For several years now ChristianityToday has devoted their prized last page to "Testimony" = interesting stories about how people came to faith. Some have been atheists or other high-profile people formerly hostile to Christianity, but the current (March) issue is the first time I've seen a science-minded atheist attribute his conversion to "love."
At first I was inclined to shrug and suppose maybe I'm just weird and allow that the unBiblical message must really work after all -- God can do anything He wants to, including making donkeys and stones and "love" talk, especially if His preferred method is not working -- but after thinking about it for a while I realized that the guy said it was the experience of love from the people, not anything spoken from the pulpit, that convinced him. I have not seen much of this kind of Biblical Doing Good in the churches, but the church where I park my fanny these days seems to be an exception. So I still think that if we preached a Truth-based gospel rather than love-based, this guy might have had less reason to avoid us for so long. I still agree than treating people kindly -- that's what convinced this guy -- is commanded throughout Scripture, and we should be doing it always, but sometimes (I should think: always) kindness means telling them the truth, and the Christians have better truth about science than the atheists do. We Christians (not the atheists) invented modern science.
Toward the end of this "Testimony" the guy tells us that he is now an
active member in the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA,
an association of scientists who are also Christians: the order is significant).
I was a member also for a while, but it annoyed me that they tended to
put their science ahead of Scripture. I didn't want to be supporting that
precedence, so I dropped out (see my blog postings "Humpty
Dumpty Semantics" and "God and Science"
more than a decade ago). The facts of science better support the Biblical
model of Creation over the Darwinistic fiction, but the atheists -- and
even the Christians in the ASA -- won't tell you that
(see my essay "Biological Evolution:
Did It Happen?"). It's our fault for not emphasizing Truth in our message
to the world. But the preachers -- ask them! -- disagree. Maybe (like the
scientists) they think they know more than God does.
I spent several years in the Amazon jungle (eastern Peru), so this is like "Roots" for me (see also my blog post a decade ago). Before the text begins, they show a map identifying some of the places mentioned in the text, including several where I have actually been, and more that I have read about in other places. Most curiously, a tribal group of short people featured prominently in this early part of the book, Yanomamo, turns out also to be the (named) model for the fictional tribal group of the movie I watched yesterday, which was set partly in the Amazon jungle of southern Venezuela (but filmed in Hawaii): the two speaking parts among the tribal extras imported from Venezuela were identified in the credits as Yanomami. The flick itself was interesting only because it demonstrates clearly the spiritual vacuum left in people's lives by the Established American Religion (atheism), but it wandered off into near-death-experiences as their substitute religion. I guess Kevin Costner, while he may be a good actor like Harrison Ford and Robin Williams, is not so good as Ford at choosing scripts to act in (but better than Williams, see also my blog post "Rotten Movies" seven years ago).
Another 150+ pages into the novel, the soldiers are starting to cuss
like -- well, soldiers -- but at least not very often. Some of the things
the story describes, I remember from being there, so obviously the author
has some experience of the Amazon (or has done very good research). One
of the soldiers leaned against a tree to relieve himself, and I thought
"That's dangerous, there are ant trees in the jungle: you touch one and
a zillion stinging ants come out to protect their turf." A hundred or so
pages later the soldier leaned against another tree, and it was
an ant tree. Our ant trees had small 1/4" ants, but in this story they
were the fiercely stinging 1" ants called "sapagncari" by the natives where
we were; in this story the name was similar (different native language,
probably the same etymology) "supay chacra." The adventurers in the story
were told to shake the bugs out of their shoes before putting them on in
the morning; six decades later, I still shake my shoes out every morning.
The natives in the story fished by beating some kind of botanical sedative
into the river water, then collecting the fish that floated to the top,
same as when I was there. After a while the sedative wore off, and the
fish that were left behind eventually woke up and went on with their life.
The gringos used dynamite which killed everything (but not in this
story). These things are what makes this a fun read for me.
Truth is a moral absolute, but most people prefer otherwise -- unless they are the ones being lied to. Watching this flick made me feel a little like Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I live among a people of unclean [lying] lips..." When I was much younger, I thought about truth sort of like a cartoon I once saw, the preacher standing fully dressed (including his clerical collar) in the shower with the water turned off, and around the corner his wife talking on the phone, "Mrs. Smith? I'm sorry, the Parson just stepped into the shower..." What she said was the absolute truth, but the intent was to deceive. Once I figured out that the moral issue here is the intent to deceive, not the actual words being used, I had to take a stricter standard on myself. I won't say I got it perfect now, because there are people who can make things very unpleasant if they don't like the raw truth. Fortunately, God mostly protects me from that.
Truth is a moral absolute, but telling the whole truth all the time does not appear to be (except under oath in court). Jesus gave his Disciples some hints about the End Times, and they wanted more, like When? He said in no uncertain terms, "None of your business." Yet he still called them "friends." I have discovered, rather to my dismay, that people mostly do not want the truth about their own situation. Especially Christians, but this flick was not about Christians. Good people (not the liars and thieves) mostly treat me the way they want to be treated, not necessarily how I want to be treated; on the other hand, as near as I can figure out, applying the Golden Rule means figuring out when they don't want the truth and shut up. I can do that, but it's a lonely life. sigh
It was not a fun flick.
I've been reading -- slower than usual, partly because it had a slow start, and partly I was working longer hours and therefore falling asleep quicker when I got to bed -- this sci-fi novel that I just now finished. It's set in the distant future, but it's not clear how far, the dates are in the 25th century, but that might be a different calendar because several hundred years must have passed since star travel went to distant stars with people frozen in stasis, or maybe the author is optimistic about when these things will start. At first I thought it was a million years in the future, but then I realized that was an extinct alien race who died out 999,900 years ago, so it said nothing about humans.
The author is obviously a Darwinist: several times major characters refer to "evolution" of various alien races, but otherwise he has made an effort to get his science right -- until the end where it gets goofy, but then as a Darwinist, he is forced to believe in unlimited progress, so million-year-old species should have invented a few things that seem impossible to present-day physics. It does seem odd that his human technology is good enough to do "Turing" simulation (an obvious reference to the Turing Test which I mentioned here in "Artificial Immortality" a couple years ago in connection with the idea of extending life past the body in a computer simulation, perhaps in reference to the same item as the source of his projected technology), yet his main character still cannot trust AI assistants to get his thoughts correct.
Anyway, one of his main characters starts off in the story as an archeologist studying the artifacts of this exctinct alien species. Another main character is the weapons officer on a starship, but she is improbably thinking along the same lines, with her internal turmoil going like this:
Perhaps, the Triumvir mused, in a few million years other beings would arrive on Resurgam, sharing something of humanity's curiostity. They would want to learn of the planet's history, and in doing so they would take core samples, reaching far back into Resurgam's past. Doubtless that deposited layer of dust [from human occupation] would not be the only mystery they had to solve, but nonetheless they would mull on it, if only fleetingly. And she had no doubt that those hypothetical future investigators would come to a totally wrong conclusion regarding the layer's origin. It would never occur to them that it had been put there by an act of conscious volition...That last line there caught me up, because it is so close to what the Darwinists do today in trying to interpret the layers of the earth's crust, except the volition in our case is God's, not human. Of course, as a Darwinist himself, the author had no such parallel in mind. This woman is (obliquely) said to be of Russian descent, and constantly throws in an untranslated (Russian?) epithet svinoi, which I Googled, and a couple hits suggested it might mean "porcine" or pig-like, but mostly it fails translation. The bottom half of the first page of hits are posts by readers of this book trying to ask what the word means, which I last saw in other sci-fi novels with invented words that readers were trying to make sense of. I may have mentioned them here once or twice in the past.
The author is clearly trying to show off that he is well-read, constantly throwing in literary terms from our own history (but little or none invented from his story's more recent past, as other authors are careful to do). Usually his references do not use the term consistent with its original meaning, but only because he could adapt the words to the context in the book. For example he has his main character saying "I have to go this extra mile, just so I can silence these phantoms." The "extra mile" is Biblical, but its purpose there is not to make some logical or polemic point, but rather because we Christians are expected to do for others what we want done for us (the Golden Rule, see my recent essay "The Law of Love"). This same guy goes on to express (to his wife, as he leaves on what he sees as his life's purpose or destiny, see also my blog post "Love in Fiction" five years ago) what all American guys understand about the word "love" as used by the women they know:
You tried to talk me out of it because you love me. And what I was doing -- what I was going to do -- hurt me more, because I knew I was betraying that love.Like all women, she was trying to talk him out of doing this dangerous Quest, because she "loved" him. It was not for his benefit, but because she selfishly wanted to keep him for herself. That is how women use the word, and all the guys know it. Except the preachers.
One of my movies of the weekend was "The Young Karl Marx." It's a 2017
French flick (occasional dialogue in English, but mostly in French and
German with English subtitles) probably because only the French so have
their political heads in the sand as to allow this kind of puff piece to
make any profit. I suspect it partly came to be because of the turn of
American politics to the left in the wake of Trump's election. I thought
it remarkable that at the end they quoted from Das Capital with
lines and phrases that seemed to describe, a century and a half later,
the abuses of modern corporations who are increasingly abandonning God's
Golden Rule for what has been ironically called "The Golden Rule of Business:
Those who have the gold make the rules." After they took the Ten Commandments
off the school walls, the political system in this country has effectively
given people permission to do what the the rest of the world has been doing
all along, which is why America became the richest country in all the world
and in all time -- but we are on the way down. The Marxists (and the makers
of this film) do not realize that they are the cause of the problem, not
the solution. Their rule over Russia, China and other atheistic countries
made things far worse there, not better. Watch for serious Marxists to
run against Trump this year, and tremble. However, like Trump and Obama
before him, even if they win, they cannot pull off everything they want,
the political system here is too slow. But if they get in and try, then
it will be undone the following election. American politics has been like
that since the first Bush. Half the country hates the current sitting President,
and the other half hated his predecessor. These days the margin is so small
between them that it oscillates back and forth every couple elections.
Anyway, the movie was made three years ago, but I was the first to check
it out of the library. It says something about the politics of librarians
as compared to the public at large.
But it's definitely a guy book: lots of references to "naked ladies" (not "women" and never any "naked guys") and bosoms (spelled "Bazooms" when it's in the chapter title), and most of the women in the story seem to be either currently or previously in the business of prostitution (with no regrets, unlike the Real World), but the foul language is mostly (except near the end) toned down, and there are no explicit sex scenes. It wouldn't be worth a mention here but for the focus on religion.
I think the author Resnick thought he was writing a modern Decameron or Canterbury Tales, because the entire book consists of nothing but a collection of stories offered by the various characters in this tavern off on some distant planet, plus their interactions between the stories. The author is himself in the story business, so he is at pains to distinguish his author character's "embellishment" of the tales for some forthcoming "history" book from the painter character's doing the same thing in his art. Resnick clearly understands the hypocrisy (pointed out by another character in the discussion), which makes his treatment of religion so much more devious, or maybe just ignorant
With the possible exception of Orson Scott Card (and my own unpublished and unpublishable efforts, like Lazir), all sci-fi treats religion with hostility, either great (from a militant atheist perspective) or mild (accepting it as a tolerable opinion not shared by the author). This guy is in the latter category, most obviously from a state of ignorance. His preacher character carries a Bible and refers to it frequently, most often inaccurately. The author's opinion is summed up dismissively 12 pages from the end, where the author character Bard defends his own "embellishment" of the facts:
The greatest history of all is the Good Book that the Reverend Billy Karma totes around in his pocket," answered the Bard. "How accurate do you think it is?"The preacher did not dispute this analysis as he did anti-religion remarks by other characters in the room. In another place, Billy Karma states "God is a mighty understanding critter." You need to understand that "critter" is the hillbilly pronunciation of "creature" = created being. No honest preacher worth his salt (except the Mormons, who carry their own Book around instead of the Bible) would claim that God is created. Not that Resnick portrayed Billy Karma as either particularly honest or worth his salt, but people who are not themselves Christians -- that is, they never gave it an honest evaluation -- tend to think of all preachers as slightly more despicable than used car salesmen.
"So much for setting down the facts," said Max.
But then Resnick portrayed almost all his characters as dishonest to a greater or lesser degree. Not all of them, because everybody (including Resnick) really in their heart of hearts believes in moral absolutes, of which Truth is a prime example. But most such people want to make exceptions for themselves and their personal heroes.
The religious bigotry that really got me was fairly early in the book, where one of the (non-human) characters was telling about himself and how he got a super-smart computer to answer his hard questions -- like "I'm not even a mammal, and my race has three sexes, so why am I attracted to big-breasted women?" (The computer answered that it was a universal constant he shouldn't lose sleep over.) -- The important question being: "If God made me, who made God?" It's really a good question, which neither the fictional computer nor Resnick himself knew the answer to, but he couldn't let it lie, so he decided to refute the "First Cause Argument" instead, in the words of this computer:
"To disprove it one need merely show that not everything has a first cause...This is philosophical nonsense, about on the same logical level with his physics, but it's the kind of pseudo-logic atheists use to convince themselves of a position they have chosen for reasons other than logic. There are several problems with it, the first being that numbers are not physical objects or energy that can exist or be caused, they are merely abstractions for describing and arranging the things that can be caused. The first cause of any number is the person who wants to count things. And the first cause of negative numbers is the perverse person (we call them mathematicians) who wants to count the things he does not have. So in that sense the first cause of negative numbers -- if it is a number at all -- is (positive) one, not some abstract minus infinity. Mathematicians all know this, because any proof by induction (which mathematical principle Resnick, in the words of his fictional computer, is actually but ignorantly using) they start at zero, and then go in any direction they choose from there. And the principle of mathematical induction does not prove there is no such thing as minus infinity (or plus infinity), because those are valid mathematical concepts just like ordinary numbers, and (like ordinary numbers) they exist only in the minds of the mathematicians and the computers they program, and as ink on paper -- oh wait, it's the ink that exists and has a cause, but the ink is not a number, it only represents a number. Then he repeats the same silly argument with fractions, to show it's not "just a fluke." Hey, if you want to prove there are no such things as solid foods by demonstrating that tea is a liquid (which does not prove anything about solid foods), then it's not just a fluke when coffee is also a liquid, you still have not proved anything.
Consider the set of all negative integers. The last cause, the highest number, is minus one. The next-to-last cause is minus two. And the first cause, minus infinity, cannot exist."
The stories are moderately entertaining, more so to average guys than
feminist women, and certainly less entertaining to people who care about
math and science and God. The first page, where most authors list their
previous books, has several with "Future" in the title and a few that are
obviously fantasy (like "Unicorn" in the title). My policy is to avoid
all books by authors with works classified as fantasy, so I probably will
not be taking any more of his books home from the library. Oh well.
So the IEEE Computer Society, of which I have been a member for 40+ years, sends out this freebie compendium of stuff gathered from their other rags, most of it not worth spending productive time on, but here I am in the RR, so whatever. I mentioned here in my blog a few things worth commenting on (see for example "The Edge of Computers" and "STEAM" and "The Emperor's New Naked" last year). Today the title topic in an issue devoted to data visualization is "Exploranation" which title looks like it should be about getting on a bus or train (or car) and travelling around the country to see things, but they rather thoughtlessly put together the two words "exploration" and "explanation" to come up with something they hoped reflected on their government-funded research -- is there any other kind? Especially as foolish as this? -- into data visualization tools. As I got farther into this vague generalized description, it began to look like getting on the bus was a good metaphor for what they are trying to do.
At first they made out like they were trying to organize the data so that clients could explore the data and see whatever there is to see in it. But they kept using the word "story" like they were trying to build a pre-masticated pablum with a consistent "fake news" back-story. They even suggested that their product worked better at promoting the deception (not their word) if they used live "guides" (their word). You get on this electronic tour bus and it goes where the promoters decided to go, and you see what they arranged for you to see, and you pay a ton of money for the priviledge.
Two of the magazines I have consistently read over the decades are Biblical Archaeology Review -- (BAR) you've seen my comments from time to time, most recently on the passing of the editorial torch from the founder to an academic who does not understand how the Real World works (see frex "The Gender Divide" and "BAR's Women Issue" last year) -- and ChristianityToday (fewer blog comments, probably because they are not so stupid). Anyway, because Christian values drive the wealth production in this country, there are a lot of "Visit Bible Lands" tours advertized in the pages of these two mags for the people with more dollars than sense. I don't consider myself to be one of them, but visiting the Holy Land was high on my bucket list, so I went on the cheap and mostly just wandered around. But I did sign up for one tour bus to do Qumran, En-Gedi, and Masada, none of which were on my original list of things to see. It gave me a basis for comparing the tour bus mode of operation to just walking around and looking at things.
So ComputingEdge and WIRED are the tour buses of what's happening in computers; "just walking around" is more like what I got paid for. ChristianityToday and BAR are the tour buses of what's happening in things Biblical; "just walking around" is what I do every morning -- and for the last dozen years or so, in the original languages. It goes a lot slower than reading in a language I'm comfortable with (English), and one of the results is that I see things from a different perspective than one gets while whizzing by on a tour bus. I tell my computational students that OOPS ("Object Oriented" programming systems) has the same effect on their programming quality. The Real World is not "object oriented" so they must work harder to fit their problems into that way of thinking, and the harder work (not OOPS itself) helps them to think more clearly and deliver a product with fewer bugs than if they used an easy language like C.
So I'm reading in Isaiah, and yesterday it was chapter 4. It's a short chapter, six verses, and I read the whole chapter, but the first verse really got me:
In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, "We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!" [oNIV]The (old) NIV translation tones down some of the anti-feminism that is so startlingly clear in the original Hebrew. "In that day," the Prophet says, there will be no feminazis. Sure, they will work to earn their own food and clothing, but that's not what matters. First off, there are vastly more women than men (seven to one is probably a poetical ratio reflecting a large discrepancy), sort of the reverse of what is happening in China today because of their own self-genocidal efforts. But the women are not the top of the power structure! They are clinging to men to get legitimacy they cannot achieve on their own. Where did the men go? It doesn't say, but I would guess, probably to war. Despite the fantasies of mythical legends like Amazon and a few goofy places like modern Israel, women are not warriors. The women themselves mostly know it (and say so, even the feminists among them). "In that day," feminism will be dead.
So what day is "that day"? Isaiah has been using that term frequently in these early chapters as a reference to some future time of reckoning and justice. Chapter 4 goes on to tell us some of the other things that will happen "in that day," for example, the pillar of cloud (smoke) by day and the pillar of fire by night -- probably the same thing, but you could see the light from the fire in the dark, but only its white smoke in daylight -- which led the Israelis through the desert and away from Egypt how many thousand years ago, will be reinstated over Jerusalem. That has never happened. Yet. The smoke filled Solomon's temple so the priests were unable to enter, but it was contained. "In that day," it will be over the whole city, and so hot (we are told in the last verse of the chapter) that people will need "booths" to protect them from its heat. The column of heat will have meteorological effects, so that those booths also protect from the "storm."
My friend subsequently reminded me that there also are women in the final verses of the previous chapter, which I had neglected to see as linked. There were no chapter divisions when this was written, so Isaiah may indeed have been thinking of these women (in both chapters) as the same group of people, "daughters of Zion," but I'm inclined to think the wicked women in chapter 3 might be different from the women in this verse. If I'm wrong about that, then the Israeli women in particular will have abandonned their feminism "in that day," which seems to me unlikely unless the whole secular world culture goes that way. At least (I now see) chapter 3 does confirm my previously unsupported supposition that their men had been killed off in battle.
I started chapter 5 today, and it begins with a parable about God's vineyard, which He did everything possible to make it productive and profitable, but it only produced rotten grapes. So God gives up on it, breaks down its protective walls and even stops the pleasant weather (God can do that). Jesus retold the same story in Luke 20, but he blamed the tenants. Bad Things Happen -- or rather, Bad Things are caused by Bad People -- but God is a God of Justice. Either you get with His program, or you are in deep doodoo. I have been stewing longer than I ought over the horrible phone Cricket sold me (see "Worse than a Cricket" last week), but that phone is like God's vineyard: Bad Things are caused by Bad People, but God is a God of Justice. Not my problem. Well, the phone is, but not really: I only need to make and receive calls away from home one month out of the year, and rarely otherwise. I don't need to text people. Many -- make that most -- people of the world have far worse problems than a phone made by Bad People. They will get their Just reward, but it's not my place to give it to them (the Bible teaches that too, just not here).
All this from "exploring a nation," walking slowly through the text,
rather than riding the pre-packaged tour bus on Sunday morning.
All the things that were wrong with last year's model are still wrong with this new one, PLUS a bunch of new things are broken in the software. What can I say? It's unix under the hood. I couldn't find a way to set the speed-dial for the one person I need to call (once every two or three months), but there was this new "Favorites" thing that I wondered if it might be it. DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL, it's irreversible and clutters up what little screen space this thing offers, and makes dialing that person SLOWER, not faster. I called the Cricket customer support number, but the guy had such a thick India accent I couldn't understand him. He told me where the Speed-dial option was to be found, but he didn't know about "Favorites" and gave me the Alcatel (manufacturer) phone number. Their robot wanted a whole bunch of numbers, which when I keyed them in, he went back to the top of his script (but softer, so I could barely hear him). Maybe hitting the "Factory Reset" option will clear it out -- along with everything else I already put in. Maybe some other time, if I'm sitting somewhere with nothing to do. That's not today.
It turns out there is a way to remove somebody from the Favorites category -- and as I later found out, when the last is removed, the category disappears -- they offer you the opportunity to delete the contact. Although you got there from inside the Favorites category, they listed everybody in the whole Contacts list, so I guessed that the only way is to delete that person from the whole phone and resisted the temptation. So I was whining about this [expletive deleted] phone to my niece, so she fiddled around with it and and deleted her own number from Favorites -- and, as I guessed, from the whole phone. Then she put her entry back in. I guess the horrible, counter-intuitive text entry mode does not annoy her like it does me.
Every other electronic device, you hold the power button down for five seconds, and it goes OFF, but not this turkey: all it does is pop up another menu where "Power Down" is the farthest choice away from the current selection. You can't get to it, because the contact bounce on the navigation ring is so bad, it just skips over the power-off option. If you are lucky enough to land on the power-down option, you must mover your finger to a different button to complete the task. Unlike the saner products we are all used to, it's not something you can do in a hurry. If you just stay on the off button, it reboots the system and puts up a silly smiley with the label "something to smile about" (all lower case, the way the unix programmers write). Maybe so, but definitely not this phone. I thought it might be faster to just pop the battery out, but I think somebody else thought of it first, so they made the battery cover exceedingly hard to pop off.
The contact bounce on that navigation ring also makes it really hard to use the phone for what you want to use the phone for, it keeps popping up "Apps" that do nothing useful. Oh well, it just gives me one more reason to not turn the bugger on.
Last year / Later this year
Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page