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2019 May 14 -- Hate Crimes and Other Blasphemy Laws

I mentioned on other occasions how the Muslim extremists show us that have a very low opinion of their own god, but this morning it occurred to me that there is another way in which the people who "believe what they know ain't so" (that is, false religious persuasions, see my blog post last year on Religion) demonstrate that they "know it ain't so." In Muslim-dominated countries it's called a Blasphemy Law, but we have them in atheist-dominated countries like the USA too, they are called "Hate Crimes" or "Evolution = science." It's the same thing, adherents of the dominant religion cannot tolerate the truth about their own religion being spoken out loud, so they throw the offender in jail or kill him or forcibly brainwash their children. Somebody who believes in a false god -- any god or none at all, it just needs to be bogus and unworthy of thinking people's attention -- will be offended when the truth is told, so (if they control the legal structure in that country), they devise laws to oppress the Christians. They don't care so much about the other religions, only the Christians have an allegiance to the Truth, so only the Christians say things that embarrass the government. And yes, it happens here too. The more radical of these hate-mongers are still in the minority, so their hate mostly does not get written into law, but they go to the universities and shout and scream to drown out the voices of people whose sensible ideas embarrass the hate-mongers' foolishness.

Christians don't need blasphemy and hate crime laws, because we have the truth, and while evil people hate the truth, most people need society to support truth (see "Moral Absolutes"), and there are enough people in any culture who can detect that they are being lied to, so the truth will be known (the liars cannot succeed). So while not all so-called Christians consistently tell the truth, they do so more than other religions, so we can let the truth stand on its own feet. The false religions do not have that home-court advantage, so their only hope for survival against the Christians is to exclude the truth from public discussion. In this they show that they know they cannot trust their own ideas to prevail in a level playing field. We Christians can.

2019 May 11 -- Space Opera

Space Opera -- and sci-fi in general -- is a literature genre written by guys for guys, but it's not Politically Correct to make that distinction. So male authors write most of it, and occasionally a female author writes some touchy-feely piece set in the future and the editors and publishers fall all over themselves to print it, and the critics gush about how modern and insightful it is, and the librarians rush to add it to their shelves, and the rest of us see the female name on the author line and skip over it. Perhaps a few will give it due diligence to show how enlightened they are, but you don't see the same effect (with the genders reversed) over chick-lit. The whole Feminazi agenda is so sexist.

One outcome from this Religion (people believing what the rest of us know ain't so) is that I can carry home this huge 700-page anthology of short stories, which the editor has struggled mightily to conform to the Feminazi agenda, and half of them aren't worth reading. I mentioned the Herbert (Dune) clan a few months ago, so I skipped over his contribution with no further thought. Some of the female authors I started, but abandonned as soon as it became obvious that she's writing chick-lit, not space opera.

One caught my attention: The editor's blurb at the top of the page announced that she's Nigerian, so I wanted to see what effect that would have. My most important observation I got from reading the editor's blurb: she's female. The story was filled with inner turnoil, like most other chick-lit. Her first-person lead character was also (no surprise here) female, who scored at the top of her fictional ethnic community in some STEM contest, and was therefore invited to study at the off-planet university. Much of her inner turmoil is reacting to prejudice and harassment from the majority ethnic people -- probably modelled on the Arabs in Africa, who seriously oppress the Christian minority, especially in Nigeria -- and it was particularly curious to see how her character used her superior mathematical (the "M" in STEM) skills to cope with her problems: she recited mathematical formulas over and over like a prayer or mantra. I happen to have a college degree in mathematics, and I know for a fact that reciting mathematical formulas over and over is not the way to do math. It might be the way to appease a pagan (or even Muslim and some varieties of Christian) god, if you recite the formulas prescribed for that religion, but you do math by doing math: proving theorems, or plugging numbers into those formulas and calculating the results, which you can then use to study the behavior of machines or molecules in scientific or technological disciplines, but reciting formulas by rote is utterly worthless as math.

The only value in reading a story like "Binti" is to see why and how disadvantaged people fail at reaching their potential in a world driven by power and technology. I think the people who suffer persecution tend to develop a focus on being a victim that overwhelms any ability they might have at doing what might make them useful in the world -- which is the only way to achieve wealth and power in the modern world. You get rich by making things or providing services that people want to pay money for; you gain power over people when they perceive that giving you their allegiance makes their own lives better. You get by giving. It's the Golden Rule, and if you want the gold and the rule, you need to earn it by giving value to other people. That's hard work, and if you are distracted by trying to find your next meal, or by resentment over nobodies mistreating you, then you cannot concentrate on Making the World a Better Place, and you will not be rich and powerful. Even trying to become rich and/or powerful is a distraction that mostly prevents people from succeeding at it. The author of this story, as represented in her first-person lead character, was so fixated on her own victim status, that she could not even be bothered to get her facts (about math and science) right. The story was a curiosity, but not good space opera.

2019 May 4 -- UnTech

I probably mentioned a few times that as a member of the IEEE and its Computer Society (see frex, "Facts vs Religion" earlier this year) I get their house-organ magazines. These go into the "reading room" so they don't always get read immediately, and when I see something noteworthy, I don't always take the time immediately to comment on it here. Today I'm waiting for my computer to do its thing, and the IEEE Spectrum from a couple months ago has been sitting here mocking me.

There are several items called out on the front cover that I thought interesting, one of them mostly for its incompleteness. "How the Spectre and Meltdown Hacks Really Worked" gives a little of the hardware explanation for how these claimed vulnerabilities enabled the Bad Guys to discover data in other people's code, but I know a little about hacking, and I still cannot see how to use this claimed flaw in the hardware to actually get anything useful. They explained how the hardware loads up its high-speed cache memory so that when a program touches data in the same place multiple times, the subsequent accesses are already there and much faster than getting it from (slower) main memory, but I already knew that. The hardware people didn't much worry about whose data it was in the cache, nor who could flush it to force the next access to go back to main memory, so the theory is that the Bad Guy can flush the cache then touch memory in locations similar to where the "secret" data is (that is, it gets loaded into the same cache) and if it's fast, then they presumably know that the other program already touched that same data in their own program.

Unstated in this article is the supposition that the timing of a single memory access is available to the programmer -- that's a big condition, because modern hardware has interrupts that can temporarily pause any program at any time (like right before or after the instruction you want the time for) which then gives you a very long instruction time -- and that the Bad Guys know exactly where the "secret" data is stored in memory. If that is true, it's a consequence of the Unix "Open Source" mentality and the whole Unix security model, which (I have said on numerous occasions) is broken. No Bad Guy software should ever be allowed on computers with secret data in them. We have enough computers in the world and in this country that this opportunity of access is not a requirement.

It gets worse. All the Bad Guy can do with this "exploit" is test the time to access one memory location at a time, and it takes hundreds or thousands of instructions to do it. And what does the Bad Guy know? Only that the other program looked there within the time frame being tested, but not what was in it, nor that they looked some other time, nor that the "secret" data was even running at the same time on the same computer. The article goes on to suggest how this is useful: The real "secret" that can be learned from this "exploit" is when the other program uses the secret data as an index into an array -- How often does that happen in a real program? I'm a programmer, and I know that it's not very often -- but for that data to be a useful index into an array, its value must range over at least a dozen (more often hundreds or thousands) different values, and the Bad Guy must test every single one of them, one at a very slow time, and by then the other program has moved on to do other things. It doesn't compute. It is less likely for somebody's secret data to be compromised this way than they are to be struck by lightning on a sunny day when texting while crossing a busy intersection against the light. Other catastrophes are far more likely in their Unix-vulnerable computers than somebody lucking out to expose secrets data by timing cache-misses.

Much more interesting is "The Case Against Quantum Computing" because like Neural Nets (NNs), so-called "quantum computers" (let's call them "QCs") are being promoted as the latest and greatest new advance in computer science. Don't believe it, this guy argues, and he explains it well enough so that I can understand it. Quantum physics is not something I know much about. I suspect a lot of people who talk about it don't know any more than I do. One of the novels I read a month or two ago mentioned some experiment where the result of the experiment could not be known until some person looked. There's a real simple test to see if that's true the way the novel explained it: have the experiment print out the result, then look at the printout before you see the experimental result. He never offered that sequence. It would have spoiled his story. This guy explains it much more credibly as a range of probabilities, which is approximately equivalent to having a zillion separate values in (the huge memory of) a normal computer, then processing them all at once. But, he goes on, for that do to anything useful, and to correct the inherent errors that creep into physical structures that small, you need hundreds of thousands of "Qubits" -- the largest QC today is something like 50 Qubits. QCs big enough to crack modern encryption keys won't happen for another 20 years, maybe never, according to this guy. By comparison (although this guy didn't say so), supercomputers big (and fast) enough to crack small encryption keys came a half-century after the first computers with dozens of memory cells happened in the 1940s. Maybe big QCs will happen, maybe not, but don't hold your breath waiting for them.

Into the same issue of Spectrum they folded in what used to be a quarterly newsprint tabloid, The Institute, which is more about the people than the technology, and one of its feature articles in that issue is "Quantum Computing's Researcher Shortage." I guess the people who might have jumped on that bandwagon got the message before the guy they interviewed for this piece did. Sort of like the right hand not knowing what the left is doing.

It's sort of comical, because the next page mentions an IEEE website about robots including "self-driving cars" so I mentioned it to Steve, the director of the summer program I've been mentoring, and he contacted the editor/reporter (and probably the entire staff of one) for The Institute who then interviewed Steve and me for the next issue. If you've been reading my blog much in the past three or four years, you know what I think of self-driving cars and in particularly of the NNs everybody thinks will make them possible (see "The Problem with 21st Century AI" last year). The current plan for our summer program this year is to take our car to an international model car race in the fall, and our secret sauce, the reason I think our car will win, is that everybody else is using NNs. Doing things with NNs is hard. They make your computer Artificially Stupid (not intelligent as claimed). NNs are about as smart as an earthworm right now, but they might get as smart as an emu (somebody at the San Diego Zoo once claimed their emu had been trained: "We give it food, and it eats," he said). I expect the researchers will eventually give up on NNs because they can only be trained in conditioned response, not in solving problems like what (intelligent) humans can solve. I think NNs are like Linux, whose proponents claim it is "more powerful" than Windoze, but I think it's because the archaic unix operating system (of which Linux is an "open source" clone) makes people work harder to get the same things done that on a more modern system the computer already knows how to do, so they feel more useful. The way a pick and shovel are "more powerful" than a Bobcat for digging a swimming pool. But nobody cares about my opinion -- except maybe a dozen kids in Portland each summer, because I give them a fun project they can finish in four weeks and that looks good when they present it to the public (see "Knocking It Out of the Park" last year). That's because they are not using NNs.

The following month, it still wasn't the cover story -- these are techies, with every bit as much Religion as the Relationshipists, so they want their cover story to be upbeat and positive about technology -- one of the features was titled "IBM Watson, Heal Thyself" [their italics], "How IBM overpromised and underdelivered on AI health care." You need to understand that IBM today isn't the same powerhouse it was a half-century ago, when it was widely know as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" -- the dwarves being the other seven major computer companies, who together had less revenue than IBM alone. The PC put Bill Gates in that seat, and the internet transferred the title to Google, but not with the same degree of supremacy as IBM once had. So and possibly because, IBM does not have the same caliber of management as they did back then. But this article can't say that.

Need I mention? IBM's "AI for medicine" is largely based on NNs. Maybe you can train a NN to play a game -- certainly not chess, that requires inferential logic, at which conditioned response simply cannot be trained -- but they got cocky. "Pride goeth before...a fall," a very wise man once said. This article quoted "a leading AI researcher" as saying "AI systems can't understand ambiguity and don't pick up on subtle cues that a human doctor would notice." This is not news, it's only the True Believers who don't get it.

2019 April 25 -- Unification

I'm not much into poetry, I prefer people to say what they mean instead of hiding it in a bunch of obscure and abmiguous language. So when I read the Psalms, there's not much there for me -- much more so as I try to read them in the original Hebrew: the translators see it their God-given duty to make the whole Bible (including the poetry) make sense in English (or whatever language they are translating into), so the translated result is much less "poetic" than the original. It's not just the Bible, when I was in High School or college (I don't remember which) and we had to read portions of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, the teacher pointed out that the poetry is much more lyrical in the translation than in the original Arabic. I see today when Googling the spelling, that he was a mathematician rather than a word-smith, so perhaps (like me) his poetry was less than stellar, whereas the translator was obviously more into poetry.

Anyway, here I am reading Psalm 85 this morning, and I noticed that it's much easier for me to understand in the original Hebrew than the other Psalms are. Many of the Psalms were written by David, who was a singer and poet at heart. Some were written by the professional singers in the Temple after David's time, and are much more obscure than even David's. Part of that I attribute to the natural change in the language, the accumulation of idioms that mean something utterly different from the etymology of the words. You can see the same effect in the Hebrew of the later books of the Old Testament (prior to the Exile), as noted in my essay "Insights from Reading Greek & Hebrew" a few years ago. Psalm 85 is different, its Hebrew much more plain and understandable. The message seems to be consistent with a post-Exile worldview, so I suppose the guy who wrote it was not writing in his native language -- generally everybody spoke Aramaic (not Hebrew) after the Exile, even including in the 1st century from which we have a few of the words of Jesus recorded in the original -- which means the Psalmist here could not do high-quality poetry like David, but only the simple stuff that techies like me can understand.

So I'm reading this Psalm, and I notice that (among other things) it's about God unifying opposites, "Mercy & truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven" [vv.11,12]. Mercy is what Feelers are good at; Truth is what Thinkers give priority to. Righteousness does not make for peace -- at least not in our understanding -- unless everybody is on the same page. Heaven is where God lives, the earth is our domain. These are all unified here.

If you want to ignore the overall message of the Psalm and you were so inclined, you could proof-text the mantra of the theistic Darwinists -- indeed, most scientists since Galileo, who argued that "the Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, but not how the heavens go" -- so they all posit two sources of information, the Bible ("from Heaven") for matters of faith, and science ("from the earth") for verifiable knowledge. Francis Schaeffer called that a "two-story universe" and showed how it is inconsistent with the unified worldview of the Bible. The theistic Darwinists generally don't have a high enough view of Scripture to justify proof-texting, so it's not a problem.

Anyway, that was my insight for today.

2019 April 18 -- Dancing with Eternity

It was next on my stack of reading material, and the first half seemed like a reasonable sci-fi story, a little weak on the science and a little heavy on inner turmoil (which I let by because it seemed like a reasonable way to explain twenty centuries of back-story) but it also had a male lead (I usually check that before I bring it home) and no profanity. According to the author blurb at the back, John Patrick Lowrie was a singer and then actor with no scientific background at all, and as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, the best fiction is when the author writes what he knows. So his first-person lead character Mo also was a singer and actor. Maybe he was a dancer too, it got more ink than your average sci-fi, and no obvious referent in the text to the dancing in the title.

An important technological factor in his story involves a "sky-hook" to raise and lower people from an orbiting space ship without landing on the planet. It looks ingenious if you don't understand physics: the idea is that you whirl this very long, super-strong cable like a Ferris wheel centered on the low-orbiting ship, so that the far end of the cable with the hook on it gets really close to the ground going backwards at the same speed as the ship is going forward in the sky, so the speeds cancel out the way it works for the tires on a car.  You hook on, and it pulls you up and out to twice the hieght (and velocity) of the space ship, which if they release the cargo on that outer reach, it can be driven farther out into orbit, presumably with no serious energy lost in rocketing off the earth. The physics part is called momentum, first to get that thing whirling takes a lot of energy out there at the hook end, and if it doesn't have enough inertia (weight) coming through the atmosphere and hooking onto the load, the spin just stops (or at least slows down like a pendulum through a liquid). That energy must come from somewhere, it's not free. It takes just as much energy lifting a ton of load off the earth into orbit with a sky-hook as it does lifting it up in a rocket taking off from the ground. The only difference is that the rocket also needs to lift itself off. It still needs to do that, plus lifting all the fuel to keep it in orbit while lifting the load with the hook. It's fiction, authors get to invent stuff like that, but the scientifically inclined readers will notice the discrepancies.

Some time in the twenty centuries between now and the setting of this story, somebody figured out that dreams always involve (other) people and (according to this pseudo-science) those dreams are actually contact with other people who are also dreaming, and this goes through some kind of dimensional thing so it's instantaneous, not constrained by the speed of light. My dreams don't always involve people, and if they do, it's often that the people I'm dreaming about already died in real life. I suspect it might be because I'm a techie and work with things (not people) in real life, whereas singers and actors tend to be people-oriented (Feelers). Anyway, in his story, you just "log onto the net" and you have telepathy with anybody anywhere (who is also logged on, but you can "bullet" them like a telephone ring if they are not). From this and what mathematicians call "a hand wave" he gets faster-than-light (FTL) communications and travel. Space opera needs star travel, and only Orson Scott Card managed to do it without magic (for a while) -- but even he had FTL communications. So it's a permitted fantasy in otherwise hard sci-fi.

The most important technological break-through in his story is what he called "rebooting," where they have this facility that goes through your whole body and undoes the aging, and while they're at it, they can make physiological changes to the body, like adding fur or feathers or reptilian scales as a grown skin covering, or change your height and muscle strength. On a smaller scale, the (presumably same) technology can heal pretty much anything that happens to you by way of accident. If it's a fatal accident, you quickly upload your "perspective" (essentially your memories and thought patterns) to the net, then wait three months while they clone a new body for you. Rebooting is very expensive, so in order for everybody to get it, they sign up for one lifetime of slavery, followed by another reboot, and the corporation that is buying 80 years of your labor pays for the reboot at the front (to prepare you for whatever they want you doing) and another at the end to restore you to yourself or whatever you want to be. The result is that nobody ever dies any more, and the FTL enables them to go colonize new planets -- where terraforming is labor-intensive, paid for by corporations who profit from the resources, using the contract slave labor -- so the earth is no longer overcrowded.

This much took 200 pages of back-story woven into otherwise boring drunken existence with a lot of inner turmoil over past bad decisions, so that our first-person hero finally had the necessary basis for the theme of his story, which is what do people who live in such a culture do with death? At this point I began to realize this book had turned a corner to become a deeply religious tract. The function of religion, in his opinion, is to cope with death, to give people an immortal soul that transcends death, and a ritual to send their loved ones off to heaven or Valhala or wherever. And when death is abolished, then religion dies. Except for one planet where the religious nuts went to refuse rebooting and continue their religious traditions -- Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever, it didn't matter, they were all equivalent in his mind.

Although he didn't say so that I noticed, another function of religions that he was willing to admit to is to provide a moral compass, to encourage people to act in civilized ways toward each other. Lowrie's Religion -- capitalized here, so to refer to my definition, which is to spell out for their adherents what is non-negotiably True -- Lowrie and his lead character Mo both have a Religion which solves the moral problem with telepathy. If you attack (like rape) a person, all she needs to do is go online and everybody can feel her pain, so rape and murder and stealing are eliminated. As if. The problem is that "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" [Jer.17:9], and we sinners are generally not willing to give that up. In Lowrie's 40th century, dying is so horrible, it overwhelms any sinful disadvantage we might see in telepathy. Anyway, it was clear that Lowrie was using his technology as a substitute redemption story that conferred eternal life, as pointed out in that ChritianityToday story some ten years ago (see my "Sci-Fi Redemption" blog post).

Lowrie himself can't really imagine a universe without sin, so his secondary character, the mega-wealthy female industrialist named Steel who hires Mo as a crew member on her starship, she needs to be accompanied by a 500-pound almost-sentient gorilla who serves as a bodyguard: when Mo first sees beautiful furry (but otherwise naked) Steel in the bar in the first chapter, his next thought is "Where's her bodyguard?" He looks around and sees him just outside the door. This is before Lowrie gets around to explaining why religion is dead. Why would this be necessary if the net eliminated the need for religion? Later it is revealed that the top crust of society (including Steel) can use the net, but are not on it the way everybody else is. I think it's Lowrie's way of telling us that in his Religion (like most movies today, where corporate greed drives the Bad Guys), industrialists have no moral compass, so they do Bad Things to other people. He writes what he knows, and it's a world full of sin. The story would be boring otherwise, because we readers want to read about sin -- if for no other reason than so that the Good Guys can beat the Bad Guys.

The last quarter of the book turned another corner, left off preaching, and became a rowsing action story. Still too much inner turmoil, but the religious focus turned against radical feminism. Lowrie seems to be only a nominal feminist: the starship owner Steel and her hired scientist Archie are both female, but Steel's bodyguard and our hero Mo and the pilot and the tech wiz are all stereotypical male. Pretty close to the 3/4 mark, Mo (who can do no wrong other than getting drunk when he has no job and spending too much time in senseless introspection) tells Archie,

If women are equal to men they're equal in venality as well as nobility. In stupidity as well as wisdom. In weakness as well as strength. That's the horror. The world won't be a better place if women run it; women are just men shaped a little differently. There's no one to run to, no bosom to hide in. We human beings are all we've got. Better to think that women are just 'kind of' equal to men. Equal but different, equal but better, more sensitive, less aggressive, just plain nicer. [page 285]

Some authors make their unisex women into "men shaped a little differently," but Lowrie does not. Some, but not a lot. That's because the reality, which Lowrie sees and knows and writes about (but probably does not understand), is that women are different from men in more ways than reproductive organs -- organs atrophied in this story except for sex acts, because children are "hatched" and not raised by families (except on the planet Eden, which is isolated from the net, and where Steel and Archie went to study the culture of people who die).

It's an interesting exploration of religion and death, by a person who obviously has no love for nor understanding of what Religion is all about, but recognizes that it serves a useful purpose in our society today, just one he wants no part of himself. If obscenities are the hallmark of anger, then the third quarter is where Lowrie exposes his anger at religion. But we need to remember that it's fiction, as that screenwriter put it, "it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?"


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