Tom Pittman's WebLog

Later this year

2011 April 28 -- Smuggled

Earlier this month I read a review for a book which sounded interesting enough to encourage me to read the book itself. That doesn't happen often, but I sent out for the book on inter-library loan, and finished reading it this week. As an academic book aimed at judges and law professors (and their graduate-level classes), it's heavy reading, but if you can get past the annoying sexist pronoun usage (consistently female where gender is not known or unspecified, even when probably male) Smith has some good insights (my review  here).

2011 April 11 -- Living My Religion

It seems to be customary in our culture to excuse one's own anti-social behavior with the line "Nobody's perfect." Maybe that's true, but I don't see anybody making that excuse in the Bible. If it's an infallible guide to faith and practice, why are we not given that example? Instead God tells us to "Be perfect." Some of the macho heroes in the (fiction) books I read and movies I watch have a different motto: "No excuses!" I think they get it (or at least the writer does).

I have recently been butting heads with a fellow who takes exception to my analysis of the Biblical text. He doesn't offer much of an alternative interpretation, but instead gets silent. It makes it hard for me to figure out what he's trying to communicate. Most of my experience is that when I do or say something the other guy doesn't like, if he cannot come up with a logical basis for his position, he substitutes anger (or if he considers himself to be a Christian, "not-anger" which looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but is not a sinful duck) for intelligent dialog.

My position is that the teaching of Jesus and all the rest of the Bible is summarized in what I call "1+2C" and that it is substantially different from what the rest of the Christians in the USA believe and I call "Relationshipism." I have posted several essays and blog entries on the topic, the latest of which is here (this morning, with links to most of the others). The "2C" part of 1+2C is essentially the Golden Rule (GR), and I believe it gives us a more reliable and robust guide to personal interaction than "Be nice" (aka Relationshipism). How does this work? Two examples:

A week or two ago I received in the mail an announcement of the high school graduation of a relative in another state. Sitting through a ceremony is not exactly my idea of a fun afternoon, and with ObamaTax driving up the price of gasoline while reducing my chances at gainful employment, I'm not eager to drive 800 miles to get there and back. However, if it were my graduation, I would be honored and pleased by the attendance of family members to whom I sent invitations. It's a no-brainer: the GR tells me I must go. It happens that Relationshipism gives the same advice, but that's somewhat beside the point.

Now consider that fellow with a different theology. He gives off a good imitation of being a Relationshipist, so (evaluating the moral calculus as if I were a Relationshipist), the GR would tell me to affirm him without criticism, maybe something like "Yes I'm sure that's true for you, be warmed and filled." But I'm not a Relationshipist, and it really annoys the bejeebers out of me when a Relationshipist says that kind of thing to me. The trouble is, if I treat him as I want to be treated, by offering sound logic, he puts up a good imitation of being "not-angry" (which of course he will quickly tell you he's not), the way a devout Relationshipist would.

So I'm stuck between the horns of a dilemma: Do I treat him consistent with his behavior and ignore what he says (because Relationshipists are not particularly honest), or do I treat him as I myself would prefer, and risk losing a friend? If I were a Relationshipist, I would not be in this pickle, because Relationshipists do not believe truth is as important as "relationships", so of course I would (like all of them) just ignore the parts of the Bible that seem to emphasize Truth over affirmation, and the two us would be in agreement. If I became a Relationshipist after getting into this pickle, the solution would still be easy: Relationshipists seem to feel no obligation to maintain good "relationships" with people who violate the basic "Be Nice" commandment, so I could just kiss him off and replace the friendship with some new shallow "relationship." In either case, Relationshipism gives a different answer than 1+2C, and it is (at least to me) more distasteful than whatever I get from 1+2C. sigh

2011 April 8 -- Wishful Thinking

Speaking of wishful thinking, the movie today was full of it. The hero gets tired of the city rat race, sells all, and moves his family to a wilderness hide-away up in the scenic Rockies someplace accessible only by amphibious plane. It's fiction, of course. The amount of baggage the plane leaves with them could fit in a normal refrigerator with space left over. What are they going to eat? The movie shows them sitting down to a nice meal "everything from right here," one of them says, handing a tin of muffins or biscuits across the table. Yeah, right. They grew the wheat, harvested it, and ground it into flour, all in the week or two they had been there. In a later scene we see a box of powdered milk on the table. That size box will serve a family of four not much longer than a week. A month or so later, mom is sitting on the front porch of their new log cabin, wearing designer shoes.

The wilderness is a dangerous place, but the kids -- hardly even dad -- had not been instructed in how to avoid the hazards. An 11-year-old city girl knows about city dangers, not to rush out across the street without looking, stuff like that, but other than that, modern kids are raised to ignore authority. She does so at her own (and the whole family's) peril, over and over again. All this may be romantic and cute for city slicker viewing, but I spent enough time at age 11 in a real wilderness (the Amazon jungle) to know this is not how it works.

Elsewhere in my blog, I commented that people doing stupid things is not entertaining. Going to a dangerous place unprepared for the rigors there is stupid. The scenery was nice, the bear cubs and other (trained) "wild" animals were cute, but the story line was stupid.

2011 April 7 -- The Business of Charity

Most of my readers know by now that I have been working on a massive Bible translation project for most of the last 15 years. The software works, but deploying it requires a one-time expenditure of extensive linguistic effort, for which I am not equipt. Saying so among Christians, however, yields some curious responses.

Neither I nor anybody I know personally has the resources to make a significant dent in the project, but all Christians (basically everybody I know) are either themselves Relationshipists (MBTI Feelers), or else trying hard to hide the fact that they are not so by nature; therefore it is important to them to affirm me rather than acknowledge the discouraging truth. Most recently the young lady (let's call her "Cindy") trying to give me hope in place of my undeniable hopelessness, suggested I should contact a certain college to see if they were interested.

Now I happen to know a little more about how colleges are run than the average citizen, more even than most college employees. Every organization, be they academic, charitable, profitable, or otherwise (with the possible exception of national government, but I doubt it), cannot continue to exist if they take on new obligations not accompanied by an equal or greater source of revenue. For-profit companies can tolerate a greater amount of risk here by tapping into capital invested by their shareholders, but the investors nonetheless expect the revenue to come along eventually in excess of their investment.

There is no revenue from Bible translation into languages that don't yet have Bibles. Never was, never will be.

There is only the (presumed) generosity of mature Christians willing to pass along the good news from their own personal God-given bounty. Most such people are not wealthy, and I don't have the resources to reach out and find large numbers of them, $20 at a time. "Cindy" only knows of this college because of their radio program. Radio programs produced by non-profits must be self-supporting, that is, they make appeals over the radio, and generous (or guilt-ridden) listeners send money. They discuss topics that encourage listeners to send money. Why would they bring on a topic encouraging listeners to send money to somebody else (instead of themselves), especially in today's lean economy? They cannot afford to do that, even if they thought it worthy cause. I was not surprised when Cindy could not identify any person at that college who might be willing to consider my pitch.

300 Spartans died trying to protect Greece from the invading Persians led by Xerxes, but all the Christians willing to do that are out there in foreign countries, fighting with (metaphorical) clubs and pitchforks. Like the picture on my home page, they have no time for nor interest in investigating and funding modern tools that would greatly amplify or speed up their task. It's discouraging, but it's the truth, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.

2011 April 4 -- Looking Forward

One of my favorite Bible verses -- I guess I inherited this preference from my father -- is Php.3:13 "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead..." I guess I don't do a very good job of it, I always seem to be in arrears, sometimes several weeks behind knowing what's going on.

Yesterday the pastor wanted to make conversation concerning the soteriology in a recent book. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about -- until this morning, when I read its review in a news magazine already two weeks old. Later today I was reading another review in a magazine that arrived almost a year ago. At the time I was busy, and the magazine premise turned out to be boring, so I set it aside. Today I was waiting on the computer (I really need to convert that program from a unixy C, which hogs the computer, to a more nimble and Mac-like T2 so I get my computer back during those long runs) and reading the minutes away with whatever didn't require much attention. It was another review, this time for a book promoting the fresh and self-evident idea concerning the left-wing bigots, who

"While purporting to derive ethical guidance from human experience, in fact they systematically imported their own preconceived values and imposed onto human experience."
The author and/or approving reviewer described this activity as "smuggling." Sounds like a book I should become familiar with. This local library probably does not have it, but inter-library loan seems to work well.

Among the last of the last of the library movies I had not yet seen was a collection of Agatha Christie stories apparently filmed for British TV. They were delightful, no gratuitous profanity nor unrequited immorality. Now that I am also finishing up all the library sci-fi worth reading, and having found the better-known best-sellers of other genres unsatisfying, I think I will see what they have of her stories. As I am seeing once again in War of the Worlds, the books are never worse than their respective movies, so a good movie promises an excellent book behind it.

2011 March 28 -- Sequel

I mentioned John Ringo in several previous posts because I rather enjoyed the first of his books that I read. I was looking forward to reading its sequel (now recently on the library's shelf), and it seems Ringo has learned from his mistakes, but not to his improvement. He explicitly wished he could have worked with his sometime co-author (whose contribution I found mostly harmful), but despite that he was unavailable, Ringo seems to have picked up some of his bad habits, notably the frequent minced vulgarity and weaving evolution into the story more explicitly. David Drake still writes clean stories, but both Drake and Ringo seem to feel the need to make their lead male character feminine in physical form only. I guess a successful author has no motivation to stay on top of relevant science, especially the politically incorrect stuff which doesn't appear in the mainstream media. sigh

2011 March 21 -- Deboning

That's the term I recently read in a volume of trivia, the name for removing all the card stock ad pages from a magazine before reading it. As I suspected, the term has been around almost as long as I've been doing it. I usually make it a policy NOT to look at the ads being thus discarded, or if I happen to see the name of the advertizer, I refuse to consider their product in my next purchase. They pay extra for that heavy paper or card stock to make the mag flip open to their ad, so if it results in fewer quality eyeballs, they will stop paying for it and the practice will disappear.

2011 March 17 -- Job Hunting...

As part of due diligence, from time to time I blast out resumes to everybody who seems to want to hire somebody with my skills. Most of the government universities want evidence of "externally funded research" (meaning government grants, at which I am a known and proven failure), so I don't even bother with them. I'm a programmer and an educator, not a kiss-up fund-raiser. The community colleges all require all applicants to go through their virus-driven application robot, which suggests that the turnover is so high, they want the process automated as much as possible. Most of them also require union membership (or a fee), which probably explains the high turnover: unions are superfluous and counter-productive in a well-managed work environment. The robot viruses cannot penetrate my firewall, so applying there requires a trip to the library, but y'all know my feelings about unions. I skip over those sites too.

The government colleges generally want their applicants to fill out a "voluntary" form identifying race, gender, and whatever else they decide to ask for. Most often this comes by snail mail with a business reply envelope, but sometimes I get a PDF or a request to do it on-line (another virus-driven robot I cannot easily access). There is no possible use that information can be put to that is not inherently racist, but they claim it won't affect my consideration for employment, so I always elect the "voluntary" option. When I went to work at Kansas State, the secretary handed me one of these forms to fill out. I asked what happens if I don't, and she said she would do it based on appearance, because the Feds require that kind of record-keeping. One of these days I'll get up the nerve to respond:

It is unfortunate that the US government requires of its otherwise virtuous citizens such a blatant form of racism, but at least I am not (yet) compelled to be a party to it.
Discrimination for any of the qualities in their list is generally unlawful (as is also probably refusing to answer the questionaire), but so is age-discrimination. While it is hard to prove, it seems pretty clear that discrimination happens. I could probably convince a jury that I was unlawfully terminated from my previous job, but at what cost? If they don't want me (even if for the wrong reasons), "There are," the provost said in my hearing, "ways to get rid of unwanted employees." Every employer knows how to do that. I was once an employer, and I know. That's how I knew it was unlawful. If I forced myself on them through court action, they would just be more careful next time they fired me. There are consultants who tell you how to do that.

Anyway, sometimes I hear about openings in industry. Last month it was Adobe. Their virus robot had a lot of parameters where "None of the above" was the only correct answer, but that was not an option. I avoid running Adobe software on my computer -- in many cases because I don't have it and their "End-User License Agreement" explicitly forbids me to download it (does anybody besides me actually read and comply with those things?) or it's a known security risk -- so I didn't feel badly that they did not extend me any offer.

This month it was a Christian firm, for which I might actually be well-qualified, except that they wanted experience working in teams. Most of my career I avoided teamwork because I can produce better software without the extra interactions, but some projects are too big to do alone (my BibleTrans is one of them). I once found myself on a development team where the stated agenda was at odds with the (hidden) corporate agenda. I chose the wrong one. I think full disclosure is in order:

I can and will enthusiastically work to the best of my ability in whatever team my employer puts me, provided that the team goals are clearly disclosed and potential conflicts prioritized. The following list of candidate priorities (there may be others) are easily seen to be mutually exclusive in most any typical work environment:
Good team relationships
Minimal inter-personal conflict
Submission to immediate supervisor
Best quality product
Fastest time to market
Long-term corporate profitability
Short-term bottom line
Good ethics (serving God)
Compliance with all applicable laws
Least-squares mash-up of (some or) all of the above
The fact that I understand what's going on probably makes me undesirable -- too hard to bully around, nevermind that accepting that bullying could be part of whatever priorities they set for me. But you see, by making it explicit they confess to unethical behavior. People don't want to live virtuous lives, they only want to appear virtuous. True virtue is difficult and unpleasant (in this life), and as Jesus said, "Few there be that find it."

2011 March 15 -- Memorable

Last month the pastor invited us to memorize 1Cor.13, the so-called "love chapter." One of the class members, Paul Rausch, is something of a song writer (he sings at Branson), and set the chapter to music (listen to it here). This month the pastor chose five verses from 1Timothy, and Paul set that to music too. I listen to it while preparing a meal that takes some attention but not much concentration.

I have a problem with this new chapter: it's not about me. Memorizing the virtues of what I call "2C" (the Second Great Commandment) is reasonable and probably useful, but this confession from the letter to Timothy is rather more personal with respect to the Apostle. It starts off,

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who ... considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.
That's nice for the pastor or the Apostle, but I tried to be a missionary or a pastor -- I even went to seminary -- and God said "No." It seems that God did not consider me faithful to that kind of service. I thought maybe I could do a fabulous computer program that would greatly shorten the time to bring God's Word of redemption to the rest of the world -- and I did: the software actually works! You can download the working program here and run it on your own PC -- but God did not give me the administrative and motivational skills required to assemble and motivate a team committed to make it happen. At the present time God doesn't even seem to think me worthy of holding gainful employment.
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man
The Apostle describes his own pre-conversion state, not mine. My father was a missionary. I attended church all my life. I was so young when I made a lifetime commitment to doing things God's way, I cannot remember the event. I renew that commitment from time to time, and sometimes I adjust the parameters of what I think it means (see my essay "What's Really Important"), but my life was rather different from the great Apostle's.

So I'm having trouble seeing the value of memorizing this particular Scripture.

2011 March 9 -- Literary Inference, part 2

The "SAD" book I've been reading turns out not to be a novel at all, but rather a chaotic (not even in putative chronological order) collection of ideas, poems, short stories and what-not joined by a common theme of living on Mars. Some of the characters appear in more than one story, but there is little continuity more than a shared back-story.

What caught my attention was a proposed "Constitution" for the planetary government, apparently after they threw off the colonial yoke of the earth. Modelled distantly on the USA Constitution, it appears intended to correct the conservative "flaws" of the prototype by explicitly specifying ObamaCare, collectivist ownership of businesses by the workers, and a 50% tax rate. That's a 50% maximum, but Parkinson's Law applies. It also disavows a strict constructionist interpretation, the abandonment of which (as we have seen here in the USA) amounts to a rule by whim instead of rule of law.

I titled this post as I did because there are some inferences that can be made about author Kim Robinson from reading what he wrote. His left-wing-bigot politics implies that (possibly besides sweat-shop college jobs) he never had to really work for a living. The dust-jacket blurb says very little other than that he lives in Davis (a college town) and shows a 20- or 30-something picture. He writes for a large leftist but voracious audience (sci-fi readers), so he can make a good living for not very much effort. John Ringo is a military veteran, so his experience is in stark contrast. Michael Crichton studied medicine; John Grisham was a lawyer. You write what you know.

It is clear that Robinson knows little of human nature and nothing about governing the same. Everybody on his Mars has a "Right to a minimum living wage for life" and also a contradictory "Right to a meaningful part in the management of one's work." That means if you want a career painting buggy whips, somebody -- who? the state? -- has to pay you for doing it. Robinson imagines that everybody will get to do what they want, but nobody wants to empty garbage cans into a filthy truck; they do it because they cannot find any other paying job for their skills. Robinson happens to write well enough to get paid for something he likes. I like programming, and earlier in my life I got paid well for it; now I don't. There is a glut of programmers and college teachers today, but Robinson does not have an answer for that. Hardly anybody wants to read my writing, so I can't make a living on that either. But on Robinson's Mars I could. Until they figured out it doesn't work that way. It took 70 years for the Russians to throw off the socialist yoke, but they did. The others are not far behind.

The right to own or bear lethal weapons is expressly denied to everyone on Mars, including police or riot control officers. -- "The Constitution of Mars" p.197
It's a great idea, which I could wholeheartedly agree with -- except it is impossible. Even getting it into the Constitution ("A no-brainer," according to Robinson), if there were among the drafters very many Americans of the opportunistic disposition likely to go to Mars. But this neglects the small problem of what constitutes a "lethal weapon" for the purpose of prohibiting it. A kitchen knife is a lethal weapon. So is a car or a truck. When people don't have guns, they use what they have. Even the cord you use to plug a lamp or appliance into the wall is a lethal weapon, twice over: you can use it as a garrote by wrapping it around your victim's neck and tightening it, or by leaving it plugged into the wall with the separated ends exposed and pressed into your victims shoulders (across the heart). Several of the stories in this book refer to one or another high "escarpment" which is hard to climb and easy to fatally fall (or, ahem, be pushed) off of; does this "Constitution" forbid access? Robinson does not think so, for hiking among the cliffs seems to be a frequent Martian pleasure. What if some malefactor unlawfully acquires (or makes) a lethal weapon, how are the (unarmed) police going to take it away from him? Tear gas? Even gas can be lethal in sufficient concentration. So are billy clubs held with a strong arm. The British constables, famous for carrying only billy clubs, now also have access to guns, because they need them.

Robinson's Constitution specifies that the lower legislative house "duma" is to be populated by 500 citizens chosen by lottery (like jury duty, Robinson explains). It does not specify what to do about people who refuse to serve. Juries tend to be dominated by the unemployed and simple wage-slaves; management executives and business owners have "better things to do" with their time, and can easily get themselves excused: no judge in the USA will empanel a jury member who even mentions "nullification," which is the fact that any jury can legally "nullify" the law and return any verdict they choose, without regard to the law or evidence or judge's instructions. What if the lottery selects a trouble-maker? Or if he refuses to come, or comes but devotes his attention to reading or playing hand-held games? What if a power-monger buys up the votes of a bloc of lower-class duma members? Bribery can be hard to prove, like if former duma members who vote along certain lines have no trouble getting highly paid jobs after their duty completes.

Of course (and Robinson admits) the duma is essentially irrelevant; the courts are where everything is decided, as classic left-wing-bigots today know well.

After writing the above, I went to the Wiki article on Kim Robinson. I was not surprised to see I had guessed so well -- except maybe for his age. The picture was current 12 years ago, so I wasn't that far off.

Oh, by the way, the weather is gloomy today too.

2011 March 8 -- Seasonal Affective Disorder

I suspect the term, like so many, was designed from the acronym "SAD" rather than the other way around. I saw it in an otherwise forgettable sci-fi book that earns its genre solely on the location of the story (mostly on Mars); so far (after two chapters) it's a depressing stream of consciousness, people barely surviving in a hostile environment by talking and thinking relational psycho-babble. But the term describes how I feel today, which matches the dark and stormy weather outside. These dim, inefficient flourescent lights cannot overcome the luminary gloom. The novel had a "Bright room" with high-wattage lights to compensate for the darkness of the Antarctic winter season; here in the State of Misery, people say "If you don't like the weather, just wait." The weather website run by the government (which means it's wrong more often than right, but at least viewing it doesn't require browser viruses blocked by my firewall) says tomorrow will be sunny. So today I am SAD.

Things might also be different if I had something useful to do. Last year my sister "helpfully" pointed out that I have reached the age where nobody wants to take me on. Age discrimination may be unlawful, but it is hard to prove. Discrimination laws and seniority rules don't help. In a free market I could compete on the basis of my value to the corporation. I can still program rings around younger guys. During the Depression, my father always had a job. He told prospective employers he would work the first week for free, then if they didn't like his work, they could let him go with no obligation. They always hired him on the spot (and paid him). He was far younger then than I am now, and the economy seems to be much worse now. I like to blame the politicians, but the downturn started under Bush. Oh wait, he was a politician too, from the same FDR cookie-cutter Obama likes to imagine as his hero (see "Change? What Change?"). sigh

2011 March 5 -- Literary Inference

I never heard of John Ringo until last year, when I asked the librarian for help finding some sci-fi. His Live Free or Die was one of the better stories I've read. Not excessively scientific, but a good heroic hero, albeit somewhat beyond reality (as is common in escape lit). I went back to the shelf for another of his books and was appalled at page after page of not-quite explicit sexual perversion. The author is from a military background, so his description of armed conflict is believable; maybe his sex stuff is too (I wouldn't know), but I don't want to read about it. That was a present-day commando super-hero, so when I got to the R's on my search through the library shelves, I carefully chose another of his explicitly sci-fi novels, Into the Looking Glass. I was rewarded with another good war story set in the near future (not named, but apparently Bush was still President), which was about an invasion by aliens and the hero's efforts to subdue them.

I just now finished its sequel, Vorpal Blade, with a co-author apparently chosen for his science background. It shows. Most notable is the absence of potty-mouth vulgarity in ILG, which I notice more when it's there -- seems like every new book these days -- than when it's not. Come to think of it, it was also absent from LFoD (and probably also the commando story, despite its sexual content). I noticed it in Vorpal because the book is full of a pair of substitute non-words used identically. They are italicized to suggest they might be borrowed from the friendly alien race, but never explained. A few discontinuities make the substitutions obvious, such as the missing alliteration in "Maulk, shower, and shave," referring to what the soldiers could do in their 45-minute break between deployments.

I mention this because you can see the different literary style from ILG to Vorpal Blade, which I attribute to the influence of the second author. The science is not significantly better (as far as I can tell), perhaps a little more detail in the area of quantum physics particles (as if that would actually explain faster-than-light travel) and a lot of obeisance to the Darwinist deity completely absent from ILG and LFoD. I'm guessing -- and thus the title of this post -- that Ringo is uncomfortable with the potty-words in print, but his co-author wanted them in; the substitutions were a compromise. There is a pair of epilog chapters, one signed by each author; guess which of them the substitute words occur in. At least now I know which author to avoid.

2011 March 2 -- Democracy

I had a long telephone conversation with "Lulu", and she reminded me that not only did she vote for Obama, she campaigned for him. Apparently she's among the minority of people who still like him. Her thinking seems characteristic of those I encounter who happen to like ObamaCare and socialism: she has not yet thought through the issues clearly.

Lulu's big objection these days seems to be that the new Speaker of the House is "undemocratic" -- meaning that he wants to push through his agenda, nevermind what the people want. She wouldn't listen when I tried to tell her that was the problem with his predecessor, too.

Fortunately, the democracy we live in is (more or less) self correcting. Three years ago, everybody wanted something done about health care. Obama promised to do something about it (so did McCain, but Obama promised more "more of the same" than McCain), so he got elected. Lulu had gone to Obama's town hall meetings, and she was the only one (so she tells me) who was worried about accountability, that everybody else wanted health care. So Obama gave them health care.

What Lulu failed to notice -- probably because she watches the left-wing-bigot news media uncritically -- is that when the people discovered what the health care they asked for turned out to be like, they decided they didn't want it after all. That's when the (now former) Speaker rammed through partisan legislation in disregard of the will of the people. So the people did what is their democratic right and duty: they voted the bums out of office, and replaced them with Congressional representatives who promised to undo the damage. The new Speaker is doing what the voters elected him to do. And if the voters don't like this version, they can vote the new ones out of office next year and replace them with yet somebody else with still a different agenda. That's democracy at work.

Lulu changed the subject.

2011 February 28 -- Identity

David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, does not often reach the depth of insight I generally enjoyed in his late predecessor and founder Moishe Rosen. This was not one of them. Or maybe it was, but I am insufficiently post-modern to appreciate it:
Most of us have enough of a sense of self that we know who we are without a piece of plastic or paperwork. We identify by our name, our gender, family background, marital status, network of friends, occupation, etc.
Those may be important elements of who we are, but (speaking for myself) it is not the core of my identity. To say they are is the mark of modern collectivist politics, which I reject. In another posting, I pointed out that even though at some time in my life I may find it necessary to work in an oppressive union shop, the union does not speak for my interests at the collective bargaining table. I may be in that group, but they do not define who I am, and their leadership does not speak for me. Although I am male by DNA, feminazis and anti-feminists alike do not speak for me. I rarely (if ever) think about masculinity in the context of who I am. More often I think of myself as a computer programmer, but even that is kind of pointless when I have nothing useful to program.

Brickner goes on to refer to "our identity as children of God," which is well and good and probably as close as anybody could ever come to defining me by group label, but the church leadership does not speak for my interests because the group has it wrong (see "Relationshipism" on my home page). Anyway, God created individuals, not groups.

Group-think has an additional pernicious effect. Ultimately it denies our identity. The group replaces you. The union negotiator is empowered to speak for the union members because they are not people, only numbers from which the union (through the employer) forcibly extracts payment. The Pope (and his Protestant colleagues) is empowered to speak for Christendom because church members are not people, only warm places in the pews (and cash in the collection plate). I see this effect nowhere more clearly than at church, where I am a nobody. If I say so, everybody is quick to deny it, but then they go on to ignore me, proving what they just denied. Nobody cares what I think or say or do. A tiny number of people read my blog, but like the hearers of the Word in James 1:23, it has no effect. Even in a small group like Sunday School, where people give lip service to the significance of my education and knowledge, if I say something, they politely wait until I finish speaking, then totally ignore it. It probably does not help that I am not a major donor, but even when I was, it made little or no difference. I am a nobody, and the groups don't change that. Perhaps in the Resurrection things will be different, but I doubt it.

Probably serves me right, because I don't pay much attention to other people -- especially when what they care about is who wins the SuperBowl or what somebody is wearing. 2C in reverse.

2011 February 16 -- Sci-Fi Redemption

Two years ago this month, ChritianityToday ran a cover story "Sci-Fi's Brave New World" by a Professor of Communication at some Christian college, where he described science fiction as offering a non-Christian redemption story to replace the message of the Bible. Not mentioned in his article, Wil McCarthy's Bloom is an example of the kind. I rather enjoyed another McCarthy novel, so I picked up Bloom on the (obviously self-congratulatory) recommendation from the dust jacket blurb. It was less appealing, perhaps because it was earlier and less experienced. Or maybe because he leaned harder on bogus science and potty-mouth vulgarity.

Part of what made Bloom tiresome was that he painted a bleak picture of a dying humanity throughout the whole story, until the last couple chapters, where -- spoiler alert -- the alien life-form offered redemption and eternal life. Before that, the alien is just seen as a relentless amoeba eating up and destroying everything in its way. The first-person hero joins a space quest with a hidden agenda (as we later learn that the rumors are true) to bomb the alien out of existence. The Temples of Transcendent Evolution is a pseudo-religious cult that has deified the alien, and runs terrorist activities to subvert humanity (which had retreated to the asteroids and Jovian moons after the alien swallowed up the earth) in the effort to survive. Then the alien blob, previously thought to be non-sentient and unintelligent, finally communicates verbally that all the people it had consumed were alive and well and happy as part of itself, and everybody lives happily ever after. Without a detailed explanation, the story ends with the human colony on Ganymede having adopted a protocol so that people who wanted to could join the alien nirvana instead of just dying. About as satisfying to me as the ending of Asimov's Foundation series, where humanity eventually (with the author's approval) turned into a telepathic hive.

Inspired by the ChritianityToday story, I wrote my own alien sci-fi story, Lazir, but constrained by the Biblical universe, I could not offer so enticing an end. Everybody hates the ending. People don't like the moral universe God created, so we get substitute redemption stories like Bloom with no moral component. Just "unconditional acceptance and yes, even love" [p.190] and "Sprinkled liberally with flowers, yes, but real ones, biogenic ones, evolved over billions of years like God intended" [p.196].

2011 February 12 -- Archeology and Dates

I mentioned Biblical Archeology Review (BAR) a while back, as supporting the historical data in the Bible. The authors (and probably the editor also) generally prefer to believe otherwise, mostly because their dates don't match. Apparently they date their sites by the pottery styles, but they are pretty vague about how that works and why they consider it reliable. I asked several times over the years for them to run an article describing in detail how they date the sites they dig up, but BAR has not done so. I suspect the archeologists know their methods would not stand up to scrutiny by third-party observers. You know, the way scientific evidence favoring evolution doesn't exist.

The December issue of BAR last year (sometimes I'm a little behind on my reading) doesn't say anything about pottery dating, but it does have this telling remark on page 30:

Similar six-chambered gates were common in the First Temple period... This First Temple period style apparently extended into later periods as well.
Author Yitzhak Magen does not explain why architectural styles can extend over several centuries and across different cultural administrations, but not pottery. I suspect he doesn't have a good answer to that question.

So I continue to read BAR and take all their dates with a liberal amount of skepticism. As I mentioned earlier in another context, I prefer to give the eyewitness accounts the benefit of any doubt.

2011 February 4 -- Stuck Again

I mentioned previously that the cell phone I use was made by the Lowest Grade far-east manufacturer, you know the kind, it displays misshapen eights for zeros so you cannot read the phone number or time at a glance. I learned a new reason to detest this manufacturer: Locked Garbage.

I thought I was setting the time to remind me to take supper off the stove, but it was not responding properly. When I looked more carefully, the display said "Locked" and offered only one option, to unlock -- which required a 4-digit password that I had no idea what it was. I couldn't call the account holder (the phone is disabled) to ask how to unlock it, so I sent her email (computer is on landline). At least she could call me. Not much help if I have an emergency and cannot dial out. She didn't know the password either, so she tried to call the provider, who put her on infinite hold. After several tries we finally guessed at something that works. I still have no idea how it got into that mode, maybe it has Linux Guts.

Any device that can be put into a state requiring a password to become functional again should require a password to get into that state, unless the user specifically requests a fast disable (and then only by entering the password at the time of request). Phones should be easy to use, not easy to make useless. What if I had a medical emergency?

A phone with a small risk of physical loss and subsequent charges during the few minutes until I can notify the provider to disable it, is far more valuable to me than something with a much higher risk of becoming completely and irrecoverably inoperable in my hand. Too bad there is so little competition in this business.

2011 February 2 -- Stuck in the Snow

It doesn't get this deep very often here in the State of Misery. I already knew from the first time the snow got more than a couple inches deep a few years ago, that my car will not make it up the driveway into the garage over packed snow, so I need to clear at least the tire tracks on the slope. I also found out, the previous deep snow, that the car cannot push through eight inches on level ground.

The sun started to come through yesterday when it was six inches deep, so I went out to shovel. The sun didn't last long, and neither did I. Overnight we got another eight inches, but it was a clear sunny day today. In a couple hours -- an hour at a time, before my fingers or face got numb from the cold -- I had the drive tire tracks cleared out to the street and the space between the tracks lowered to an average five inches. They usually don't plow the street here, but today they did. Otherwise I couldn't have left the house until somebody (me? my neighbor?) shovelled off the block of street to where they do plow. My neighbor was shovelling his drive with an ordinary shovel, so I loaned him my snow shovel.

I had my brakes fixed last week, and the guy messed up the hand-brake. I went back on Monday, but he didn't succeed, not even with the shop manual (which I have). So I went to another place today. This guy has a computer system with all the cars. It shows.

The snow was a little deeper at the stop sign just past the repair shop, and I got stuck. Fortunately there wasn't much traffic, and another driver got out and pushed. Several blocks away, I couldn't even make it up the slope to the stop sign, so I just backed up to a clear (business) driveway where I could turn around, and went another way. And got stuck at the next stop sign. I hurried home. There is a little rise where the secondary street toward my house goes uphill, but fortunately the sun had melted the thin layer of snow the plows leave (or maybe they salted it), and it was clear. I'm not going out again for at least a couple days. Fortunately I don't much need to.

The church just now called to cancel Wednesday night meeting. Nobody would be able to get up their driveway to leave.

I still like California weather: If you want snow, you get in the car and drive to it. Then you go home.

2011 January 27 -- "Hard" Sci-Fi

Going up and down the stacks in the library, it's hard not to notice that most -- perhaps all -- of the science fiction is by male authors, and much of the fantasy is by female authors. So I was naturally dubious when I saw a woman's name on a book with a sci-fi sticker on its spine. A significant proportion of the books stickered as sci-fi are right next to books by the same author and stickered as fantasy, with dragons or other classic fantasy characters in the cover art. Further examination of the inside jacket blurb shows these disparate books to be in the same series. There were no other books by this author, and no dragons on this cover, but it did have that surrealistic flavor of a Salvador Dali painting, so I read the dust jacket all the more carefully. It begins:
"Acclaimed hard-SF author Linda Nagata introduces a new world..."
I wasn't familiar with the term "hard-SF" but I supposed it meant she stuck with the science instead inventing things like dragons and magical vapors and re-incarnation more commonly found in the fantasy genre. Well, that's what Wikipedia later confirmed to me, but the reality for this book is something else. I did not find any dragons, but the book is permeated by magical vapors and re-incarnation and that anything-goes lack of unbreakable rules which makes fantasy so uninteresting to me. I gave up after a couple chapters. One of the on-line reviews I subsequently looked at suggests that the story gets tedious about halfway through -- I thought so in the first 10% -- so I don't feel so bad.

At least Louis L'Amour (the next author in my reading list) is strong on realism. It's not sci-fi, but at least it's not fantasy.

2011 January 26 -- Nobility in Fiction

Reading the next volume in Drake's "RCN" (Republic of Cinnabar Navy) space opera series, it occurs to me that there might be an alternative explanation for the prevalence of nobility in fiction: indolence and sloth, mostly having to do with the fact that wealth and power are the perquisites of nobility. Escape literature -- notably fiction -- succeeds best when the heroes and heroines live lives the rest of us can only wish for, lives of unmitigated wealth and power, with a healthy dash of superpowers thrown in.

The hero of last week's Collapsium was a genius who solved difficult astronomical problems in a few hours, and as a result had vast untold wealth. RCN's hero is a dashing young space lieutenant with battle savvy far exceeding his years, resulting in prize money in great quantities -- in the real world military people go into it for the thrill, not the money (because there generally isn't any), but this is fiction -- not mention that his father is former Speaker of the Senate (equivalent to  our President), which gets him into beneficial positions not available to mere mortals.

Drake's heroine is a computer whiz who, like Star Trek's Spock, can penetrate the deepest alien military computer system firewalls in a few seconds or minutes and retrieve vast quantities of usable information far exceeding the bandwidth available to any wireless connections constrained by mere physics, nevermind that her skills require a mental concentration (which Drake admits) physiologically unlikely in women -- I take this as Drake's genuflection to the established religion of feminism, because his hero is more realistically male. There might actually exist female super-nerds like Adele in the real world today, but they are remarkably absent from the media who dearly would wish to report reality conforming to their feminist prejudices. It is not that there is gender prejudice holding women back, because computer professionals are the most devout of all feminazis. The only credible impediment to female computer superiority is physiology. But I digress.

Both top players in the RCN series came from noble families. The culture in which they live has devolved into a sort of "wild west" where a fast handgun is important to survival and pistol duels are the preferred response to insult. And of course Adele is excellent at that too. They have loyal servants with no ambition of their own to rise above their station, but only to serve their masters, a social situation which officially died here on earth in 1776, after a long period of decline.

Why is that? Why the vast numbers of fantasy novels on the library shelves, which place the heroines (and occasional heroes) in a medieval culture with kings and (especially) princesses and magic and occasional dragons? I believe it's because we want to imagine ourselves wealthy and powerful, and the authors must write books people want to read (or they will not get paid). More than that, it's much easier to write books about people with wealth and power, because those attributes solve all kinds of difficulties our heroes might find themselves in; nobody likes a story where the leading character does not do well. If you believe otherwise, tell me about your reaction to my first effort at fiction, Lazir; everybody who's read it so far (except my sister, who wouldn't dare say anything negative to me) hates the ending. I can't change it, it had to end that way. But my next effort will probably be slightly more "inspirational". I don't have the freedom to put kings and nobles into a period of history where they do not exist, but I can do wealth.

2011 January 17 -- Collapsium

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches -- George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, 1903
My father quoted to me a variant of this line, to which he added "and those who can't teach, teach teachers," when I told him I was taking among my electives at the university, a course from the Education department. He was absolutely right, it was the most worthless course I ever took in my life. I have subsequently seen reason to expand that second clause into any teaching activity, such as the writing of books -- at which I have made my own feeble attempts.

Anyway, the occasion of this thought is reading a sci-fi novel by Wil McCarthy, who according to the back-cover blurb was a rocket scientist at Lockheed Martin, and later into robotics. His writing style in this novel is somewhat pompous -- or perhaps that is only the effect of his chapter titles in the style of 19th-century literature -- and his characterization is a little weak, but that's not what your read sci-fi for. Instead, what he has done is take off on a hint at the end of a Sciences article identifying mass with motion in "zero-point field" (ZPF) energy, which suggests that technology to manipulate gravity might arise from future ZPF energy research. McCarthy's novel explores a future where that has occurred.

The title substance of this novel refers to tiny (diameter of a proton) artificial black holes previously invented by the hero of the novel and carefully spaced out to induce sci-fi properties such as programmable matter called "wellstone" and fax machines made from it which transmit (or copy) humans across space, and (during the course of the story) faster-than-light communications. And of course robots and very smart computers.

Artificial gravity and tractor beams and supraluminal (faster than light) communications and travel are not new in science fiction, but McCarthy spends more effort than most authors to suggest how it might happen. There is a substantial appendix with definitions of terms, both real scientific and fiction (identified as invented by the author), and references to sources of the science -- including two web links (both long since broken, but still available on other pages). I am no expert in quantum physics, so the science here is tough going for me, but not so tough as to see some of the places where McCarthy has departed from the science (including misspelling some names, although Google fortunately knows how to correct for that), which gives rise to my Shaw quote. It is, after all, fiction.

But a jolly good read, nonetheless, with none of the potty-mouth vulgarity and explicit sexuality that mars so much of modern fiction. All the better because of his irreverent departure from political correctness.

Some of it, anyway. He still clings to "billions of years of evolution," but deprecates as "a load of hooey" the idea of individual autonomy, and has "Human genetics ... always included a mechanism for awe in the face of celebrity," so that people voluntarily opted for a ruling monarch. He might be onto something there, but I suspect it transcends human monarchy to a need we all share for bowing before God. Augustine said it in his Confessions:

God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.

2011 January 15 -- Non-Contender

If your politics happens to match the extreme left wing preferences of our current President-Trainee, or if your religion conforms to that of the people I recently blogged against, or if you consider potty-mouth vulgarity to be an acceptable alternative to wit and charm, or if you see as a virtue unwavering integrity in support of vice, or if you get a thrill watching people cast as morons and clowns for trying to stop the racial genocide in our country, you might find something in this movie to praise, but I cannot recommend it. It was fiction, written by a left-wing bigot in support of left-wing bigotry.

There was one point I could agree to: there should be no sexual double standard between men and women, but unlike the fictional heroine senator vice-president designee, I believe everybody should be held accountable for their moral choices, and sex is a moral choice, even in our day and age. The filmmaker tacitly understands that, because otherwise the accusations never would have been made. Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

The fictional heroine was portrayed as a conscientious atheist of absolute integrity and morals. Maybe such a person exists somewhere, but I never met nor heard of them. There is no basis for integrity and morals in atheism, and the American people implicitly understand that, and they do not elect atheists to Congress and the Senate.

2011 January 12 -- Bitter Cold

It may turn out to be the coldest day of the year here -- the government NOAA weather website described it as "bitter cold", nevermind that my friend out west said it was much colder there. My new electric blanket keeps the bed warm and inviting: the previous model (from the same company) set at max warmed the bed up from icy to very cold, but market economics still works to correct blunders like that; perhaps their next model will also omit the velvet nap and therefore stop throwing itself off the bed to the left. It usually takes an hour at its maximum setting to warm me up to comfort in the evening, but last night it took closer to two hours. The bed control has no pilot light (or it's so dim, it cannot be seen from across the room with the lights out), so I must bend over and hold it up just so to see the LCD reflected from ambient room light, to know if it's on or not; sometimes I can feel the bed is warm to touch, but today it wasn't (except under the covers).

Anyway, lying there I could hear the "tink-tink" from the ceiling heater -- a most foolish place for a heater, but I didn't build the house -- as it cycled on and off (nevermind that the thermostat was turned fully "off"), keeping the room temperature from falling below 40-55 (it seems to depend on outside temperature and wind, today the room was 41). The rooms I don't use have their heaters turned off at the breaker box.

The TV I inherited from my late mother, which does not receive the new frozen-block digital broadcasts, but I use it to watch library movies, the buttons on it were probably made in China: half the time pressing the on/off button makes a pop in the speakers, but does not turn it off. Today, changing the volume setting (unlike the old rotary volume controls in the "good old days" which remembered where they were even with power off, I always need to turn the volume up to normal after turning the set on), today the volume button also changed the channel, which then stuck in the pressed state continuously changing the channel away from where the VCR was programmed. Banging on it a few times got it unstuck, but it was tricky to get the volume and channel both correct. Cold apparently does nasty things to plastic elastomers used in cheap botton switches.

I guess I could turn the thermostats up to keep the house at a tolerable temperature, but considering how fast the temperature declines to intolerably cold after I turn it off, I have to assume that most of that energy leaks off through the walls and roof. The Obama campaign-lies energy tax makes that rather more expensive than previous years, and I don't know when or whether the Bush+Obama economy will turn around enough to make gainful employment likely again. Certainly not this year. sigh

2011 January 5 -- Eyewitness Account

I think it was C.S.Lewis who said something like "The truth is so big, it's hard to miss all of it."

Sci-fi writers generally tend to be careful about science -- except of course for the pseudo-science otherwise known as Darwinism. David Drake seems to be one of the better sci-fi writers in my recent experience. His hero and heroine are pointedly not religious, but Drake does not bog down the story with it as many others do. These two characters, like many fictional heroes, are rather too good at their specialty to be true, but that's generally expected in escape lit like sci-fi. At least it's better than being clumsy or stupid and succeeding only by sheer luck.

I just finished the second volume in Drake's "RCN" (Republic of Cinnabar Navy) space opera series. No lurid sex scenes, minimal cussing, and both hero and heroine -- who are friends and professional colleagues, but not lovers, of each other, although that may change in one of the many sequels -- behaved themselves heroically. Basically a good read, but not very remarkable.

What captured my attention was a remark about halfway through, where computer whiz Adele Mundy (it is part of the "fiction" of many modern authors that they try to give to female characters roles of excellence that in real life men tend to be better at, and this is one of them) notices a historical document that did not fit with some of the Darwinist presuppositions of their presumed audience.

Her retort: "I wasn't there and the writer very possibly was." This is an excellent insight on giving preference to eyewitness accounts in the absence of positive disproof, a virtue that is very much in short supply in connection to the eyewitness documents otherwise known as the Bible. Of course neither Drake nor his heroine would agree to the application, but truth is truth.

2011 January 4 -- Don't Ask

As mentioned previously, my access to the pablum news media is somewhat limited. Sometimes it takes a couple weeks to find out important information that the left-wing media bigots bury in their general assault on thinking America. By then it is often no longer important. Yesterday I learned that our President-Trainee Obama had on December 22 signed into law a lame-duck bill abolishing any restriction against homosexual behavior in the USA military.

My first reaction was that he had thus invited the Taliban to attack us directly in a recapitulation of 9/11, because not only do they now have proof of gross immorality in American military, they  also know that the conscientious servicemen of high moral purity -- some 30% self-identified -- would leave, making our military ineffectual in retaliation against enemies, just as happened in the Episcopal church seminaries, which gained the reputation as hotbeds of homosexuality some 30 years ago for the detriment of the whole denomination today. Perhaps the 30% number in the military is higher than will act on their presumed morality, but I know at least one young person whose plans for a military career will now be otherwise directed (and I know of no people for whom that is no problem).

After further thought I realized that servicemen may actually be safer than before the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule was abolished, because at least now they know who their potential sexual assailants are. Then almost immediately it occurred to me that Obama has opened the military up to sexual discrimination lawsuits, because segregating women from men in the barracks and showers discriminates against the women's right to be assaulted by sexual predators equally with their straight colleagues in the men's barracks. Of course no woman in her right mind would want that, but neither do the men. "Separate is inherently unequal," the Court told us in 1954.

The editorials I read this morning seem to think this is a minor blip in a serious agenda to demolish the First Amendment to the Constitution, so that they can criminalize Biblical teaching against sin, as is already happening in some European countries. The majority of the American people do not want that -- nor the destruction of marriage as one man + one woman -- but the majority also have always opposed unrestricted murder of unborn children, and see how far that got them.

Make no mistake, the First Amendment is under assault. Prior to last year the Establishment clause was perversely held to prohibit the public expression of religious sentiment (atheism exempted) in public where it could be deemed as representing the will of the people. Then last year the reigning monarch in this country (King SCOTUS) ruled that state funded agencies were permitted to enforce a sectarian policy preventing certain religions from equal protection under the law.

It is the nature of government that the people in power get to make the rules. Our Founding Fathers tried to set up a "Rule of Law", but that is only as good as the will of the enforcers, which at this time is not very much. Last month, the people in power -- although already on notice that their policies were out of favor with the citizens of this country -- pushed through some more of their anti-democratic agenda.

Will it last past the next Taliban attack on USA soil? Don't ask.

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