I'm not sending you to a foreign country where they would listen and repent, I'm sending you to the rebellious house of Israel, and they won't listen. But that's where I want you." If God wants me to be a zero here in the blue state of Ore-gone, I can do that. But I need reminders like this week to keep me in my place.
 

2019 January 28 -- Culture Wars

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This is more like independent invention, but it suggests that the idea is sound. The first of the book reviews in last month's ChristianityToday, Peter Leithart's incisive review of Smith's Pagans and Christians in the City (p.72) is one of the best I've seen in their pages in a long time, but it was the line in the second paragraph that hooked me:
The real fight isn't between religion and secularism, but between two kinds of religion.


A year or two ago I began to turn the old joke ("Faith is believing what you know ain't so") on its head to define "Religion determines what is True despite any contrary evidence" (see my blog post "The Nature of Religion" last year).

Everybody has this kind of religion, the atheists often more so than the Christians, but the nature of religion in each person makes them unable to accommodate the religions of other people, because of course "THEY believe what WE know ain't so."

God told us Christians not to "Kill the infidels," and we Protestants sometimes actually pay attention, so under our dominion only, the atheists have the opportunity to practice their Religion, which (when they take over) includes killing the infidels (that would be the rest of us). Whence the Culture Wars.

The longer story...

When all religions allowed for supernatural deities, people might argue and fight over which deities were True, but there was little effect in individual behavior other than which altar they cooked their goats on. The atheists normalize as Religion the secular behaviors of the nominally religious people throughout the ages, which turns whole cultures upside down. Unfortunately, their definition of True has no power (and makes no attempt) to control the evil hearts of the people, so they necessarily revert to the Machiavellian power of the bullet, which is far worse than whatever the supernatural religions gave us.

The various Judeo-Christian religions teach that True includes the obligation to be Good, and (Protestants in particular) that God makes us so (by faith), which is abhorrent to naturally selfish humans. That's what makes the atheist religion so popular in countries where the Protestant religion made a place for minority religions (rather than "killing the infidels"), but that was before the atheists gained control of the power structure and people realized what a horrid mess they made of the culture.

The wars are -- and always were -- over which Religion (and what) is True.

Fortunately (as we saw in eastern Europe), it seems to take about 70 years (three generations) for the atheist Religion in power to self-destruct, so there is hope* for your great grandchildren in the USA and western Europe. Just not us here today, except as minority insurgents.

ChristianityToday probably won't print my letter.

* Islam includes supernatural True, so it does not self-destruct, and it is growing faster than atheism in Europe, so it might win there. If so, they also kill the infidels, and Christianity will be extinguished in Europe as it was in the Middle East. However, because the Muslims don't wait to be in power before they start killing infidels, the Culture Wars between Christians and Islam in nations where the Muslims are not yet in control, the (nominal) Christians take the fight to the attackers' home countries -- and win. Europe did that a thousand years ago (it was called the Crusades) and the USA did it again in our lifetime, and it still rankles the Muslims in both cases that they did not win the fights they started. The atheist Religion is different, and it's our fault for letting them take over the schools when we should have been teaching our children why atheism is Religion and not True.
 

2019 January 22 -- The Emperor's New Naked

I think it was 1977, I posted an essay offering the opinion that standards are whatever people agree on. It was the beginning of the personal computer revolution, and nobody knew what they were doing, and nothing worked together. That's still true but people are used to it, so we call it "unix" (eunuchs are people missing a vital organ so they cannot perform). Bob Stewart was frustrated like everybody else, so he started up a Microprocessor Standards Committee and invited anybody who seemed to care. I guess that included me, and we did some good stuff. Eventually I went off to do other things, but I kept my membership in the parent organization, the IEEE. Their magazines piled up in the corner because I had more important things to do with my time than to read stuff by academics needing to "publish or perish."

I'm older now, and I get tired sooner, so I read more. I used to read news magazines, but they stopped printing news. I used to read technical journals in my field, but the Macintosh got killed off and replaced by eunuchs -- I mean unix (same thing). And the IEEE decided that 40 years of paying dues was enough to make me a "Life Member" so now I get two freebie IEEE rags filled with silly stuff by academics needing to publish or perish.

"Hilarie" is one of them, and her piece this month has the dubious title "Blockchain: the Emperor's New..." Last year the fad-du-jour was NeuralNets (NNs), this year it's BlockChain (BC). Whatever the government can be persuaded to pay for. I thought the title particularly appropriate. There is this children's story, older than I am, where the Emperor is surrounded by sycophants seeking some portion of the government gravy train -- not unlike the USA government today -- some of whom came up with these "finest new clothes" which only the truly wise can see. The idiot Emperor and his courtiers do not wish to appear unwise, so they all pretend to see and appreciate these new clothes. Until some kid watching the parade points out that the Emperor is naked. Last year it was NNs, this year BC is the new naked.

Hilarie seems to think that BC is the solution to personal identity, which she supposes that people will get to control. What nonsense! To her BC is the hammer, and the whole world is a nail. Blinded by her technological new clothes, she can't even see that the problem with personal identity is not the distinction between the haves and the have-nots, but between the power-mongers and the peons. The sycophants hope their technology will make them part of the power structure.

Hilarie is wasting her time and your tax dollars (her government grants). No government in the world will approve any personal identity system that does not give them (the government, and everybody they choose to give it to, which probably includes every criminal with enough money to buy up the politicians) full access to every detail. Like HIPPA, it doesn't matter what they tell you, the government will have your data, and if they have it, everybody -- at least everybody you most want not to have it -- has it. BC was originally invented to keep the government out. That's why she's wasting her time. But she gets paid for it. Your tax dollars at work.

There is no right to privacy in the American Constitution, that was an invention by King SCOTUS 46 years ago today to justify racial genocide (targeting minority races by killing off their unborn babies), and what the King giveth, the King also taketh away. Welcome Big Brother. Orwell was three or four decades early in his prediction, but not wrong.
 

2019 January 21 -- What Does Grace Look Like?

When the sermon topic was announced yesterday, I couldn't help thinking, "She's blonde with blue eyes, about 5'8"..." Of course there's no person named Grace in that church, and the preacher wanted to emphasize the "Relationship" which as a Relationshipist, he's convinced is taught in Scripture and in his text of the day, but which some people (myself included) have a harder time seeing there. The text he chose to preach from was Ephesians 2, and he read through most of the chapter from the pulpit, particularly past his proof-text, verse 8. I think he read also past verse 10, but then he acted like there was no such verse anywhere in his Bible. Grace, he said, is what God does to and for us (which is true), and does not depend on good works, past, present, or future, which is sort-of true (verses 8 and 9), but not the way he tried to make it out, which denies the plain sense of the very next verse:
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. [Eph.2:10]
If we are not doing good works, then we are not God's workmanship. The good works do not cause salvation, salvation causes good works, so if there are no good works, it must mean there is no salvation. Jesus told his Disciples in John's Gospel that God loves them (and us), not unconditionally, but if they (we) keep His Commandments. It's not that hard to do (Jesus showed us how) but you gotta have the wanta. Most good Christians I know -- including this guy and the senior pastor of the church, many of them professing Relationshipists -- live as if they believe that, even while mouthing the Relationshipist dogma. I think that's a far cry better than living like sinners, and I suspect God agrees. But when they preach Relationshipism, they are effectively giving other people permission to live as sinners, and they fall under Jesus' condemnation,
Woe to you experts in the law, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. [Luke 11:46]
This guy studies his commentaries carefully. I wish he studied his Bible as carefully. The senior pastor and the others who take their turns preaching at this church, they read their Bibles and they preach what they read. I think if you asked them, they would admit to being Relationshipists, but they preach what they read. You can't do better than that.
 

2019 January 17 -- Design by Committee

"Hugh" is a guy's name, and his picture on the inside back cover is definitely a guy. So how did the novel turn out so bad? He starts out with a guy for a hero, but this guy turns to the Dark Side, complete with inner turmoil, and gets killed off, and is replaced for the rest of the story with a female -- as with so many male authors, really a guy with female name and pronouns, but the story wallows in inner turmoil, the stock in trade of chick-lit. I even wondered if he'd surreptitiously gotten his wife involved (she's named in the back-cover author blurb, but not as a collaborator) or something like that, because it was otherwise mostly a guy story.

Then I got to the end, and the (larger) author blurb on the next page explains that it was an internet collaboration thing, design by committee. That explains it. Internet discussion groups are a chick thing, guys have more important things to do, like saving the world.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic toxic earth, which was common during the nihilism which preceded the fall of the Soviet Union; for a book published three or four decades later, it's anachronistic. It didn't make sense. Just now, as I write this, the author page flipped over, and I see a "conversation" with the author I missed when I set the book down last night, where he admits to a childhood fear of nuclear annihilation. I hope he grows up, but I probably won't go back for his other stories on the library shelf to see if he did.
 

2019 January 15 -- Crossing the Rubicon

Today I crossed the Rubicon: I had a chunk taken out of my face in connection with the C-word. My father, one of the last times I saw him, had numerous "skin cancer" scars on his face, but he spent a lot of his life outside. My sister died last year, and the last I saw her, she also had the wrinkly skin one gets from spending a lot of time in the sun. She had the Woman's Problem, but I never heard her say anything about her skin. Of course she was always "a private person" and said very little about her health to me or anybody else. Me, I'm an indoor guy. I figured the probability was low. I figured wrong. Or maybe the docs are lying to us. I have a bionic eye the ophthalmologist couldn't explain -- but *I* can: too many years sitting too close to a CRT. Now it's an LCD, maybe safer, maybe not, who knows? They all lie to us.

I had this new bump over my eyebrow. At first it was skin-colored but lumpy, like the warts I had on my hand as a kid, so I didn't worry about it. But it started to itch and get darker. The internet, when I looked a few years ago, always said if it's dark I should get it looked at. There are two dermatologists in the yellow pages that are not specified in some nearby town, one on 6th street. I know where that is. The other was on "Golf View" street, but no such street on my city map. I Googled the address, and the only Golf View street anywhere nearby is the next county over, and the street view of the building looks like it could be a doctor's office. So I went to 6th street.

There is no such thing as a "right to privacy" in the US Constitution, but the King (who wears Nine Black Robes) says it's the law, and like the Apostle Paul (after he learned from the Philippian jailer what rights he had as a Roman citizen), I choose to avail myself of that right, to the degree possible. The Law says that if the government asks me for my private personal information, I must give it to them. I obey the law. It also says I must give that information to banks and employers, but generally not otherwise. The doctor is neither the government, nor a bank or my employer, I don't have to give them anything. Some -- perhaps most -- of them refuse treatment when I do that.

It's worse after ObamaCare. 22 years ago HIPPA became law, it had two purposes: driving up the cost of medical insurance by insisting the carriers had to cover pre-existing conditions, and protecting patient privacy. ObamaCare changed that by destroying the privacy component of HIPPA where it matters most. Now all the doctors are required to report everything they do to the government, and the patient has no say in the matter. They make a much bigger deal of not disclosing patient data to friends and family, probably to hide the Big Brother aspects of the law. But they cannot disclose what they do not know.

So the 6th street office refused to see me "without ID." They claimed it was so as not to confuse me with another patient of the same name. No such person in this county. They claimed it was so when I came back for biopsy results, they'd know it was the same person. After thinking about it a while, I decided that if they required ID from me, I would do my very best to make it futile: they would see me exactly once, on that day, and never again. All I needed was for them to zap the bump off, like I had done a couple times previous (before ObamaCare made it too expensive). It's an office visit kind of thing. So I started looking for dermatologists in neighboring towns I could visit once only, and mentioned what I was doing to my niece, and she's a go-getter, she got me an appointment at the dermatology clinic in town (not in the yellow pages) where she takes her father-in-law, and got them to promise not to demand ID.

So they did their thing, and I have this hole in my face (currently covered by a big band-aid). It itches about as much as before. It's all downhill from here.

I read somewhere that eighty years ago there were two countries in Europe, both with a significant Jewish population, but were distinguished mostly by the kinds of records the government kept on citizens. Today, one of those countries has no Jews living there. Guess which one kept better records before Hitler marched in. If the government has the records, they will be abused. Privacy is like secrets: there are no secrets after a second person knows. If the government makes laws "protecting" your privacy, then only every criminal in the world, plus everybody in government (probably not much different), knows your secrets. Not mine. Yet. But it's all downhill from here.
 

2019 January 14 -- BAR Publishes Unprovenanced Artifacts

You may recall last summer, I sadly announced the suicide of Biblical Archeology Review (BAR). I was wrong. Editor Robert Cargill was giving out not policy but propaganda, which you probably do not remember from my friend Phil, the military intelligence agent,
Propaganda is the "skilled mixing of 99% truth with 1% deception to produce an overwhelmingly convincing message that is 180 degress opposite of the truth."
In Cargill's case, the deception is the rot about unprovenanced artifacts. The cover story in the current issue is authored by Cargill himself, describing his experience in an archeological dig. It was well-written, more fun to read than the corresponding stories under founding editor Hershel Shanks' supervision in previous years. Perhaps he and all his staff thought so too, and let one of the other features through contrary to his promised prohibition of unprovenanced artifacts. Or maybe (as I hope) his promise was pure propaganda, a carrot to attract more and better authors. I'm not very fond of dishonesty, whatever the excuse or benefit, but benefit it seems to be.

The author if the secondary feature makes an important point, but he makes it based on the wrong data. He openly admits to using unprovenanced artifacts to build his case, but the case is better built on linguistic data, about which he seems less cognizant. His title point is that a particular phrase found on some pots and mud seal impressions -- he shows photographs: that's what I like about BAR, I can look at the inscription myself and confirm or deny the author's interpretation myself -- he says this phrase is better translated "Commander of the Fortress" instead of the more usual "governor of the city."

So I look at the photos, and they are quite clear, and I read Hebrew, and I pronounce it out, and I realize that I know all these words, every part of it was in my daily readings this last week, and I can read it directly off the pot, and it really does mean "for leader of city."

So what's the deal here? Author Schniedewind correctly understands that the modern (English) word "city" is not a good translation for the Hebrew word "'IR" on this pot, but he seems to ignore that it is also not a good translation any place that  the word "city" was a good translation 800 or more years ago, before large-bore cannons started to make city walls irrelevant. In ancient times, not only 800BC, but all through the entire time of the Bible and for more than a thousand years afterward, a "city" is a defendable place where people live; there's a different word for the suburbs outside the walls where the peasants lived and the rich people had villas more spacious than their in-city apartments, and for unwalled villages not worth defending. So the walled garrison he was looking at, where they found this inscription, was a "city" (a defensible place where people lived), every bit as much as Jerusalem a century or two later, where they found the same inscription (unprovenanced, but presumably dated by its writing and image style), and the same Jerusalem two centuries earlier when David captured it from the Jebusites and named it after himself, "city of David." It's not the size of the area that made it a city, nor the number of people who lived there, but the walls that surrounded and contained and defended it, and the meaning of the word did not change for over 2000 years, when imported Chinese weaponry made the walls irrelevant. When I visited Jerusalem in 1984, even then there was the walled "city" and then there was the rest of Jerusalem outside the wall, and which I never heard anybody call it "city." The city was inside the walls.

One needs to read everything with a critical eye, and BAR still (today, anyway) makes that possible. And inscriptions found in the trash heaps around the Temple Mount -- yes, we know where they found it, but we don't know how it got there, it's all technically unprovenanced, without a historical setting except by the same kind of interpretation that helps us believe the James ossuary and the ivory pomegranate and the Dead Sea scrolls are all genuine -- were a delightful addition.

Bravo! Will I say so to BAR? No way, it might have been a mistake, and I wouldn't want them becoming more careful.
 

2019 January 9 -- Catastrophism Apologetic

The author is no Creationist Christian, which question he answers in the single word of his hero:
"Don't tell me 4,004 B.C. is true after all."
"No. [p.176]
But he argues vigorously and almost convincingly in Cradle of Saturn for recent global catastrophes of Biblical proportions. Fiction can do things like that. As I mentioned back when I read it, Michael Crichton's State of Fear makes an awesome scientific case against the supposed threat of global warming in the context of a fiction story.

Author James Hogan directs his sharpest venom against greedy power manipulators in politics and their academic and military lapdogs. Christians could (and should) take a lesson from this, it's the same message Jesus teaches in the Bible, but badly corrupted by easy-grace in most American churches. There was nothing to like at all about his villain, and there was no reader sympathy to be lost when he met his well-deserved end, only wonder at the hero's indecision. That's not really a spoiler, the only way an author could let the Bad Guy survive is if he's planning a sequel, but how do you make a sequel to the end of the earth?

I have a problem with end-of-the-world stories like this one, because I read the Last Chapter of the Book. We know how the world ends, and while fiction authors like to blend Biblical quotes and references into their stories, they do not see it as God's righteous judgment, so there are fundamental problems. In fiction, the hero and his family always escape -- you cannot sell stories that end otherwise -- but the only escape God offers at the end of time is the salvation the Church has been preaching off and on since the first century. That does not sell fiction (except to a few Christians willing to overlook the same flaws as in the secular catastrophe fiction).

His creation story leaves something to be desired, but like I said, he's not a Creationist, what can you expect?

Anyway, Creationists and Christians in general should be aware of this novel, it cannot hurt our just cause.
 

2019 January 1 -- Fiction and Politics

Long long ago in a far-away place, I may have read Dune, but I remember absolutely nothing about it except the title and the bleak sand dunes of the environment, so maybe I only read about it, or saw the movie, or some such non-reading encounter. But it seems to be one of the classics of sci-fi that everybody praises. So when I got to the H's in the library sci-fi section, and there were all these Dune-like books, I tried one of them that promised to be the beginning of a new trilogy (as opposed to the 13th sequel to the sequel to...). It turned out to be a rip-off by the guy's son, trying hard to earn his own chops and not ride his father's coattails but failing (at both), as I mentioned a couple months ago (see "More Fiction Failures"). But maybe his father would be better.

Nope, I didn't even finish The White Plague. The cover blurb boasts "Frank Herbert's speculative fictions have taken the grand themes and questions of politics, ecology, overpopulation and much more and applied them to the human drama." The "much more" seems to include endless inner turmoil over past failures, which I suppose women readers like to read about -- or at least women authors like to write about -- but honest guy fiction avoids like the plague, which is the title topic of this loser. Technically, it's an interesting enough idea, but there are no heroes. I skipped to the end, and there still are no heroes. Maybe that's where his son got it from, but the father at least has an excuse: he wrote this more than 30 years ago, when pretty much all fiction (at least sci-fi) was filled with the bleak nihilistic fear of global nuclear incineration.

The reason he has no heroes is because he has no God, no standard of moral absolutes to hold up for emulation. His religious professionals are the same greedy, selfish, power-hungry villains as everybody else -- no surprise: if he actually knew some honest Christians (rather than only knowing about them third-hand, like most of the left-wing bigots in this country), he would realize that good people do exist, and they make the world a better place for all of us. I even have known atheists who inherited their moral values from religious parents or grandparents, and have not figured out that their own professed religion does not support that kind of virtue. Frank Herbert and his son have made the connection, and it's a bleak world they have to show us.

The cover blurb mentions politics, and it was evident from this story's reference to American politicians (and perhaps also the Brits, but I don't know enough to recognize it) that he is definitely on the left side of the fence. Reagan was President when this book was published, and he sold hope to the American people. Reagan's politics brought an end to the threat of nuclear armageddon -- it might not have been Mr.Gorbachev who tore down the Berlin wall, but it came down. I even have a small piece of the rubble which I got when I visited Berlin some time later. But it happened after this book came out.

Herbert doesn't even have nice things to say about the other party (no heroes). Here's the advice given (with the author's apparent approval) to the newly sworn-in Democrat President:

The uses of power require a certain measure of inhumanity. Imagination is a piece of baggage you often can't afford to carry. If you begin thinking about people in general as individuals, that gets in your way. They are clay to be shaped. That's the real truth about the democratic process. [p.262]
No, it's the real truth about Machiavellian might-makes-right politics, which Herbert may not have intended to attribute to the entire political party falsely called "Democratic," but which they all surely act like they believe it. The other side probably believes the same, but at least the name of their party is more honest. True democracy is where the people tell the leaders what to do, not the other way around. Make no mistake, the people who lost the last Presidential election here in the USA do not believe in the people telling the leadership what to do -- the people in this country chose Trump (or none of the above) -- or they would accept the people's choice and get on with their life, just as the other side did four and eight years before. Continued talk of impeachment only proves that they do not believe in democracy. When you have no god but yourself, that's all you can hope for. It's a dismal world and not worth reading about. Herbert & son may not be alone, but they still have competition, and there are still books worth reading (but harder to find in this library in a blue state than they were 2000 miles east of here in red states).

Yes, politics matters, but not as much as virtue. These modern authors have never seen virtue, and they write what they know. That's why they have no heroes. They've never seen heroism, and they cannot imagine how it could work. The world is not a better place for the lack.
 

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