Tom Pittman's WebLog

2009 August 27 -- Advantage of Home Schooling

The best (secular) argument I have ever seen for home-schooling is in an article that does not address the topic, in a magazine that's not about education at all: "Revenge of the Nerds" by Daniel Roth in the current issue of WIRED. He quotes Alex Grodd:
The driving force in the life of a child ... is to be cool, to fit in. And pretty universally, it's cool to rebel.

The best schools are able to make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As. That's an art.

Later on Roth points out that "A big high school has a youth-owned culture. You've got to break that." He describes what he calls "High Tech High" in San Diego where an important goal is to isolate the students from peer pressure so they are more inclined to adopt adult values. The result is outstanding student achievement. 100% of their students go on to college, where in other districts students with comparable demographics are closer to 55%.

We have in this country a vast network of schools where students already have this kind of achievement statistics, with this same kind of peer isolation. It's called home school. That isolation is often considered a negative. That's obviously a mistaken idea. The isolation is what makes the system great. The public school system -- actually a cluster of charter schools -- in one city are only beginning to institutionalize what smart parents have been doing for centuries.

2009 August 24 -- Needing Affirmation

In other postings I observed the phenomenon I call "Relationshipism" and how it distinguishes MBTI Feelers and Thinkers. God made us both, and it is inappropriate -- forbidden by God -- for one category to look down on the other.

More than that, I believe God gave every one of us the need for affirmation. This is a large part of our conscience, what the psychologists used to call "super-ego", where social approval is a powerful deterrent from anti-social behavior. Why is that? We want approval. We want people to see us as "good".

The fundamental difference between a Thinker and a Feeler is that the Feeler wants to give affirmation unconditionally, while the Thinker wants it to be earned. There is a place for both kinds. God loved us while we were yet sinners -- and therefore had not yet earned His mercy. None of us earned it. It's not completely unconditional the way a Feeler wants to do it, because God does not force His grace un those who don't want it. In Luke 19 Jesus told the story of a man who went to a far country to receive a kingdom. The local residents did not want him to be king, and sent a lobbying delegation to try and head off his quest. Their efforts failed, and when returned as king, he called these folks in and granted them their request. Dead people do not have him as king. Dead people do not want him as king. Hell is for dead people. God wants living people in His Heaven.

Today I learned of another (perhaps universal) need for affirmation. I was feeling festive, so I walked to the local pizza vendor, about 4 blocks away, to pick up their Monday special. I was walking back, pizza in hand along the street (not many sidewalks in this podunk town), and keeping an eye out for the SUV coming up behind me as I stepped around the parked car. I tripped and landed flat on my face -- literally. I picked up the pizza box and the rest of me, gratefully noticed no broken bones or teeth, and finished walking home, mopping the blood off my face with my handkerchief. I guess I did not succeed in picking up all of me: my favorite tie clasp was missing when I got home. I went back to look for it, but never found it.

When I finally got around to eating (some of) my pizza, it was hard to tell where the slices were. It must have been moving pretty fast when it stopped unter the front weel of the parked car. How does that joke go, it's not the fall that gets you, it's the sudden stop at the bottom. It's amazing how a puffy face can spoil your appetite.

My appetite for pizza was strangely replaced by the strongest urge to call somebody and tell them what happened so they could feel sorry for me. I didn't call anybody, but I gave a lot of thought to the urge.

The Bible tells us to "weep with those who weep." Sympathy is a form of unconditional affirmation, and it's built into us. There is a whole industry built up to nurture and excite this built-in tendency: they sell funerals. I noticed it at both my parents' funerals (see "Why Do I Feel This Way?" and "Meditations on the passing of my father"). I'm not overly emotional, and I certainly felt no particular loss, but the emotion in both cases was overwhelming.

The Golden Rule tells us to treat other people as we want to be treated. I needed to land on my face to remind me that even I need affirmation from time to time. Therefore I must be prepared to give it appropriately. Like when they are hurt.

2009 August 18 -- C.S.Lewis Again

Before shipping it all off to charity, I picked out a few books from my late mother's estate library I thought I might want to read. A couple of them were my favorite author, C.S.Lewis. I just finished The World's Last Night, a collection of essays including one by that title and another Screwtape episode.

In "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" Lewis has his demon praising (in other words, Lewis is condemning) the virtues of "democracy" -- not the political system, but the habit of equalizing people without regard to their achievements:

At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all ... citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.
Apparently England was doing these foolish things before the USA got on the bandwagon. The department chair at the university here got on my case for refusing to teach that way. It wasn't why they fired me, but it could have been.

Lewis expands on that principle in the next essay, where he contrasts "Good Work and Good Works". I cannot do his point justice in this space, but he clearly has no use for working at a job whose sole function is to get paid, and not to do something people need. Creating a false need through advertising earns his great ire.

But I think the best is the title essay at the end, where he explains the necessity of a Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As part of his reasoning, he finds it necessary to refute the critics who point to Mark 13:30 as if it proves that Jesus was wrong about his return. Quite the opposite, Lewis argues, because only 14 words later Jesus insists that he does not know when it will be. Here now is the real insight:

The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter were perfectly honest, he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about "this generation" after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry "Why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.
On another occasion, I observed that the New Testament documents cannot have been corrupted as is sometimes alleged, because the followers at that time would object to the dishonesty inherent in making changes. Both are compelling, but I think Lewis has the stronger argument.

Bookmark this item (permalink)

2009 August 15 -- Obamanomics

I have what one might call a typical American family: One sister voted for Obama (but doesn't like his subsequent economic decisions); the other sister was terrified of him from the outset (I assume she voted for the competition). She (the more negative of the two) regularly makes mission trips to Africa and tells me that Christians in other parts of the world are "praying for us to suffer persecution in America." I'm not volunteering for it, but I always wondered at the fact that Jesus promised us persecution, and I mostly don't experience it.

The AfricanEnterprise prayer calendar entry for today invites us to pray for "peace and good government" in Zimbabwe. That country has a curious history. In my lifetime Rhodesia went from one of the richest countries in Africa to one of the poorest in the world. What happened? The only thing that changed was the government. It seems that a lot of Americans believe we are following their lead.

My opinion is that the ship of state turns very slowly, and we can hopefully get him out of Washington before he does too much damage. For most of the last 15 years half of the American people hated the current sitting President, and the other half hated his predecessor. The boundary line between those two halves doesn't need to move much to get the other guy elected. More than Bush and Clinton, Obama is vigorously moving the line.

2009 August 7 -- ObamaCare (Part 2)

I was sitting in the conference room of a mission agency on the coast, waiting for my colleagues to arrive, when I heard a conversation echoing across the hall. The participants were evidently quite unhappy with the Obama health care plan. These guys were talking of South Carolina and Texas (I guess that must be their respective home states) seceding from the Union over Obama's plan. From what little I see of it in the meager news I get, I can understand why. It's worse than the Romney plan in Massachusetts. Maybe the "Blue Dog" Democrats and the Republicans together can put a halt to it. The proposed annual family insurance requirement exceeds my total lifetime medical expenses (except for the 4 years I had an employer-paid plan: I don't have costs for those years), and it forces healthy-living people to subsidize the medical costs of the jerks. Worse: it forces us to pay for unconscionable death squads. It was evil when Massachusetts did it, and it's still evil.

2009 August 1 -- Sabbath Rest

It's not often I read something this insightful. Rich Robinson in "The Sabbath: A Look Back, A Look Forward" describes the Jewish rabbinic thought on the nature of the Sabbath rest:
The rabbis deduced that the work the Jewish people were prohibited from doing on the Sabbath fell into the same categories as the tasks that were necessary to construct the Tabernacle. These were creative labors that alter our environment; that is, labor in which we imitate God's creativity.
He subsequently goes on to describe future rest in Heaven.

2009 July 13 -- Islam and Shame

After 9/11 I started to notice that Muslim activists are cowards. Why is Osama bin Laden still at large? He's hiding! Look at the pictures of terrorists: they all have their faces covered. They are ashamed of what they are doing, so they are unwilling to come out in public and take ownership of it.

Christians are not so. We teach moral absolutes, the doing of which is no cause of shame.

This led me to realize that the Muslim shame extends beyond their actions and covers even their own beliefs. They are not alone, the Hindus and (with a very few exceptions) the atheists are similarly ashamed of their own respective religions. What do I mean by that?

People brag about what they are proud of. If they have reason to be proud of it, they are eager to see their team beat the competition in a fair fight. "My daddy can beat up your daddy," was the popular taunt when I was younger. That boast comes from pride, the opposite extreme from shame. The flip side of the same coin -- we see this theme often in fiction -- is a mother "protecting" her child from the shame of knowing his father is in jail, often by telling the child that his father died doing something heroic.

The Muslims and the Hindus and the atheists are too ashamed of their weak and sniveling religions to expose them to a fair fight against Christianity. Instead they try to silence the opposition by killing and torturing them. Why is that? It wouldn't be a fair fight! Christianity is the 800-pound gorilla on the block, and Christianity always wins on a level playing field. The Muslims and the Hindus and the atheists know it. But mostly the Muslims. I guess they've had more experience losing to the better religion.

There is a story in the Bible about a follower of the Christian God, who tore down the altar to a pagan deity in his own house. The pagan priests came by to torture and kill him for the sacrilege, and Gideon's father had a very insightful response: "Let Ba'al fight his own battles, if he is a god!" Jerubaal ("Let Ba'al fight") became a surname on Gideon for several chapters.

Anyway, I wanted to try this idea out on a live Muslim. A couple months ago I had what looked like an opportunity. Unfortunately, I underestimated the fellow's cowardice and mendacity, and it was over after the first exchange. I didn't really understand why the dialog failed until this week's column by Mindy Belz in WORLD magazine. She criticizes Islam for teaching and promoting dissimulation. Their word for it is "taqiyya". Here is a Muslim website defending (and explaining) the practice, which, as the author there points out, is also taught in the Quran.

Did you catch that? The Islamic holy book requires dissimulation (lying) in specified circumstances, notably including dialog with non-Muslims like myself. The reason Noman Nasir could not honestly engage me in fair debate is that his own religion forbids it.

As I pointed out elsewhere, truth is a moral absolute. Nobody -- including Muslims like Noman Nasir -- wants to be lied to. Therefore the Golden Rule (I call it "1+2C") as commanded also by God and taught in the Bible, requires absolute truth without exception. Anything less than that is the same as no requirement for truth at all. If you allow an exception (as does the Quran) for self-preservation or to expand the Holy Mother Religion, then anybody with any excuse at all can finagle it into one of the specified exceptions -- like the abortionists do when the law permits exceptions for "the health of the mother." Noman Nasir was permitted -- even required -- to lie to Christians in defense of Islam, and he was lying to me right and left. The debate was doomed 1400 years ago.

I call this "shame" because even the Quran and the Muslim scholars defending it know in their heart that lying is morally wrong; that's why they are at pains to explain when and how it is authorized, and why all other occasions -- except of course for the additional exceptions that later scholars are able to weasel out of it -- are still wrong.

No wonder the Muslims are ashamed to expose their religion to a level playing field against Christianity.

Bookmark this item

2009 July 4 -- Independence from Dogma

Last month's ChristianityToday [p.15] had a short interview with Francis Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, about his latest venture, the BioLogos Foundation. Collins is not ashamed to admit he's a Christian, but he does seem rather ashamed of the Christian teaching about origins. He is frequently quoted in the mainstream media claiming that he is both Christian and evolutionist (by which he means Darwinist). Except for a tiny minority of people who are both scientist and Christian (the order is significant) like Collins, just about everybody, Christian and Darwinist alike, agrees that the two belief systems are incompatible. It's like that former Episcopal priest, Ann Holmes Redding, who claimed to be both Christian and Muslim; there ain't no such animal. Even the most accepting of all denominations in the USA couldn't believe it and threw her out.

Anyway, the CT sidebar quotes Collins:

I encounter a lot of young people raised in a conservative Christian church and home who discover that the scientific evidence for the age of the universe and for evolution is incredibly strong.
I'm not one of those people. I was raised in a conservative Christian church and home, and my parents tried to protect me from adverse influence in their choice of high school, but I still came under the dogma of the established religion in America and came out of high school believing in evolution. It wasn't until grad school many years later that one of my professors suggested I actually look at the evidence. I was dumbfounded. There isn't any primary evidence for evolution, and the supposed evidence for the long age of the earth keeps dissolving and being replaced by new supposed evidence, which only lasts for a few years until it too crumbles.

So I figured, if Francis Collins considers the evidence so strong, he might actually cite some on his new website. I looked through his FAQ, but there was nothing more than the vague generalities I hear and read about over and over, no actual evidence at all. If the evidence is so compelling, why can't they just cite one or two examples? So I sent them an email with what I call The Question, which I have been asking anybody anywhere doing peer-reviewed research in any subject, "What evidence IN YOUR SPECIALTY supports the descent-from-common-ancestor model better than the fiat-creation model?" That was last month.

Still no answer, but today I looked again and his FAQ now talks about the fossils... [more]

Bookmark this item

2009 July 2 -- Improving on Google

Everybody knows, you can't. Half of all searches end up in total frustration, but that's not really Google's fault. The problem is that people don't think clearly, and therefore they cannot clearly specify what they are looking for. Human researchers could not do much better than Google, and they at least understand English.

But that doesn't stop the competition from trying.

The inaugural issue of PragPub has a "back-page" column by John Shade subtitled "Microsoft Buys a Verb" in which he critiques their effort to one-up Google. Along the way he mentions some of the other competitors in this crowded field, and quotes hunorously from his initial attempt to use Wolfram Alpha (WA), ending up with this exchange:

Me: Maybe we should try something simpler. Try this: how many ounces per pound?

WA: Result: 0.0625.

Not in my kitchen it isn't.

This illustrates the nature of the problem, which is that computers don't think, they don't understand natural language. There's a fundamental law of nature that makes it impossible, but the pseudo-science taught in public schools at taxpayer expense for the last century has everybody believing that beings can self-organize to make themselves smarter over the course of time. Why not computers too?

Shade fails to correctly diagnose the problem, and the magazine is not an easy read anyway (I'm convinced "PDF" stands for "Pretty Darn Foolish"), but it's free. I guess their business model expects the magazine to funnel customers into buying their ebooks. Not me. I spend my whole day staring at pixels, I want to look at paper for relaxation. I have yet to see an electronic format that has the access of flipping pages. When forced to look at PDF, my first step is usually to convert it to plain text, so it scrolls faster and my search and edit tools work on it. But that's another story.

My sister reminds me that she can't look a word up in the dictionary to find its spelling until she knows how it's spelled. If you knew what you were looking for, you wouldn't need to look for it. The modern method for finding answers uses what I call "the Video Game Method": randomly try different ideas until something works. Smart people watch the outcomes and make educated guesses about what to try next. When I want to know how a word is spelled, I usually have several possibilities in mind (based on phonics), and look in the dictionary for each of them in turn until I find it.

2009 June 30 -- Pilgrim's Regress vs My Own Reductionism

I do not often fail to be delighted by C.S.Lewis, but Pilgrim's Regress comes as close to an exception as ever there was. Lewis is incisive and witty as usual, the problem is entirely mine.

It started off great. I was thoroughly delighted by the way he skewered scientistic dogmatism:

This is called the inductive method. Hypothesis, my dear young friend, establishes itself by a cumulative process: or, to use popular language, if you make the same guess often enough it ceases to be a guess and becomes a Scientific Fact. [p.37]
How true! The whole book, done in the style of Bunyan's classic, has this pilgrim wandering through a landscape of metaphysical theories, each one demolishing the previous, or else being demolished by snide comments like the above. It's great, true to Lewis's style. My problem with it is that it's such a wasted effort.

I do not have a high opinion of reductions (the various metaphysics Lewis's pilgrim meets are all one kind of reduction or another), but earlier this year I embraced one of my own. I call it "1+2C" because it reduces everything to compliance with (or denial of) the First and Second Great Commandments. Quite frankly, I am unable to find any problem with it. That's not saying much, most people with blind spots focus them primarily on their own work. But I try to be brutally honest with myself.

Anyway, the problem I have with Pilgrim's Regress is that most of the metaphysics he deals with so incisively, there's a much simpler way to demolish them: they violate 1+2C. Of course Lewis wrote for unbelievers, so reference to God's commandments -- they were a "Rules" card in his allegory -- is unpersuasive.

I understand his reasoning, and I do it myself. When I argue against Darwinism, it is not because God said it happened otherwise (which He did), but because the Darwinists themselves have no primary evidence to support their claims. None at all. It's really astounding. Nobody ever actually cites any primary evidence to support it, they only make sweeping generalizations. That's a scientific, not a theological argument. Notice also how well it matches what Lewis said (in the quote above).

Anyway, C.S.Lewis is still great, but Pilgrim's Regress does not speak to where I am living today.

2009 June 27 -- On Obama's Health Plan

Thinking about WIRED's vision of socialism (earlier this week), I read in the news today Obama's promise on what he wants to do with health care:
No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period. [Full text here]
Why is it I don't believe him?

I like my health care plan. I pay $0/month, except for those few times I actually need health care. Will Obama let me keep this health care plan? I don't think so. They cannot afford to socialize medicine unless they coerce payments from people who now choose instead to live healthy lifestyles -- and therefore use less medical care than the program would oblige them to pay for. That's me, along with a lot of young people not in the system because it's more cost-effective. See some of what they say about what I called "Evil Mass Health".

I don't have a regular doctor (recall, I live a relatively healthy lifestyle, so no doctor is needed most of the time), but the last time I saw a doc, I really liked the way he does business: He refuses to take health insurance. As a consequence, you get what you pay for, because all that additional expense of billing (and subsidizing) the plan does not exist. It cost me less than half what I paid two previous times for similar services. Will Obama let me keep this doctor? I don't think so. They plan to put him out of business.

Curiously, I Googled a quote from Obama's text above looking for an official transcript to cite (never found any), and the whole first page of hits were criticisms saying Obama cannot deliver what he's promising. It seems nobody believes him.

2009 June 24 -- The "New" Old Socialism

WIRED magazine is constantly promoting their vision of the "New Economy" (with additional "New" tags added to the front to distinguish it from the Old New Economy). June (actually last month: the July issue is already out, rendering their "New New Economy" already old hat) offers up a trio of cover stories to explain the "New" du jour.

The first of these tries to reinvent Detroit. The author (admittedly a Detroit insider) accurately analyzes (some of) the problems that led to the current financial difficulty of the American auto industry, but his proffered solutions are non sequitur. The problem is not top-down centralization, it is the lack of innovation. Maybe centralization contributes to that fault, but more likely -- especially considering the insights offered by the next article in the trio -- it is irrelevant. In my opinion, and if the Federal government can overcome its current urge to meddle, market economics will sort that out.

The second article was by far the best of the three. Remarkably, its second-biggest insight is that the other two articles are completely wrong-headed. Google does what it does well by tightly controlling its crown jewels, just as Ford and General Motors did before they ceded so much control to the unions.

My focus today is on the third article, "The New Socialism", where the author, Kevin Kelly, is honest enough to admit that Open Source is by nature communism. It is not (yet) the political tyranny that felled the (former) Soviet Union -- although his last sentence obviously wishes for that -- but he clearly understands the nature of socialism, and shows unmistakably how open source and the other internet collaborative technologies are that kind of socialism. What they are not -- and it is always "not yet," as opposed to "never" -- is political coercion. He says "digital socialism is socialism without the state." What Kelly does not seem to understand (or at least gives no hint of recognizing) is that "dot-communism" only works because it is a tiny fraction of the economy. "These collaborative efforts make no sense within capitalism" (which is true), but they make even less sense apart from capitalism. People work for free on open source projects because they spend even more of their time on capitalism-funded projects that pay them proportionally for the value of their contribution to the economy. That is, they spend most of their working hours getting paid for their services; therefore they can do things for fun (read: free) that happen to have value people are not willing to pay for. They must eat and pay their mortgage; only afterwards can they afford to donate labor. The capitalistic economy is what makes open source communism possible. There is no open source collaboration coming out of China or Saudi Arabia or North Korea or Cuba or Zimbabwe. When there was a Soviet Union, they did not contribute to open source. "Much of the prosperity in recent decades," Kelly reminds us, "was gained by unleashing market forces on social problems."

I have nothing against people doing for free what they consider fun, nor even giving away the products so developed because they are so shoddy nobody would pay for them. And yes, the open source stuff I have seen (most recently Linux up close) is not worth paying for. What worries me is that somewhere along the line the Kevin Kellys and Barack Obamas of the world will start to push us in the direction of what Kelly calls "the coercive, soul-smashing system of North Korea." Consider health care. Massachusetts already has a "coercive, soul-smashing system" and Obama is trying to force something like it onto the rest of the country. Today I can tear my hair out over Linux, or buy Windows, or write my own, my choice. I can pay a thousand dollars (less taxes) every month to some HMO so they can deny payment for services the doctor ordered, or I can pay the doctor myself (plus taxes: the system is already slightly coercive), or I can let my body heal itself naturally (and get thrown in jail, like that family I read about a couple months ago).

2009 June 23 -- Fictional Christians

Working my way through the videos in the local library, I got to "L" and noticed they have "Left Behind" I & II. I saw the first one a few years back, probably shortly after it came out, so I took out number two. Given that I grew up under the theology underlying this story, I understand where the authors are coming from, but I was disappointed with the ethics practiced by the new post-Rapture "Christians" who are the apparent heroes of the story. These are world-class theologians writing the story, can't they at least show some disapproval for the lying and stealing their heroes do on-screen? And for a story line that openly declares God's sovereignty over the affairs of people, these guys sure are worried about their future.

Come to think of it, the authors had some unChristian falling-out with each other in the real world, too, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.

2009 June 22 -- Inventing the Future

A very few rare occasions I find myself independently repeating some other person's insight. When I was in 7th grade arithmetic class, the long division problems were boring, so I fiddled with what I later realized was the Binomial Theorem. My grades that year were so lousy they moved me up a year to algebra near the end of the year, and I immediately started getting A's again. But that's another story.

More recently I've been thinking about major social issues, like the right to life and the defense of Christianity.

I guess it was a few years ago -- before I started this blog -- when it occurred to me that the way to reduce abortion and other pro-death social ills is to start up a directory of doctors and clinics who promise not to do that garbage. People would prefer doctors who promise not to do harm, and pretty soon no doctor would want to not be in the directory. I sent my idea off to some right-to-life group, and they put me on their fund-raising mailing list for a while, but nothing ever came of it. Until now. The recent issue of WORLD magazine ran an editorial/column by a physician announcing the Hippocratic Registry: just exactly what I was recommending. They probably never heard of my suggestion, but who cares? The good thing is, it's happening.

More recently, in a different context, it occurred to me that Christianity is unique among the world religions, in that we have such a high opinion of the truth of our faith that we alone are willing to take on all opponents on a level playing field. The atheists and the Hindus and (especially) the Muslims do not believe their respective religions can win in open debate, so they stifle and kill the opposition. We believe in freedom of religion precisely because we know that in a fair fight, Christianity will win. I've been saying this for a couple years now. I even tried the idea out in debate with a Muslim. He couldn't handle the facts and cowarded out. But nobody else seemed to have this insight. Until now. The cover story in the same WORLD magazine issue was essentially a brag job on how well Christianity is doing in the international contest of religions. Like most journalists, they mostly just quote other people, but one of their insights (I wish I'd thought of it) is that all those books by atheists proves that they are running scared. Who bothers to fight a moribund idea? Anyway, they added the comment that

Christianity's main religious opponents, Islam and Hinduism, can only hold onto their flocks by banning or persecuting missionaries and attempting to restrict discussion. They fear open debate,
then they went on to quote Milton in 1644. Not exactly the Binomial Theorem, but about as old.

Twice in the same issue. It's nice to know that my thinking is not faulty.

2009 June 16 -- Whether TV

I was awakened at 6 this morning to the nearby sound of sirens and horns -- not the wailing screamers which accompany police and fire engines, this was the steady tornado warning I usually only hear briefly at 10am on a sunny day. Then I heard the thunder. Last night a thunder storm came through, almost continuous flashing of lightning, but only occasional BOOM-rumble-boom of thunder.  This morning it was the other way around, very little lightning but a continuous steady rumble that could be heard over the sirens. A few years ago somebody told me that's what tornados sound like.

I thought about turning the computer on to see what they had to say about it, but then I remembered why my sister sent me the digital TV converter box: "For the weather," she said. Most of my life I've had no TV at all, the few exceptions being a persuasive reminder why that's a good policy. But I had inherited my mother's TV and VCR, which I've been using to watch the videos I check out from the local library. She had a rabbit-ears antenna, which I connected up for about ten minutes on election night -- long enough to see this was a waste of time -- and then put it back in the box. I reconnected it for another half hour when my sister's converter box arrived, then put both of them back in the box again. Analog TV out in the boonies (like here) is snowy but watchable; digital TV is crisp and sharp and frozen into half-inch-square pixels and stuttering sound. Like dirty or scratched DVDs.

So I got the rabbit-ears and the converter out of the box and tried to reconnect them. My mother had one of these high-priced gold-plated BNC cables that fits so tight it requires a wrench to connect or disconnect. But the other cable connections are too close to fit a wrench (or your fingers) into. By the time I had the thing connected, the sirens were long gone and the thundering back down to an occasional distant BOOM-rumble-boom after lightning.

But still no news. All I could find on the TV was a single snowy infomercial in Spanish about connecting something to your TV. Snow everywhere else. Pretty soon I guessed that the infomercial was probably from the convert box -- now I ask you, what good is that? If you can see the infomercial, you already have it connected up! Anyway, so I started randomly pushing buttons on the converter. After (I guess it was) turning it on and off a few times, the TV started getting digital channels. The severe weather warning on the weather channel was a tiny half-inch strip of text zipping across half of the screen at the top, with too little visible at any one time to make any sense of it. I saw the county name go by, but I have no idea what it was saying about us. After a few minutes they put up an animation of the satellite image over the last 6 hours: according to this animation the red splotch had long since gone by -- probably about the time that thunderstorm came through last night.

My computer takes forever (probably only a couple minutes) to boot up, but I think I would have gotten better quality information and more quickly if I had ignored the TV and gone straight to the computer. No wonder the media are hurting for viewers. The antenna and converter are back in the box.

2009 June 15 -- Free Health Care

Most of the movies I get from the library these days have 5 or 10 minutes of commercials (ads for other movies) at the front, which I skip over in fast-forward. John Q had its commercials at the end, before the final credits. They were political in nature, a brazen attempt to persuade the audience (voters) to demand that their elected representatives in Congress destroy the health care system in this country. The montage included real people speaking their real agenda, such as HilaryCare.

The title character in this morality play is everyman, obviously named for "John Q Public" (but with a different last name). His kid has a heart problem. That's on purpose. Children tug at the heart-strings. Children and their parents are (usually) not responsible for major medical conditions requiring quarter-million-dollar surgical procedures. Such conditions are rare. We already have in this country, thanks to our former (crypto-Democrat) President, universal coercive medical coverage for children.

But while the movie was about a child, the political solution they offered was much broader. Everybody has the right to a free heart transplant. Maybe they expected those Big Bad insurance companies to pay for it? If the companies can't make a profit, they will start to reduce services -- as John's insurance company had already done in the movie. If Congress passes laws to force them otherwise, then they will simply go out of business, like some medical malpractice insurance companies have already done in some states today.

Health insurance is the problem, not the solution. Medical insurance paying for any medical procedure is viewed as "free" by the recipients, and if it's free, then there is no reason to limit the demand for it. That's why modern insurance requires co-payments up to 10%. John Q Archibald was an honest church-going citizen who sold everything (and took donations) to raise something over $20,000, but most people won't sell their car and their TV for something they deserve "free." It isn't free. The insurance companies must raise rates or cut services to balance their bottom lines. As modern technology invents new, increasingly more expensive medical procedures -- follow the money: the cost of those procedures pays for the research -- and as people do more unhealthy behavior in the expectation of "free" medical procedures to cure them of the inevitable consequences, somebody is going to pay the bill. It won't be the insurance companies.

Market economics only works when the supplier pays for his own product and profits from the difference between cost and price, and when the consumer pays for his own product and gets to keep the money he doesn't spend on that product. Insurance destroys market economics. In small doses, to cover catastrophic "Acts of God," insurance can save lives. But the political agenda pushing universal health insurance wants much more than that. They want "free" health care. They want the end of the best medical care in the whole world. They just don't know it.

For a comparison, look at the "free" public school system, especially in Washington DC where the politicians are making laws. From Congress on up to President Obama himself, no politician wants his own children in the disaster area they force off on the poor minorities; every one of them sends his kids to private school. And pays for it. That's what "free" public health care will look like, after the politicians are finished with it.

2009 June 8 -- Guilty by Suspicion

It was a scary movie, intentionally so, but more universally applicable than the left-wing film makers intended.

The real-life victim-hero David Merrill was guilty of nothing more heinous than loyalty to his friends, a Feeler value I usually refer to as "unconditional affirmation." He did make some mistakes in front of the HUAC. He was represented there by an incompetent lawyer, who apparently advised him to lie about his friends to the committee. It's easy to get angry, but "human anger does not accomplish God's righteousness." He should have calmly said "I have no personal knowledge of the party membership of any other persons," and "I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party [he did say that], so I have no personal knowledge of their activities. If they held a meeting in my house, they neglected to tell me about it." Hearsay evidence is not admissable in court, so it would have been sufficient to take the moral high ground by implicitly painting their witch-hunt as inappropriate legal procedure. Which it was. His lawyer should have advised him so, but (according to the movie) it was not really his lawyer, but some jerk foisted off on him by the Bad Guys.

The scary part is that while this movie was about right-wing totalitarians in 1952, it could equally well be about left-wing totalitarians in 2009. Except the left-wing bigots -- think Janet "What A Cook-Out" Reno -- shoot first, so there is nobody left alive to ask questions of later. The Obama administration reportedly has abandonned the practice of calling "terrorists" persons in other countries whose open and admitted policies including killing innocent people as in 9/11, and reserving the term to refer solely to peaceful American citizens with no greater agenda than David Merrill, and who also happen to believe in and serve the same God as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I am the "witch" the present administration is hunting. That's scary. At least I have good advice: Tell the truth, don't get angry. My God is bigger than the bigots in Washington.

2009 May 25 -- Fictionized Disaster

I am starting to dislike disaster movies. "10.5" was particularly bad. There were obvious commercial breaks, suggesting it was made for TV, and TV products are notoriously lower quality than theater flicks, this being no exception.

They spent a lot of screen time on people screaming and children refusing to behave in rational ways when their parents don't have time to explain why. Stupid behavior is not entertaining.

That was compounded in this flick by the bad physics, over and over. The title number is supposed to represent the energy release or degree of damage by an earthquake, a number on the Richter scale. Except that in the movie the final "big one" number started going down (it stopped at zero). The total energy released can't go down. There is no such thing as negative energy, which added to the accumulation makes the sum go down. The scale is logarithmic, so there's really no zero either. But let's pretend they were measuring instantaneous energy on some other scale than Richter or the more modern Moment magnitude scale.

Then there are the Biblical cracks that opened up following a railroad and swallowed the train whole. For a crack to open up like that means that the earth must be pulling away, suggesting a tectonic plate motion away from the continent. As I recall, the tectonic plate motion is more toward the North American continent, which would result in pushing the crust up (forming the mountains), not forming large cracks for things to fall into.

Even more bizarre was this huge crack that started in the Los Angeles coastal area and spread east and north until it reached Barstow up in the high desert where the refugees had hoped to escape it. The water flowed more or less peacefully into this huge gap, forming a nice wide sound separating the new island of California from the rest of the continent. The water was a pleasant watery green, with not a wave nor anything mildly destructive. IF such a gap had actually formed, wide enough and deep enough to fill with water on the same day -- the crack would need to extend far out to sea, past the continental shelf -- the inrushing water would have formed a gigantic tsunami wave crushing everything on the entire Pacific rim, making a far more spectacular image of destruction than what this film showed. The fast-flowing water would have carried dirt and rocks and silt with it and been brown, not green. Even ordinary rivers (like the so-called "Blue Danube") are brown.

Barstow is in the high desert, some 2000 feet above sea level; that's a lot of dirt and rock to get rid of, just to get the water to flow in there, nevermind rising placidly to the ground level while our hero and heroine stand there watching. It's fiction, of course, but more obviously so than usual.

I like to sit through the credits to see where they filmed the "location" shots. And of course to confirm my guess of computer graphics when the story calls for more damage than the average film budget wants to pay for, as in this case. The twisting of the Golden Gate bridge seemed realistic -- probably informed by films of actual bridges collapsing -- but the Space Needle fall was not. They had one leg crumble in one spot, then it fell over. Steel does not crumble the way concrete does. If stressed beyond its strength, it bends and deforms and eventually snaps (if pulled apart), like they showed for the bridge. There was no pulling forces at work here, so if it's going to collapse at all, it would have to be by buckling and crumpling like a soda pop can when you squeeze or step on it.

The location shots were all in British Columbia. That's very interesting. I'm seeing a lot of movies and DVDs from TV shows filmed in BC these days. It's like the idiots in Sacramento are doing the same things to the film industry that they already did to nonprofits, and are starting to do to the electronics industry: inviting them to take their jobs and wealth and tax base somewhere else. No wonder California is bankrupt.

2009 May 21 -- The John 21:18 Effect

My sister was bemoaning the fact that she was making some financial errors, I think something like an overdrawn bank account. I had nothing to offer her except the promise that it's going to get worse. I told her to run her fingers through her blonde hair and bat her baby blues, and people would understand. When she was younger and taking her disagreeable mother out to lunch or shopping, she would mouth the word "Alzheimer's" and the serving people got very nice.

I've been going through my mother's files this week. She never threw anything away. Each bank, each utility, each credit card had its own folder, some invoices more than thirty years old. Except none of them had anything after 2006. I took over her finances last year, after she went into the nursing home, but for more than a full year she was not maintaining her files. Her taxes were screwed up, she had some medical bills months overdue. I thought she was just being cantankerous about the doctors (she was). I blamed electronic filing for the tax problem -- and it is indeed unreliable. But the problems were far deeper than I realized. She had very nearly stopped functioning. The medical people said "She coped well" for the previous year or more. Not well enough to keep her files in order, it seems.

I call it the "John 21:18 Effect". Jesus told Peter that when he was young he could do what he wanted, but the time would come when other people made those decisions for him, and he would not be happy with their choices. That happened to my mother, and she was unable to cope with it. It's going to happen to me and my sister. We (my sister and I both) are already starting to make mistakes. We will cope for a while, people will make allowances for us, then pretty soon somebody will take over and say "No, this is what you are going to do." And I will have no say in the matter.

I hope and pray I have the grace and faith to accept it with contentment when the time comes.

2009 May 16 -- Love Is God

It ended with the Chief Inspector wishing he believed in Hell so the purveyor could be damned to it.

I don't know much about recreational drugs such as Ecstasy, but I suspect a large part of the intended audience of this flick do, so that what they said about it is likely to be more or less accurate.

What they said -- and showed -- is a drug that makes people feel "love" for everybody. It's a false and selfish kind of love which gives its participants warm fuzzies but does not induce in them any true self-sacrifice that serves other people. It's the same kind of bogus "love" that Christians and pagans everywhere want to believe is true of the Creator God -- and they even have a verse or two in the Bible that says so, more or less. But they don't really want a God who loves, they want a love who is god. There is a difference.

But only a tiny part of the God of the Bible is "love". The vast majority of Jesus' teaching is about Holy and Righteous and Truth. Jesus never said "God is love." He never taught that "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." It's not there. He said "Unless you are more righteous than the church leaders, you won't even see [Heaven]." The Bible teaches karma -- it's called "justice", but it is karma -- and the cancellation of karma (called "mercy"). Jesus said these were most important.

How do you get there? Simple, but not easy: Love God. Not the warm fuzzies you get when you sing "I love you Lord." The kind of love God wants is that heart-wrenching agony of wanting God when the sky is brass and nobody answers. When the Muslim extremists are setting fire to your house and making slaves of your family. Anything with a focus on what you get out of it is selfish, and not love at all. If you don't love Jesus more than you love your own family, you don't love Jesus at all. Jesus said so. Yes, it was that Jesus who said it.

Is that the kind of love relationship you want with God? I didn't think so. But it's what God wants. And if you don't start wanting it now, you won't be happy in Heaven, because that's the way it is in Heaven. And everybody there likes it that way. Think about it.

2009 May 1 -- Horn of the Hunter

I read the book not long after Robert Ruark wrote it. I vaguely remember it being a Reader's Digest condensed version, but I was only a child. My memories of that time are frail, virtually non-existing. But I remembered one line about needing to tell the zebra that he's been shot, otherwise he keeps running.

So when I was going through my mother's effects and saw the book, I pulled it out to read it again, before carting everything off to charity. The line wasn't there. Oh wait, there it was, 5 pages from the end. It wasn't the way I remembered it. There's a line in the Bible about putting away childish things. Yeah, that must be it. The book is a good read if you happen to like killing things. I couldn't get into it, but I did want to see that zebra line again.

Earlier this year
Last year's blog
Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page