Tom Pittman's WebLog

Last year / Later this year

2023 May 31 -- Working Through Sunday's Sermon

I wouldn't describe it as one of his better sermons -- it felt like he spent more time researching other sources of information than reading his text -- he said it was a 3-hour read through the whole book of Deuteronomy  -- but his focus came down to the "Shema" in  chapter six, which he boiled down to three "L"s: Listen, Love, and Live, which he put up also on the screen as transliterated Hebrew. The "Live" word he put up (using the usual orthography for transliterated Hebrew) "Chai" and pronounced it as a normal English speaker who'd never heard it would ('ch' as in "child" so it comes out sounding like the first syllable in "China"). As far as I know, I have only heard this word spoken in other languages as a borrow word from Chinese, meaning "tea". As pronounced, it is not Hebrew.

I happen to know quite a bit of Hebrew -- not enough to read the Hebrew Bible without frequent help, but sometimes I can get through a whole verse or two -- and the Hebrew word for "live" or "life" is common enough in modern Hebrew as a toast "l'khai" and a prominent word in the modern Israeli folk song "Hava Nagilah" which almost everybody has heard, either at Jewish weddings or in movies set in Israel. I spell it with 'kh' because that's used to express a sound in many languages (but not English), and in particular for transliterating Russian which has both that sound and the ordinary English 'ch' (as in "child") sound (think: "Nikita Khrushchev").

The sound in Hebrew and Greek and German and Russian and Spanish (and Scottish but not English otherwise) is easy enough for English speakers to learn to pronounce: Start with "kai" (the first syllable of "kayak") and let a little air through when you do the 'k', so there's no stopping the air at all, but not as freely as in "high". Unlike the 'k' which is a stop, the 'khkhkhkh' can be held out as long as you like, a very rough hiss from the back of your throat. Every 'ch' you find in Greek and Hebrew names -- including "Christ" and "Nebuchadnezzar" and "Lamech" and "Cherub" -- is pronounced that way, and those of us too lazy or uninformed to pronounce "Christ" correctly can pronounce it as "CRY+st" which is good enough for English-speaking ears, but nobody ever pronounces the 'ch' in "Christ" like the 'ch' in "child" because that's not the way to say it.

I'm afraid I didn't hear much of the sermon after that.

The more I thought about it, it occurred to me that I don't remember seeing that word in the Shema at all. I carry a Hebrew Bible to church, and I couldn't see it anywhere in chapter 6. When I got home I looked more carefully, and it's there in verse 2, but not as part of the Shema. That doesn't make his sermon Wrong, he was preaching the Shema as representative ("heartbeat" in the handout) of the whole book of Deuteronomy, and the "Blessings and Curses" part of the book talks a lot about Life (and does use that word), and there in the Blessings part, in chapter 30 there is a phrase that sounds a lot like the Shema -- "so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul" -- then adds "and live." Except it does not start with the key word "Hear" (Listen = 'Shema' in Hebrew). Maybe he said some of that in his sermon, but as I said, I didn't hear much of that part. There was nothing about it in the handout, and what they put up on the screen is long gone. Anyway it's small potatoes. But this guy usually sticks closer to the text.

I thought about saying something to him, but I came to this church hoping to stay under the radar, and saying anything like this would definitely put me on his radar screen. Not a good plan. I asked advice from somebody else on staff, and he hinted I should wait for a "Parting of the Red Sea" = an unmistakable indication that God wants it said. Got it, there is no Parting of the Sea here. But nobody reads my blog, I can say what I think without offending Somebody Important. Well, one guy in Kansas sometimes, and then two guys just today told me they read it, but nobody else. What I say is sometimes too provocative, you can't read and remain silent.

2023 May 27 -- Fighting Demons On Their Own Turf

Some of the movies on are drive-in theater mock-ups, a double feature (often on a common theme, see also "WIRED on Hardware" earlier this month), complete with a cartoon short and endless snack bar commercials. "Week 126" had a demonic "Devil You Say" theme, the first feature "The Devil's Hand" turned out to be on demon worship and human sacrifice -- I decided I didn't really want to watch it, whether they later dismissed it as innocent superstition or not -- followed by more snack bar commercials and a second feature announced in the blurb as "Burn Witch Burn" but actually titled "Night of the Eagle" which centered on some college professor pooh-poohing witchcraft and superstition, while his wife was an admitted witch. Sort of.

He was so enraged at her superstition, that she was just trying to placate him, so maybe she wasn't admitting to be a witch at all, but she did have a house full of talismans and charms, which she claimed protected them (especially him) from the hostility of the other faculty and their wives. Now if he were a true unbeliever, he would simply ignore the fetishes as meaningless -- as many unbelieving husbands do with their Christian wives -- but the screen writer (or the novelist they took it from) played him as every bit as superstitious as his wife, insisting that she consign the whole lot of them to the (magical, but they didn't actually say so) fire as if they were in fact as powerful as she assumed, but evil rather than good.

With the protection gone, all kinds of catastrophes started up, culminating in a house fire which began (as we viewers could see) by the house cat knocking something over onto the oil stove heater, but actually (likewise) when one of his faculty enemies built on her desk (for our prof) a house of Tarot cards, then laid on top another card representing his wife, and lit it on fire. The wife he had locked into her bedroom because (without her "protections") the catastrophes had driven her to hysterics, and he didn't know whether to believe the faculty witch or not. He got back to the house after the fire department  arrived and was pouring water on the raging flames, the likes of which no ordinary house couldburn without continuous accelerant. The ending was a bit lame, just a hug all safe and sound, with no resolution to the question that separated them.

While all this was happening, here I am sitting there and thinking, "There's a third way." There really are demons able to do stuff like that, and the Bible in no uncertain terms warns God's people away from anything to do with them. C.S.Lewis in Screwtape Letters has his demon advising (I think it was) his nephew, that "in times of unbelief we hide ourselves and make skeptics, and in times of faith we show ourselves and make sorcerers." Or something like that. Satan himself doesn't blow his own nose without God's permission, how much more all the demons together are no match for the power of Jesus Christ.

Some of these movies are a fun watch, "Night that Panicked America" a docu-drama depicting the famous Orson Wells radio drama (based on the H.G.Wells -- no relation -- Martian invasion story) was one such film. This flick was not one of them. There seem to be about the same ratio of hits to duds (less than 10%) among the freebie downloads as in the (paid-for) NetFlix offerings I see at my nephew's house. Oh well.

2023 May 24 -- Not Quite Prison

Yesterday I woke up counting the weeks (three) and days (as of today, two more) to the end of the term, the way a prisoner does in the weeks and months before his sentence is completed. Being stuck here in front of Zoom four days a week, four hours a day, is no more "prison" than the incident that put me here without pay is "persecution" -- only a tiny fraction of the inconvenience of the real thing, but enough to allow me empathy for The Real Thing when it happens to other Christians in other parts of the world.

A couple recent flicks, both about a woman murderer, one from a female author who made her lead character into a person to pity and empathize over, the other from a male author who made her into a conniving [w]itch, in both cases a guy went on trial for the murder (and both eventually exonerated), and I got to wondering how I might behave if arrested for something I didn't do. At this point in my life (with no known future) I'd have a lot of freedom to be (ahem) creative...

For one thing, I read the Bible at the beginning of every day, and (as I understand it) when you go to jail, they take everything away from you. I can ask for a Bible, but not everybody knows about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (I couldn't even find it in Google), so what do I do? I can say "No Bible, no food." I wonder how long that would take?

I am basically non-violent (I don't think I ever hit anybody in my life -- I don't remember much about when I was a kid, so I asked my sister and she said "No, you never hit anybody") and prisons are full of abusive and violent people, with no protection for people otherwise inclined. There's no protection here on the streets in Oregon, the only place I have ever been physically assaulted as an adult, how could it be better when that's all there is? In the movies, even the guards do it. I guess I could refuse to leave the cell when they open the gates for the prisoners go to the open area where all the fights happen (in the movies). Depending on what charge they falsely accuse me of, I might could argue that being victimized by other prisoners constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

What about while sitting there awaiting trial? Why should I pay out of my limited resources to defend against their false accusation? Or even pay to post bail? That amounts to the "deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process" (meaning properly convicted of a crime in court). So if a court-appointed lawyer shows up, I can ask if he's a member of the American Bar Association -- I once heard that the ABA passed a resolution condemning those who argue against homosexual behavior (see my "Secular Case Against Homosexual Marriage") -- "So you have a conflict of interest. Get out." The lawyer with a conflict of interest is not competent to argue for the defendant, and any conviction apart from competent legal defense is automatically invalid.

In one or both of those flicks, the screenwriter (and possibly also the novelist from whose book they took the plot) knew little or nothing about English Common Law (I think both of them were placed in London), I see Google traces it back to Roman law, that defendants cannot be forced to testify against themselves, nor can they be forced to testify against their spouse. Not really a problem for me, even in the hypothetical situation we are contemplating here. I don't need to say anything at all, and especially not while the cops are berating me to confess to what I have not done. If you are innocent and they think otherwise, nothing you can say will be helpful, so say nothing. My own experience here in Ore-gone validates that policy.

Which brings us to the courtroom. I once offered to testify for the investor in an intellectual property case. I had worked on the program, and I understood how it worked, and the defendant had in fact recycled the code that the investor paid for, so he was in the wrong. My problem is that I do not think fast, and the investor's lawyer was not terribly competent. I asked for some ideas what kinds of questions to be prepared for, and he offered no help. The defendant's lawyer described one feature of the source program, and another feature of the clone, and tried to get me to admit that they were different. I don't remember what I said, but it was totally inadequate. What I should have said, if I were properly prepared, is: "I have here in one pocket a coin with the picture of a revolutionary drummer on it. In this other pocket I have another coin with a picture of George Washington on it and a hyphenated date. These are clearly different coins, right? Anybody familiar with American numismatics knows otherwise, they are both accurate descriptions of the same coin, a 1976 American quarter-dollar." And hold them up for all to see. "I happen to be familiar with the program in question, and I know that both descriptions are different parts of the same program, the program I worked on most of this past year."

Except for an open-and-shut guardianship case and maybe one other, I think that was the last time I ever appeared in court. Good thing, too. I have gotten rather more picky about what I will swear to in court (nothing: Jesus said not to) or even if I can honestly agree to "tell the ... whole truth..." I don't know the whole truth, how can I commit to telling it? I cannot even (in real time) remember everything I know about a situation. Hostile lawyers in both flicks tried to ask misleading questions, insisting on a yes/no answer. If I ever find myself in that situation, I think I would turn to the judge and ask if I am at this time being relieved from my agreement to tell the truth? Or just reply to the deceitful prosecutor, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Then to the jury, "When the question is a lie, there is no true yes/no answer. This is such a case."

It's all speculation, because I have nothing better to do with my life at this time. The only time I've been inside a jail was when I was involved with a prison visitation ministry. I did take a tour of Alcatraz once, but that was long after it was decommisioned.

2023 May 22 -- Growing Old Gracefully

I try to do only "non-work" kinds of things on Sunday. In another state and for a short time I was the stuckee looking out for an aging family member, and I concentrated most of that effort into Sunday. Sometimes I get to do something productive in church, but I'm there anyway, so it doen't spill over into the rest of the day. Yesterday I filled in for the pastor (he's recovering from surgery) who usually leads the Bible Study class on Sunday morning. We're doing Psalms, and I'm  not much into poetry, so it probably wasn't the best the class members ever got, but hopefully better than nothing. Not so much recently, but I sometimes try to do my visiting with family and church members on Sunday. Stuff like that.

The rest of the time on Sunday I try to do a good imitation of a vegetable, napping, reading, or watching old movies downloded from  One of the flicks yeasterday was "Sunset Boulevard," a 1960 story with Gloria Swanson playing an aging silent-movie era actress who did not know that the world had passed her by. She contracts with a not-very-successful screen writer (he narrates the story in first person) to rework her supposed come-back script while awaiting a call from Cecil B. DeMille that never comes.

I too had my "15 minutes of fame" (twice) decades ago, and my version of the not-very-successful screen writer was the director, but my creative effort had no better chance of success than the actress's script in the movie, and like in the movie, the guy eventually cut me loose. I hope I'm a little more honest about things than the movie character, I have no delusions of grandeur, I know full well I'm a washed-up has-been with no greater purpose in life than an occasional mediocre Bible study -- and to use up natural resources (food and electricity) until God takes me home. I can still write working programs -- a game engine that supports modest video games, a pedagogical software package for teaching computer programming over the internet, hey, I even did a self-driving (model) car for high school students to recreate -- but nobody wants these things enough to pay a living wage for them. Even the stuff for teaching programming, STEM is all the talk of technologists and educators, but that's all it is: talk. Nobody wants to do anything likely to work, or at least not to pay for it.

I have come to the end of a big comatose project a couple or three times before, and each time God (or my imagination: I cannot always tell the difference) came up with something new to do. God can do anything He wants to with my mental capacity, but statistically I have four years of productive work left before my marbles are gone: both parents died the month before their 85th birthday, and were pretty much nuts the year before that. My sister did not want to lose her capacity to "love Jesus" and God granted her request and took her quickly. Maybe He will do that for me too, I don't know.

Funny how we seem to think that being able to do positive things in the world, to actively make a difference makes life worth living. If God thought so too, there would be no senility in the world, and Oregon would not be the only State in the Union where the people actively voted to legally kill off the sick and aged. Before I came here I figured Oregon as "not a good place to grow old," and now that I'm here, I am hearing that it really isn't a good place to grow old. The pastor in whose Bible class I sit tells of a guy he knows who got Covid earlier this year, and his fever was so high they took him to the hospital, and four times a medical professional (two docs and two nurses) came into the room and "offered" to put him out of his misery, and each time he told them it was not his right to decide. The fourth time he was so drugged up and delirious that he did not understand what he was signing. They gave him the injection and invited his family to come in and pay their last respects, and when he didn't die, they gave him another, and the family hustled him out of the hospital and back home again, where he fully recovered.

For the record, I don't want that happening to me, I don't even want to be here in a state where it's possible, and especially I don't want to be in any "medical" facility where they do it. When God is ready for me to go, He can do it without any "medical" help. If you think you have my permission otherwise, it is fraudulent.

2023 May 15 -- Thoughts While Sitting In Church

The Music Minister at this church -- maybe they call him "Pastor of Music" or some such, I didn't write anything down, but an important component in every "Pastor"s job description is that he gets to preach (from whatever passes for a pulpit in that church) at least one Sunday each year. At a big church like this one, the Senior Pastor gets at least half of the pulpit time, and the rest is rotated out among his subordinates. I recall no surprise at seeing this guy up for the sermon yesterday, so I suppose the word "Pastor" is in his job title. He shared the time with his wife, sort of a "tag-team." This a popular presentation style when women are involved, because it makes the presenter more important than the message (also known as "unconditional affirmation" which he did a lot of, in addition to sharing his pulpit time with her).

Which is too bad, because his topic(s) included an important Christian doctrine not taught in very many conservative churches, and he actually read Eph.2:10 in isolation (nobody ever preaches Eph.2:10, see my essay "Unspeakable" a couple years ago) and explained it correctly. (Almost) nobody ever does that. But he tried to preach through the whole assigned chapter in Numbers, and the message was diluted. Young preachers fresh out of seminary often try to pack too much into their sermons. But this guy only got one shot in the three years I've been there, he wanted to make the best of his time, nevermind that it was counterproductive.

Anyway, so this guy is up for the sermon, they got some other guy (I never heard his name, he's not a regular) to lead the songs. He's a little more corpulent than most of the musicians, maybe the extra weight made it harder for him to hold his strumming arm up, so he rested it on the edge of his guitar, and strummed by flexing his wrist instead of moving his whole forearm up and down like all the other musicians. Watching his hand flex up and down like a rubber glove waved from the wrist was a bit distracting, almost amusing. Not that I'm much into that kind of music anyway.

Then he did a song I know. The drummer stopped. Praise band drummers only know how to do angry music, but this was a love song. This church mostly only does angry music, the stuff the drummer knows how to beat, the stuff everybody (not me) wants to hear so they can be angry all the time. Yes, the music does that to people.

Music conveys emotions, different kinds of music for different emotions. Syncopated rock is about anger and rejection. A different kind of music expresses joy. They don't do that at this church, maybe once or twice, never in the first year I was here. Love songs are different from either of those. Mozart's "Dies Irae" from his Requiem is an awesome portrayal of fear. This was a love song, the first time I ever heard it in this church -- many times in other churches -- and it wasn't one of their regular leaders. The drummer was silent, as he should be: it wouldn't be a love song with the kind of drumming he knew how to do.

Several times since I started here, I thought about the insipid music of this church. The pastors everywhere preach about the "unconditional LOVE of God" (not so much this pastor, it's not taught in the Bible, and he preaches the Word, but his associates sometimes use that phrase). So why don't the musicians do love music? This song is the one I always thought of, whenever I cringed at this church's music. It took an outsider to bring it to us. It's not like I want to sing love songs -- especially not this one -- but a little variety would be nice. The usual fare at this church makes people angry. It makes me angry. I need to not listen to it. So I count pronouns. Or watch the guy's hand. Or see if I can measure the time delay (about 200-300ms, I think) between the live action on the stage and the streamed video in the balcony. Yes, it's very noticible. All that digital processing (adding song lyrics) takes time. When I was doing video, way back when, it was all analog, no perceptible delay. But that was decades ago. It's all digital now.

I did not choose this church for the music. Several times I seriously considered arriving ten or fifteen minutes late, so to miss the music. Then I would have missed this guy.

2023 May 10 -- I Am Not Alone Against BlockChain

The IEEE, of which I am now a "Life Member" -- meaning I paid several hundred dollars in dues every year for 40 years, so now they let me hang on for free -- sends out a couple institutional magazines, Spectrum and ComputingEdge (comments about which have graced this blog from time to time), Spectrum occasionally prints some good insights into the computing industry, CE less so, as you probably noticed in my blog. One of the shorter pieces in Spectrum this month is an interview with Molly White, who appears to have earned her fame criticizing the so-called "Web3" at least insofar as it involves blockchain. I never heard of her before, but she seems to have more of a head on her shoulders than most industry women profiled from time to time. Or at least she agrees with me in being skeptical about blockchain (seeing it as a fraud). It's always gratifying to see others agree with my analysis, which usually means I'm still reporting on the same Reality that others can see (if they want to). BlockChain has always been a Ponzi scheme to "separate the fool from his money," at which they have been more successful than most snake-oil schemes by being intentionally obscure. You do not need to understand the technology behind it to know that all financial trading markets are zero-sum games, so the winners cannot take home more money than the losers lost, which necessarily fails at Golden-Rule ethics. No further analysis needed.

2023 May 8 -- CT Turns Feminine

Late last year -- after September, before December -- ChristianityToday appointed their first female Editor... They have so many "Editor"s in their masthead, but this is the one with the editorial, the first-page opinion piece (in WIRED magazine that was formerly Virginia Heffernan, now some other woman, as noted last week). I remember seeing Kelli Trujillo's face and noticing the name was the same as the editor of their most recent Advent supplement, which I didn't care for (see "Come Let Us Adore Him" last year), so I probably noticed when the December CT issue arrived.

The current issue is the first I noticed the "feminine touch" in the content. You would have thought it a "Women in..." theme issue, except they didn't say so, but every author was female, except the two regular male columnists still had their respective pages, and their regular "guest" opinion piece had a foreign name I could not identify the gender of (and no pronouns: sometimes it seems intentional to hide a person's gender) but Google shows a very male picture of him.

There is a controversial line in Paul's first letter to Timothy "I do not permit a woman to teach," which he gives a logical reason for -- that is, this is not arbitrary male chauvinism -- but in our day and age it is not politically correct for a guy to say such things (James Damore famously got fired for it), nevermind that women can and sometimes do publish scientific research showing physiological differences that cannot help but result in cognitive differences. I can (and often do) detect the female thought patterns in an article before I look and see that I am correct. I'm inclined to accept what God has "inspired" in His Word -- that word is also among Paul's advice to Timothy, and an important part of my "belief system" which one pastor criticized when ejecting me from his church (in retrospect, I believe correctly: I accept "ALL Scripture" as authoritative and from God, whereas that fellow obviously did not) but that is, as they say, "neither here nor there."

So what is the effect of a female editor? The cover story is a not-very-complimentary report on investors buying up the (substantial) royalty rights of Christian ("CCM") song writers. Music as art is a Feeler thing, which by a two-to-one ratio is a female dominated thing (among CT's regular columnists, the only ones with a musical emphasis or background are female). It is curious that all the industry reps she quoted, and all the artists with hits being sold to investors are men; only the critics (three artists and one academic like herself) are female. I would consider that division significant.

Second is "Eve: The Mother of The Living." I have not read that far yet, but only women write about women in the Bible. From the pull-quotes it appears to be contemplative. The third female author writes about a succession of three (male) pastors in a single family, but with a focus on their feelings rather than the "call of God."

The fourth, Emily Belz, used to write about international issues for WORLD magazine, and was very good at it. I skimmed her piece here, and it's the same fine work. Women aren't necessarily bad writers, only that their focus is rather more limited than you get from men.

The Church needs better than that.

Postscript, the Dutch guy actually promotes a version of "forgiveness" not often heard in American churches (see also my "As God Forgave Us" essay for a more detailed explanation from my own perspective). I doubt anybody at CT is so perverse, but burying it in an otherwise Feminist-themed issue is probably a good way to minimize its impact. A better way is to not print it at all, hence my doubt.

2023 May 5 -- WIRED on Hardware

"Them what can, do; them what can't, teach." I suspect my father told me that more than once, but the occasion I recall most clearly, I was a couple years into my University experience, picking and choosing electives from a variety of departments in search of a broad "Liberal Arts" education. "Hmmpf," he said, and went on with the line above, then added, "and those who can't teach, teach teachers." He was sooo right, it was the most worthless course I ever took at Berkeley.

As I often do, I generalized his insight to recognize that writing for trade magazines is a form of teaching, done by those who cannot compete in the trade on their own merits. Women's penetration into technical domains generally dominated by men is a case in point. They find it much more difficult than men to excel at the technology -- more likely they just don't want to -- so their penetration hovers around 25-30% and many of those who do get in, they differentiate themselves by writing about what others are doing, rather than doing it themselves. That is, teaching. WIRED magazine is a prime example of this: its editorial staff is dominated by women.

Virginia Heffernan is one of them. She recently stepped down from whatever they call the person usually titled "Editor" in most magazines, you know, the one who writes the first (and longest) opinion column each month. This month she authored the cover story, a very personal -- and not very technical -- travelog about her trip to TSMC in Taiwan. TSMC is the company nobody ever heard about, but they make nine out of every ten computer chips in the world.

The last time I saw a proper "masthead" (staff list) for WIRED, their office was in San Francisco and all the top slots were women, but nobody had the title "Editor." Today, the closest thing to a masthead I could find is a tiny, small-print paragraph in the next-last page, and it gave only the office and staff for the parent organization, Conde Nast in New York. Maybe WIRED is about to be shut down, and Heffernan got her walking papers (or got out before the ship went down). Whatever.

Whenever the staff of a trade journal covering a tech field dominated by men, when the editorial staff replaces the founder and his acolytes with women who are less attuned to the industry than their predecessor, and therefore have less access to the cutting edge reports of what is happening, they start to devise "theme" issues, consisting of solicited articles on a common theme to fill the pages that formerly had incisive information. BAR also comes to mind. Heffernan's trip to TSMC in Taiwan was obviously the anchor, and the chips are the core hardware of a computer, so they made this a "Hardware" issue. Other than a couple good reads, they are scraping the bottom for the theme.

The second piece in this theme, the "hardware" is a 1960's recreational vehicle that the author decided he wanted to be continuously fixing (instead of programming a computer). I mean it's an interesting "people" story, but nothing to do with the electronic technology implied by the name of the magazine. What he does with his bus, I do with software. I also have the advantage that what I do can -- and often does -- result in income; I guess he has independent wealth to spend on his hobby. Using my hands to make or fix things is something I have done, but I'd rather pay somebody else to do it (if I can afford it). I could not imagine myself in this guy's shoes.

The third article in this "Hardware" theme issue is about Chinese vendors of security cameras and other products, and how insecure these products really are. You've already seen my thoughts on Huawei and Chinese hardware in general, so this comes as no surprise that both major vendors of security cameras have (presumably past-tense had, but don't believe it) huge gaping back doors allowing the manufacturers -- and especially the Chinese government -- to peer into your videos looking for minority races to persecute, and to steal even non-video secrets off your own computers. Moral of the story: Don't buy anything Chinese, especially not anything connected to the internet. The author points out that a couple years ago President Biden signed a new law blocking these two camera vendors and Huawei from American markets, but existing cameras are grandfathered; get rid of them. WIRED has hidden good articles like this one behind their paywall, and the company most cited for information (IPVM) has their own paywall, but you might find enough secondary stories if you Google the Chinese company names Hikvision and Dahua or IPVM.

Skipping over a half-page of text and six pages of pictures on Alaskan permafrost (hardware theme: they use drones to take the pictures), the final article in this Hardware issue is a somewhat uninformed report on the comeback of analog computing, which I won't waste your and my time on.

I want to say more about Heffernan's "I Saw the Face of God In a Chip Factory." As a woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry, she is disinclined to risk her shaky tech status by publicly embracing a minority religion like Christianity. She hints at a background, perhaps in the Anglican church (she mentions "liturgy"), but she is in total awe at the number of "devout Christians" in the management of TSMC. With China licking its chops a couple hundred miles away, Taiwan is a very precarious place to build a world-dominating business, but if you are going to succeed, the best chance of success would be using Christian business principles -- the very opposite of the way Chinese companies do it (frex, the security camera vendors mentioned above) -- but Heffernan is not in a position to know that. Most pastors don't even think that way, how can you expect pew-sitters whose mind is elsewhere to get it? She goes to some length to make the "Face of God" in her title metaphorical. Ignore that, and it's a good read. She spends a full page on American governmental efforts to get the electronic hardware business back onto American soil, which is a really good idea, especially considering China's itchy trigger finger on the guns pointing at Taiwan. I guess she spent some time talking to Keith Krach about that topic. As a woman (I've said this before in other contexts) she lacks some of the discrimination to critically report Krach's notions of "trust," which come close to, without actually saying that a firm embrace of moral absolutes is the only way to earn it. I prefer Reagan's line "Trust but verify," which is not trust at all (God tells us to "trust God, not people").

Anyway, if you wanted to plunk down $8 at a newstand, or spend a half-hour in the library reading it, this is one of the better WIRED issues deserving your investment.

2023 April 24 -- Why Religion Matters, Part 2

There is another problem with atheism, related to the reason atheists never invented modern science: Without a logical Supreme God giving the universe order, there is no reason to suppose there could be any such thing as Natural Law, and therefore no reason to study it. The atheists can see that it works when the Christians do it, and copy the methodology, but they have no philosophical basis for understanding why it works.

Similarly, the zero-sum game implied by the Darwinistic "Red in tooth and claw" and "Survival of the fittest" competition for existence gives atheists permission -- indeed, a mandate -- to seek to dominate other species and races and even individuals in their own race. The United States was founded on the Christian principle of One God over all and Ruler over all, which makes stratified society unnecessary. Without that Supreme God telling His people to behave themselves, everybody reverts to their "natural" (sinful) selfish desire to dominate or be dominated, which is both unAmerican and also (although few believe it) unChristian. The atheist doesn't care about -- and therefore ignores -- the "unChristian" part (which is contrary to his belief system) but he doesn't know what to do with the "unAmerican" part, so he ignores that also. The inevitable result is that the atheist cannot work with other people as peers; he must dominate or be dominated.

That's what happened to me. The problem for the atheist is that his behavior is still unAmerican and shameful, so he is unable to admit that is what is going on. With the help of the God of Truth I figured it out, but it took a while and some floundering.

As I told myself for six years, "When it's over, it's over." It's over. It's a shameful and unethical thing he did, and which I must attempt to repair the damage as best I can, but he cannot make it right, only a Christian can do that, and today that would be me.

2023 April 19 -- Why Religion Matters

Nine years ago ChristianityToday ran a cover story on the research of Robert Woodberry, who discovered that Protestant theology left a valuable legacy everywhere in the world, and there is much more democracy, education, and prosperity in the regions (now countries) where (non-government) Protestant missionaries were active, compared to places where they were not. I thought it so significant, I blogged my thoughts. Four years later I extended the CT insight to a specific theological factor in "Poverty and the Golden Rule". One important Biblical doctrine, not even taught clearly in most Protestant churches, but they do teach that people should read the Bible for themselves, and it's all through the Bible, it makes all the difference in the world and (so I believe, as Jesus himself taught) in all eternity.

Why is that? The Bible does not explain the "Why?" of most things -- including the Golden Rule (GR) -- but it should be obvious enough: The GR makes things pleasant for other people. If even some people do not obey the GR in Heaven some of the time, then it wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us, so God necessarily must enforce the GR in Heaven. If you don't like doing it now, what makes you think you will like it any better in Heaven? Jesus gave it as an essential for getting to Heaven [Luke 10:28].

So this guy -- let's call him "Sam" -- grew up in a Jewish home and had the GR (it's rooted in the Law of Moses, smack dab in the middle of the Torah) pounded into his little psyche at a young age before he was old enough to understand its religious roots. They could not explain to his teenage satisfaction why he should believe the rest of the Jewish tradition -- many Christian parents have the same problem -- so he became an atheist. His ethics predated his religious analysis and were not so easily discarded, but what's a good atheist going to do about them? Sam told me, "It feels good." I don't know what he would have said to six million of his distant cousins who died in the Holocaust because that's what felt good to Hitler, but I didn't have the temerity to ask. Basically this guy lives in a culture dominated by GR ethics, and it made this country the richest country in the whole world and probably in all time, so he feels the need to explain why we should believe he as an atheist can also be ethical. He can't do it, because ethics is about Doing The Right Thing When It Doesn't Feel Good. He has no ethics.

So why would a Christian go into business with an atheist? God said "Don't do that" (see "Debriefing" a couple months ago) Silly me, I guess I thought I could be ethical (that is, a good Christian) in spite of his foolishness, and maybe I could and did and was, but the outcome was predictable and unavoidable. Doing The Right Thing stopped feeling good to him (for whatever reason, he seems too ashamed of it to tell me why), and I am the stuckee. That's what the GR is supposed to prevent. Religion matters.

2023 March 31 -- How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?

The cover story in the April issue of ChristianityToday asks "If God is good, why do animals suffer?" Author John Schneider builds the usual atheistic case against the goodness of God based on the Darwinistic dogma of "millions of years," which he seems to hold in higher regard than the plain teaching of Scripture, nevermind that he is "professor emeritus of theology at Calvin University," a denominational school somewhere in the midwest where the faculty has always (as far back as I can remember) preferred the (atheistic) Darwinist narrative over the Biblical history.

The question is not a problem for Bible believers: sin causes suffering in otherwise innocent people (and animals), extending to "the third and fourth generation" and in Adam's case down to this present day, as augmented also by the sins of his progeny. I don't expect CT to print my letter:

Some books, there is no need to read the book, the title says it all. The cover story in April CT is one of those "Title says it all" things.

It's basically the same questiion people use to accuse the Christian God as impossible: "If God is good, why do people suffer?" First we must be careful not to impose our finite and flawed human notions of goodness on the infinite God. But assuming that our notions of goodness are not 100% Wrong, the simple answer is that "It is the nature of sin that innocent people -- and animals -- suffer." Adam sinned and all of God's creation suffers from it. We cannot love God at all if it is impossible not to love Him, for then we would only be robots doing as programmed, and not humans truly able to love God. God did not cause the sin, He allowed it, but like the patriarch Job, God is nobody's debtor, Job was repaid double for his brief descent into pain. Paul tells us "our light and momentary troubles" cannot be compared to the future glory. Animals not excluded.

But to earn my right to be heard, I need to read Schneider's treatise. For the first four pages I was sorry I bothered: His premises are utterly Wrong. Whenever we let the atheists instead of the Word of God define our debate, Bad Things Happen. I know, Bad Things Happened to me financially last month because the other guy is an atheist.

The undisputable data is (I think it was Ken Ham who said) "Billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth." That is more easily explained by Noah than by Darwin. Some 45 years now, I have asked everybody, anybody at all doing peer-reviewed research in any field at all, "What in your specialty better supports the Darwinistic hypothesis over the fiat creation model?" Nobody doing primary research ever even attempted to reply. They always point to somebody else, from whom they have only partial hearsay evidence. [More details on my website.] I started out a theistic evolutionist like Schneider until my major professor at the University of California invited me to "Look at the evidence." There isn't any. I'm still looking for it.

In the last page Schneider finally offers a "circuitous" (his word) ethic based on aesthetics that he claims to resemble the evolutionary narrative. It's an interesting hypothesis that, like natural selection, is so elegant it ought to be true, even if it doesn't fit the facts.

I still like God's narrative better.

Fortunately, we are not saved by correct theology or good science (that would be salvation by works ;-) but by the finished work of Christ on the Cross. If John Schneider gets all his science and theology just plain Wrong, but confesses Jesus as LORD and believes God raised him from the dead, he will be in Heaven and hear God Himself tell him how silly he was. Or probably not, because it will be obvious. There is no pain and suffering in Heaven (as Schneider himself noticed), just like there was none before the Fall.

Tom Pittman

2023 March 28 -- In the Image of Their Gods

What do women do when they cannot compete in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) arena? They write about it. My father told me: "Them what can, do; them what can't, teach." Writing in trade mags is a form of teaching what you don't know.

Take the current issue of WIRED, they have a regular column "Cloud Support" author Megan O'Gieblyn, who often pontificates on social issues, this month presumes to answer a question whether learning to code (write computer programs) will make you a better person. They have anonymized the asker's name, but this is not a question any self-respecting guy would ask. Nor is her answer particularly incisive.

One still recalls the shock of hearing David Silver, principal research scientist at DeepMind, insist in 2016 that he could not explain how AlphaGo -- a program he designed -- managed to develop its winning strategy: "It discovered this for itself," Silver said, "through its own process of introspection and analysis."
This is a crock of baloney, suggesting first that Silver was no programmer, at best a manager of programmers who told him what he wanted to hear, not what was really going on, and second that he's a True Believer in Darwin's fiction, that there are natural laws producing arbitrarily complex information systems out of nothing by time and chance, and that the modern neural net (NN) technology builds on those laws to make "intelligent" computers.

The naked truth is that no computer ever figured anything out on its own, every computer program does exactly what it is programmed to do, nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes programmers are sloppy in their coding, and may make mistakes that they -- the intelligent people programming it -- can recognize as a usable idea.

They can program a computer -- in "30 lines of C" (a very small program) -- to read a thousand or million labelled images, looking for common pixels or groups of pixels that seem to be shared by all or most of the images with the same label, and to adjust the internal numbers so that when those same pixels show up again, it outputs that label. The actual programming is that set of a million images, not the 30 lines that calculate the numerical weighting factors, and if all the images of a single item have a blurred background and all the images of multiple items have a sharp background, then the NN will have been programmed to look for a blurred background to say there's only one item in this image. Yes, that actually happened. Somebody noticed. More often the True Believers take it on faith that the million-image (uncurated) data set is instilling "intelligence" in the computer. And that's what they tell the ignorant public.

There's no such thing as "introspection" in a computer. It has a vast hoard of numbers, and it is programmed by those numbers to do particular things, and those numbers came about by applying rules to other numbers. Some programs -- AlphaGo in particular, but game-playing programs in general -- the formulas inside the computer represented by some of those numbers, and those formulas are applied to the numbers that represent the current game state, to calculate an output that represents the next move. If the computer calculates all the moves of both players in a board game like chess or Go, and then adjust those numbers based on who won, then repeats the process a million times, it may luck out to a winning game sequence. If the luck did not result in a winning game, the programmers can tweak some of the initial formulas and try again. The best NN programmers get pretty good at setting initial conditions -- that would be "programming" the computer -- so that games like AlphaGo can win. There's no introspection, it's just a simple matter of programming. At no time is the computer ever doing anything other than what the humans programmed it to do.

You can't expect gullible (female) writers like Megan to ask the hard questions and find out how things really work, they just report the PR that they've been fed.

"What happens when humans can't read code any more?" Simple answer: the computers will stop being programmed.

Yes, there are computer programs that have been written to find things that people didn't think of, but it takes real people to recognize that this is something new and not just gibberish. And yes, there is an "AI" program people are using that you give it a description of the program you want, and it "writes" the program. Actually, it does no such thing. It's just like the NN programs that recognize images, it has been trained on millions of lines of commented code, so if you ask for a program that it has seen that comment, you get that program. A human wrote the program and the comments, the computer just found a matching set of comments. Maybe it found several matches, and did a hodge-podge mashup, that a human must decypher and fix the errors that the unthinking machine inserted because it has no idea what the program actually does nor how, it's just serving up what it saw somewhere.

2023 March 27 -- Tribalism

The Psalm this morning, Psalm 56, "When the Philistines had seized [David] in Gath," like many of the imprecatory Psalms, it starts off with negativity (in this case very little) but this one is mostly about David trusting God. Sometimes I wonder if these Psalms are following David's thinking as he is experiencing the difficulty he finds himself in, and he migrates from hostile thoughts about his persecutors to comforting thoughts about how God is bigger than his opponents. Me, I'm a little slower than the time it takes to read through one of these Psalms, but -- we don't really know, do we? -- maybe David didn't go that fast either, in the middle of it? We are not told.

Anyway the Hebrew word 'BTKh' ("trust") came up a couple times, it's a word I know without looking, and I was reminded of a hymn we must of sung it a lot in church when I was in high school, but it's not in the hymnbook that I happened to have at home when the previous church threw me out -- see "Hosanna!" three years ago; they can have the book back, but they need to ask for it, I'm not about to initiate a violation of their Non-Contact order to return it -- so this is from memory:

Praise the Savior, Ye who know Him,
Who can tell how much we owe Him,
Gladly let us render to Him
All we have and are.

Jesus is the name that charms us,
He for conflict fit and arms us,
Nothing moves and nothing harms us,
While we trust in Him.

Trust in Him ye saints forever,
He is faithful, changing never,
Neither force nor guile can sever,
Those who trust from Him.


I think there are five or six verses, I don't remember all of them, but Google Knows All. Anyway, I like it when I wake up in the morning with a hymn tune in my head. It used to happen all the time, but those tunes need refreshing (see "My Starving Soul Is Filled Again"), and the present church doesn't do hymns (see "The Demise of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs" two years ago). sigh

Anyway, I'm also reading Acts in the New Testament, today about the stoning of Stephen. That guy was connected to God! I'm not that fast, it takes me a while to get there, much longer than Steve had for his confession. So I'm there on my face before God, mulling things over -- the sermon yesterday from Numbers 16 was about submitting to authority, and maybe that was my problem in the business recently gone sour... Oh wait, that was Steve's problem! And Jesus, probably only a year or so earlier, these guys weren't submitting to the authorities (nor should they). The pastor himself allowed for exceptions and gave several examples (Jesus and Stephen were not among them). OK, I'm in good company.

I was still mulling it over, when out of nowhere (probably a God thing) I realized that people are "tribal" by nature ("my country / family / team / whatever, right or wrong") and that's probably not A Bad Thing, except for the "or wrong" part, because God takes precedence over the local group. I am by nature ("P" personality type, see "Personality & Biblical Values" eight years ago) quite willing to take orders, except when God (or some other higher authority, like the government) takes precedence. The self-appointed leaders of these "tribes" we find ourselves in, they like being the shot-callers, and especially they don't like somebody under their dominion appealing to a Higher Authority.

OK, it starts to make sense now. The business implosion last month was definitely about my finding direction apart from the guy who wanted to be the shot-caller, just that one incident, because mostly I just did what he wanted. The church three years ago, I was actually supporting the pastor's sermon, just I didn't get it from him. Another church, eight years ago, same problem: the Director of Apologetics (his actual title), you'd think he'd welcome an opportunity to defend his position from Scripture. You'd think wrong. Eleven years before that, same idea. I'm not sufficiently tribal for these shot-callers' taste. Independence is in the American DNA, but they don't teach that in our schools. Everything Robert Fulghum needed to know he learned in kindergarten, but I didn't go to kindergarten, so I didn't learn those things. Our churches, they are run by controllers ("My way or the highway," Jesus said "don't do that" [Luke 22:25-26]), they don't want you independently testing their theology.

Jesus and Stephen had the same problem. They were not sufficiently tribal for the shot-callers of their day. I'm in good company. It's the shot-callers' problem, not mine. Well, it is my problem today (I need to find a paying job), but I could have much worse problems (like living in China or North Korea or "10-40").

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 do it 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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