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2021 February 19 -- God's Robot

The church plays CCM during the half-hour or so after they open the doors before the service starts, and then the praise bandf gets up and they sing some more CCM. The letters stand for "Contemporary Christian Music" but most of it is barely or not musical, and some of it not even Christian (see "God of Yin & Yang" four years ago and "Making Promises We Can't Keep" four months ago and "Church and Music" last month and others), but at least it seems to be what people listen to today. One out of three ain't bad.

Whoever picks the playlist for this pre-service noise likes two or three songs a lot -- or maybe they have one or two playlists that they just run over and over. The one they played last week, the guy repeats over and over in a pseudo-black accent (the face in the picture that decorated the on-line lyrics is as white as mine), anyway he whines about being a robot or phonograph, totally unable to control what he sings. God can make any inanimate thing praise Him (Jesus said so), but I get the impression He prefers people to do it by choice. Otherwise it's not praise at all, just doing what you are programmed to do. I have a computer that does that, because that's my business. God can do that too, but instead He made us with brains.

I downloaded the lyrics, and it seems that a large part of the song I never heard. Maybe the person assembling the playlist thought it was a separate song (it looked that way in the lyrics I downloaded) and left it out because it's not repetitious enough. Or maybe all those words are really there, but unintelligible in the noise (a lot of this stuff has that problem, and I can start to make out some of the words only on the 30th repeat). There are a couple or three lines in one of the verses that attribute to God something praiseworthy, but mostly the words praise the idea of praise rather than actually doing it. I think that was the songwriter's intent when he moaned "Ah can't hold back mah praise..." [Cue robot sound effects: Click, click, click, buzzzzz... boing!]

2021 February 18 -- A Better Read

I had a high opinion of J.Gresham Machen (all second-hand) when I bought his book more than five decades ago, but I was disappointed when I just now read it for the first time (see my review here). But I finished it.

Today I started on Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I only read eleven dense pages so far (one chapter out of 71), but it is a page turner. I was surprised to see this opus is over 200 years old, and then again to see how readable it is, compared to other old books I have recently read. Like Machen at half the age. This looks like a very long, but fun, read.

Hmm, the second paragraph in the second chapter offers this opinion on religion:

The various modes of worship, ...were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.
thus making all religions equal. Religion, you may recall, defines for its adherents what is non-negotiably True. So basically what he is saying here is that nothing is true. But I don't think he really believes it. Some things are true -- like the quoted sentence above (in his mind), especially the magistrate part. You see, Gibbon is really proud of the Roman empire. He thought they Got It Right. Russia has more territory, the Huns conquered more land more swiftly, but Rome (and not the others) was "great." That is (for him) religion.

In a footnote he specifically excepts Jews and Christians, reserving them for another chapter. We shall see.

2021 February 9 -- ICR & Atheist Presuppositions

I recently finished reading (partly skimming over the difficult math) Newton's Mathematical Principles of Physics (or something like that, most everybody knows of it by its abbreviated Latin title Principia Mathematica). I think every person in science should read it at least once, especially the Christians. OK, I got a late start, but it's better than never.

Newton starts out laying the groundwork ("Rules") for doing science. The first Rule in Book III is essentially what is known as Occam's Razor, "Everything should be as simple as possible, and no simpler." Oh wait, I think that's the way Einstein said it. The basic principle is that the fewer assumptions you make, the better your science. That's an assumption, he didn't prove it, but we do know that it gives good scientific results. Related to that, at the beginning of Book I, Newton insisted that the laws of physics are invariant. He was a devout Christian -- he spent several pages at the end of Principia arguing how the physics he discovered proved the existence of an Almighty, Wise, Creator God, which arguments the modern atheists have spent considerable effort trying to disprove (their problem, not mine) -- and while Newton himself did not say so, the Christian worldview then coming into its own was the birthplace of modern science, and (as Nancy Pearcey points out in her Soul of Science) nowhere else ever.

Anyway, so here I am reading the monthly rag from the Institute for Creation Research, which each month offers several one-page commentaries on science and how it relates to the Bible, plus one or two longer articles in more depth. One that attracted my particular attention this month is "Teachable Minds and Scientific Discovery" (they probably have it on-line, but their website is now encrypted so I can't give you a link) which starts out mentioning some atheist science educator (he doesn't do science himself, he only teaches it, see my father's remark last week on what that indicates) discussing why Einstein was convinced you cannot measure the speed of light, because it requires a round trip, and the speed might be different in the two directions.

The ICR article inferred from this analysis that we cannot make unnecessary assumptions -- particularly about the speed of light, which they (ICR) have on earlier occasions argued for variability to explain how we can see the distant stars -- I suppose avoiding unnecessary assumptions is a reasonable idea, most of the time and within limits. But in this case I think it is wrong-headed.

The key Christian doctrine that led to the development of modern science, is that Rule spelled out by Newton (although he did not give God the credit, probably because it didn't ocur to him why his science was so much better than four centuries earlier) is that God is a God of Law. God's Law(s) are perfect, neither complex nor onerous. Copernicus based his notion of a heliocentric cosmos on that fact, because circles are simpler and more perfect than epicycles. OK, it's a little more complicated than he imagined, but the gravity rules Newton figured out provide a very simple explanation for everything out there, including the comets.

So what's with Einstein's declaration about measuring the speed of light? It's just plain wrong. You don't need a round trip. I used to think so, but the instruments available to scientists in the 1700s were not good enough to do it with a mirror and a round trip, so they measured the speed of light strictly on its one-way travel time over a known (but very large) distance (see my comments last month). Their measurements were not as accurate as ours today, but they were within 20% which is pretty amazing. Einstein should have known that.

But the problem goes very much deeper than that. Suppose light does (or did) change speed? What makes you think that any other physical laws are constant? And if they are not constant, what's the point of learning about them? If God did not make Laws we can rely on, then science is not possible, and we are no better off than the pagans whose gods operate on cantankerous whimsy. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why Galileo and Copernicus and Newton and their contemporaries invented science, and not Plato or Caesar or Mohamed or Confucius or the nameless people in the jungles of Africa and South America. And it is why science is now on a decline: we have abandonned not only God's Law, but also Newton's. Quantum physics is all probabilistic, maybe it happens this way, maybe that, nobody knows (until they look). All of life (by that reasoning) is a cosmic accident, no purpose, no direction, no Law. And to the atheists' delight, no God. But their science has holes. It is crumbling before our eyes. Science works only because God made Law.

Back to ICR, how do we see the distant stars? I answer, How do you know they are distant? All we know for sure is that they are far enough away that triangulation based on the diameter of the earth's orbit cannot measure any distance farther than maybe a few hundred light years. Anything beyond that are what Newton called "fixed stars." We or they (or both of us) could be moving, but who can tell? We can measure the "red-shift" which we can assume is due to doppler effects, but that only tells us how fast they are moving away, but not how far they are. The astronomers all assume that brightness is the key, which is absurd: nobody knows what could be blocking the light in that distance. Some people think that the 1987 supernova gives us some measurements out to something like 168,000 light-years, but it's based on assumptions that we cannot measure, and that are not even consistent with what we do know (see my essay on SN1987a). If the universe is not Euclidean, if space is curved negatively, those stars could be very much closer than they appear, no diddling with the speed of light necessary. If space is curved positively, it might be that those so-called distant stars are just ourselves, wrapped around a few times. We don't know. There is no way we can know, because there is curvature in our own solar system and right here on earth.

Oh, and you actually can measure the speed of light without a round trip. Ole Roemer did it in 1676, and we can do it today on an optical bench using two light sources and mirrors to reflect the other's light, both to the same measurement station in an equilateral triangle. The reflected light travels in opposite directions to the mirrors, but in the same directions as the unreflected to the measurement, so any relativistic effects should cancel, except for the original opposite directions. I don't have the equipment to test it, but I'd bet (on Occam's Razor) there is no difference. God is not capricious (Einstein: "God does not play dice").

2021 February 5 -- Robot Trucks

Six years ago this month I posted my first blog item on autonomous vehicles (see other links).The house rag for the IEEE (a professional organization I belong to) proudly announced on its cover:
It is the year 2023, and for the first time, a self-driving car strikes and kills a pedestrian. A lawsuit is sure to follow. But exactly what laws will apply? Nobody knows.
That first fatality came five years sooner than predicted, and Arizona promptly cancelled its welcome as a proving ground for self-driving cars. The author was a lawyer doing what lawyers do, which is protecting their clients, in his case the large corporations likely to get sued over autonomous vehicle accidents. Today, in preparing for this posting, I learned that there are a lot of lawyers who make their money suing those large corporations.

Anyway, the same IEEE house rag last month ran another article favoring the corporations, no mention of the problems. The IEEE's own website tells us this author "is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog." He describes himself "I write (a lot) about robotics, science, and technology for IEEE Spectrum, and a few other publications from time to time." He's a journalist, not an engineer or lawyer or ethics scholar. My father told me (probably more than once) "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I think journalism is a form of teaching which requires less certification than just about anything -- so long as it's entertaining. You don't need to be competent at anything at all (except writing) to be a journalist. It shows.

Anyway, this article, "Robot Trucks Overtake Robot Cars" is part of a cover feature "Top Tech 2021" that mostly emphasizes "The Beginning of the End of COVID-19" (in other words, as explicitly admitted in that article, don't expect much this year). The Robot Truck piece pretty much admits that it's about money (as I pointed out five years ago), they want to save the expense of paying drivers. Also the robot trucks save gas by driving more evenly. I Googled "number of USA truck fatalities per year" and most of the top ten were law firms specializing in suing truck companies over accident damages. They were eager to share the gory statistics:

A total of 4,136 people died in large truck crashes in 2018. Sixteen percent of these deaths were truck occupants, [the rest] were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.

...road crashes are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death in the United States by 2030 ... Semi-truck accidents cost $20 billion per year in accident settlements with about half of that amount awarded to injured victims who suffered a diminished or lost quality of life.

Let's unpack those numbers. Operator error was implicated in a significant number of those accidents; the techies obviously believe that robot cars and trucks won't have that problem, but is it realistic? Consider the software that you personally are familiar with, your smart phone or your desktop computer. Every piece of software, every app requires you to agree to a "EULA" that promises nothing at all before you can use it. No exceptions. Did you ever read it? Among other things, it explicitly forbids you to use their software or hardware in medical and nuclear and other situations where life is at risk. You know why that is, the software crashes often.

Do you really believe the "EULA" that comes with the robot truck will be any different? Maybe the software is better, maybe it isn't. The developers don't even know, they are using so-called "deep learning" which is completely opaque to human understanding (see my essay "21st Century AI"). The author even said so, but not in exactly those words:

Sensors... feed data to a computer, which in turn controls the vehicle using skills learned through a massive amount of training and simulation.
The truck is not programmed by rules, "if this happens do that," but rather they run it through a whole bunch of real-world and fake highway data, and it learns the average of that data, how to stay on the road and not follow too close most of the time, but what about the accident situations, the places and circumstances where other people die? They didn't train it on those, they cannot, it would be immoral. So the software probably does not know how to avoid those kinds of accidents. And the vendors have no idea -- until they kill somebody.

Let's be generous and say that 90% of the truck crashes can be avoided by the software currently under development. That's overly optimistic, because one of the websites I looked at had a graph that blamed brake failure for 27% of truck accidents. Did the vendors train their software to cope with brake failure? The author didn't say. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. 90% of the 4,136 people who died in truck crashes in 2018 wouldn't die if they were all autonomous. Of the remaining 414 or so, another 16% are the drivers who aren't there. That leaves some 345 dead people to divide the $1 billion (down from $10B) among. That's what the truckers are looking at, $9 billion dollars in savings ($18B counting the non-fatal crashes also avoided). It's all about the money. Ford did the same moral calculus on their fabled Pinto debacle, and before that General Motors on "unsafe at any speed" Corvair. And because the software people cannot explain why their software is correct -- when it obviously is not -- they will be held responsible too.

You are going to see some humongous judgments when that gets to court, perhaps as early as this year:

Working with truck manufacturer Navistar as well as shipping giant UPS, [startup software developer] TuSimple is already conducting test operations in Arizona and Texas, including depot-to-depot autonomous runs. These are being run under what's known as "supervised autonomy," in which somebody rides in the cab and is ready to take the wheel if needed. Sometime in 2021, the startup plans to begin doing away with human supervision, letting the trucks drive themselves from pickup to delivery without anybody on board.
Recall that the first time an autonomous car killed somebody was in "supervised autonomy" mode. The in-car camera showed the guy looking down -- perhaps at his cell phone -- instead of ahead at the road, looking up only too late to stop from hitting the pedestrian. No intelligent person would ever take such a job, they are the fall guy for when (not if) the software fails. If it's hard to pay continuous attention to the road when you are doing the whole driving thing, how much harder is it to stay alert when the computer seems to get it all correct? Until you are not looking, that is.

TuSimple launched in 2015, which is not a long time to get their software going. They were rather more reticent to say how much road experience their software has had so far. The founders all have Chinese names. The Chinese have a reputation all over southeast Asia for being cut-throat businessmen, they do not have a cultural heritage of "do the right thing" (the Europeran Christian tradition that mostly infects the USA, albeit to a decreasing degree) but only "don't get caught." I expect they will be cashed out and long gone before the proverbial [stuff] hits the fan and the tech people start getting thrown in jail for delivering unfit software. Get a sharp lawyer of the caliber of Ralph Nader on their case, and they will go down. With only 5% of the world's population, the USA has 50% of the world's lawyers, there are plenty of them eager for that kind of win. Navistar and UPS, they are big enough to have smart enough lawyers to pin all the blame on TuSimple; they will feel the pinch, but they will survive.

Me, Oregon is a "fly-over" (drive-through) state, all the traffic on I-5 is going between California and Washington. All I need to do is stay off the interstate (which I try to do anyway), and *I* won't be the guy the robot truck kills. I'm glad I'm no longer in Texas, but even there I stayed off the freeways most of the time (except when I was well away from metro centers).

PermaLink with links to related postings, and a postscript relating to another highly sophisiticated "AI" program that went badly wrong (embarassing, but nobody died from it)

2021 February 1 -- Fairly Legal

I probably mentioned before that TV shows operate on a much lower budget per presentation minute, so they cannot afford to hire the best writers and actors. A few better products sneak by the censors, however, like BBC's Sherlock, which (like many franchises) badly went downhill the last few episodes. This week I watched another one that came off rather better than the average sitcom. Though not as good as Sherlock, it didn't fall down as badly in the last third of the season I saw (worse than its own first episode, but not as bad as the last three Sherlocks).

The CD's were offered to me somewhat apologetically as she understood it to be a chick flick -- perhaps some people thought it so, but the creator and most of the writers were male, and as we are beginning to see more often, they gave it a subtle form of misogyny that most feminazis are too stupid to recognize: they genuflect toward the faminazi altar with their fingers crossed behind their back. I first noticed this in David Drake's RCN space opera series of novels (see "Like Naaman the Leper" three years ago) where his female lead (behind the guy who was the hero) was without conscience, and her (female) bodyguard even more so. Both of them were loyal to a fault, just not human.

Then a week or two ago the current (February) issue of WIRED magazine arrived, and it turned out to be entirely devoted to four chapters from a sci-fi novel scheduled for release next month. One of the authors is an admiral in the US Navy, and our military have bought The Lie wholesale, but this guy (or his non-military co-author, or both) pulled off the same misogynist trick: they made the navy commodore whose bad judgment set off "The Next World War" be a woman.

So this TV series, set in 2011 or 2012 San Francisco: I lived there for a year or two and it was fun recognizing landmarks -- and mistakes: it was filmed in the Canada because the idiots in Sacramento have driven out most of the smart (=profitable, meaning they pay more taxes) business, so here's this limo to pick somebody up from a foreign Consulate in a driving rain (accurate), and there's snow in the cracks of the car door as it opened, the kind that melts away in California weather in less time than it takes to drive down from the nearest snow at Tahoe. The "Making Of" documentary commented on how cold it was in Vancouver, so I suppose they washed the snow off the streets in view of their limo take, and sprayed water as fake rain (movies do fake rain all the time when the weather doesn't fit their shooting schedule), and washed the snow and ice off the car (with the doors shut) and just didn't see the snow still in the crack. Or else got most of it, and decided it was good enough.

The female lead in this TV series is a woman who is not a lawyer in a male-dominated industry, but a former lawyer who is now doing what she likes (and what women are arguably much better at than men: at least she is in this series), which is mediation. I happen to enjoy watching people do what they are credibly good at, so so I thought it was pretty good. Except like most TV series, the writers ran out of ideas and the story lines got a little bizarre. Anyway, she worked for a law firm under a sociopathic witch of a female lawyer, the same kind of supporting character as Drake made of his supporting female, except Drake's character wanted to be good (she just didn't know how) whereas the lawyer in this one had no such intentions, which is the ultimate misogyny. The office gofer was a delightful dude who was very good at being the the office staff seargent (the guy who knows how to get things done in the military, and does it well). I did say I enjoy watching people do things well.

Postscript, a few days later, against my better judgment, I read the rest of that "The Next World War" book excerpt. My inference from the first half-chapter was spot-on. Perhaps the navy guy author understands military issues (although I really doubt it) and perhaps the bureaucratic guy understands politics (likewise), but neither of them understand computers and even less the internet. Cutting an undersea cable connecting North America to Europe -- even if they got the location correct, which they were a couple thousand miles in the wrong direction from -- does not kill anything more than the traffic between Europe and North America. It certainly does not knock out large swaths of the power grid in the other direction. The internet was designed by the military to survive (and map around) outages. In this story the Chinese have a "cyber weapon" that knocks out pretty much anything electronic (including smart drones) from 800 miles away. There is such a weapon, and it's been around for a half century: it's called "Electro-Magnetic Pulse" (see my "EMP Risk Assessment" posting ten years ago) and it comes from a megaton nuclear explosion in the air, and it wipes out everything (including the Bad Guys), but not hardened military electronics with adequate Faraday shielding (think: tinfoil all around). Our military has known about protecting against such threats for almost as long as we've known about the problem -- after all, we invented the problem. The eunuchs (unix) computer operating system has serious design flaws affecting system security, but our military is aware of the problem, and high-security systems are isolated by an "air-gap" firewall (not unlike what I use here), and no cyberthreat can penetrate that defense. Ever. None. "Military intelligence" is sometimes (jokingly) called a "contradiction in terms," but our military brass are not a stupid as the military in this novel. As I said elsewhere, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," and journalism -- a fortiori novel writing -- is in the teaching category. Stupid is not entertaining. Except maybe to stupid people, I wouldn't know, because I don't know any stupid people. Don't waste your time on this book. The authors probably are not stupid, they just don't know what they don't know.

2021 January 25 -- Church and Music, Part 2

I guess it was a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I didn't choose this church for its music. Four years ago, when I was new in town and church-shopping, several of the churches that didn't make it to my short list, it was because I didn't like the music. Perhaps this was one of them, perhaps not, but I don't remember now. The main campus, which is walking distance from my home, has two music leaders who trade off on no obvious schedule. It's curious, they both have the same first name, except hers is the feminine form. Like all women everywhere, her choice of songs is more emotional than his, but not by as much as if she were being compared to the general public because pretty much all American (evangelical) churches are run by, and for the exclusive benefit of, MBTI Feelers, in which women dominate. Pastors and other church leaders (even, perhaps especially, the men) are exclusively Feeler-Judgers. Every time I think I have found an exception, I am proved wrong, sometimes catastrophically.

Anyway, so yesterday one of her songs struck me as somewhat more Jesus-centered than most, still less than half of the nouns + pronouns (10% Jesus vs 13% 1st-person by actual count), but one of the verses in this unstructured song -- all modern artists (including musicians) see their sacred duty to jerk the audience around, so now that somebody has defined a structure for CCM, nobody wants to do it that way any more -- the verse is sung in a punctuated jerky style, full stop between syllables, like this:

I. will. build. my. life. up.on. Your. love.
It. is. a. firm. foun.da.tion...

This form of punctuation calls special attention to the verse, so I thought about it a lot over the rest of the day. Besides making promises you cannot keep (like the general repetitiveness, Jesus said "Don't do that," but who pays any attention to what Jesus said any more?), this verse makes the audacious claim that the alleged love of Jesus is "a firm foundation" on which to build one's life. How do we know that? The song writer(s) don't say. They cannot. The only way to know something religious like this is if God Himself told us (like in the Bible), and God never said any such thing.

I have an electronic copy of the NIV Bible, and I found in it 76 verses that mention the word "foundation" but only 13 of them say what it is made of. The rest of the verses tell what the foundation is resting on, or what was built on it, or how sturdy it is, but mostly foundations get mentioned incidentally in connection with destruction, removing whatever was built on them. Three of the 13 say that the foundation of Solomon's temple was made of high-quality stone. Two verses (Isaiah and Revelation) describe foundations of jewels in the future. Two verses in Psalms say that the foundation of God's throne are Righteousness and Justice; two in Isaiah seem to be about a foundation for our life and times, one of them could be Righteousness and Justice (or else those are only associated with the foundation, and its composition is unspecified), the other is salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

The five verses in the New Testament describing what a foundation is [made of] are all in epistles. In Hebrews the foundation is repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God. Paul's first letter to Timothy "the church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth." A few chapters later he invites the rich people to build a foundation for their future out of good deeds and generosity. In his letter to the Ephesians, the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone," which is somewhat like the verse in his first letter to Corinth: "no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." Nowhere in the whole Bible is any foundation linked to love, and certainly not the love of Jesus, which concept is far more scarce in the Bible than CCM songwriters -- and also church song leaders like this one and her male alternate -- would like to believe.

The sermon yesterday is one of a series on the church's "Core Values" where the focus was on relevance (to the surrounding culture) without compromise (of essential Christian doctrine). Different people draw the line differently. The senior pastor here (perhaps with the agreement of his staff, but I didn't hear him say) seems to think that playing music the way the local culture wants it is more about relevance than compromise, so he instructed his sound guy to increase the amplitude to the point of physical pain. The woman at the other end of the row I was in left the auditorium. I will be carrying a pair of noise-cancelling earphones so long as this new policy persists. Somebody else told me today that they always sit in the far rear to minimize the harmful effects of the sound.

I gave some thought to the relevance thing too, and was reminded of the young romantic novelist-sometime-violinist who once told me with a straight face that the baroque composers did not yet know how to express emotion in their music. It is the nature of music that it expresses emotion; her problem was that she only understood and acknowledged one emotion, romance (love). Other kinds of music (for example Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring") expresses joy. The "Dies Irae" in Mozart's Requiem is a fabulous expression of fear in the face of God's Wrath. Rock music -- especially heavy metal -- expresses anger and rejection. That may be appropriate in a Christian context when people are rejecting their past sins and angry at the Enemy for drawing them into it, but some of us want to move past that into the Joy of the Lord. There are Christian love songs, but they are not sung here in this church. A one-dimensional monochromatic music service leaves people starving for nourishment. The pastor preached the previous week on the riots and anger in Washington, little realizing that the very same culture he is trying to emulate in his church, that's the only music people listen to all day long for the past 60-plus years. No wonder they are angry all the time! And he wants that in his church??

Maybe suppressing the sound is a good idea, a multi-dimensional plan for (my) healthy living. I'm not saying the pastor is "wrong" about his loud music policy, only that it does not appear to me to be helpful to anybody *I* know. He knows different people than I do, and he is responsible for bringing the Gospel to everybody -- especially the ones he knows that I do not. The church policy on disagreement is "...freedom in non-essentials." Non-essential works for me: good music is nice, but not what I go to church for.

2021 January 14 -- Newton, Part 2

A month ago I started reading Isaac Newton's Principia, now I'm nearing the end of his work on optics, bound up in the same volume. There's a reason Newton is known for physics and not for optics. When he did his analysis on physics of motion, he was building on a variety of Renaissance scientists over the previous two centuries. He could see their mistakes and not make his own. In optics he seems to be on the cutting edge, and a large part of what makes optics work had not yet been discovered. Newton runs his experiments, and imagines what he can about why things behave the way they do, but in some cases (as we now know) he was just flat wrong. Some of his insights come close to a wave theory of light, but Maxwell's equations came more than a century later.

Book Three of Principia is titled "System of the World" and applies the physics of bodies in motion in the previous two "Books" to the planetary motions of the solar system -- I think he established conclusively that comets are like planets with a highly eliptical orbit. He had no idea about their tails, supposing that they were "vapors" that diffused to the planets to provide the solid material we walk on. As I worked through these 570-odd pages, it seems to me that the "proofs" get more and more vague and general, until by the third book of optics he doesn't bother with proofs at all. How can he? There are no bodies in motion that he can see or measure, just the differential bending of different colors of light diffracted through one or more prisms, and the circles of light and dark surrounding the point of contact of two glass surfaces, one slightly more curved than the other.

Anyway, in the introduction to Book Three he makes this curious admission:

...I would [not] advise anyone to the previous study of every Proposition of these books; for they abound with such as might cost too much time, even to the readers of good mathematical learning. It is enough if one carefully reads the Definitions, The Laws of Motion, and the first three sections of the first book. He may then pass on to this book, and consult such of the remaining Propositions of the first two books, as the references in this, and his occasions, shall require.
This is basically what I did, except that my "occasions" did not "require" me to go back for any of it.

A couple of times he mentioned that somebody had measured the speed of light by timing the eclipses of the moons of Jupiter. I could not imagine how that would give anybody the means to measure the speed of light, but (Google Knows All) I found several references, at least one that explained how it works. It seems that the orbital period of Jupiter's inner moon Io is 1.769 Earth days, which can be measured precisely by watching when the eclipse starts (or ends). This would not be visible when the earth is in line with Jupiter and the sun, because it would be happening behind Jupiter, but the rest of the year the earth is off to one side or the other, so we can see the moon at a slight angle as it goes around behind (or from the other side, as it comes out). The article didn't say so, but I guess you can also measure the diameter of the earth's orbit from the maximum distance from Jupiter that the eclipse can be seen, as compared to the widest point in its orbit, a little trigonometry should be able to calculate how far off to one side we are, at least as a ratio to our distance to Jupiter. Newton spent a lot of his calculations on determining things like orbit diameter from the transit time, and stuff like that. Anyway, this Dutch astronomer was thinking he could make an accurate clock from timing the eclipses -- mariners can tell their latitude from how high in the sky particular stars are, but longitude requires an accurate clock. Sundials just don't cut it.. He had an accurate average orbital time for Io, but the eclipses got later and later each day as the earth receded from Jupiter, and then earlier as we came around the other side and got closer. The difference between the maximum and minimum is the time it takes light to travel the diameter of the earth's orbit, from our closest approach to the farthest.

Anyway, skipping over the heavy math, and the descriptions of geometric figures where he used terms no longer in our English vocabulary (and the translator didn't help out), it was a fascinating read, but I wouldn't recommend it to the faint of heart.

PostScript: I finished reading Newton, then went on to read Christiaan Huygens' Treatise on Light, a 70-page work included by the publisher in the same volume with Newton. It was a good juxtaposition, with Newton convinced that light is corpuscular, little (he didn't use the word) photons zinging about, with some mathematical "proof" why there couldn't be any such thing as "ether" to carry waves, and then Huygens convinced that light is a wave in some kind of pervasive ethereal medium the way sound is carried in the air, with his mathematical "proof" why it couldn't be corpuscular. The reality we know today is that light is both. Each guy referred to the other by name at least once, but never to say the other guy was wrong about the nature of light, whereas both criticized other scientists of their day for being wrong, Huygens several times against Descartes by name for supposing that light was instantaneous. Huygens repeated much more concisely than Wikipedia the proof from Jupiter's lunar eclipse. I was also better able to understand his explanation of refraction than Newton's, probably because it better fits the modern (wave theory) understanding. Anyway, it was a jolly good read (except for the parts I skipped over: you can do that in books much easier than videos).

2021 January 11 -- Church and Music

This is a "Community Church" so they try to be a place for everybody. They don't do liturgy, but they do have seasonal Advent candles, which some family comes up each week to light the next one. Everybody else in the world stops celebrating Christmas on Christmas day, but liturgical churches (sometimes only implicitly) celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, which liturgical season ends with the beginning of Epiphany, January 6, and this church continued with their one token Christmas song on the third day of Christmas (December 27). I guess they dropped the Tenth Day. Whatever.

The sermon topics during Advent focussed on the four songs in Luke associated with the birth of Jesus, and the four pastors in charge of the four campuses were each assigned one song and took turns rotating around the four campuses preaching their particular song. I didn't catch his name, but one of the guys drew the short straw, and he wasn't very excited about his assigned song. He as much as said so, and you could tell, because he picked one half verse out of the middle of the song, and preached a topical sermon on salvation, the word was in that half verse, and he basically ignored the rest of the song.

This was several weeks ago and I hope I'm not confusing him with another of the young guys -- maybe the Senior pastor hires young guys to do the satellite campuses, because they are less likely to challenge his authority (pretty much all pastors are into authority and control, the other personality types don't want the job) -- he said his first job was as Music Minister, and he really liked the structure of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), which starts out gentle (I don't recall his exact words) with the verses, then gets stronger with the chorus, but the climax is the bridge. I always thought of a "bridge" in its etymological sense of being a way to get over a chasm separating here and there, a means to an end, not the end itself. And while the CCM bridge in most of the songs I can think of hearing in church booms louder than the rest, it's all empty repetition, contentless words that Jesus told us [Matt.6:7] to avoid. Even in CCM, the meat is in the verses.

This has been nagging me for a week now, because (I guess he's) an associate pastor who came up for closing remarks and/or a benediction at the end commented on the importance of the repeated line in the bridge of that final song, that "God is Good" -- which is true, perhaps the only True thing in the whole song, which mostly invites the four pagan elements (earth, fire, air and water, plus darkness and light = Yin and Yang, a different religious tradition, but still anti-Christian) to become "the King of my heart", thus celebrating the created rather than the Creator. I never heard any mention of Jesus or God in the whole song. Lyrics for all these songs are online, and I did find two "God"s buried out there in the repetitive part I tune out, but still no Jesus. The only way you can know this is a "Christian" song is that the Deity ("King of my heart") is masculine, whereas neo-paganism makes their deity female in conscious opposition to the true God. Oh, also, one of the eight elements invited to be "King of my heart" is a "ransom" which is a Christian concept not found in other religions. But I saw that in the downloaded lyrics, and never heard it go by in the (darkened) sanctuary. The meat is still in the verses, but it needs more than a heavy beat to hide its putrefaction.

I don't go to church -- certainly not this one -- for the music. There's another church in town that did beautiful music the week I visited (see "Choosing a Church" four years ago) but I had other and better reasons for not going there. With one or two exceptions (neither of whom lasted as long as I did at their church), every pastor I ever knew or knew of is a control freak. I thought the pastor at the church I picked four years ago was an exception, but I was wrong. I do not yet know for sure about this pastor, but I know how to deal with that personality type -- mostly stay off their radar, which is easier in a large church -- so I hope to be more careful this time around. Except I'm more noticeable than most: the senior pastor saw me walking to church and came over to say something, then he saw "the little Red Book" (my Greek New Testament, in which I was reading the text for his upcoming sermon), and repeated the fear that good pastors have of lay people reading Greek & Hebrew. It's that fear that makes them good -- and also (misplaced) causes them to drive me out.

Music here is a wasteland: CCM is tuneless, minimal harmony -- one of the praise team singers tries to sing harmony, but only manages to find notes to sing about half the time in less than a quarter of their song selections -- no rhyme, no worthwhile message, only a driving beat. I think I was still in college and had a music prof say that the joke in England was that "Opera is sung in Italian so that people will not realize that what is too silly to be said is sung." I'm convinced that CCM drowns everything in a rock beat for the same reason. It would appear (from videos and movies of riot scenes) that some people like to chant mindless repetitious phrases instead of thinking about the issues, but I'm not one of them. Perhaps churches (and the CCM industry in particular) sees that as a need they can and should fill.

This church is pretty proud of their small groups, but I'm still rather gun-shy: One guess at why I got the boot in the previous church involved my participation in their small (men's) group. But it's only a guess. Fortunately, I have Covid to blame for not joining -- last year and continuing this month, dunno about when the pandemic is over.

2021 January 7 -- PhD Jokes

I suppose there are a bunch of them, but I only know of three jokes about the advanced degree I don't often mention in public.

The first I seem to recall hearing from a former Army nurse who became a missionary as a second career. I no longer remember what she did there, but she worked at a seminary for native pastors in the northern coast of Peru. These young men -- maybe not so young -- some of them would walk for days down from little villages high in the Andes mountains where there were no roads. I spent a week there teaching them Greek (in Spanish!). I don't know how much they actually learned, but later she told me that they all remembered that week fondly. I did not have any advanced degrees at the time, perhaps she felt safe in telling me the joke.

It seems you go to college for four years and earn a BS, and we all know what that stands for. Then you keep studying for an MS, which is More of the Same. If you keep at it, you get a PhD which stands for "Piled High and Deep."

When I went back to school after a few years out in the real world making embedded software, and discovering that I was trying to do things I did not have the theoretical basis for, the line somebody at the University used is that in higher education "You learn more and more about less and less, until finally you know all there is to know about nothing."

The third one I read in last month's Spectrum, quoting some guy they were honoring. Or maybe the (female) editor just liked him because he was trying to increase the number of women on faculty in engineering colleges. It's a lost cause, because not very many women enjoy doing the kind of linear thinking that is required to make science and engineering happen. The dean at the College of Engineering at Portland State said sadly in my hearing, that a few years ago they had 50% female entering students, "but now it's back down to 25%." Some of the feminazis are beginning to realize that, so they have begun pushing for getting into the technical domains people who are interested in non-linear thinking -- turning "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) into "STEAM" where the "A" stands for "Arts", totally oblivious to the fact that the reason techies make so much money is because what they do is difficult and not many people are able (or even want) to do it. It's called "supply and demand," and it's how the capitalist economy has made this country (and indeed the whole world) so rich. Bringing the arts into technology does not make the companies doing it more profitable, so they won't do it. Doing unprofitable things in industry does not raise the standard of living of the worthless people they pay equal wages to, but instead it depresses the standard of living for everybody. It's one of the things that make socialist countries so much poorer than the rest of the world.

Anyway, his joke is that "When you get your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. Then you get your master's degree and you realize you know nothing. Finally, you get your Ph.D. and you realize nobody else does either, so it just doesn't matter." That didn't work for me, because when I was young and impressionable, my father told me that "No matter how smart you are, or how dumb the other guy is, there's always something he knows that you don't, which you can learn from him." I still believe that, although I'm a little less willing to wade through continuous repetitions of the same stuff I already heard last time. Tell me something I don't know, I like learning new things.

2021 January 4 -- All Scripture

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -- 2Tim.3:16,17 (oNIV)
Some time early in my life I adopted the notion (not always consciously) that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for ... training in righteousness, so that I can be thoroughly equipped for everything God wants me to do, which, because I'm a logical person and (because it is illogical to want what God does not want) is also everything I want to do. The people in the denomination I grew up in didn't seem to believe that as rigorously as I do (see, for example, my essay "Dispensations"), so when I finished college and left home, I never joined another church in that denomination, although I did, in a couple of places, sit in their church each Sunday for some 3+ years because in each case it seemed at the time to be the best church option at the time).

Part of the "All Scripture" that I continue to accept as profitable (KJV as I learned it, NIV above has "useful") is the book of Proverbs, and in particular (as I said, not always consciously, but certainly and mostly without exception) chapter 4, which came up in my reading today, as it does on the 4th of every Jamnuary and July for the last four or five decades. Solomon advises his son (who, as we read elsewhere did not pay much attention) and by Paul's and Jesus' own advice, also us:

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor. Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. -- Pro.4:5-10 (oNIV)

I do not recall ever consciously choosing to accept this advice, but I certainly accepted it at an early age, and it seems to have had the predicted result.

Besides today's reading in Proverbs, I'm working my way through Jeremiah and am nearly to the end. Three times (Jer.25:9, 27:6, and 43:9) God referred to "my servant Nebuchadnezzar" whom He summoned to destroy, first Judah and Jerusalem, then finally also Egypt where the Jews had fled seeking refuge. It was like God telling them, "You can run but you can't hide." Worse, Jeremiah told them that if they go into captivity in Babylon, they and their families will survive and return to Israel. If they flee to Egypt, they will all die when God destroys Egypt. Chapter 43 is the first of nine chapters in which God has Jeremiah pronouncing destruction of the nations around Israel, ending finally with Babylon itself. God's "servant Nebuchadnezzar" had done wickedly in destroying Jerusalem, and for that deed, his capital city would be destroyed and left "without inhabitant," is it indeed is today. Saddam tried to rebuild Babylon, but he did not succeed. Nobody succeeds against God, not even the wicked people God invites to do God's work for Him.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful..." and Jeremiah is part of that "All Scripture" that the great Apostle was referring to. In my case, I get to acknowledge that what happened to me this year was good (because God is Good) even if the perp was acting wickedly and will get his just reward in the end. Not my problem, of course, God does that in His way. I just need to accept it as a gift from God and get on with life. I think this (new to me) church is better -- not the music, that's not what I go to church for -- but the sermons are more Biblical (both broader and deeper) and also more relevant to where I'm at, so more useful to what I can see. They have a better outreach program, especially missions, which has always been important to me.

Maybe God will move me again, I hope not so violently, but sometimes I'm like the mule in the story, that the farmer always spoke to it with kind words and a soft voice. Some reporter grew up on a farm, and decided he had to see this, so he drove out to the farm and asked about it. The farmer said "Sure. See that mule over there?" He reached down and picked up a piece of 2x4 and Wham! hit the mule on the side of the head. "Hey wait a minute, I thought you only spoke to it with kind words and a soft voice," the reporter protested. "That's right," the farmer replied, "but you gotta get his attention first."

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