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2023 March 25 -- Imprecations

Whenever I read one of the so-called "imprecatory Psalms," I usually am reminded that these are for people in that situation, which mostly I'm not. Today my daily reading came up on Psalm 54, which has only one verse of imprecation, and I realized -- perhaps like David in this Psalm, God is Good, and I can depend on God even when all the world is against me -- in my case only one guy, and the American culture has been informed by some 500 years of people reading the Bible in their own language, so this one guy is not inclined to put me in danger of my life, because (as somebody put it, I cannot find who) atheist ethics is "Do what you will, with due regard for the constable around the corner." Other countries, and other places in the USA, the personal safety of Christians is far more precarious than it is for me, here, now.

Bad Things Happen, both to David and to me and all Christians. Jesus said it would happen, and I used to wonder why I was not experiencing them. No longer. And if "Christians" do these kinds of things to their own, why should I expect any different from an atheist? As in 2004, I do not know where the next Good Thing is coming from, but I have no need to worry about it.

Anyway, however much my emotional state might lean that way from time to time, I don't really wish God's curse on this guy. God wants everybody (if they want it) to be saved, and so do I. I tried to be "a light to lighten [him]" as his own ancestor Abraham was to me, and maybe I succeeded, maybe not, but it's over now.

Three days ago the Psalm of the day declared that "The fool has said in his heart 'There is no God,..." and this guy is certainly that kind of foolish. How can you know there is no god of any kind unless you searched the whole universe all at once and not found him? And if you could do that, you'd be a god. And the risk of being wrong is both very high and also catastrophic. So so foolish.

I tend to make people "unspeakably" angry at me -- the "unspeakable" part means they cannot (or won't) tell me why -- but usually there is a clue. This time (like in 2015) it's because he wants to be a shot-caller, and I'm OK with that, unless it interferes with what God requires. Several times when I was young, my father quoted to me Henley's "Invictus" with a tone of derision:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

...I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

People are like that. It is so so foolish. God is God, and we are not gods. We will do what God decrees, whether we like it or not. It's better if we like it.

2023 March 13 -- My Own Math Puzzle

My early education was math-heavy (resulting in a math major at Berkeley) and I still like mathematical puzzles (if they aren't too complicated). So I'm looking at this picture decorating the first page of the regular themed and curated "Special Advertizing Section" at the end of every issue of ChristianityToday -- which I usually ignore, but this month its theme was travel in Israel, and I did that, which was the first and only item on a supposed "Bucket List" I might ever have had.

The picture shows four horizontal palm trees pointing toward some kind of green-water beach, and titled "The Dead Sea." After some careful examination, I concluded they were shadows, and the trees themselves were viewed straight down. The sun had to be to the left, and since Israel's coast on the Dead Sea is mostly on the west, this had to be an afternoon sun.

The next question became, "What time?" I could triangulate on the ratio of the tree height to the shadow length to figure out how far down the setting sun might be, but how to know how tall the trees are? For a minute or two, I looked for a shadow of a person, before realizing that was no help.

Then I realized that the decaying branches that hang down from the bundle of fronds at the tree top are typically the same length as the (living) branches that stick out horizontally, so there was my ratio: the shadows of the straight-down branches were about 2.5 times longer than the shadows of the horizontal branches. Mentally, I could compute that 45 degrees (3pm) the shadow is the same length as the tree is tall, and each hour the sun describes a (360/24) 15-degree arc in the sky, so at 4pm the sun would be up 30 degrees, with a shadow about 1.7 times longer than thee tree height. A quick look in a trig table gave the sine of 24 degrees to be 0.4 (the inverse of 2.5) which is 6/15ths of an hour past 4pm, or 4:24 (give or take maybe ten minutes), the time when the photo was taken. But this only works if the site is on the equator.

It was taken in the summer, because the shadows pointed due east, meaning it was probably later because Dead Sea is about 31N (in the northern hemisphere), so the sun sets somewhat more north of due west, but I didn't want to do that much math. Besides, the same shadows would happen at different times of the afternoon in different months of the summer, and I had no clue exactly what time of the year it was -- unless it turned out to be near midsummer, but I didn't want to do that much math.

It was a fun exercise.

2023 February 21 -- Silence Is (Fool's) Golden

I have a knack for making people unspeakably angry at me, literally: they get so angry they are unable (or unwilling) to tell me why. The best evidence suggests I'm too honest for them.

Deceit is the human condition. Diogenes was said to have carried a lantern through the streets of Athens "seeking an honest man" (he never succeeded). Another philosopher from a different tradition, not exactly a contemporary but close, said "The [human will] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." A half-dozen centuries or so later, his successor quoted a different Greek philosopher Epimenides, "All Cretans are liars," to which he added, "This is true" (thus breaking the original paradox).

Anyway, refusing to answer is an answer, but you have less control over the message than if you just say it. I can think of three possible reasons for no answer, here in no particular order:

B. The non-respondent is too Busy to reply, and too rude to say so. Rudeness is a milder form of "sociopath," a person who takes pleasure in (or is at least indifferent to) causing harm to other people. Related to this is the realization that knowledge is power, and withholding information is an exercise of that power. It's unAmerican.

C. The non-respondent knows that anger violates Christian (or post-Christian) ethics, and does not want to expose their own immorality. A variant of this is that words spoken in anger are often the only time they can be trusted to tell the truth, and that is too dangerous, possibly for the same reason [Jas.1:20]. I guess it was Abraham Lincoln who said, "If you are thought to be a fool, it is better to remain silent than speak and remove all doubt."

A. Then there is what is known as "tacit Assent," letting what has been said stand unchallenged, but not actually saying so. I think the more modern term is "plausible deniability," the refusal to be held accountable for one's own actions.

When you refuse to answer, you are in effect giving (ahem) tacit assent to whichever of these seems most plausible at the time, and you are denying yourself the right to say otherwise at a later time. Whatever.


2023 February 17 -- Chinese Movies

I've been watching these movies I downloaded from, mostly the copyright expired (all B&W, many of them silent), or else abandonned because the flick is so bad. The latest batch is from a collection "212 Public Domain Movies" which among others, includes quite a few Chinese flicks, full saturated color, dubbed English, and mostly about Kung-Fu fighting. I'm guessing that China did not hurry to sign the international ("Berne") Copyright treaty in 1986 because the Chinese are notorious intellectual property thieves, so these flicks are not covered the way their American and European contemporaries are. Or maybe it's because they are pretty much plotless and boring (which they are), or both.

There are some interesting cultural insights to be gathered from comparing Chinese vs American/British flicks. The USA and England came with a 500-year cultural heritage of being encouraged to read the Bible in our own language -- and obey it! The Chinese have no such tradition, only a 1000-year heritage of deceit and violence. The present government is simply more of the same. So where the two cultures depict the same social values, they are showing the human condition; where they differ, the Western flicks show the benefits conferred on us by Christian (and Jewish, because that's where they came from) faith.

Men have greater upper body strength and better leg muscle attachment than women, so in an otherwise equal hand-to-hand fight, men normally can beat their female opponents. This gives men a natural position of power over women, and both cultures show men as dominant. Except recent American flicks, where (intimidated by the Feminazi agenda) women are dominant, but that is not reflected in the actual culture, except in the American public school system administration. But none of those flicks are on (yet). The Feminazi agenda is an outgrowth (and corruption) of Christian teaching [Gal.3:28], and gender equality (let alone female dominance) is seen nowhere else in the world, except as influenced by former Christian teaching, mostly exported by American and British missionaries.

One oddity I noticed in the Chinese flicks, is they do a lot of laughing, entirely in ridicule at the misfortunes of other people, usually their opponents. This is almost completely absent in Western flicks, again I suspect due to Biblical teaching [Prov.24:17]. In the Bible, God is the One Who laughs at the misfortunes of the Wicked [Psa.2:4], but they deserve it, and He has the right to say so.

Kung-Fu is an acrobatic sport, these guys do a lot of summersaults in the air, plus rigid jerky kicks and hand motions. I think the jerkiness is there to enable them to stop before actually striking the other guy. ALL of the fisticuffs and kicks are accompanied by digital sounds that are so fake -- a loud and extended "chchch" representing body strikes, and occasional ringing metal representing sword strikes (mostly on a wooden bar swung by the opponent, where the actual sound would be more of a "thuck" followed by a splintery break-away, but these swords are obviously too dull to cut into the wood, perhaps they're not even metal, lest the actors get hurt in the rehearsals). Actual body blows of fist or forearm aganst flesh is more of a "smack" the way the Foley artists (post-production sound editors) portray it in Western movies, and against clothing (all these fighters are fully clothed, no bare chests as in Western fisticuff fights) is more of a muffled "foomp".

Anyway, they've had a thousand years to develop the stylized motions of Kung-Fu, and we, a comparable time to develop the rules of boxing. But street fighting is "no rules," yet nobody uses Oriental Kung-Fu motions, except in occasional movies where the fighters (so we are told) learned it in the far east. Me, I doubt Kung-Fu could stand up to no-holds-barred Western street fighting. For example, those flying summersaults, that takes a lot of practice to land on your feet; the slightest miscalculation and you land on your back or your knees or you break an arm. It wouldn't take long for a street fighter to figure out that a quick jab at the spinning opponent in the air would upset his angular momentum, and he's out of the game. All those pauses between moves of the Kung-Fu fighter, the Western fighter would keep on punching... and win.

If you like watching acrobats do their thing, there's plenty of that. Me, I prefer to see moral Right win over brute force, and a lot of (older) Western flicks do that. The Chinese understand only Machiavellian "might makes right." It's anti-Christian and also boring.

2023 February 15 -- Debriefing

Whenever I'm involved in some catastrophe, my first reaction is deep analysis. I do that about most everything, but when people get hurt, it's especially important. If I'm at fault, I need to repent (make whatever changes are necessary so that I won't do it again) and apologize, and if appropriate and possible, make restitution. I completed that analysis today, assisted by my daily Bible reading, today finishing John 15. There is nothing I could have done to prevent it.

It had to end sometime, God said so [2Co.6:14, Pro.22:24] and the other guy himself told me it was coming (see "It Takes One to Know One"), and I had been steeling myself for the inevitable for years ("When it's over, it's over"). So while I did not actually expect it this week, it was no big surprise that it happened. I have been unduly torqued a few times this last couple months (Solomon was right!) but this did not make the list.

I still have a moral obligation to the school kids to finish out the year, apparently now without pay. Whatever.

In any case, new development on this curriculum is dead, unless I can find a new sugar daddy (unlikely).

So now I'm casting about looking for something new and useful to do, perhaps the Davidson Hebrew Lexicon I was previously working on.

2023 January 30 -- Catholics: A Fable

With a title like that, you'd think the author had some kind of moral message to convey, but if he did, I don't know what it was. *I* saw a moral message, but not many people see things as I do. Not even many Christians see things as I do. So this is about what *I* got from the flick.

The scene is an isolated island off the coast of Ireland, an obscure monastery of a (probably fictitious) order, and it opens on a priest -- perhaps the monastery Abbot -- offering mass in Latin in the open air, I think on the mainland near the boat dock serving the island. The congregants are holding protest signs calling for the return of the mass in Latin. That is the point of conflict around which the story revolves. The people want the mass in Latin, and the priests are serving the people.

The two main characters are that Abbot and a representative from Rome, there to deliver an ultimatum: stop doing the mass in Latin or get replaced.

The Roman rep appears to have lost his faith: he does not cross himself upon entering the church, he does not sing the hymns everybody else sings, and in his room he meditates while sitting in the lotus position with burning incense. And he is there to deliver a message that does not serve the people of the Church, who are thronging from all over the world to this tiny monastery -- or at least to the hillside over the dock, because the boatman has instructions to let only priests ride his boat (the rep doesn't look like a priest, no robe, no clerical collar, so not even he is allowed) -- to get their mass in Latin.

The change in policy, we are told, is a political expedient. The Latin mass and the doctrine of transubstantiation -- in traditional Catholic theology the wafer and the wine become the actual body and blood of Christ when the little bell rings, when the priest utters the magical "hocus pocus" (his actual words are Latin, 'hoc est corpus meam' = "this is my body" = the words of Christ in the Bible, which to the untrained ear literally sounds like "hocus pocus") -- are being deprecated to pacify the nonCatholics at the ecumenical table. Evangelicals are (like these monks) unwilling to give up the essentials of our faith, and most of us refused to join these ecumenical meetings when they happened. When Chuck Colson later participated in meetings with Catholics, neither side was asked to give up their own essentials.

The Abbot, we find out later, had actually lost his faith, some incident at Lourdes where he could not bring himself to believe that any miracle was happening, and subsequently could no longer believe in the miracle of transubstantiation, but he had underling priests do the mass and nobody was the wiser. His entire reason for being there was to serve the simple faith of the people and his own priests. But he honored his vow to serve the Father General whom the rep represented, and he enforced that same vow on his underling priests when he required them to conform to the rep's edict. Yet somehow he could not in good conscience continue on as Abbot under that circumstance.

The primary message I take away from this flick is the reason I am Protestant, not Catholic. The Abbot (or maybe his secretary, sometimes I confuse people who look similar) quoted Luther's famous conscience line against conforming to the edict from Rome, while denying that he had any intention like Luther's break (Luther also had no such intention, but things got out of hand). The Catholics and the Mormons alike have this continuing problem, that they do not allow for the possibility of moral absolutes like Truth, so they both require a Pope (or in the case of the Mormons, Apostle) to tell them what is "true" today. If there is such a thing as moral absolutes -- and I have yet to find nor hear of anybody who doesn't in their heart really believe in them, at least not when they buy a $2 item in a store and pay with a $5 bill, and expect $3, not $2 in change, because 2+3=5 is a moral absolute applying to all people everywhere and in every time without exception -- then Truth is a moral absolute because God Himself cannot lie. That means we can accept the Bible as unconditionally "True in all that it teaches," and therefore takes precedence over any Pope or Apostle or Pastor. Most people are tribal in the support of their pastor, because tribalism is a Relationship, and they are Reliationshipists in preference to Truth, but that's a different story for a different place.

I'm not saying the Bible is without problems, but there are far fewer than the atheists and crypto-atheists want to claim, and the few I cannot explain to my own satisfaction, I can point out that if I understood everything God wrote, then I would be a god, which I clearly am not.

Bottom line, the Catholics got themselves into this problem because they gave man (the Pope) authority over Truth, which breaks Truth as a moral absolute. Or rather it breaks on the fact that Truth is a moral absolute, not subject to individual human acts. God did not (in His Bible) make Peter or anybody else an exception. That's their problem, not mine.

I do have problems, not in defining moral absolutes, not in understanding God's Righteous requirement of all people everywhere and in all times without exception to comply with them, nor even in having the power to Do The Right Thing once I understand it and ask God's help by His indwelling Spirit -- those are all relatively simple -- but sometimes it's harder in the selfishness of the situation to see how this particular action is a violation, so that I can consciously choose The Right Thing. sigh

2023 January 28 -- Lies, D* Lies, and WIRED

Not particularly known for their scientific acccuracy, the current WIRED magazine hit a new low.
Climate experts [sic] estimate that 2030 is also the year by which much of Georgetown [capital of Guyana] and coastal Guyana will be underwater as a result of unchecked global warming.
Recall that I actually did the math three years ago. If all the ice in the world eventually melted, it would raise sea levels something like 70 meters. Google tells us that current rate is 0.14 inches per year (slightly over an eighth of an inch), and that it doubled in the last ten years. If it doubled ever year (not every ten), then by seven years from now (that is, in year 2030, the year mentioned in that article), the sea would have risen a little over two feet, less than the height of an average wave on a calm day. No capital city is going to be inundated by that much sea rise unless they are already under water from the waves every day today.

But the sea rise isn't going up that fast. Google's chart showing the rise since 1880 -- I guess that's the first time they measured it in a repeatable way -- shows a miniscule average curve upward, not even as great as the doubling every century I based my math on three years ago. The line is jagged, sometimes up, sometimes down. If you want to sell fear and panic, tell people about the sharp upturns, not the downturns. "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." The sea rise went up two inches (50mm on the chart) in the last 20 years, no way is it going up enough to flood a whole city in seven more years. The waves on the beach go higher than that, and you can be sure the city has storm walls higher than than the worst case wave height. I don't know who these unnamed "climate experts" the author consulted are, but if they represent the best science we have for so-called climate change, there's nothing to worry about, not  in lowland countries like Guyana or Bangladesh, not even in below-sealevel Holland.

Needless to say, the author of the article is female. Guys would be embarrassed to print such nonsense over their own name. Women would be too, if they bothered to check, but they tend to be more gullible and less inclined to check the math. All the mathophobes I know are women. I cannot find any evidence WIRED even has an editor in charge of validating what they print, just (female) financial officers. In other words, not "Is it true?" but "Will it sell?"

2023 January 3 -- Gezer in the Bible

Last summer's BAR sat in the Reading Room for several months -- I don't regret the delay, the magazine has lost its compass since the founder passed on -- but the cover story (actually two articles, both mostly rehash of old facts) tells briefly of the authors (Ortiz and Wolff), their own excavation in Gezer, an Israeli city that Solomon fortified, and which Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah claimed to have destroyed both Gezer and all Israel a couple hundred years before Solomon.

The Bible makes no mention of Merneptah by name. It does say Pharaoh destroyed the Canaanites in Gezer and burned the city, then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married Solomon, which looks like a different chronology, maybe it is, maybe not. Gezer is also mentioned among the cities Joshua defeated (but did not destroy), and it is mentioned among the cities that still had Canaanites during the time of the Judges. When David was staying in the Philistine city of Ziklag, Gezer got mentioned as one of the places his band of men raided -- leaving no survivors to tell the Philistines about it while David himself told them he was raiding Judah. Those aren't the kinds of events that would leave much evidence for archaeologists to uncover. Pharaoh burning it to the ground is something else. So's the dating, which is pretty iffy in archaeology. The BAR article dates the destruction to late 13th century on the basis of a couple Egyptian artifacts found there. That matches the conventional dating for Merneptah's stele that mentioned the "destruction" of Israel.

If you take the conventional dating (both Biblical and secular) at face value, Merneptah's incursion into Israel would have happened during the time of the Judges, a time when Israelis "did what was right in their own eyes" (and by implication, WRONG in God's eyes) and God kept sending surrounding nations to oppress them, then they cried out to God, Who sent Judges to rescue them. But no mention of either Merneptah or Gezer in that context. Maybe that was west of the territory that the Israelis held during the time of the Judges, so it didn't count -- and Merneptah's boast was therefore unfounded -- or maybe Merneptah was indeed one of the surrounding nations to overrun Israel, but God did not raise up any Judge in Israel to run him off (perhaps it was unnecessary, since Merneptah himself was reaching the end of his own life, and he went home, leaving Israel to recover quietly), this article does not say, and neither did God. Lots of things happened around the world that God chose not to report in the Bible. They were irrelevant to what He was doing with His people in His chosen land.

But I wonder. At least these authors didn't seize this opportunity to diss the Bible, as others before them have so eagerly done.

2023 January 2 -- It CAN Be Done In Church

I guess most of the church staff was still on vacation, the preacher was one of the youth pastors getting his annual shot at the pulpit. It was the first Sunday in the month, the first day in the new year, and at the close of his Communion segment he invited us to join the praise team in a "love song." I mumbled to myself that "this church doesn't do love songs," but they did!

At least it started out that way: no drums, no syncopation, just a soft piano to match the love-song-like words. Then the words morphed into something more martial and the drummer kicked in. Modern drummers have a hard time doing anything but syncopated rock, and this guy was no exception. Eventually the words caught up with him, something about "Death could not hold You," and "You have no rival, You have no equal," which express separation and rejection and anger, the kinds of things appropriate to the emotions kindled by the heavy unsingable syncopated beat of rock music, and the drummer could -- and did -- do that.

My point is, different styles of music convey different emotions, and emotions drive the actions of the people expressing them. Play continuous rock, and everybody is angry all the time. It's hard on the culture, and it's hard on the people, but that's what we live in, and this church can do better -- we saw that yesterday -- but they don't have the will to on a regular basis. The regular music leaders were still on vacation, these were mostly people who I don't usually see up front. I don't think they even knew what they were doing (probably a "God thing"), perhaps like the two churches where I (in times past) parked my fanny, where men outnumbered the women, and the senior pastor in each case had no clue what he was doing to make that happen.

It wasn't a bad song, more about Jesus than "me-myself-and-I" with three times more 2nd-person pronouns referring to Jesus than 1st person pronouns (most CCM songs it's the other way around) but rather repetitious like the "7-11" taunt, (literally) "7 (in this case 6) words repeated 11 times." Whatever.

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