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2011 December 31 -- Giving People Their Wish

The phone made a funny "twang" I had not heard before. I guess I had heard the sound at least once, because it was the ring I'd programmed for people who block their phone number from showing up on my CallerID. Ever since the loonies in Sacramento delayed the availability of CallerID in California for a couple years while the phone companies scrambled to allow the number to be blocked -- except in the one case where you really want it blocked, which is in calling a toll-free business number -- my policy has been: If you don't want me to know you are calling, I will give you your wish. I told the phone to ignore the call, and as promised, I still don't know who it was.

For a while I had a device that detected the blocked number and answered with a preprogrammed message: "This phone does not accept anonymous calls." But ChickenShack products are made in China, so it soon stopped working. Then I bought a CallerID-aware answering machine, which I programmed to do the same, but lightning took it out. Nobody makes such a product any more, that I can find. Probably because it didn't really stop the calls I most wanted to ignore, which is the telemarketers. At first they called from lines that had no number to display, so it showed up as "Unavailable" rather than blocked, the same as small businesses with PBX. Then I think the Feds got on their case, so most telemarketers now display their toll-free number, and they mostly honor the Federal "Do not call" registry.

Except one, which steals random numbers from the phone book to display. It's the same recording every time, and the Feds don't want to enforce the feeble "Can-Spam" law against them, so if I see a caller number I don't recognize, I just pick it up and hang up immediately. Any real callers try again -- that happened this morning -- but the telemarketing robot just goes on to the next random number in its scan. The liars and criminals who run that scam don't care about me or my wishes, so I don't give them anything either.

It reminds me of the story Jesus told about a rich man who travelled to a far country to be appointed king, which is apparently a true story. It seems some of his subjects didn't want him to be king over them, so they sent a lobbying delegation to oppose the appointment. Their efforts failed, so after the new king returned and handled his financial business (which helped him decide who to make governors over his cities), he called in the people who did not want him to be their king, and gave them their wish. He would be king over living people, and they were given the alternative they effectively asked for [Luke 19:27]. Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

2011 December 24 -- Gender Wars

In the government-funded established religion of the USA, the second most inviolate doctrine (behind Darwinism) is absolute gender identity apart from reproductive organs. Everybody knows it's pure religion with no basis in fact or reality, but it's not politically correct to say so. Except every once in a while the science overwhelms the religion, and we get an article like "The Case for Girls" (p.122 in the current FastCompany), always written by a person of female persuasion, because no guy would risk excommunication for making the slightest hint in that direction.

The author is bemoaning the fact that parents prefer boys over girls. That ordinarily wouldn't be a problem, but for the fact that it is now legal in most countries (including the USA) to kill off children of the wrong flavor. Abortion has been used for racial genocide in this country for decades, and now it's starting to be used to kill off girls. More than persons of African origin, feminist women enjoy better representation among the power-mongers, so they can do something about being targeted (other than just stopping the killing, which would be the best solution). This article features a "mock" ad campaign to promote having female children. Some of the examples they show are more revealing than an intelligent feminazi might wish.

The fine print on the first ad announces: "Collaboration, empathy and communication... Research shows that these qualities are baked into female DNA" and presumably not into male DNA. So they admit men and women are different in kind. It goes on to suggest that these qualities make better national leaders. A data strip at the bottom of the page announces "33 countries that have had a female president (but not of course the U.S.!)" The number of actual female heads of state today is of course much smaller, probably something under 5% (it's hard to find reliable figures). If women are so much better at it, why aren't there more of them? It's not the so-called "glass ceiling" because that same data strip proudly reports "52.4% American managers who are women." My observation is that the percentage of women managers is much higher in banks and other places where their skills are more valuable. When women do a better job, they get the job. Middle managers need those feminine qualities, so they get hired. Top management and national leadership need different skills, and the people making those decisions generally know it.

Apparently most countries -- including, so far, the USA -- don't want collaboration and empathy in the person who needs to deal with terrorists crashing jet planes into skyscrapers in our largest city. Some countries (perhaps eventually including the USA) might dabble with the idea to see how it works, just as we gave a fair shot to an unqualified person of minority race three years ago, but when you want strong leadership, very few women are as qualified as men. The ad admits there is a difference, and the voters usually select the best person. It's the way the system works.

A sidebar to this article suggests that "The next Steve Jobs will be a chick." The guy is a comedian; he's entitled to his opinion, but he's hardly qualified to make that kind of prediction. Female brains are wired up differently than men, which is why we have this debate. It makes them better at some things, and not so good at others. If you work really hard at something, you might become reasonably good at it even if you don't have a natural aptitude for it. But to be the world's greatest, you must both have the aptitude and work hard. Steve Jobs, like Thomas Edison and others before him, was the top of his industry. Women can try for it, but too many men want the job and are better qualified.

A few pages later, another article (again, by a female writer) profiles the current female CEO of Xerox. Xerox became big by a guy creating a new copier technology. There are no female technologists doing that kind of invention. None. Nobody at Xerox -- not even the guys -- is doing it, so the article describes their transformation into a services company. Services require a different kind of thinking than technology, and women do it better. Ergo, she is the right person for the job.

Women are different than men. Get used to it.

2011 December 22 -- ... But Liars Figure

Last time I looked, the USA ranked dead last among industrial nations for math and science education. It shows. Here I am, reading the current issue of FastCompany, which as I noted earlier, is written and published by people whose elevators don't get as high as the people they report on. On page 40 there is this breathless paean praising new detergent bottles made from cardboard. It's filled with innumerate numerical lies, telling how much better these cardboard bottles are for the environment than the plastic bottles they replace.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for using renewable trees instead of petro-chemical plastics, because the last oil was made thousands (or, if you are of the Darwinist religion, millions) of years ago; when it's gone, it's gone. New trees are still growing, with no end in sight. Besides, much of our oil still comes from the Arabs, and I'd rather not be dependent on them after 9/11.

First the credible facts. The plastic bottles are "at least 80% recycled plastic." The recycling process washes the old plastics, "1 gallon per 37.2 bottles." Making cardboard bottles also requires water, but each gallon makes 76 bottles. Elsewhere they tell us that the cardboard bottles require a plastic liner, which uses 1/3 as much resin as the plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are shipped whole, but the cardboard ones are "halved" (probably made that way) and stacked, so 6 times more fit into a truck.

They don't tell us that shippers charge by the ton, not by volume. There is some extra "tare" weight for shipping crates holding plastic bottles, and the truckers might charge slightly extra to cover the higher percentage the overhead weight of their trucks costs them, but not so much that the actual shipping cost ratio is 6:1. If it were, they could ship the plastic bottles as halves also. It's obvious there's not that big a benefit as to overwhelm the cost and effort to put the halves back together. There's a bigger benefit for the cardboard bottles, because the liner must be inserted, which would be quite difficult through the narrow bottleneck.

They don't tell us how much energy goes into each process, although there are hints that the cardboard process might be more complicated (binding the halves back together and inserting the liner before filling). That's probably significant. Energy is more valuable than water, and it's mostly not renewable. The carbon freaks also care about the carbon load of energy, although that is really a political, rather than environmental issue.

When you count the plastic liners, it looks like each gallon of water makes only 45 bottles, merely a 20% improvement. It takes some algebra to figure that out from the given information, which is probably too much to expect from people who came through the American public education system.

The final paragraph is the worst:

Most plastic goes to the dump, where a cubic meter holds either 520 empty 1-liter plastic jugs or 40,000 pouches. Cardboard fares better: 81% is recycled in the U.S.
If you were reading carefully, you might have noticed in the previous paragraph that all of that recycled cardboard comes from the stores. Consumers don't waste their time recycling stuff. Stores have empty boxes (which the recycler pays them for), but not empty jugs, so boxes get recycled and jugs don't. No consumer is going to separate the plastic liner from the cardboard shell, and then discard the liner only; like bimetalic cans, the recyclers don't want mixed materials, so everything goes to the dump. Replacing the plastic jugs with cardboard jugs will not change the behavior: the jugs will still go to the dump, bringing the new percentage of recycled cardboard down to something much closer to today's percentage of recycled plastic.

Furthermore, plastic is stronger than cardboard, so the empty cardboard jugs are much more bulky (that's why it's only 6 times more compact to halve them, instead of 20x like the plastic might be) and will consume more space in the dump, not less. However, cardboard is biodegradable; microbes eat it and make -- horrors! -- carbon dioxide, which trees eat and make new wood, from which new cardboard can be made.

There is another lie hidden here in this last paragraph. The 520 number comes from the number of round objects that can be packed compactly in a cubical space. Detergent bottles are usually designed to be squarish, thereby to get them to fit more compactly. But empty bottles are all crushed flat in the garbage truck less than two blocks from where they are picked up. The number is pure fiction.

As I said, I'm in favor of reducing our dependency on imported petroleum, but not for the given reasons, which are nothing more than marketing PR (aka lies) fabricated to justify charging higher prices. Too bad the editors of FC lack the numerical skills to weed out and discard the noise, so they can report on the significant innovation.

Oh well.

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2011 December 20 -- Loving What You Create

I blew off a couple hours this morning reading a novel. Well, I stopped before I got halfway through, but it was a delightful read, if I do say so myself. I need to say so myself, because nobody else likes it. Mostly they don't like the way it ends. It's not the "inspirational" genre, where everybody lives happily ever after. It's not any genre at all. OK, it's sci-fi, but from a Biblical perspective.

Thinking about it later in the day reminded me of a curious quote in the current (soon to be previous) WIRED magazine, which features a tribute to the late Steve Jobs. The main article was written by Steve Levy, surrounded by sidebars from other celebrities offering their own praises. Jobs was indeed an impressive person, one of the few true visionaries in this business. I've said so myself several times over the years. Levy quotes him [p.239]

"Does Steve Ballmer love PCs?" he ranted to me in 2002. "Does Michael Dell love PCs? These people don't love what they create. And people here [at Apple] do!"
This is an important insight. You can tell, the people at Pixar also loved what they created. The people who designed the Miata sports car (which I drive) loved what they created. Except for the steering wheel, which was constrained by government regulations, and the tonneau cover, which was a check-off not in the original design, the car is a delight to drive. Like the Sprite it was designed to resemble (I had a Sprite before I got the Miata), but without the mechanical problems. Pixar movies are some of the best stories in the industry, even compared to live action. And y'all know my opinion of the Macintosh computer, which exceeds all its imitators -- including its own successor, OSX. I mean, if you have too use unix, OSX is the best of the breed, but it doesn't hold a candle to the Steve Jobs' original.

When I lived in San Francisco, I was once out with a person who wanted a banana split. They seemed to be out of style at the time, and we fruitlessly called dozens of ice cream parlors, none of whom served banana splits. We finally got to the "P"s in the yellow pages. "Lady," the guy said, "if you haven't had a PollyAnn banana split, you haven't had a banana split!" That was true in more ways than one. The place was on the far side of the City, and he had no place in his tiny hole-in-the-wall shop for anybody to sit down and eat, so we stood there at the counter and watched him work his magic. He obviously loved his work. While we were sitting in the car finishing up our banana splits, he came out to the car with two single-scoop cones. "Dessert," he announced. I never went to another ice cream place in San Francisco the whole time I lived there.

There was a Pizza & Pipes place in Marin County, across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. The pizza was not bad, but the guy playing the pipe organ loved what he did. It was a delight to watch as well as listen.

Somebody else loved what they created, long before the Miata or the Macintosh or Toy Story: "God loved the world..." It doesn't say "God loved each person," although we generally read it that way, but "God loved the world." God created the world. The Greek word is KOSMOS (kosmos), which everywhere else refers to the created universe; I think it does here too. We, you and I, are not individual creations, we are born from our parents by natural processes, but God created the world. He loved what He created, the way the engineers at Apple and Mazda, and the animators at Pixar, and the guy at PollyAnn, and even I, loved our creations. And what God created (again, in my opinion, like His imitators) was "very Good." You cannot make truly great products unless you love your work.

Perhaps also like His successors and imitators who love our work, when God's work went bad -- not His fault, but it's a long story -- God stepped in to fix the problem. That's the rest of the verse. It's what Christmas is all about, God fixing the Creation that He loved.

I hope you have a job where you can love what you do. Very few people have that pleasure. Nobody at Microsoft, except possibly Bill Gates himself, but he's gone. Steve Jobs is gone now, too. Once the bean counters take over, it won't be fun any more. I still love programming, but it's more fun when there's somebody to enjoy it. That's gone, I hope not permanently.


In case you're interested, my novel is Lazir, here on my website. You won't like the ending, but I can't help that, because it's not my story. I have to tell it the way I got it.

2011 December 19 -- What Christians Believe

My friend at church asked help for dealing with an atheist email correspondent. It seems she offered the lack of contradictions in the Bible as evidence for Christianity, and was unprepared for the usual atheist list of same. It's not like there are no answers here, but the problem was making the claim in the first place. That's not what convinced any of us to become Christians, nor is it likely to convince her friend. At my suggestion, she asked, and my suspicion was confirmed.

Many -- perhaps most -- of us in the church became Christians at an early age for social reasons. It's what everybody in your peer group was doing, so you did it. Then when we get older and start hearing what the atheists say about our faith, most college students abandon it as indefensible. They're right, it is. Fortunately, I got a late start on that criticism, and came under the influence of a Christian rationalist before the atheists won me over. The result is that my belief system morphed into something different than I grew up with. Some of the new version you can see in my essay "What Really Matters" and some you can see in my still-evolving new understanding of "Relationshipism" vs "The God of Truth" (see also links on my home page). The religion taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul, and all through the Bible is a religion of obeying God's commands, which I call "1+2C". God graciously forgives the karma of our past mistakes (when we repent), so that the future is perfect.

So here now is the current issue of ChristianityToday, where Editor Mark Galli is explaining their new 5-year Plan for teaching what Evangelicals believe, and justifying it on the basis of our poor showing to date:

In a 2004 Gallup study of 1,000 American teens, nearly 60 percent of those who self-identified as evangelical were not able to correctly identify Cain as the one who said "Am I my brother's keeper?" Over half could not identify either "Blessed are the poor in spirit" as a quote from the Sermon on the Mount, or the road to Damascus as a place where Paul received his blinding vision.
Considering that comparable percentages of American teens typically cannot identify places of world geography nor American political leaders, this is hardly surprising, nor overly distressing. People -- including teens -- learn facts that are important to themselves, and neither history nor geography nor religion tend to make it above sports stats and celebrity trivia in their priorities. I could wish that people cared more about what they say they believe, but what they say and what they do are so often at odds. The shocker, however, Galli goes on to say,
Summarizing a 2009 study on spiritual maturity, Barna Group reported that "one of the widely embraced notions about spiritual health is that it means 'trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible.'" Barna also found that four out of five self-described born-again Christians concurred that spiritual maturity is "trying hard to follow the rules."
He didn't say what alternatives were offered, but I suspect the lay people might be onto something.

The accepted dogma among evangelical leadership is that you don't get to Heaven by following rules, which is very curious, considering that Jesus said quite the opposite. The Apostle Paul devoted a significant part of his letter to Galatia telling them that Jewish ceremonial laws did not purchase their salvation, then the rest of the book explaining that they still are expected to follow God's 1+2C commands. He even included substantial lists of Do's and Don'ts. The Protestant theologians -- perhaps including Galli -- tend to get stuck in the first half.

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2011 December 13 -- Fast Track to Failure

Reading sci-fi is becoming a little more tedious, because most of the library books I am willing to read are part of one or another series, which the library does not have the prequels to, requiring me to send out for them on inter-library loan. I've been doing that, but it's cumbersome. Dean Koontz does not do serials, and he writes tolerably clean, but he seems to have only one story (many different titles). His villains are always the government. Maybe that's better than the villains always being big corporations (as you see in leftist movies, which is most of them), maybe not, but it gets tiresome. Also, his salvation comes from outer space, deus ex machina. That story is 2011 years old this month, but it's not the way he tells it.

So I'm back to reading magazines for a while. Today it's FastCompany. 15 years ago I read every issue cover to cover, but then they printed over my name a letter I didn't write. It kind of soured me on their editorial integrity. Every mag edits the letters they print, but only a few (TIME and FC among them) add in language defamatory to the person whose name they printed it over. It was shortly before I dropped off the TIME mailing list that they changed a letter from AfricanEnterprise Director Michael Cassidy so it read like he was promoting "safe sex" (a euphemism for unsafe sex, which as a conservative evangelical ministry, he would never condone). At least they apologized to him; FC refused in my case.

More recently I'm coming to a clearer understanding of how business and the economy works. My father sometimes quoted to me the aphorism, "Those who can, do; those who can't teach." The particular occasion I recall most vividly, he then added, "and those who can't teach, teach teachers." I had told him that I signed up for an elective in the Education department at Berkeley. He was absolutely right: it was the most worthless course I ever took anywhere. I think magazine writing is something like teaching. The people who can make it in science or business or electronics, do those things, and the others write about it in TIME and WIRED and FastCompany. It's a little like watching Obama play at being President. He is completely clueless about how to run a country in such a way that it increases the wealth of its citizens, and he has surrounded himself with advisors who know even less. They don't know what they don't know.

Take FC page 66 in the November issue. It features two little mini-articles. The top half of the page is about "Ads that Follow You," and the full-page ad facing it is an Intel ad promoting just that. It seems that the publisher arranged the ads to be targeted to the editorial content. The idea is that if you give your contact information to a business, and they send you an email, and you open it, Bingo! Now every website you visit has targeted ads promoting products from that business. They do it with cookies. I always knew cookies were harmful, so I disallow them in my browser. A new computer I got earlier this year does not give me that option, so guess what? I mostly refuse to use it on the internet. I do not see popup ads, never did -- except in those newer computers I mostly avoid. I think if I were not so lucky (prescient?) to have turned cookies off, I would be making lists of products and vendors not to patronize. Maybe other people like the hassle. Otherwise why would they do it?

The bottom of this page reports with disdain the proliferation of book titles beginning "All I Know About Business I Learned from..." with some improbable source. To prove the foolishness of the craze, they offered two actual books with such a title and two they just made up, then invited the reader to guess which. The difference was obvious -- to me if not to them. Which proves to me only how little they know about the topic they write about.

The modern mind seems to have abandonned the core business principle of offering value for value. Of course such people will ultimately not succeed. We saw that in the "dot-bomb" implosion a few years ago. The cover story in FC is about how Apple, Amazon, Google, and FaceBook are competing to become the next monopoly business. Each of those companies got where they are by offering outstanding value, but -- according to FC -- their leadership seems now trying to expand into other areas on the basis of panache. They won't succeed. The FC editors don't have a clue.

Apple has some outstanding products, but Steve Jobs, the wizard who did that, is out of the picture. Sell.

Microsoft used to be at the top of the industry, but Bill Gates, the wizard who did that has been out of the loop for some time now. Guess what? They are no longer on top.

Although GoogleMaps no longer work for me, and their search engine crowds the top of the hit list with paid ads (and their own inaccessible stuff), Google is still a better value than the competition.

I don't know as much about Amazon and FaceBook. It remains to be seen whether the fluff will overwhelm sound business policies or not, but "The business whose ultimate purpose is not to help people will ultimately fail." I call it 2C. Some people stumble into their success, but they cannot stay there unless they know what they are doing and why.

FastCompany is still around as a business because their business is entertainment, not business, not even information. Their customers, like the customers of WIRED, read the way I read fiction, because I don't have to think too hard about it. So they don't know what they are writing about, who cares? It's just mindless diversion, an escape from the stress of running a business that succeeds. Like sci-fi with its phasers and warp drive and artificial intelligence and evolution, it's all fiction. The real world doesn't run that way, and that's the whole point.

2011 December 6 -- TIME Again

Most of my life I read TIME magazine for news. Both my parents read TIME, and we mostly did not have a functional TV in the house, so when I started being interested in news, I also subscribed. I guess everybody else gets their news from the left-wing bigots on the national media, because the magazines slowly reduced their news coverage until all of them were either defunct or mere opinion rags, TIME among them. So when TIME declined (or neglected, I don't know which) to offer to renew my subscription five years ago, I was a little disappointed, but not a lot. In medical or automotive waiting rooms I still pick up TIME to see what they thought important. This week the first issue of a gift subscription arrived, and it's interesting to see the balance between left-slanted news and overt left-wing opinion seems to have stabilized close to where I left it, maybe a little more news. In the "Goode Olde Dayes" TIME used to call itself a "news magazine" but while they no longer use that appellation, old habits are hard to kill.

Anyway, the cover story this week is "Why don't they like me" Romney. It's something of a giggle to watch the left-wing bigots try to explain the right-wing politicians, just as the right-wing bigots stumble over the leftist politicians (for example in WORLD, which I still pay to read). It was especially fun watching their respective 2004 election coverages, which were almost exact mirror images: TIME reported how "the Republicans are struggling..., and the Democrats have this opportunity...," while WORLD reported how "the Democrats are struggling..., and the Republicans have this opportunity..." 'Twill be fun watching the same contest all over again.

Between now and maybe August, all the attention is on the Republican hopefuls. TIME still seems rather left of center. When I was last reading it, TIME's token "conservative" columnist was conservative the way an SUV is a fuel-efficient economy car -- which it is, compared to a Hummer. Today author Joe Klein mostly hides his own political bias in covering Romney, but some of it leaks through despite his best efforts at balance. Lines like these are clues:

[Romney] has disavowed his greatest achievement -- universal health care...
(y'all know my opinion of RomneyCare) and
he has not agreed to cooperate with any potentially tough, or even balanced, mainstream media stories about him, including this one.
Every smart politician knows the left-wing media crucify conservatives mercilessly. And then,
Some of the best ["centrist"] ideas were born in the Republican Party and adopted, with modifications, by the Democrats.
Of course virtually all ideas adopted by the Democrats in the last three decades were not in any way "best" except from a left-wing perspective. Just because left-leaning Republicans thought of them doesn't make them good.

This article has one important insight, and to his credit, author Klein acknowledges it:

In sum, the form of capitalism that Romney practiced helped revive the US corporate sector in the 1980s and made it more efficient in the short term but left it less likely to produce new products and technologies in the long term -- with the exception of Wall Street, where phenomenal salaries lured the smartest young Americans to create fabulous new computerized gambling devices with, as former Fed chairman Paul Volker has noted, no redeeming social value.
Joe Klein (in my opinion, accurately) sees this as a picture of the kind of President Romney would make.

2011 December 3 -- What I Actually Wrote

Magazines rarely publish the true substance of the letters their readers send in. ChristianityToday is no exception. Here's the whole letter I sent them a couple months ago (see "A Left-Leaning Text?") with what they published highlighted in red:

The subtitle of "A Left-Leaning Text" inspired my eagerness to read it and see why Franzen's conclusion seemed so wrong. I am the poster child of his readers: not just "several times a week," I have read the Bible every day for as far back as I can remember. Apart from his conclusion, I fit his explanation of how I read, because it is in fact a matter of discipleship, and sometimes I am surprised by the text -- even after so many years of reading it.

Franzen explained six questions from the survey, at least four of which I would have answered positively _as_worded_. His longer explanations, however, were abhorrent to what I believe. Specifically...

The Baylor Religion Survey "asked whether the Federal government should expand its authority to fight terrorism," which (in those words) is one of the few God-given duties of government, and therefore I approve, but he goes on to explain this as "a reference to the Patriot Act." From what little I know and have experienced of the Patriot Act, it seems to me that it has _decreased_ rather than enhanced my personal security and protection from the kinds of events most likely to terrorize me personally. So his interpretation of this question is exactly backwards of my rationale, had it been asked of me.

"The more someone reads the Bible," he tells us, "the more likely he or she is to believe science and religion are compatible," and I do -- except I would differ strongly with the kind of atheistic pseudo-science promoted at Baylor. Franzen did not explain what he and/or the survey meant by "science" but it is public knowledge that his university of choice recently expelled actual science of the kind that is compatible with the Bible.

"How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" Setting aside the tension between grace and works, I still find the Bible full of concern for social and economic justice, and I infer that good people should be involved in it. But the phrase "social justice" in our country has become code for left-wing political policies which demonstrably oppress the poor and prevent them from rising to become productive (that's an economic term) members of the society. I know nothing of Glenn Beck, but his quote in this article seems spot on.

"Likewise, the survey asked whether one must consume or use fewer goods in order to be a good person." Again disregarding the implied works-grace cause-effect reversal here, the "good persons" in the Bible are not materialists, and therefore they (and we, their followers) tend to consume fewer material resources than most modern Americans. But that in no way makes me a "greenie" like those eager to oppress the poor with anti-humanitarian and hypocritical preservationist political policies, as implied in his discussion.

The Bible is hard to read and harder to understand. People don't expend the effort on it unless they consider exact meaning important. I (and I suppose other dedicated Bible readers like me) thus tend to read everything more carefully, including surveys. Words mean what the words mean, they are not necessarily only code for political policies, left or right. Unless adequate care is taken to disambiguate code words in surveys like this, entirely wrong conclusions might be -- and often are -- incorrectly inferred. I hope Aaron Franzen's peer reviewers are more careful with their reviews than he seems to have been in the research as reported. But I have little reason to expect it within Baylor.

So I still can only guess at why his conclusions seem so wrong, but they certainly are not consistent with my own experience and the people I know. Guessing may be a good beginning for scientific research, but it's a lousy conclusion.

Tom Pittman, PhD

2011 December 1 -- Chimp DNA vs Human, Part 2

A couple months ago I reported some obscure research suggesting that the alleged similarities between human and chimpanzee DNA appeared not to be in corresponding chromosomes. This month ICR reports their own research supporting the same conclusion. I have a computer, and it would be fun to look at the complete chimp and human genomes and see for myself. I don't think the chimpanzee DNA has been fully sequenced yet. It's more like they chopped up the chromosomes into little pieces, then compared those pieces to human DNA somewhere. Apparently that's how they do the sequencing: cut the DNA randomly into "relatively short (300-1000 nucleotides long) DNA fragments," sequence each little piece, then use a computer to look for matches near their ends and re-assemble them logically into contiguous strands. I was not able to find anything that tells us if they actually went through that last step for the chimp DNA. Mostly they only say they compared the fragments to human DNA for similarity. Of course this leads to a serious error in their conclusion if in fact the same DNA is in different parts of the two genomes.

I suspect what is going to happen is that when somebody actually gets around to developing the fully-sequenced chimp genome, they will discover that the DNA is radically different from the human genome, and all the researchers funded by the government established religion will quietly find other research projects, the partial genome data will just disappear, and nobody will ever be able to run the verification. Piltdown strikes again. Watch for it, you read about it first here.

2011 November 11 -- 11/11/11, 11:11:11

Maybe every one of us has some romantic tendencies. Here it is (ignoring the century, which we mostly do, except around the turn) all ones straight across the date and time. Nine hundred years ago you could include the century, but I doubt anybody noticed; the next time won't be for  91,100 years, but if anybody then cared, they probably wouldn't be using the same calendar anyway.

Earlier this year, one of the young ladies at church got married. She set the time for 1:35 in the afternoon, which seemed more than a little odd. It took a while for some of us to figure out that the date was 7/9/11, so her wedding time and date was a straight sequence of odd numbers.

Why do we care? On the original Armistice Day, they chose today at 11:11 to sign the treaty. Why did they care?

I'm reading in Leviticus, and I got a hint in today's text. I just missed chapter 11 (that would be tomorrow, the way things turned out), but 10:10 suggests that there is something special about the way God wants things done. Ten chapters filled with detailed instructions about how to offer which sacrifices, and then Aaron's two older sons tried to do something that God had not commanded, and died for it. Later in this same chapter, the other two sons burnt one of the sacrifices on the altar instead of eating it, and Moses got angry. You can feel Aaron's frustration at the risk of making a mistake in all the details, and Moses relents.

The point is, God cares and the details matter. God cares about how many hairs you have on your head. Most of the people I know figure that they will do something more or less close to what is required of them, and it will be good enough, because it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Not for Nadab and Abihu it wasn't. That policy also doesn't work in my business, where one tiny bit out of place often kills the whole program.

2011 November 3 -- Translating Gender

As part of my daily Bible reading, I chose earlier this year to work through the Bible in the original Hebrew and (eventually, when I get there) Greek. Today I'm reading Leviticus, and I see in the English gloss a different pronoun than the Hebrew has in Lev.7:21. The Hebrew pronoun for the person who is to be cut off for uncleanness is feminine, yet no translation, not even the so-called "gender-accurate" translations like NASB, renders it feminine in English. The same is true of the pronoun for the Holy Spirit in John 14:17, which is neuter in Greek, but masculine in every English translation. What's going on here?

The people who complain about gender issues in the recent revision of the NIV Bible -- Wikipedia has a fairly balanced article, and The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood did a reasonably careful criticism -- are either ignorant of good translation principles and languages other than English, or they are hypocrites, or both. Hypocrites because no English translation is "gender-accurate" in the sense that they want, where the gender of the original text is faithfully rendered in English by the same gender. We have two obvious exceptions here. That suggests that these people are really male chauvinists imposing their male supremacism on what God intended otherwise. They only complain when the translator renders a masculine pronoun in some other way into English, and never when the translator renders some other pronoun as masculine in English. Either both substitutions are wrong, or (in my opinion) both substitutions more accurately render the intent of the original text.

The real issue here is faithfully representing, to the best of our ability, the intent of the original author into English. No two languages are semantically identical, so there will always be some subtle nuances that get left behind in translation. The honest translator makes a judgment call.

Gender is an interesting issue. Modern English appears to be unique among languages that distinguish gender, in that for us the gender is ontological, that is, the pronouns must accurately represent the actual sex of the object in view. In most other languages gender is formal, so they assign (often arbitrarily) a specific gender to each lexical noun, and pronoun gender is required to match the lexical gender of the noun, even if that is different from the actual sex of the object or person.

Greek and Hebrew gender is formal, so in the two verses above, the pronouns match the noun gender, which may or may not reflect the underlying person's sex. The Hebrew and Greek words for "soul" are both feminine, so both the Hebrew and its Greek translation both use feminine pronouns in Lev.7:21. The NetBible link here shows the gender for each Greek and Hebrew pronoun. Every honest translator correctly recognizes that "soul" in the original text represents a person, and some of the translations correctly translate it in a gender-neutral way reflecting the fact that both men and women have souls. The King James Bible was translated in a time when some scholars thought male pronouns included also female persons, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt. That is no longer true today, and all modern translations that use "his people" in this verse are simply incorrect. They are wrong by every possible criterion -- including that claimed by the complementarians.

The Greek text of John 14:17 accurately contains a neuter pronoun to go with the neuter noun "spirit"; in other verses the Holy Spirit is referred to as "the Comforter" which is a masculine noun, so a masculine pronoun is used in those verses. We cannot infer the ontological sex of the Holy Spirit from the Greek pronouns, not in this verse nor any other. If in fact the Third Person of the Trinity is ontologically masculine, we must determine it by other means, perhaps by tradition. Because the Holy Spirit is a person, we cannot correctly use a neuter pronoun in English; neuter English pronouns only refer to inanimate objects, never persons (except to insult them). I do not object to the use of the masculine pronoun here, but I do object to the criticism of other more accurate gender-neutral pronouns where the Greek text happens to use a masculine word to refer to a person or persons of unspecified sex.

I personally am not an egalitarian. I believe God made different sexes for different purposes, and we are told some of those purposes in the Bible. But I reject any notions of male supremacy that does not find unqualified support in Scripture.

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Additional remarks added Dec.3

2011 October 25 -- Human Evils, Honestly Told

It's a rare fiction writer who accurately captures human sin. I've only found one.

I wanted some audio books to listen to on my trip, and the library now has mp3 volumes, which saves me the hassle of ripping and converting CDs. On my previous trip to the coast I acquired an attachment that plugs into the earphone jack of the computer and pretends to be a cassette in the car player. Since then I download mp3 files from ICR to listen to. But I didn't plan far enough in advance this time, so I picked up a couple audio books at the library. Most were by female authors, Feelers all. Not being a Feeler myself, I generally find their Relationshipism tiresome. I risked one. It was tolerable.

The real delight, however, was The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. I had not taken time to read the cover blurb, I just started listening, and was astonished at the selfishness and cowardice and just plain stupidity in his Revolutionary War characters. I mean, people really are like that, but novelists do not portray it. Stupid is not entertaining, so they give us bravery and heroics. Readers are willing to pay for that. When they portray villainy, the novelists make them out to be power-mad robbers, bravely taking by force what they have no right to. We only see cowardice when their gonads or their female affection is at risk. Always female: even there, the Bad Guys demonstrate the virtue of protecting the "weaker sex" when it's their own.

But real sin is weakness, not strength. We know what we should do, and we do it not. We are selfish and lazy. The American battle commanders in this novel were selfish and lazy and cowardly. They had the military advantage, and they blew it. It sounded more like fact than fiction.

It was.

When I got home, I Googled the "Penobscot Expedition" and learned that it was the worst American naval disaster until Pearl Harbor. The commanders really were selfish and cowardly. Cornwell was just telling the story that happened. I find out today that Cornwell is a Brit, so making the Americans out to be fools doesn't bother him as much as it would an American author. sigh

2011 October 22 -- What's Wrong with 9-9-9

Herman Cain kept responding to attacks on his 9-9-9 Plan with an invitation to go look at his website, where (so he said) it is explained. It seems to me that if he doesn't have an "elevator speech" (a short, lucid explanation, which can be completely delivered in an elevator ride between floors) for 9-9-9, then it's not workable. Newt Gingrich essentially said as much on the debate. However, I'm willing to give the Devil his due, so after I got home, I went to his website. I was appalled. The guy may have slightly better credentials than Obama, but he's just as clueless. Here's what I found:
9% Business Flat Tax
o Gross income less all purchases from other U.S. located businesses, all capital investment, and net exports.
o Empowerment Zones will offer deductions for the payroll of those employed in the zone
9% Individual Flat Tax.
o Gross income less charitable deductions.
o Empowerment Zones will offer additional deductions for those living and/or working in the zone.
9% National Sales Tax.
o Unlike a state sales tax, which is an add-on tax that increases the price of goods and services, this is a replacement tax. It replaces taxes that are already embedded in selling prices...
Maybe Cain is just sloppy -- this is inexcusable in a President -- but it's not clear if his "Gross income less all purchases" also excludes labor. Most of the cost of most goods is labor, and no business today pays corporate income tax on their payrolls. They pay a disability tax, but that is passed onto the employee; it is taken out of the employee's paycheck, not from corporate profits. The employer's contribution to Social Security is nominally not charged to the employee, but that is only a legal fiction, an accounting trick. It is part of the labor cost, and would be paid in wages otherwise. 25 years ago I went to work for a company, and I negotiated a contractual relationship; the owner told me "it doesn't matter, it's all the same number of dollars." Every employer thinks that way. I did when I had employees. But those taxes are arguably "already embedded in selling prices." Will Cain eliminate Social Security? I don't think so. So he has no Federal taxes embedded in the cost of goods that 9-9-9 will replace, and he has not told us of any.

The only advantage Cain gives business (besides a reduced percentage) is the exclusion of capital investment from income tax. That's new, but presumably it offers no advantage other than delay on the tax paid until the investment is repaid in profit, at which time the whole sale price is taxed, not just the gains. Curiously, there is no corresponding exclusion for individuals. This is likely to result in an explosion of small "businesses" created solely to shelter investments, because it looks like individual investments are double-taxed, unlike today. I suspect this is merely a blunder on Cain's part, because he claims to eliminate double-taxation.

There are other blunders. Profitable businesses pay dividends to shareholders. Those dividends are taxed as ordinary income to the corporations, and then again as ordinary income to the shareholders. I don't see any exclusion here. Contrary to his claims, Cain has not eliminated double taxation.

There is no mortgage deduction. Maybe that's intentional rather than a blunder, but home ownership has traditionally been the single greatest contribution to middle-class personal wealth in America, and it would not be possible without that exemption. With 9-9-9 as proposed, Cain opens up a huge divide between the rich and the poor by eliminating the middle class. I think that counts as a blunder.

Cain offers geographical "Empowerment Zones" for additional deductions. I don't like Balkanization (geographical discrimination) any more than I like racial discrimination. But without additional clarification, it's hard to see what evils might lurk therein. Rest assured, it will be evils rather than benefits that hide there.

Cain claims his sales tax "is a replacement tax" but does not tell us what taxes it replaces. There aren't any. Corporations still pay income tax on their profits as before, just slightly less. Under 9-9-9 they pay additional "income tax" on imported goods not taxed today, so imported products will be double-taxed. Furthermore, because that import tax is added onto the goods by the importer, it also adds to state sales tax, which of course Cain's tax cannot eliminate. Taxing and restricting imports may encourage businesses to buy American, but the present import tax already does that, and more honestly. Will Cain's 9-9-9 eliminate explicit duties and import taxes? He doesn't say.

In his  "Summary" section, Cain claims it "Features zero tax on capital gains" and "Kills the Death Tax" but that does not follow from the specification. Capital gains and inheritance are "gross income" and not explicitly excepted from it. You can spell out and add in all these exceptions, but then his plan wouldn't look any more simple than today's Internal Revenue Code.

He says it "repeals the 16th Amendment" but says nothing about the 13% Social Security tax. It sounds like that also goes away under his plan, but I don't think so, not when he gets around to spelling out all the missing details. He can't.

Basically, 9-9-9 is a name without a plan, and a very bad one at that, as I explained earlier.

2011 October 19 -- Obama's 2012 Competition

I don't normally watch such stuff, but it was what my host was doing, so I watched the seven Republican Presidential hopefuls face off in their LasVegas "debate". It was (slightly) enlightening.

About the only thing they could agree on is that ObamaCare must be repealed and the economy fixed (not necessarily in that order). The state of the economy is a no-brainer, but fixing it is not so easy. Obama is no idiot, but he is obviously clueless, and he has surrounded himself with clueless political hacks who also don't understand How Things Work. That's why we have ObamaCare, and that's why most of the country now wants it gone.

Most of the hopefuls understand that businesses make wealth for everybody, and they want to cut back on the restrictive and costly regulations which encourage big business to send jobs overseas and small businesses to become smaller, but political sound-bytes do not solve the problems. You cannot eliminate all regulations, because the people who run the businesses are just as greedy and dishonest as the socialists who want to take their money away.

Fortunately, as I posted before, and unlike socialist greed, capitalist greed can be channelled -- in governmentese, "regulated" -- in socially productive ways which raise the wealth of everybody. An important part of this regulation is the requirement of truth in advertizing. Let them make and sell what they can, but force them to tell the truth about it. Then the American people, who are not as stupid as the socialists want to believe (and certainly not more stupid than the socialists themselves), can make their own decisions about where to spend their labor and their money. The market works, provided it is "frictionless", that is, not riddled with deception and coercion. In my opinion, the government should be held to the same high standard of truth as the businesses. Obama and his cronies currently in power seem to believe otherwise.

But none of this was said last night. These are politicians, and their own greed and dishonesty aims at becoming part of the government problem, not part of the solution. Other than some of Perry's attacks on Romney, I did not see much actual evidence of dishonesty, but being President of the most powerful nation in the world is desirable, and every one of them wants it. That's pure greed.

Herman Cain was the only one there with a concrete proposal (his 9-9-9 plan) of how to fix things, so he became the target for all the others. It's an easy target, because a sales tax is retrogressive: it falls more heavily on the poor. We should not do that. I don't know if Cain is ignorant or dissimulating, but there are not many accumulated taxes on sold goods in the USA today, and even if there were and even if his 9-9-9 plan eliminated them, the vendors would not pass much of the savings on to the buyers. The fact is, the materials and labor which go into goods eventually sold at retail (and therefore subject to Cain's proposed 9% sales tax) are already tax-exempt. The only Federal taxes presently paid by corporations in a product's supply chain are on their corporate profits. Profit is certainly a part of the cost of goods sold, but it is typically far less than the 9% sales tax Cain seeks to add, and the highest income tax levied on that profit today consumes only one third of it. The cost of products will not go down if corporate profits tax is reduced, but the incentive to innovate might go up. That's good for the economy, but it does not compensate morally for the burden of tax Cain wants to lay on the poor.

The only woman there, Michelle Bachmann raised an interesting question concerning the problem of "moms" whose home mortgages are "under water" (the principle balance exceeds the market value of the property). They are making their payments, but no bank will refinance. One of the guys (I forget which) gamely proposed that reducing regulations on banks would make the environment more feasible for small banks who would then compete to snap up such refinance options. Both premises are nonsense. No responsible bank, large or small, can seriously consider loaning out more money than the property is worth, because they must cover their assets. Furthermore, reducing regulations does not make the environment more hospitable for small businesses. We had many more small local banks 50 and 100 years ago because regulations prohibited the large interstate banks from existing. They went away when the regulation went away. But that's irrelevant to the question. The real problem is that there is no solution to underwater mortgages other than a booming economy with millions of new people wanting to buy older houses (thereby driving their prices up above the current mortgages) -- but that will only provide further incentive for people to get themselves into foolish mortgages that may also go underwater in the next downturn. That's the problem: people (not just corporate CEOs, everybody) are greedy, and they want more than they can afford to earn and pay for. More (not less) regulation on banks to prevent risky mortgages would help, but the best prevention is the rather heartless market solution, which is to let these people suffer for their own folly. Nobody willing to say that will be elected President, and everybody there knows it.

Other than proposing to reduce spending by removing our military presence from countries like Germany and Japan where it does nothing useful, Ron Paul was rather silent most of the evening. His libertarian policies, properly understood, are rather harsh-sounding to the modern American ear, jaded as it is by many years and decades of socialist and semi-socialist government promises. Most of us have come to expect the government to protect us from our own foolish economic decisions. Obama could never have sold us his health care proposal if the American people had not wanted the government to "fix" the problem. Insurance is the problem, not the solution. The God-given function of government is to restrain evil and promote good. There is no place in that for government welfare programs -- including Social Security. Churches and families should be taking care of needs like that, and the government should be encouraging them to do it, not destroying them through the evils of abortion and divorce and government-funded (atheist) state religion. Ron Paul's policies are consistent with this perspective, but he can't say so very loudly and get elected.

One pundit afterward said that the big winner of the debate was Obama. He might be onto something there. Cain has the cojones to offer some concrete proposals, and for that he will take a lot of fire, particularly because 9-9-9 is such a bad idea. Romney may be the other guy in front, but I'm already on record as opposing RomneyCare; why should I vote for its governor? He says he opposes ObamaCare, but that sounds too much like opportunistic political waffling, which some of the others there also noticed. As I recall, he made the same waffle on abortion four years ago. Honest Americans don't want him.

In the end, I suspect it doesn't much matter who the Republicans nominate. The American people will be given the oportunity to reject Obama and ObamaCare, and maybe they will rise to the occasion. The new President will make his own blunders, hopefully not as bad as our present President-trainee, and the country will lurch along somehow. The USA is still way ahead of whatever is in second place, and it will take many years of Obama-caliber bungling to change that. I don't expect the American people to sit still for it.

2011 October 11 -- A Left-Leaning Text?

The article, apparently reporting the research of a graduate student in sociology at Baylor University, claimed that the more you read the Bible, the more leftist your political opinions are likely to be. As we all know, "figures don't lie, but liars figure."

Author and researcher Aaron Franzen's university of choice is nominally Christian, but they recently closed down the research of their own faculty scientists involved in the Christian doctrine of Creation, also known as "Intelligent Design." Furthermore, university students in general tend to follow their faculty in leaning politically more left than right. All this suggests that Franzen might be strongly motivated to find the Bible supporting left-wing politics over against the competition. The one significant blog response certainly admitted to such a bias.

Me, I think the leftists and the rightists are both more wrong than right, but the left-wing bigots currently running the Federal government are probably more wrong (certainly less competent) than the opposition they replaced. Last time I looked, President Bush seemed to be just another closet Democrat. At least he (mildly, mostly in word only) supported civil rights for the people who need it most, which the party currently in power vigorously opposes. Obama is much more skillful at taking this country into economic disaster, but Bush started the huge deficits.

Anyway, this article discussed six of the survey questions that appear to be the basis of Franzen's research. I probably would have answered all or nearly all of them affirmatively as worded, but the interpretations he gives them is exactly opposite what I believe. On another occasion I blogged about "weaponized words" which mean nothing in themselves, but only serve to disaffirm their target. Feelers care about affirmation and the lack thereof; Thinkers care about truth and actual meaning. The people in churches -- especially the left-wing bigots running the mainline denominations, but generally all American church members with few exceptions -- are Feelers, not Thinkers. So it's not surprising to see a student in a soft-science (typically leftist) department like sociology in a leftist "Christian" university looking to justify his leftist politics by using weaponized words that would be understood differently by the different categories of his survey target.

Is "science" compatible with religion? The people who read their Bible "several times a week" (or more) obviously care about truth and meaning, because it is hard work to read and understand the Bible. They know that all true science (the word "science" is Latin for what is known) is compatible with what God teaches in the Bible, because God knows everything, but the pseudo-science of the Darwinists doesn't even qualify as science because there is no supporting evidence. The left-wing bigots prefer to believe that such people are "poor, uneducated, and easily led," so surveys which support their prejudices are less likely to be rigorously tested. Consider the fact that if you ask Americans whether "women should have the right to choose what happens to their own body," nearly all of them agree -- except for a few who recognize this line as code for excluding from the set those women who are too young to express their opinion and desire to stay alive. But if you ask them -- even on the same questionaire -- whether women should have the right to abort their babies at any time for any reason at all (including sex selection and genocide), which is the current law of the USA, more than three quarters of the American people say no. The choice of words makes a big difference, and a survey that does not compensate for emotive words is worthless.

"How important is it," the survey asked, "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person?" Setting aside the tension between grace and works, I still find the Bible full of concern for social and economic justice -- like protecting the helpless preborn infants singled out by the misogynist leftists for genocide -- and I infer that good people should be involved in social justice. But the phrase "social justice" in our country has become code for left-wing political policies which demonstrably oppress the poor and prevent them from rising to become productive (that's an economic term) members of the society. The single factor consistently most likely to raise the economic status of poor people is education, and the union-dominated inner-city public schools are failing to do their job, but the left-wing bigots in Washington and other cities and states refuse to allow the poor to find and afford private schools which consistently do better -- while keeping their own children out of the public schools. We can fix the problem, and it will cost less than public schools do today, but the leftists don't really want social and economic justice. They only want to control large sums of government money, which they can siphon off into their own pockets, while keeping the poor oppressed and unable to rise up out of it.

I suspect there is a significant correlation between the Feeler/Thinker division and the Left/Right division. The people in both the Left and the Right are sinners, too pig-headed and selfish to help anybody in need. The Feelers on the Left say soothing and affirming things (except to the other camp), while the Thinkers on the Right analyze and understand what is needed to solve the problems. Neither of them actually does anything useful, but at least the Feelers on the Left are talking about it and motivating people to be aware of the problems, and at least the Thinkers on the Right actually have workable ideas that could be effective without destroying the underlying economy needed to fund the solution.

Anyway, so when you see the results of this "research," don't believe it. It's a pack of carefully crafted lies.

2011 October 10 -- I Believe In God

My friend told me, "There is still a part of my mind that doesn't want to believe in the Exodus and Gospel miracles." With a scientific education in the atheistic edu-factories of this country's established religion, it's understandable that he might feel that way, perhaps even after confessing Jesus as Lord. But did God really raise Jesus from the dead? Believing it in your heart is part of the formula for who is a Christian. Unless you are prejudiced against it, the evidence for the Resurrection is pretty compelling.

More than that, what I don't understand is the prejudice against miracles among some theists. I guess I have a problem understanding anybody willing to believe there is such a thing as God, who cannot also recognize that a Supernatural -- even puny Greek or Roman deities -- can do anything He wants to do, nevermind laws of physics. Such a deity might be constrained by some physical laws of his own supernatural realm, but inherent in the term "supernatural" is the implication that the laws of nature -- this universe He created and we only live in -- do not apply to God.

Consider myself as a parable. I'm also a creator: I write computer programs, and I get to define what the "laws of physics" are for those programs. Every game programmer gets to do the same thing explicitly in his game world. So do fiction authors, particularly fantasy and sci-fi, for their fictional worlds. Unlike the authors, I also get to go in and tweak the created universe (bits in memory) independently of those rules. I just did that recently. My program was misbehaving (unlike Yahweh God, who gets His creation right on the first cut, I make mistakes; mostly I repair the rules and run it again, but this is a 2-hour compile), so I just opened up the program and hacked some instructions in a bit editor. Think of it as "miracle" since it violated the rules laid out for the program by my own software. I both invented the rules by which the program must operate -- representing the "laws of physics" -- and I violated those rules when it suited my purpose. God can do that. Any creator can do that to his (in this case, my) own creation. Even fiction authors can do it, but we generally frown on the practice as "deus ex machina" (playing God with the machine, which is more or less what the Latin phrase means ).

So I have a problem understanding people who say they believe in God, yet deny or doubt that God can do any miracles He wants, at any time or place He chooses. I cannot define miracles out of existence merely because I find them distasteful.

On the other hand, if there is no god, then everything is miracle, because there are no rules for "laws of physics" to follow. In fact, there can be no laws of physics. Everything is chance, a "quantum fluctuation." Did you ever notice that there is no significant science apart from religion? Modern science came out of the very Christian worldview of the Renaissance. There was some scientific activity in the earlier Muslim and Greek cultures, but they were all theists. Modern atheists manage to do science, but their presuppositions are already interfering with the science. Furthermore, the pursuit of scientific careers is dying out in the USA because of the atheism taught in the public schools. Science just doesn't make any sense if there is no God and no rules.

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2011 October 5 -- Pray for Obama

She claims to be a Democrat. Maybe she considers it an argument stopper when talking about politics with her mostly conservative family gets too hot. But she did say we should pray for Obama instead of criticizing him. That's not all wrong. We should pray for Obama. I didn't vote for him, but I do pray for him. He needs all the help he can get.

The editorial in the current WORLD magazine complained of "an adolescent White House." Unlike the President 60 years ago, who famously said "The buck stops here," Obama seems to prefer to blame other people. Some blame is earned, but "rich people who fly jet airplanes" -- Buffett possibly excepted -- add wealth to the economy rather than depleting it the way trillion-dollar deficits do. Obama needs all the prayers he can get.

A couple years ago, when somebody mentioned how horrible it would have been for Sarah Palin to be Vice President, it occurred to me that she had more experience running a large government on election day than Obama has today. It shows. 90% of his high-level appointees were political hacks with no experience in the area they were appointed to govern. We are now experiencing the mess they made of the economy in less than three years. Pray for Obama and his appointees, they need it.

Another editorial, another magazine, reminded me today that abortion disproportionately targets females for killing. A movie review in another issue brought out how abortion -- and Planned Parenthood in particular -- has always targeted blacks for genocide. Abortion is the political policy of the so-called Democratic Party, and of their President, Obama. Why he should support their racist and misogynist policies only makes sense if he doesn't have a clue. We have a President with Clue Deficit Disorder.

Pray for Obama. And pray for his early retirement.

2011 October 4 -- Things Jesus Never Said

The book review began "There are lots of things Jesus didn't say." Stop and think for a moment. Can you think of something people like to attribute to Jesus, but that he never actually said? I guess it's an interesting question only because most people cannot, but I immediately thought of one: Jesus never said (nor is it anywhere in the Bible) that "God loves you no matter what you do."

There are only ten things in the eponymous book. The author, obviously a pastor, had to stop before being confronted with all the disaffirming things that might be included. You cannot be a successful pastor in the USA unless you are a Feeler, a person who values affirmation above truth. From the review it's obvious, this book is about affirmation.

I agree that it's important to remind people (as is quoted in the review) that it's not okay to not love some people -- but I would also remind them that "love" in a Biblical context like this does not mean a warm fuzzy feeling, but rather doing for them what you want them to do to you. Are there people you dislike? Are you willing for them to dislike you? Then disliking them is not prohibited. Are you eager for them to do hateful things that harm you or hurt your feelings? If not, then don't mistreat them. That's what loving your enemy means. It's just the Golden Rule, applied to everybody, including your enemies.

God does not mistreat His enemies, the people who choose to do bad things to God and to other people. But to be fair to the good people, God cannot let bad people -- people still choosing to do harmful things to others -- into His Heaven, so God prepared a place for them where there is no God to interfere with their selfishness. And because His Goodness is not there, it is not a nice place to be at all. And they chose it. God is Good enough to let them have what they asked for, but it's not the kind of thing most people would call "loving." The usual word for it is "Hell." So no, there are people God does not love (in the sense of getting warm fuzzies over them) without regard to what they do. If you don't like God, if you don't want His agenda in your life, you're on your own. You wouldn't like Heaven, anyway, it's all about God.

The last time I said all this to a person (who happened to be in church, which usually means they are a Feeler), they asked about John 3:16. God loved the world. It does not say God loved all the people in the world, although we usually prefer to read it that way. God created the universe (that's what the Greek word "kosmos" in the verse means), and He made it "very good," so of course He loved it. Then Adam (and the rest of us, without exception) came along and spoiled it. Jesus is the cure, and all of us who want the cure can have it. And those who don't want it, won't be forced.

Don't get me wrong: if you want God to love you, and if you want to behave like God loves you, then He does (Jesus did say that). If you have trouble with the "behave" part (but you really want to), then God is willing and able to help you get it right. But you gotta have the wanta. He knows when it's just a sham, and He doesn't take kindly to hypocrites. "Stop sinning," Jesus said. That applies to all of us.

2011 October 1 -- Hysterical Fiction

I mentioned some four months ago cherry-picking the back shelf of my sister's movie collection. Many of these turned out to be collected TV series -- she urged on me the complete eight years of Monk, which I find less than entertaining: his character is not consistent in the obsessive compulsion they portray for him. But that's another story, perhaps another blog post. One of the boxed sets I'm currently working my way through is volume 1 of "Young Indiana Jones" which turns out to be sort of a combination of boring documentary talking heads (a few are interesting), plus the usual swashbuckling hero in an adolescent who might credibly grow into the Harrison Ford hero we all know and love.

Apparently the producers wanted to do something nominally educational, but other than one or two token lines in the mouths of famous historical characters not very convincingly melded into the story line, the writers did not deviate much from their "slam, bam, thank you M'am" rape 'em and leave 'em attention-deficit 21st-century presentation style. Maybe it gets better -- I haven't seen the whole set yet -- but I doubt it.

The first episode introduced a thin veneer of an excuse to get Young "Indy" into these exciting places, beginning with Egypt, where he meets Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tut's tomb. Carter is careful to tell young Jones that archaeology is about carefully preserving the past, not seeking wealth -- just before he goes recklessly ripping into the tomb they were excavating without bothering to record and photograph the entrance he was so thoroughly destroying in search of hidden treasure. I noticed this same effect in a couple of pseudo-scientific episodes of MacGyver, concerning which I blogged three years ago. The documentary on Carter -- did I mention it was boring? Not at all the adrenaline rush that the main story was -- made the point much more carefully, and showed his painstaking effort to fully document  everything before proceeding. It's like the writers are more concerned for telling a captivating story, than they are for the truth. It's fiction, of course. The documentaries were no more boring than the average; it's just that they stand in sharp contrast to the adrenaline rush that you expect and get in an adventure flick.

One of the more glaring errors of these pseudo-historical stories is the embedding of modern millennial values in historical circumstances where it is totally anachronistic. The second episode has President Teddy Roosevelt on a safari in Africa carefully telling young Jones that a hunter only kills to survive, before blundering off to kill a dozen or more wild animals, far more than he and his company needed to eat, and many of which were certainly not threatening him any harm. The credits carefully noted (as always) that "No animals were harmed" in the shooting of the film. The carcasses were probably previously killed and stuffed (or perhaps even totally fabricated), and the action sequences of lions killing their prey were obviously filmed elsewhere and merely inserted into the story. A hundred years ago hunters cared only for their own selfish thrill of the chase. Some people still think that way today, but true conservationists were few and far between back then. Fiction.

The second half of this episode had Indy in Paris meeting famous artists Picasso and Norman Rockwell. The accompanying documentaries justified Picasso being there and like that, but Rockwell was a totally different person, with a completely different personality, who could not have done the kind of insightful painting he became famous for if he were the rebellious licentious anachronistic millennial the main story made him out to be. I also found no evidence he was ever in France at that time. TV story writers are a dime a dozen, and write so poorly that their work is easily interchangeable and imitated. They obviously know it, and cannot imagine the kind of greatness that made Norman Rockwell (and arguably Picasso) unique, so they have these artists imitating each other and having the fakes passed off as originals. One of the alleged fakes even showed up in the documentary, with no hint of alternate source, as they sometimes do to Shakespeare in other contexts. Totally fiction. The credits admit as much.

2011 September 23 -- Taxing the Rich

I just got off the phone with my sister. The discussion about Warren Buffett's income taxes got a little heated. She heard him say he pays only 2% of his income in taxes. I could imagine that to be true if he considered his total increase in wealth as "income" but the actual tax rates on taxable income are rather higher than that. But it came down to the fact that she heard him, and I did not.

However, Warren Buffett's every itch is public information. So I looked up what he actually said.

Last year my federal tax bill ... was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income -- and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent. [CNN]
That's closer to what I was imagining. She probably conflated another part of his remarks to get that "2%" number. I got this from another part of the same CNN article:
Unlike President Obama, who wants to raise the top two tax rates on individuals making more than $200,000, Buffett wants income and investment tax rates raised only on those making more than $1 million in taxable income. In 2009, they represented just 0.2% of tax returns -- as opposed to the 2% to 3% who would be affected by Obama's proposal.
CNN is not noted for their conservative bias. While quoting some of the knee-jerk Republican responses, the author very clearly supported taxing the rich, but nonetheless admitted that all of the tax-raising proposals put together "is less than 5% of the new debt the country is on track to accrue over the next decade."

This article is written by a leftist, so it is about raising taxes, not reducing spending. Bush took us into huge national deficits, and Obama promised "more of the same" (he used different words) and delivered on his promise: trillion-dollar deficits every year, four times the red ink of Bush's worst year.

Don't blame me, I didn't vote for either one. I knew both had bad policies from before they ran. I could hope the Tea Party folks might turn some of that around, but too many people have their hand in the cookie jar. It ain't gonna happen. I think they should do both (raise taxes and cut spending), but a 5% tax increase and a 1% spending cut is not going to do it. The government needs to stop paying for all these things the government shouldn't be paying for in the first place. It ain't gonna happen. Too many people have their hand in the cookie jar.

All told, the USA is way ahead of whoever is in second place, with all parties trying their best to close the gap -- the present government mostly by implementing policies which took former Rhodesia from being the top economic power in Africa to the bottom in the world today. It will take us a while to get that bad -- probably after I'm gone, and I have no grandchildren to fear for -- but I expect the good American people to rise up and say "Enough!" before then. They started last November. Maybe we'll see more next year.

2011 September 17 -- Reasons of the Heart

While I'm waiting for a long computer run (as I am this minute), I try to occupy myself on other useful activities. The worst runs are when my C-based compiler does a long program, because it locks up the computer (most of the long runs this last month are aimed at converting my compiler from C to T2, which does not lock up the computer, but that's another story). Anyway I read a lot of old magazines while waiting.

Today I was reading the book reviews in June ChristianityToday. The book Existential Reasons for Belief in God looks fascinating, but the reviewer had some problems. At least I hope it was the reviewer's fault. The book is apparently about the importance of emotions for driving us to God. The reviewer begins with a personal remark,

In all my years as a Christian, I have met only one person who was argued into the faith.
I began life in a Christian family, but it was the arguments (not feelings) which kept me from abandonning Christianity. The emotions are there and undeniable, but I suspect the monopoly Feelers have held over the critical early school years has distorted the public sentiment toward a heavier emphasis on emotions, as evidenced for example in the fact that the USA scores dead last among the world's leading industrial countries in science and math education, but highest in self-esteem. Everything Robert Fulghum needed to know he learned in kindergarten; I didn't go to kindergarten, so I didn't learn those things. I don't know many people who are as truth-driven as myself.

Nevertheless, God does seem to have planted in us all -- myself included -- a desire or "need" for affirmation. According to this review, the book lists others. Maybe I should read it. Today I'm looking at two sentences in the review. Perhaps he lifted them directly from the book; if so, it downgrades my interest in reading it:

The key difference is that reason-based arguments attempt to prove that Christianity is true, while existential arguments justify Christian belief on the basis of satisfaction of needs. Williams helpfully analogizes to the realm of eating: We are justified in consuming food not to prove rationally that food exists, but to satisfy our natural hunger.
The analogy so stated makes sense only to a Feeler. To a Thinker, whose highest value is Truth and Justice rather than affirmation, it makes more sense to compare the rational approach to eating because we know it's necessary, rather than because our gut is growling. When you read the Bible (instead of listen to the preachers), you find out that it's not about me and you, it's about God. I am a Christian because God is God and has a right to demand my worship, and not because it feels good to me. The "pie in the sky bye and bye" will be nice -- and the food I eat when I get around to it tastes good -- but that's not why I do it. Even if I hated the taste, even if God were to sent me to eternal damnation, it's still True and needs to be done that way. The alternative is a lie.

The Feelers want to be affirmed, even if it's not true; the Thinkers want the truth, even if it hurts. This is a Feeler book. The Bible is more of a Thinker book. It's about Truth. Sometimes that hurts.

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