Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2019 December 25 -- Politics in Sci-Fi

Politics is a lot like Religion (which I now define as "Believing what you know ain't so" or at least what it defines as non-negotiably TRUE). I think this author's premier novel Salt is an exercise in showing how much better anarchy is than "hierarchical" (his term for social order where government restrains people's evil tendencies). No such society ever existed -- nor can it exist -- so this is mostly wishful thinking, although he seems to acknowledge that an organized government probably has the military advantage over his preferred anarchy in times of conflict.

Curiously, he is not openly hostile to religion -- both his anarchical city-state and their hierarchical nemesis believe in God -- but there is no need for churches in anarchy, because everybody communes directly with the god of their own imagination, no priests required. He didn't use those exact words, but that was the effect.

In his utopia there are few or no really selfish greedy people, because they get bored and are willing to spend 25% of their day doing useful work to alleviate the boredom. I think he imagines that people are essentially identical (except for their bad training, which I suppose he thinks leads to bad ideas about hierarchy), and everybody is equally happy to do things that benefit society, and there is enough wealth to support the non-producers and the producers alike. It sounds rather like the failed Marxist vision of the (former) Soviet Union. The author has his lead anarchist character argue that point with the ambassador from the other country, shortly before he rapes her when (as the temporarily recognized diplomatic representative of his own country) he should have been granting her safe passage back to her own country. His culture has no provision for protecting vulnerable women from predatory males, and the author reports the rape without disapproval, where that incident alone should be adequate disproof of his thesis, nevermind the economic fairy tale aspect.

The book alternates between the perspective of the anarchist guy who was at that time "rotated" into the diplomatic role when interaction was required for the ambassador from the other country, with his internal thoughts about how incomprehensible her expectations of diplomatic relations were, and switching off every few pages to the perspective of the military leader of the other country, and how incomprehensible the anarchists seemed to be. But because the author is obviously promoting the anarchist perspective (he spends substantially more ink on him), the opposing military leader's viewpoint is not completely thought out, more of a straw man there for us to ridicule. Except it didn't work that way for me.

The militaristic hierarchical people refer often to the Bible, but not with a complete understanding of it. For example, the military guy refers to other people's "wife or partner" as if they are equivalent, which is only true in post-Christian cultures like England (the book uses British spelling) and the USA today, but certainly not in the Bible. Later in the book we learn that their religious heritage comes from some Ecumenical Council of churches (conservatives in America today would see that as a red-flag clue to weak Biblical theology) back on Earth before they set out for the distant planet, and that the anarchists had joined the interstellar pilgrimage by being deceptive about their irreligion. Otherwise the military guys were more credibly human -- or at least civilized.

Totally absent from the anarchist perspective is the foremost Christian teaching (other than the Atonement) which is the Golden Rule. Everybody does whatever they want, with no rules at all, and no motivation to help anybody else in any way. It's clearly a post-Christian idea, where we live in a culture made possible by hundreds of years of Christian Golden Rule indoctrination, with the result that we (previously the Brits, but now especially the Americans) enjoy the greatest per-capita wealth of any country in the world and in all time. The author sees that, but has no clue where it came from, certainly not from the kind of anarchy he proposes, which would kill the society faster than Marxism killed (or is in the process of killing, it seems to take about 70 years) every country that tried it, before they move back to something theistic so the people have "pie in the sky" to motivate good behavior. The anarchists make war like the Muslims (attacking civilians, including women and children) while lacking any theistic or cultural basis for restraint, which at least most Muslims (jihadists excepted) try to do.

What was that line, "it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" The result is that the book ended in a fizzle. Maybe the author will do better on his second try. Maybe I won't have an opportunity to consider reading it.

2019 December 14 -- Inner Turmoil

Y'all already know I skip over the female authors on the library bookshelves. This book's author was named Andre, which is the French spelling of male name Andrew (the French have a feminine form of the same name, with an extra 'e' on the end) but English-speaking parents mostly don't give their daughters that name. This turned out to be an exception, but I didn't find out until I got home and the introduction mentioned it was initially published under the name Andrew. But that was 65 years ago, when books were generally better written anyway, and if she was masquerading as a guy, it might be OK.

It was tolerable, a lot more inner turmoil than male-authored books -- except C.J.Box, whose books I now skip over in the library -- but not as bad as typical chick-lit. I think the library has more of her books, but I won't be bringing them home. The next book on my stack billed itself as "Christian fiction" but the author was a guy and the back-cover praise was effusive so I thought I'd give it a try. The inner turmoil is insufferable, I couldn't even finish the first chapter. I never got far enough into it to see whether it conforms to what I once called Randy Alcorn's "Four P's" (predictable, sugar-coated=polite, preachy, and poorly written) criticism of "Christian" literature. The women (and the few Feeler guys) who populate the American churches must like that stuff, otherwise there would be no market for it. There's a lot of it in the Psalms, but not much elsewhere in the Bible.

Elijah got himself into a whiney depression (think: inner turmoil) and God gave him a job to do to snap him out of it. People with God-given work to do don't go there. Sometimes, when we forget to pay attention to God and get into a burnout state (not enough Sabbath rest, or just plain pursuing our own interests instead of waiting on God's direction) it feels like that, but there's a cure: Get some nutrition, some rest, then ask God for some vision. When you know this is a God thing, you have the power to do it, no turmoil needed. At least it works that way for me. Figuring out when it's a God thing is a little harder...

2019 December 10 -- Darwin Didn't Help

Some 40 years ago (I don't remember the exact date) I was in grad school and I must have said something in favor of (theistic) Darwinism, because my major prof invited me to look at the evidence. So I did. I do that. I was astonished that nobody had their own evidence, they all pointed to somebody else as definitive. This was in a state university, where the government-funded Established Religion is "Darwin, or else." I eventually wrote up my findings in my essay "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?" From a social perspective, because I am a scientist, I prefer the Darwinist myth, but the facts just are not there.

I'm still looking for anybody, anywhere, doing peer-reviewed research to show from their own research that the Darwinist hypothesis (universal descent from a common ancestor) is better supported by their own research than the fiat creation model. I do that. I look at the evidence. Nobody has ever offered any. It doesn't exist. Once in a while I find something that looks like it could be that evidence, but when I look at it critically, it slithers away into the dark. The April issue of WIRED magazine has an example of that kind of non-evidence in "The Darwin Treatment" (no link, their articles are no longer open to the public, not even on Google).

Anyway, this guy openly claims that his Darwinism enabled him to find a cancer therapy that works better than what they have been doing. But first you need to understand what it is about his Religion (defined as "Believing what you know ain't so") that had this beneficial effect. So-called "neo-Darwinian evolution" has two parts: First you need a source of genetic innovation, which Darwin supposed (like his predecessors) came from need, but nobody believes that any more. Mendelian genetics put the kibosh on that goofy (vitalistic) notion, whence the "neo" (new) part of the moniker: scientists realized Darwin was wrong about that, but they observed random mutations in the genome so that's where neo-Darwinism finds its source of innovation. More about that shortly.

The second part of Darwinism is Darwin's own insight into the rather obvious fact that in an environment of amoral scarcity -- the atheists must assume the "amoral" part, since they have no mechanism for the evolution of morality by Darwinist principles, and besides, that gives them permission to be immoral (except in the USA, where they must pretend to be "good" people because the Christian influence here demands it) -- anyway, scarcity apart from the Golden Rule means that the strong survive and the weak perish. Darwin or his immediate followers called it "natural selection" or the "survival of the fittest," but subsequently some of the more thoughtful Darwinists recognize that it's more like "survival of the luckiest" (their words). Natural selection is an awesome idea, which ought to be true, even if it doesn't fit the facts (at which it fails about as often as it succeeds). The facts win, except when they point to God and it's an atheist who's looking. Whatever.

This guy doing cancer research decided from his Darwinist religion that natural selection being (as he supposes) a law of nature, and the fact that cancer cells appear to be the result of genetic mutations of normal cells, which compete against the normal cells for the nutrients in the bloodstream. Aggressive cancer therapy tries to kill all the cancer cells, which (as he supposes) is like the selective pressure of natural selection, and the new mutations become immune to that therapy. If instead of trying to kill all the cancer, we leave enough to crowd out the new mutations -- this supposes that the drug-resistant new mutations must use more energy to resist the therapy, which he admits is unproved -- then when the cancer grows to be harmful, we kill off enough to keep it under control. This means that the patient gets much less of the harmful treatments with all their side-effects, and the resistant cancer cells do not take over. Cancer becomes a chronic disease instead of a fatal one. It seems to work, but he has not yet done full clinical trials with proper controls.

Let us suppose full clinical trials show unconditional success for his treatment, does that prove Darwinism? Or does the Darwinist hypothesis even give useful results better than the fiat creation model? Not at all! First of all, natural selection is science, that is, it can be tested scientifically, unlike the other necessary component of the Darwinist religion, that accumulated random mutations can and did generate all manner of genetic variety of organisms that you see in the world today. Lenski's experiment (as actually reported at first, before they suppressed the evidence) disproved that first component, but only natural selection figured in the cancer therapy experiment. A Creationist scientist might not have thought to try it, but it's not a disproof of the fiat creation model, which allows for the (probable) scientific fact of natural selection as a God-given means of maintaining the genetic purity of the individual species.

Furthermore, assuming that all cancer researchers know that cancer happens as a result of genetic mutation, and given that pretty much all of them know that antiseptic-resistant bacteria tend to multiply in hospitals, so that avoiding the unnecesary use of antibacterial cleansers gives the curable bacteria an opportunity to overwhelm the resistant ones. If, as the creation model posits, the resistant bacteria have been there all along but are only overwhelmed by the less resistant microbes -- that is, survival of the fittest is active, but little or no actual mutation -- then this same principle could apply in cancer treatment, giving the same results that the Darwinist came up with. It didn't happen that way because the Darwinist Religion is Established (taught as TRUE in almost all schools, public and private) so that few scientists get an accurate scientific education because they all undergo the Darwinist brainwashing, and even fewer are admitted into research programs controlled by the Darwinist priesthood.

The bottom line: this guy may credit his Darwinism for his insight, but a Creationist researcher could have gotten the same result if we had the same opportunities. But we can't know that, can we? Because this is not a scientific experiment, it's just a piece of luck that happened to the lucky guy.

PermaLink (with additional remarks)

2019 December 2 -- Charity vs Love

I don't often get a podium to express my opinion about why men feel excluded from American churches, but I had just finished reading the book of Job in the Bible (see my essay "A Christian View of Climate Change" a couple weeks ago for the most recent insight from that reading, and "The Job Affair" for the most important lesson from the book), and the pastor asked my opinion on that reading. So I told the group both insights, being careful to explain that the First Great Commandment (of which Job is the stirling example) is better translated "charity" (as in 1Cor.13 in the KJV) than "love" as the modern translations inaccurately render it.

One of the guys there allowed as it didn't make any sense to tell his wife "I charity you," and he was exactly right! The warm fuzzy feelings he gets for his wife, and (much more importantly) the feelings she gets when she hears him say that, is a very different concept from what God tells us to do for our neighbor and (much more importantly) how we must relate to God Himself. It's not about feelings, it's about what you do, and this pastor knows that. So when the pastor uses the word "love" to describe what God commands in us, there is no way this poor guy will understand what he is saying, because he knows what "love" means, and that it accurately describes his feelings for his wife. No amount of explaining from the pulpit (or even one-on-one in person) will ever convince this guy that what he knows about the English language is wrong -- because it's not! What the pastor is trying to do is what's wrong. But I think much too slowly to be able to say any of that in real time.

Many pastors in America are waking up to the fact that their congregation mostly have no clue what the King James Bible says, no matter how hard the pastors try to persuade the people in those pews that "this word really means something different from what you think" over and over for half the words, so even the pastors who are stuck on the KJV for their own use will sometimes read from the (slightly) modernized "New King James" in the pulpit, but they still need to do a lot of translating -- which still is completely futile because everybody already knows what those words mean, and it's not what the pastor says they mean. Well, maybe for 20 minutes on that particular Sunday morning, but not the rest of the day and certainly not the rest of the year.

This particular pastor refuses to budge. "The Bible gives the definition of that word," he said, "and that's what it means." But that is no different from the pastor who says "The KJV was good enough for Paul and Silas, and it's good enough for me." The KJV did not yet exist when Paul and Silas were sitting in the Roman jail, they were reading and quoting the Bible in Greek, not modern English, and especially not Elizabethan olde Englishe. And if that Greek Bible "defined" any word at all, it was the Greek word being spoken 2000 years ago, and not some modern English word that some translator thought might be a good translation of it. The only correct definition of the modern English word "love" (or any other word) is found in a modern dictionary (or on the internet); any attempt to redefine it to mean something else will thoroughly muddle whatever use he tries to put that word to in his sermon. In fact, he himself has probably confused the normal English definition and his private redefinition in his own mind: it's really hard to keep two different definitions of the same word separate like that.

It's even worse when the redefinition and the modern sense overlap somewhat, like "study" in the KJV version of 2Tim.2:15 (which the NIV accurately reads as "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved..." with no reference to Bible study at all, see my blog post "KJV vs Greek" four years ago). I have heard it argued that one way to "work hard" at presenting yourself approved to God is by studying the Bible -- and that may be true, although Bible study is not mentioned in the Two Great Commandments that Jesus seemed to think are what is needed to present yourself to God as one approved [Luke 10:28] -- and therefore (so this reasoning goes) 2Tim.2:15 is about Bible study, which the KJV obviously (but incorrectly) makes clear. Similarly, when the Apostle Paul wrote that "husbands should charity their wives as Christ charitied the Church and gave himself for her," it might indeed be that telling their wives that they "love" (=have warm fuzzy feelings for) them is a small part of that charity = doing uncomfortable things for her benefit, the way Christ suffered on the Cross for the benefit of the Church, but it's certainly not the biggest part, and using the same word there obliterates that important distinction. You can be sure that Jesus was not experiencing warm fuzzies on the Cross, and that Cross is what the Apostle had in mind when he told husbands to do the same thing for their wives.


2019 November 5 -- STEAM, Part 2

You recall last time -- well, some three weeks ago -- I mentioned the new push to get more women into the high-paying "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs by redefining the category as "STEAM" (the added "A" for "Arts"). What didn't occur to me at the time, I thought of when I read an article in last month's ComputingEdge (see my take on that waste of paper in "The Edge of Computers" earlier last month) where author Nicholas Kirsch tried to make the same case as the LEGO ad in WIRED. His plan is just as foolish, but at least he's trying to do some good in the world (besides heaping unearned wealth on people who won't or can't do the work to earn it).

The problem is this: How do we know that the reason there are so few women and Hispanics in STEM isn't because they choose not to be there, or because nobody will hire them? Well, we know it's not the lack of opportunity: like the American blacks -- this was before they went to a hyphenated descriptor -- in the last half of the 20th century, the educators and employers are tumbling all over themselves trying to get them in. So much so that smart women already in the sciences are beginning to refuse to let their work be published in popular journals, lest it be tainted with favoritism instead of being accepted on its merits (see "The Gender Divide" last August), just as the previous prejudice in favor of hiring blacks stained the reputations of people who actually did good work.

What about free choice and competence? What we need is some good peer-reviewed research showing whether or not these are actual factors in the gender divide. You won't see it, even if somebody -- it would have to be a woman, because no guy who wants to still have a job next year would touch it, so bad is the bigotry associated with this topic -- is willing to do the research. And if somebody actually found funding and did the research (and it's contentious enough that it probably did happen), the result would never get published unless it matched the state religion, which we know it did not, because there is no such publication.

You probably don't remember my blog posting "Extreme Science" eight years ago, in which I mentioned WIRED's cover story "7 Experiments That Could Teach Us So Much (If They Weren't So Wrong)" the last of which mentioned attempting to hybrid humans and chimpanzees. The author of the article clearly did not consider it wrong, only those religious bigots would prevent good science from proving the (now known to be wrong) 98% finding of similarity. I predicted that if such an experiment ever were to be done, they would hush it up because it failed. Several years later I learned that the Nazi Germans actually did that experiment, and the reason you never heard about it is that they hushed it up because it failed. If they ever do honest research on male-female differences affecting their ability or desire to do math and science, you will not hear about it.

I wrote the author (who is now on a university faculty) to ask if he knew about such research. He did not reply. Duh. People who raise questions like that tend to get fired (remember James Damore?) and everybody else takes notice: Don't do that. So long as this topic is firmly an established part of the national religion (believing what everybody knows ain't so), you will never see any such research. As I said last year, it is the nature or religion to define what is non-negotiably (as in "don't confuse me with evidence") true, and such belief systems cannot risk finding out they are wrong. The atheists and the feminazis have a lot more of that kind of religion than I do. Their problem, not mine.

2019 October 12 -- STEAM

Speaking of employment opportunities in computer technology, the national religion (believing what you know ain't so) dogma that women are exactly the same as men (except for gonads, and sometimes not even excepting that) has been pushing women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for quite a while now, and they actually got a 50% representation of women entering those fields for a few years before it dropped back down to 25% again. Methinks the women were pushed into it against their natural inclination, then discovered they really don't like it. Duh.

But the bishops of the national religion don't give up easily. It's like so-called "global warming" (which this week obviously isn't: a record 27" of snow was reported in parts of the country, but you've also seen my mention of other contrarian facts from time to time) so now they call it "climate change." The climate is always changing, it has nothing to do with "greenhouse gas" or carbon, God does it on His schedule. Anyway, seeing they can't sell the women on what the women innately don't want to do, they have renamed their mantra to "STEAM" (the added "A" for "Arts") so they can feel good about doing something. What these bishops don't understand is that the personality type that does not like STEM already naturally likes the artistic fields, so this is a nothing. Or maybe it's just a hoax to keep the money coming in. I saw it in a double-page LEGO ad boasting about what they are doing to benefit the world (using their product, of course).

Part of the failure of the summer program I mentored in Portland for three years was that we were not attracting under-represented demographics (females and Hispanics mostly) so the religious funding couldn't justify helping. So next year we get to retool it to work in the schools where those under-represented types can be found. My policy has always been: if you want to be here and learn what I have to teach you, I will work with you so you can do it, because I strongly believe motivation and hard work trump natural abilities in all but the very top tier (where you really need both). I'm not involved in getting the students in, but if they come, and if they want to work at it, I will help them succeed. If (like this year) they don't have the wanna, nothing I can do will help them succeed no matter how hard I try. This will be an entry-level program, where the only collaboration is helping each other succeed, so there won't be any key people whose failure to perform kills it for everybody. I like this a lot better, and it's fun again, so you'll probably see more of my preparation efforts here.

2019 October 7 -- The Edge of Computers

I mentioned a few times being a member of the IEEE. Originally it was so I could be in their Computer Society -- one of many sub-organizations of the IEEE -- and therefore be a part of the Microprocessor Standards Committee (MSC) which was responsible for several of the standards that now define the computers we use every day (think: smart phone). The Computer Society sent out their Computer magazine as part of the membership benefits, and sometimes there was good stuff in it. Then a few years ago they converted me to "Life Member" (something like "emeritus" or "retired" although I mostly try not to think of myself in those terms) and reduced the annual dues to $0 but also replaced the Computer magazine with a collection of excerpts from several magazines they call ComputingEdge. I think they imagine it to be "edgy" but it seems most often they are rather off the edge, like the editor might be viewing the world from the inside of her navel. Yes, the entire masthead is female. Last month (September) was different.

The lead article was a "History of Software Engineering." When I was teaching at the university, I told my students that "software engineering" is a self-contradiction. Engineering is about building things we know how to build, like electronic circuits or bridges or petroleum reefineries. But once we know how to write a particular computer program, we can tell the computer to do it -- it's called a "compiler" and I got a PhD in that topic -- and then go on to invent other things we do not yet know how to do. Retro people (think: Linux and dark screens, see my essay "Retro Romance") obviously are not so inventive, and the people in China and India and Russia can make more of the same, but in the USA we "invent the future." Maybe that's why I'm no longer at that university, but the Dean said they were looking for "grantsmanship" (his word, meaning the getting and spending of Federal grant money; I'm of the wrong political persuasion to be good at that). Anyway, the author made a valiant effort to defend the term. And then he said something rather astonishing. It shouldn't be.

He started his history of computer software before there were any real computers, with the curious remark that "The first computers were human (and for the most part, women)." It's obviously a sexist comment. If there really were no differences between men and women (other than reproductive organs), this would not only be irrelevant, it would not be true at all. What he is reporting is there was a "glass ceiling" where men were systematically excluded from employment positions in the emerging technical field of computation. What utter nonsense! The USA is probably the most meritocratic country in the whole world, and was so even back then a century ago. More women than men had those jobs because they were better at it and were willing to put the effort into doing it well. The technology is different today, but it's still true that the jobs go to the people who want to put the effort into doing it well, and the other people (the ones who won't or can't perform at that level) they complain about a glass ceiling or discrimination or whatever else they want to shift the blame to. Of course there's discrimination! Short people cannot become super-star basketball players. Paraplegics do not get to be firemen (and the people trapped in a burning house wouldn't want it any other way). Often the performance differences are subtle. Sometimes potential employers are lazy or too busy to check out the actual performance of the applicants, but instead rely on averages, and that's unfortunate because smarter employers will beat them in the marketplace. You don't want to be there when that happens.

Anyway, the other interesting factoid in his History article had to do with a certain woman that I'd already heard of: Grace Hopper is credited with inventing the first compiler. Compilers are my specialty, but I don't look back very much, so I didn't know that. Grace Hopper earned her kudos before women started looking for excuses instead of doing the job well.

Later in the same issue is a pair of articles that are almost comical in juxtaposition. First came a contentless piece extolling the virtues of blockchain (the latest buzzword ignorant people use to sound smart, now that neural nets are on the decline) in food safety. He never once actually told us how that could happen, only that it could do so. I don't believe it. Anything as opaque and computationally intensive as blockchains is almost certainly full of unseen bugs that clever thieves will spend the time to exploit, and nobody has bothered to tell us why that might be otherwise. If so.

The second of the two articles basically said what I was thinking all the way through the first of them. He has some good insights on blockchains, which you probably should read for yourself if you care what the idiots are doing to us, but the magazine's webmaster got too clever by half; my browser can't access it, but maybe yours will, so try Googling "Silver Bullet Talks with Nick Weaver" (quoted, it's the title of his article).

2019 September 23 -- Two Flicks with Theological Implications

Six years ago ChristianityToday ran an opinion piece (most of the dead-tree publication industry these days give opinions more ink than facts -- the internet probably does too, but I don't need to pay for it ;-) extolling the virtues of local organic farming and manual food preparation. I had just finished reading a sci-fi novel by John Ringo which demolished the claims made for organic farms, so I responded with a long letter to CT "Thanking God for Factory Farms and Processed Food." They changed it to say things I do not believe, but left enough of my original ideas so that other people (some of them not obviously Christians) picked it up and asked to include my essay in their books on controverial topics, first Animal Rights in 2015 (apparently as a nutcake arguing against their main theme), and now this year in Chatraw & Prior's Cultural Engagement which looks at their issues from a Christian perspective. So I'm reading through the rest of the essays in this book -- it's too heavy for bedtime reading, so it goes slower.

One of the topics is war and guns, and the essay by Ben Witherington starts off with a paragraph describing the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the true story about a conscientious objector in WWII who single-handedly saved 75 wounded soldiers, and whose courage under fire emboldened his former detractors (who had already left him behind on the battlefield) to go back and win the battle. So I looked, and sure enough the library had it. It's an awesome flick. My views about war are similar to Desmond Doss in the movie, but none of my peers were volunteering to go to VietNam. Fortunately God gave me a job at a DoD (government) research lab, so my insignificant contribution to the war effort was not in uniform. I learned a lot at that job, including, as the Personnel Director there told me (with a straight face, I was so astonished I remember his exact words) "Civil Service performs a valuable social function; it provides employment for people who would otherwise be unemployable." I could see it was true! When they closed the lab a few years later and offered to move me to another government lab in Washington, I declined.

The second movie in the same library haul was Dark City. Most of it made no sense at all to me, but it became pretty obvious that this was "spec-fic" (previously known as fantasy, where the author/screenwriter abandons the laws of physics to see what they can do with it), but it was my Day of Rest, so I slogged through it until near the end I realized this particular flick is portraying the Lie of Satan in the Garden, "You shall be as God." This is fiction, so the Good Guy has more psychic energy than the Bad Guy and overcomes him by pure will power. That happens in real life too, but the only Person with that kind of power is God Himself, and God can do it more subtly than having a knife turn around in mid-air and head back to kill its sender. God speaks "and there was light," but this guy only thinks hard about it and the sun rises over the eponymous and previously dark city. In the separate "Making Of" documentary (one of the extras on the DVD) the screenwriter/director talked a lot about what he was hoping for in this flick, and how some of the test viewers were confused by it so he went back to the producers to shoot some connecting material. It was still confusing. A second screenwriter brought in (so he said) to make it less wierd, called it a "pastiche" (I think a more modern term is "mash-up") of "post-modern, fantasy and noir." Visually it was very noir (the French word means "black") like Batman flicks, but at least the Batman story makes some sense. The essence of post-modernism is the abandonment of objective reality, everything is whatever you imagine it to be. Nobody really believes that, but it sounds good when you are arguing against Biblical morality (see my essay "Moral Absolutes").

I mention this because the guy went on to say "Technology has accelerated social change and the pace of modern life is beyond that of the ordinary individual to cope with," and "People now are alienated in a way that for centuries they weren't [able to be]," resulting in a "dialectical confrontation of the recent past with the here and now [that is] new in human experience." I thought it remarkable that his guy was saying 12 years ago the same thing I observed this year concerning the fixation on what I call "steam punk and broadswords." There is a certain satisfaction with discovering that what I invented without any help (except of course from God) is also being accepted by smart people (or at least elites such as artists and filmmakers) elsewhere.

2019 September 21 -- The Mote

The book was published in 1974, before the feminazis and the fantasy writers (pretty much the same thing) took over and destroyed the sci-fi industry, changing its name to "specualtive fiction." It was also before all the writers started trying to outdo each other's raunch. There are still a few cusswords in this novel, but spelled differently, like "rape" in place of the modern word that means the same thing. I knew Jerry Pournelle's writing from the 80's when he had a disrespectful narcissistic column in Byte magazine. This story is much better than that, perhaps the influence of better-known co-author Larry Niven.

I wouldn't mention this book except what they did with Christianity. Half, maybe most sci-fi writers make no mention of religion; and most of the rest make it clear that the author considers all religion to be a fraud that science has defeated (except some are honest enough to admit that it still lingers). A few are more tolerant, and the religious professionals in their stories -- almost always Roman Catholic -- are honest people presented in a positive light, while making it clear that the main character(s) share the author's personal unbelief. This one is in that last category.

It's too bad really, that these writers have not taken the time to understand why Christianity is different from the other religions. In this case it could have prevented the embarassment in their treatment of the aliens. The essence of the Christian faith is that God became human to deal with the fallen human condition. It makes no sense at all if wicked aliens with no knowledge of Jesus exist as in this story. I think if we ever found such people, somebody created by God and fallen into sin, but with no Redeemer -- who? Jesus? -- or else evolved sentient beings (as in this story) "red in tooth and claw" (those words were not used, but the aliens were both dishonest and warlike), then the entire premise of Christianity falls apart. But this is fiction, and the religious implications were subtle and deferred to later in the book, so most of my reading was unhindered by it. Certainly not like some of the atheistic crud I've seen.

Another flaw in the education of most sci-fi writers -- John Ringo and David Drake were notable exceptions -- is the total absence of understanding how soldiers (the military in general, in this case the navy) think. Here our hero, the captain of a Navy starship, gets all blubbery worrying about his inevitable court-marshall because his commanding admiral destroyed the ship after it became infested with aliens. The commanding officer is responsible for that. Maybe the captain on watch should have prevented the infestation, but that comes out in the court, and he has not lost his career if he did the Right Thing. Non-military people don't understand that. At least in this story the authors had something else they wanted the hero to do, so they whitewashed the court-marshall and quickly moved him into the next phase of his career. Maybe all the whiney inner turmoil was to make the whitewash more surprising (novelists consider it their God-given duty to jerk the readers around), but it didn't work. It just wasn't real. Fortunately, it didn't last very long.

I thought it interesting that in 1974, before there even was such a thing as a personal computer, the authors are predicting ubiquitous cell phones, only they were called "pocket computers" which connected to the network. None of that existed in 1974. The science in this older novel is credible. FTL (faster than light) travel is deemed possible only because of wormholes (they didn't call it that) connecting the stars, but you had to hunt around to find it. The force fields that protected starships in battle, and also when the wormhole to a red giant star actually ended inside the star's photoshpere, were a little less credible, but they put some effort into dealing credibly with the energy the field absorbed in use.

2019 September 18 -- Amazing

I have an old printer that works just fine, except I can no longer buy ink for it at WalMart. After a while Staples also quit selling ink for it. The tech guru looked it up online and said they were out of stock, but Amazon had it. Nobody, not even Amazon, sells black ink for this printer, except in an expensive combination that includes color cartridges also. I already have a zillion unopened color cartridges, I use only black.

The last time I had reason to buy something from a remote vendor, I formed the opinion that Amazon was the easiest to do that on. That may still be true in today's abusive electronic wasteland, but Amazon is nowhere as easy to do it on as it was back then. The last time I ordered a book, I found it in Google, selected it in Amazon (whatever it was I wanted) with a click, put in my name and address, clicked on the button to call in my credit card # -- because I'm a computer professional with experience hacking these things, I know better than to expose my credit card # to the internet -- called it in, and I was done.

This time it was necessary to click past a zillion popups that kept hiding what I was trying to look at, and then it wanted me to "log in". I never did see a way to phone in the card number. I gave up. Then my niece (I guess she buys a lot of stuff online, but like me she does not want to use her credit card online) told me to buy an Amazon card at Safeway (or the local post office). I hate creating online accounts, they always want a password: I cannot remember passwords, I can't even remember where I wrote them down, and I never want to do anything online that should need a password. I hate passwords, they are sooo 19th-century (see my essay "Retro Romance"). Next time I need to order something from Amazon, I'll probably just open another account. If they will let me. These robot ordering systems are so abusive.

When I got to the place to pay for the purchase, I couldn't find a place to put in the number printed on the card. I tried it in the obvious place, and it said it was invalid. Brand new today. Eventually I guessed that the number visible on the card was not what they wanted, I was supposed to somehow extract the card from inside its cardboard mailer and peel off a little strip of plastic and use the uncovered letters+digits code. It took that and told me the balance is $0.00 -- WHOA, I paid $100 for this card, and the product I bought was only $13 and something, and I have $0 left? You learn to expect stuff like this from Unixies.

Like I said, Amazon of today is nothing like Amazon back when they weren't a monopoly. Wasn't it Avis who said "When you're #2 you try harder." Oh well.

At least they did one thing right: Unlike prepaid bank cards, there is no expiration date and no fees, neither up-front, nor per month. Unfortunately, Obama's Federal Reserve guy has artificially depressed the value of held money -- after I pay for the card, they have my money to do whatever they want with it (including use it to make more money) -- which destroys the incentive for frugality and deferred gratification, as does also high inflation rates (another benefit of Obamanomics, not yet kicked in). In Biblical terms the suppressed interest rate amounts to "unequal weights" which God (many times) said He hates, because it makes the poor and disempowered pay higher prices than the rich. That's Obamanomics for you: tax the poor and coddle the rich. The banks (aka the rich) make it up in added fees; Amazon makes it up in the exclusivity of the card (only good in their website), which at least is what you bought the card for. Now that Google is no longer in their original "Don't be evil" mode, Amazon has a good shot at replacing them. That would be a good thing (if they choose to do it).

2019 September 10 -- Stardance

Anybody can write mediocre sci-fi -- I've done it myself (see Lazir) -- and I've read a lot of it. Not so much in the Nebula Awards books, that's where you go for really bad sci-fi. Like when the movie Air Force One came out, the TIME magazine critics panned it. That and Harrison Ford as the lead convinced me it would be a good flick, and it was. Nebula Awards are done by critics who know as little as the TIME magazine critics. Only ask a critic for their opinion if you plan to do the opposite of what they recommend.

This one seems to be the "best" of 1977. The first one is by Harlan Ellison. I've never read anything of his that I liked. Or even tolerated. I don't know why I bothered to finish it -- maybe it's because the previous library sci-fi was such a dud, I didn't even get a quarter of the way in. The second story in this collection is a guy writing as female first-person. You wouldn't know it -- I didn't know it for several pages (maybe a quarter of the way in) -- because his female thinks like a guy. I should have skipped this one too.

The third story has an author with a vaguely feminine name, but the editor's intro carefully did not use any pronouns (see my comments on female archeologists last week), and claimed it was only a pen name (and mentioned another very masculine "James"), but no guy writes like that, nevermind that she made her first-person lead into a guy. Most of the story revolves around "femicide," the wholesale slaughter of women around the world. It's a very feminazi theme, too much for me. Skipping right along... The next one was a male first-person with a male author, but it wallowed in inner turmoil, which is the staple of chick-lit.

I just now finished the fifth and longest story. The two authors -- we are told almost nothing about the guy, but the woman is an actress and (so the editor supposes) also a dancer. The first-person lead is a guy, but not your average macho go fast, make loud noises and break things guy, he's a dancer turned videographer, a classic effeminate enterprise. It was all about dancing. Now me, I love to watch people do what they are good at, there's a certain poetry about it. I might even find it interesting to watch a skilled painter do his thing, even if the result is abominably ugly (which most modern art is). When I was teaching at Kansas State, they brought in performing artists from time to time, and I once went to the ballet. I probably wouldn't do it again, but I might have understood it better after reading this story. Or not. The story makes it clear that the dancers see their art as a form of communication. When I read about Christian paint artists, they say the same thing. And then I look at their paintings, and it says nothing at all to me but noise and ugliness. That's not what the artists themselves claim.

The interesting thing about human language -- and let's be charitable and agree that paint on a canvas or the leaps and twirls of a dancer are also somehow the words of a language intended to communicate something intelligible -- all human language attaches meaning (semantics) to arbitrary symbols, and then uses structural rules (syntax) to limit how you can put these symbols together, but the result is that anything that can be said, can be said in pretty much any language, not always with the same ease or expressiveness, but it is possible. That is true also of artificial languages like mathematics and computer programming languages. Most Americans speak only American English, and maybe one or two technical dialects for their work, so they have no concept of the arbitrariness of the vocabulary and syntax of language.

I once heard a joke, I think it was at an international standards committee meeting attended by delegates from a variety of countries, but computer programming was invented by, and is still dominated by Americans and Brits, so we all spoke English in the meetings. Anyway the joke has it that a Brit and a German and a Spaniard or Argentine and maybe a Frenchman were sitting around the table in a restaurant (not unlike our own experience between sessions), and the Brit picks up a fork and waves it around, and says "You guys are all confused. You see this fork? In Spanish you call it a 'tenedor' and the French a "forchette" and you Germans call it a "Gabel" but in English we call it a "fork" because that's what it is!" Of course the linguistic point of the joke is that it is a "tenedor" to the Spanish speaker and to the German it is a "Gabel." The choice of symbols is completely arbitrary, but once we assign a meaning to the symbol, it becomes very hard for us to separate in our minds the name from the object named. Except those of us lucky enough to learn more than one language before age 12, because we very clearly understand the arbitrariness of it all.

So when the artist or critic says "this painting speaks of anguish of soul," and I look at it and it's just ragged blobs of gray paint, what has happened is that they have agreed between themselves that this kind of blob is about grief, and that kind of blob or color is something else, and the rest of us, they could be speaking Swahili or Chinese for all we know. But the Brits call it a "fork" because that's what it is. So the heroine, the dancer in this story, her dance

had something to say to utterly alien creatures, of man and his nature, ... and the meaning of those great loops and whirls slowly became clear ... For her dance spoke of nothing more and nothing less than the tragedy of being alive, and being human. It spoke, most eloquently, of pain. It spoke, most knowingly, of despair... It spoke of fear, and of hunger, and, most clearly, of the basic loneliness and alienation of the human animal. It described the universe through the eyes of man. [p.165]

To aliens? I'm human, and I have experienced (and therefore understand) pain and despair and tragedy, but I cannot see those concepts in dance. I can't even see them in blobs of paint on a canvas. How could an alien being without even a body see that in the "great loops and whirls" of a human in a space suit? Not all of us see in the universe "loneliness and alienation." To some of us, "the Heavens declare the glory of God," and this God is with us, the "Word made flesh." I think that makes us more human, not less.

Like C.S.Lewis' space trilogy, this is only mediocre sci-fi. Lewis did great theology, and this story is a wonderful insight into the nature of dance as seen by dancers, but it's not very good science. The heroine's first dance in space was mostly in the artificial gravity of a "Ring" space station, with temporary incursions of weightlessness when the videographer "had the Ring's spin killed... Restore gravity within a minute or so..." presumably by restarting the spin? The enormous acceleration required to stop and then start back up the spin on a space station a hundred yards or more in diameter, would be felt not as zero gravity, but by a huge 2G slamming sideways into the wall, followed by being thrown back to the opposite wall a minute later -- if the stresses didn't destroy the structure of the space station. Our dancer might be able to "whirl" in space on her own center of gravity by applying sideways force from thrusters on her hands, but "great loops" would require huge amounts of energy in the absence of a stiff gravitational force to loop around. In normal gravity dancers and gymnasts can toss their bodies into the air along a parabolic arch, but to do a full "loop" needs acceleration toward the center of the loop -- usually a guy pulling in on the (less heavy female) dancer as she goes over and around him; a single dancer cannot do that, not on earth, and certainly not in space, not without a huge rocket pushing the straight line of normal Newtonian motion into a circle. So much for the "sci-" part of sci-fi.

The final take-away from this story is the utter despair of the human condition apart from God:

And the new dance said, This is what it means to be human: to see the essential and existential futility of all action, all striving -- and to act, to strive. This is what it means to be human: to reach forever beyond your grasp...

I couldn't live that way. I don't have to live that way. I don't know anybody who does. No wonder Vox Dei said the only rational atheists are sociopaths or suicides.

It wasn't a fun read, not like reading a good sci-fi (that is, where the science mostly works, like Jurassic Park, or where they bring in some other field that I know and they get it mostly right, like "Story of Your Life" a couple years ago) but I don't regret the time spent in it, as I regret what I spent in the other stories in this volume. Oh well

2019 September 7 -- Bible 1, Calvinism 0

The acronym "TULIP" (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, and Perseverence of the saints) enumerated the essential doctrines of Calvinism as it differs from Arminianism, but the acronym is less than 100 years old, and the five doctrines were first identified (in a different order) in Holland the century after Calvin died in Switzerland. But the acronym makes it easy to remember -- especially when I'm reading through the whole Bible and finding Scriptures that contradict each particular -- and other Scriptures that support it. It's not like Scripture contradicts itself, but more like we want a human-understandable theology, but if we understood God and the Bible perfectly we would be God, and we are not. It's probably too complicated for our (or even Calvin's) puny minds to fully grasp. Maybe some other time I might go through all the problems I see with the simplifications that became Calvinism and its opposition -- in other words, why I'm not a 5-point Calvinist, nor a 2.5-pointer, but maybe somewhere around a 3/4-pointer.

Today I'm thinking about the Scriptures called in to support T=Total Depravity. I never met anybody who really believes in total depravity, or they'd never ride an airplane or elevator or train designed and built by non-elect (non-Christian) engineers and manufacturers, nor eat anything they bought in a market. So already we have a fudge, just to survive in today's technical world.

I'm readingthe Psalms, rather more slowly than I used to when I did it in English, so I have time to think about what the guy is saying (and sometimes time to forget the whole theme). We tend to think of the Psalms as everyman prayers -- except of course the imprecatory Psalms (IPs), because calling down God's Wrath on sinners seems so "Old Testament" and not "loving" like we suppose the God of the New Testament to be. Me, I find no such difference, God is God, and there are times when the IPs make a lot of sense as prayers of anguish. Not so often for me here in the USA, but not never (see "Persecution" last month).

The Psalms are a mixed bag. The Calvinists love Psalms 32 and 51, along with Romans 7 they vindicate their notion of Total Depravity, which I usually hear expressed as "Ineradicable depravity" as if even God's grace cannot remove it except by lying through His teeth. Nobody ever says it that way, but they live like it, and as my mother often told me, "Actions speak louder than words."

The problem I see is that for every Psalm where the Psalmist says "I am wicked" (let's call them "baddies") there's another where the Psalmist says "I am good" (let's call them "goodies"). In fact there are more of the goodies than there are of the baddies, any way you want to count them. I can imagine some righteous Calvinist insisting that the goodies are about God's imputed grace, while the baddies are about our intrinsic nature, but you cannot get there by a consistent text-driven hermeneutic. If you want to claim that Scripture is the authority, then you must let Scripture tell us what it means, not the other way around. If we interpret literally the verses we like, and figuratively the verses we do not like, then we have set ourselves up in judgment over Scripture. I can't do that and still say with a straight face "Jesus is LORD." It can't be done.

"Goodies" "Baddies"
7:5,6,9 25:11
17:3 31:12
18:23-25 32:5
26:1,3,4,6,8 38:5
44:18,19 39:9
57:8 41:5
59:4,5 51:3-5
66:18,19 90:8
86:2 103:3-12
104:33-35 106:6
109:24 118:2

So I am forced to conclude that Jesus really does mean what he said all through the Gospels, that you get to Heaven by obeying God's commands. Yes, we failed and still fail (occasionally) and God's mercy is great, but forgiveness only wipes away the karma of past failures; you still need to do the good things Jesus said you need to do, specifically the First Great Commandment (God is God and He gets to tell me what to do, and I must do it), and the Second (which we all understand as the Golden Rule). If you don't want to do those things now, what makes you think you will enjoy it in Heaven? There you must do it, or it wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us.


2019 September 3 -- Selfish Rejection of God

It was a sad movie. It was set in the 1920s but the flick could not be made until almost a century later, when social values caught up -- or should I say "down" -- to the selfish passions of this guy. The filmmakers did a good job of showing the sadness of his wife as she gamely tried to support the foolish ambition of her husband while he selfishly threw her away to become what he was not and could never be.

The actor was not a big guy, but dressed as a woman, he looked oversize. His voice was too deep for a woman. Every cell in his body -- like those of the character he played -- had a Y chromosome, the mark of maleness. But he (or at least the guy he played) decided that God had made a mistake. He was wrong, we are the ones who make mistakes, not God. The doctor fixed him up -- sort of: he still had to take continuous drugs to nullify what his God-given body kept on trying to do. The movie did not say anything about it, but my thought was that the doctor cannot make him a real woman with ovaries and a functioning womb and able to bear her own children. Later I found a website that called it "tragic" and which said the guy-pretending-to-be-woman (they used a female pronoun) died after an operation to transplant a uterus failed. They now have drugs to overcome the God-given organ rejection, for people still trying to play God. But it's not real. Whose ovaries did they use? She is the real (biological) mother.

The real tragedy is not that the operation failed, but that there are "doctors" willing to profit from destroying people who need nothing more than to recognize that we all have problems, and the greatest thing we can do is to use our difficulties to make the world a better place. This guy's focus was only on himself. This movie approved his behavior, but could not hide his selfishness and the hurt he caused doing so. Real women think differently from men, and this flick accurately (but perhaps unintentionally) showed the difference.

2019 September 2 -- BAR's Women Issue

Last month when I commented on the new editor's misogynistic (feminazi) announcement that they would now be establishing quotas for female authors in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), which means that we could expect the quality of the papers they publish to take second place to the quota, I neglected to notice that the current issue was in fact a female-only issue, except for reader response, a couple news items, and obviously the editorial. The editorial, as I pointed out, is evidence that his quota is religion (believing what you know ain't so) rather than anything based on facts or reality, because his actions show that he (actually) believes his (male) editorial is superior to any female guest editorial he might have been able to scrounge up. And (on that private opinion) he's right!

Everything else -- including a news item "Exhibit Watch" which this month features "Queens of Egypt" and the regular "Who did...?" puzzle (which also features an obscure woman) and the regular "Cartoon Caption Contest, which seeks humorous captions for a cartoon based on a Biblical text, both this month's results and next month's prompt being women (Jael in Judges 4:21, and Delilah), nevermind that none of the winners were women this month (women average about 30% of the three winners each month, slightly less than one third). The back page usually steps away from the Biblical arena, and this month it features a "distinctive" Greek pot, so because it shows women as well as men, in particular a woman potter, which suggests (but the unattributed item didn't say so, probably because it cannot be justified on the facts) that the potter who made it was female -- everything else, including both regular guest columns "Biblical Views" and "Archaeological Views" and nine regular articles, is female authorship. So we have ample opportunity to put my hypothesis (selection by quota leads to lower quality) to the test.

The "Archaeological Views" column was a rehash of the editorial, a common theme among women authors in whatever field, "Why so few women?" Having already read the superior editorial, I didn't bother to read her whine also, but only to skim it and see that it was in fact the same old same-old.

Only women write about women in the Bible, so the first of the nine articles in this issue was no surprise. While it may exceed the quality of other such (female-authored) pieces about women in the Bible, it certainly does not stand on its own scholarly feet in BAR: she makes several references to other "scholars" to support her opinions, but never tells us who they are, the way most of the scholarly articles in BAR (previously) did. Most of her footnote space simply lists the names of women on her research staff, without reference to what they did to earn their place there.

The next article could have been written by a man, and indeed the name of the author is not obviously female (but her picture in the author list at the back clearly is).

The third article is about baby burials. I guess there's a place for the topic somewhere in archeological studies, but its focus seems to be the kind of thing women care about more than men. The article seemed to imply (and the pictures and captions much more clearly said) that several ceramic vessels were included in the jars with the child, but two of the container jars in these pictures clearly had necks far too small for these smaller vessels to be inserted, let alone a whole baby body. I read the article carefully to see how she answered this question, and she did not even address it. I would expect the ordinary (standard scholarly) peer-review process to turn up problems like this and get them fixed before publication. She had only two references to other scholars in her footnotes.

The fourth article is primarily about a single "Song of Liberation" reconstructed from several fragments of tablets apparently recovered from the Ebla hoard, and was a fascinating read -- until I got to a linguistic remark I could verify, where she claimed a relationship between the key Akkadian word anduraru and several other languages, one of them being Hebrew "deror, meaning 'debt amnesty'," which seemed credible, until I looked the word up in my dictionary. It doesn't mean that at all in the Hebrew Bible. In fact the word does not appear in that form in the Hebrew Bible, but in its various other forms it means "sparrow" or "flow freely" or "liberty" according to the Davidson lexicon I use most often in my own Hebrew studies. One of the criteria in my rather robust "BS Detector" is that a person who has lied to you once will lie to you again, and you should not trust anything they say. Her only footnote is a reference to her own paper on the same topic.

So far, we have three articles out of four showing the inferior scholastic quality we might expect from women chosen for their gender rather than their scholarship. And this is in the same issue where the editor proudly announces that "They are excellent scholars!" Perhaps he determines that from the fact that they are all linked to an academic institution somewhere, without regard to the fact that only one of the ten women listed is a full professor, and the first two (co-authors of the piece about women in the Bible) are not even at the entry-level "Assistant Professor" rank which normally requires a doctorate (half of them are mid-level associates).

I will probably get around to reading the rest of the issue, but it's not the page-turner BAR used to be.

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