Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2013 December 31 -- Bean Counter Fare

A couple weeks ago (has it been that long? How time flies) I mentioned the deteriorating quality of VeggieTales after creative founders Vischer and Nawrocki lost control. That was nothing, just a repackaging of the original talent. I picked up a couple new ones at the library today, but the first one was so bad, I probably won't bother watching the other. You can easily tell the new stuff by the washed-out color of Bob the Tomato. In the original Vischer-Nawrocki flicks, he was a shiny fire-engine red, but the new ones have him a palid grey ghost of his former self, a perfect metaphor for the story and song quality. One of these I got today boasted a big-name song-writer -- what are they going to do? The new bean-counter owners can't write anything more interesting than checks and lawsuits -- but I think I shut it off before hearing his contribution. Or maybe I did hear it, who knows? For stories, instead of the classic VeggieTales tongue-in-cheek retelling of a Bible story, the bean counters have gone to plagiarizing stories from the popular culture with a heavy dollop of moralizing laid on top. It makes me want to puke. I'm reminded of the avaricious head chef of the late Auguste Gusteau's restaurant in the Pixar flick Ratatouille -- which I also saw recently, but Pixar's top creative genius John Lasseter is still very much in control, and it shows. VeggieTales is more like reality following (the Pixar) fiction, with the clueless new owners out to milk their property for whatever they can get from the name. Save your money.

2013 December 25 -- In Hebrew

I used to read a chapter of the Bible a day, plus something in Psalms or Proverbs (on a six-month cycle), which got me through the whole Bible in about three years. A couple years ago I decided to do it in Hebrew. I only took two quarters of Hebrew in seminary, and I forgot almost all of it, but I have a nice interlinear Hebrew Bible and a vague recollection of how Hebrew grammar works, so I began in Genesis, pronouncing each word carefully, then looking down at the English gloss to see what it meant. I already knew a few Hebrew words, so I could skip the peek on those words.

It was tough going, so I could only do a page or so (maybe a half chapter) in the alloted time, but I started learning the words. Within a month or so I was looking a lot less often, and after doing a couple books -- I forgot exactly when or where this happened -- I started covering up the English as I worked my way along the Hebrew line, then sliding the card back when I hit a word I didn't recognize. The history books got a lot easier, but poetic books still have a lot of words not otherwise used, so I do a lot more peeking.

One of the things I noticed early on is that the Hebrew language changed. That's not surprising, considering how many years the composition is spread over. In another place I describe the effects of time on language. If (as I believe) the Bible was written mostly by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, then we have over 3000 years of language change to account for. You can actually see the difference in successive chapters of Genesis, all of which is different from Exodus and the other "Books of Moses" (curiously, I cannot find a single place in the Bible where Genesis is attributed to Moses). Anyway, I could see differences in vocabulary working through Kings and Chronicles. Some of that might be attributed to different scribes doing the writing, but I suspect a lot is just the slow migration of the language through four hundred years.

I'm now in Nehemiah, and the historical parts are a lot different from the earlier books, words used differently, probably some borrow-words from Aramaic, which was likely the language Nehemiah spoke in his official duties in the King's palace, and perhaps even at home. There are several chapters of Ezra in Aramaic, which is enough differnet in structure that it's easy to tell, but then he switched back to Hebrew earlier than my English Bible said, but kept using some of the Aramaic spellings of names.

Hebrew has a unique word, a characteristic preposition 'eth' which is used to indicate the direct object of a verb. English has no such preposition, it's entirely by word order for us, so the interlinear has no gloss for 'eth'. It was kind of funny looking at a Christian book written by somebody who did not read Hebrew, but only looked at the interlinear glosses for his understanding of the Hebrew text. Seeing no gloss for this word, he assumed that it was mystical, "Aleph-tau" (the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet), with no meaning of its own. You can make blunders like that when you know neither linguistics nor the other language. Anyway, this preposition does not occur in Aramaic; instead it has its own peculiar word 'di' (pronounced "dee") which serves as a sort of connector between clauses, not exactly "and" or "which" but sort of a combination of them. Both words in their respective languages occur frequently enough that it's easy to see which language it is.

Like I said, I'm now in Nehemiah, and there these long lists of names, all the people who signed a pledge to avoid intermarrying with the local non-Jews, or who volunteered to live in Jerusalem, stuff like that. Reading it in English, one can slide over these names and think nothing of them, but it's a lot slower in Hebrew. All Scripture is inspired by God and is "profitable" so I wonder what purpose these names serve.

The same person who lent me the book with the "Aleph-tau" blunder lent me another book this week, different author, same ignorance of Hebrew, different blunder. There's this picture suppossedly showing us the difference between the Code of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments, with an image of each sort of mashed together in what they used to call a collage (but now is called "PhotoShopped"). Part of the Hebrew text is blurred, but I was able to read a full verse near the end, which I translate here somewhat literally,

And-arose after Abimelech to-save Israel Tola son-of Puah son-of Dodo [a] man-of Issaschar and-he-lived in-Shamir in-hill-of Ephraim. And-he-judged Israel...
Names are pretty easy to find in the Bible. That's not the Ten Commandments, it's the beginning of Judges chapter 10. Apparently whoever was doing the graphics for this book looked on the internet for something that looked like Hebrew, and downloaded this image of a page from a modern Hebrew Bible without worrying about which page it is. For all I know, the "Code of Hammurabi" probably isn't either, but I don't read cuneiform so I can't tell. They misspelled some Biblical names in another graphic. Not a good sign.

2013 December 20 -- Thanksgiving Leftovers

November was an interesting month. Besides my new insight on the benefits of factory farms and processed food (see my reply to comments), there were a couple head-scratchers in WORLD magazine, which usually presents itself as "a biblical perspective" on the news.

Their cover for Thanksgiving week showed a cornucopia, the traditional iconic representative of fall harvest abundance, this time filled with assorted "organic" and chemicalized foodstuffs, most notably including a puffy loaf of "gluten free" and "organic wheat" bread. Obviously they pay their cover artist for his visual skills, and didn't bother to check the facts on his artistry. The main protein component of wheat and barley is gluten, and it is the gluten that makes the dough sticky so it traps CO2 released by the yeast during the fermentation of sugars in the dough, so the bread rises. "Organic" is usually taken to mean minimal artificial processing, such as might occur if they could actually remove the gluten from wheat flour, but "gluten free" usually means it contains no wheat components at all, because it's so hard to get it completely free of gluten otherwise. Me, I want to buy some of that "organic wheat" bread made without wheat, and see whether it tastes more like unicorn steak or dragon tears. Maybe Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy will bring me some for Christmas.

The previous issue filled their entire sports page with the story of the fake "touchdown" a high school football coach engineered for a popular student with Down Syndrome. My niece has a high-functioning Down Syndrome child, so I get to hear about how that works. One of the symptoms is degraded motor skills, and the kid in the story obviously was not up to playing on the team in competitive games, so after the game on October 18, the coach got the referees and opposing team to pretend there was 30 seconds left on the clock, and Josiah O'Brien got to run his "touchdown" through a wide pathway the opposing team opened up for him before pretending to try and tackle him. His team had already won 48-27, and his fake "touchdown" had absolutely no effect on the score nor their standing in the playoffs, it was nothing more than a thrill for the kid, who probably never knew he was being lied to. It was a cute story, and endorsed by every one of the media that reported it, but it was a lie. God hates liars, none of them will ever make it into Heaven. So I asked WORLD Editor Marvin Olasky how he justified the deception, and he defended it as "a nice gesture, no big deal, fun for everyone." It seems to me that hypocrisy like this is what gives the atheists fuel against Christianity. (Read more here)

2013 December 17 -- Feminazi Action Hero

All the modern combat action flicks now include an obligatory female on the team. Usually there is some formal chauvinist-feminist tension, one guy grumbles, and she replies she is fully combat qualified, after which she proves her worth in combat and everybody lives happily ever after. Such a scenario may be consistent with the established religious dogma of the country (that men and women differ only in their reproductive functions), but there is no science nor history to suport it. The fact is, women have different bodies than men. Men are stronger. If they were exactly equal, then the Olympics -- which is largely under political control -- would not have separate contests for men and women, they could just compete against each other. They don't because they cannot. The men would win. If men and women fought against each other in hand-to-hand combat, the men would win. If we had a mixed team against determined opponents, our men would need to be saving the women instead of fighting the battle, and we would lose even worse. We do not yet have a good test of that. When we do, that will be the end of women in combat.

With drone and smart bomb capability, we almost don't need boots on the ground in combat zones. It may be that women can push buttons as well as guys in remote combat; I have not seen any good research one way or the other -- nor are we likely to: everybody is afraid that it will show the official dogma to be false there too. Besides, if a guy tried to do that kind of research, it would destroy his career, the way saying something out loud about (or even just believing) the science against Darwinism now gets people fired.

Military leaders (and combat flicks) seem to think we still need boots on the ground.

There was a joke going around when we were bogged down in VietNam. Israel had just wiped the ground with their Arab aggressors in the Six Day War, so General Westmoreland (our guy in Nam) reportedly asked Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan how he did it. His reply: "It helps if you're fighting Arabs." I've heard different versions of Arab incompetence in battle from several independent sources. If Arabs were competent, and if we had women out there in combat, We. Would. Lose. Viet Nam would be a picnic in the park by comparison. It is only God's Providence that keeps us from such a sorry disaster.

What brought this up was a couple of library action flicks in a row with the new female team member. In both cases, it was the sequel (#2 or #3) to a previous action flick with the same title characters and no women (except doing what women have always done to disable men, which does not involve strength or weapons ;-) In each case it was the last in the series. Hmm, I wonder why. Guys watch adrenaline flicks to get their adrenaline shot, but women in combat arouse different juices. The market may yet do to them what religion and science and history failed at.

Anyway, working my way through the library flicks today, I happened on a VeggieTales title that succumbed to the same fantasy: "Girl Power!" I guess women are more into fantasy (the denial of Reality) than men are, and women tend to be in charge of buying flicks for the kids, so guess what the marketing people came up with. Unfortunately, the smart guys who invented VeggieTales weren't very smart about finances, so they lost control of it. You can expect more Political Correctness than Biblical Reality in that franchise after a catastrophe like that. sigh

2013 December 16 -- "Christian" Movies

From the title I suspected it was probably a "Christian" movie. These are like "Christmas" movies, only worse. American movies with "Christmas" in the title always start out with the main characters each making some impossible wish, then end up (usually on Christmas eve or day) with all their wishes coming true. It's like fantasy fiction, which so annoyed me earlier this year. The "Christian" movies live up to Randy Alcorn's criticism of Christian fiction, "predictable, sugar-coated, preachy, and poorly written" -- I call it The Four P's, where "sugar-coated" is a more negative term meaning "polite" = no sex or cussing. For the "preachy" part, this flick listed two real-life preachers as "Himself" in the credits.

"Wager" is a somewhat archaic English word, and only religious and pseudo-religious contexts use archaic words. I thought it might refer to Pascal's Wager, but I guess that was too esoteric. In fact it was something of a parody of God's bet with Satan in the book of Job (see my review of The Gospel According to Job), but poorly conceived and not well developed.

Unlike Christmas movies, there are no explicit wishes at the front of this flick. Instead, the hero, who is already a nominal Christian (so the obligatory conversion experience is unnecessary), gets hit with a series of "Biblical" (in the sense of humongous) catastrophes. Perhaps unlike Job, his response is muddled. But like the Christmas movies, everything gets back to what a secularist would call a good ending: mostly all the catastrophes are reversed, and he gets back his fame and his job (with a promotion). It's a secular ending. OK, Job ends that way too, but fame and fortune are more Old Testament ends, not Christian. Jesus promised his disciples persecution, not wealth and fame. Like Christmas movies, it's a lie.

I could relate to this guy. Most of his catastrophes also happened to me at one time or another (but not all at once). One that I have not experienced was the media lying about him (I'm not famous enough for them to care). There is this one scene where the lyingest "journalist" offers to stop harassing him if he would grant him an exclusive interview. The writers of this movie missed a marvelous opportunity (that's the "poorly written" part), "Not before I see your public apology for all the lies!" I probably wouldn't have thought of it in real time either. In the end all his woes were reversed. Even the journalist apologized. That didn't happen to me. Like Christmas movies, it mostly doesn't happen, not in the real world. It's a lie.

One would hope that a "Christian" movie would tell a true story, if not an actual event, at least something that happens generally. This is not such a movie, and it's rather more blatant than most. Stories that are true to Scripture are not fun to (read or) see. I know, I tried to write one (see Lazir). Nobody likes it. It doesn't have a happy ending.

I'm beginning to think that "Christian" movies are really Relationshipist movies. People -- at least the Feelers -- want to be affirmed, to believe against all hope or odds or history that things will come out happy. "Never give up!" they tell us. I can't find that line in the Bible. The Christian story does have a happy ending, but it's in Heaven, not here. The things we want in the here and now are pagan values, not Christian. Some of the things I chose for myself are essentially pagan. When catastrophe takes that way from me, I should give it up. Others were not bad in themselves, but God seems to have other things for me to do, perhaps not so pleasant, but (potentially) benefitting more people. I need to give up my own pleasures for the sake of other people. It's the (true) Christian way. But Relationshipism is selfish, not Christian, and these movies (mostly) promote selfish values.

They cannot completely abandon the Christian principle. This movie did have one scene where the hero turned away from his own selfish ambition to help a child. He didn't actually do it intentionally -- I guess that would have been too other-worldly for the film makers -- but it turned out that way. It was the turning point, after which he got his fame and fortune back. I suspect a real world that had previously accused him of pedophilia would have looked for a negative way to portray his rescue, but this is fiction, not reality.

2013 December 12 -- Reverse Marketing

I get a cold once every year or two, and one of those times my sister prevailed on me to use Airborne, a complex cocktail of vitamins and minerals. I usually do a megadose of vitamin C when the cold starts to make itself noticed, and Airborne had that, so whatever. It wasn't particularly cheap, but I bought it. This year's cold started up the week after Thanksgiving, so I popped a couple of the huge fizzy pills, and (PTL!) the cold lasted only a couple days of feeling really bad, plus the usual extra-runny nose for the following weeks. My nose is always stoppered up, but after a cold it gets extra heavy for a few weeks. Anyway, long story short, I used up the last of the Airborne and went to the store to buy some more.

It seems the vendor noticed that most people just ate the fizzy pills, so now they also offer "chewable pills" 13 to the box instead of ten of the fizzy model, same price. That seemed like a good deal, so I kept looking, and found lozenges, same brand, 20 to the bag for the same price. I thought I should make sure they really were the same, so I looked at the fine print. The lozenges had the same vitamin C but less of some of the minerals -- then I noticed: "Serving size: 4 lozenges" compared to one fizzy pill. The customer actually got only five doses instead of ten for the same price. The chewable pill ingredients seemed to match the fizzy pills, but again, "Serving size: 4." They were screwing the customers who thought they were getting a better deal. I bought the house brand fizzy pill clone (same listed ingredients) at slightly over half the name brand price, and will probably never go back to the name brand. Their dishonesty lost me as a customer.

They won't lose much money from me buying the competitor, but if enough people get mad enough at their duplicity, they might feel it. Don't reward dishonesty by buying Airborne brand, Wal-Mart makes a cheaper clone with the same ingredients. It's probably even cheaper to buy the various vitamins and minerals separately and make up your own, but it's a hassle.

A few years ago Sony was installing viruses on their music CDs. They got caught and stopped, but refused to promise never to do it again. As a consequence, I do not buy Sony products. You never know when they might decide to start putting viruses back on them. Bad faith costs more than it gains. A year ago, I needed a prepaid credit card, so I bought the Wal-Mart house-branded model. It turned out that the terms & conditions, which were not disclosed at the time of sale (I looked), prohibited using it for anything one might reasonably want to use a credit card for, and the company refused to refund my money. I sent the card back to the local Wal-Mart manager and complained. She sent me a money order for the full value, and converted me from hating her store to having (mostly) good things to say about it. Their checkers are still slow, but what do you expect for minimum wage? Low wages keep the prices down. Guess where I went to buy my cold pills.

Marketing 101: Keep the customers happy by treating them fairly and honestly. Sony and Airborne got it wrong.

2013 December 11 -- The Next Steve Jobs

This 12-year-old Mexican girl has been staring at me from the cover of last month's WIRED for almost two months now. As you are by now aware, the WIRED editors and writers are not the sharpest tacks in the box.

There isn't going to be another Steve Jobs. A couple decades after Jobs came into this world, it became the USA official policy to kill off all such people before they are born. You see, Steve Jobs was one of those "unwanted" pregnancies. He was adopted. Present American policy (which is the same in most other countries, including Mexico) encourages the mother to kill her baby. No more Seve Jobs.

People do not get smart by being loved, they get smart by surviving difficulties. It also helps if they live in a culture where there is ready access to the intellectual infrastructure of technology. Steve Jobs had both. Paloma Noyola Bueno, the girl on the cover, had a few difficulties, but with a loving natural father in her home and very limited access to technology, was very different from Steve Jobs.

But WIRED covers are largely bait-and-switch, probably because the editors are not the sharpest tacks...

The story behind the girl on the cover is about the ready access to the intellectual infrastructure of technology. One school teacher in Mexico figured out that his kids weren't learning anything, so he experimented with an alternate teaching model. The model worked, but only because he was there to make it so. Copying the model (but not the teacher) does not turn out math wizards like cookies. Even in his class, not everybody aced the math test. All of them did better than their peers with other teachers, but only a few sparkled like Paloma Noyola Bueno.

Anyway this girl will not be the next Steve Jobs, because she will now be showered with attention and benefits. She got the highest math score in Mexico. The pressure is off. She also will not be the next Steve Jobs because Steve Jobs was not a math whiz. It takes different skills to figure out what people will want to buy and how to make it so, than to ace a multiple-choice national math test. Jobs was no mathematician. He had a visionary view of what would sell, and how to get there -- mostly by motivating smart people to build it for him. That's a complex cluster of skills which is hard to find, and frowned upon when you do. Steve Jobs was a tyrant. The Apple Board of Directors got rid of him after his second success (the Mac), and didn't bring him back until every other CEO -- the ones who fit better into the mainstream -- had bungled their leadership of the company, and the board had no other hope of saving their fannies.

I'm all for customizing education -- you probably noticed I do not think highly of the union-driven edu-factories -- and I happen to have a degree in math (because it's an important discipline), but God makes superior people and gives them superior opportunities when He wants to. We can break things (and governments largely do) but we cannot improve on what God has chosen to do.

There isn't going to be another Steve Jobs.

2013 December 10 -- Fix the World

From the cover of the current issue of WIRED magazine smiles forth two twin Bills, Gates and Clinton in matching suits -- maybe it's a PhotoShop trick: Gates' suit in the portrait inside is much bluer than Clinton's -- announcing their goal to "Fix the World." OK, only Gates is smiling; on Clinton it's more of a smirk. Anyway, Bill & Melinda Gates "solve" the world's problems by throwing money at them. Even Clinton's opponents praised his "charm" when he was President; he doesn't have a lot of money to throw around, but he hopes to persuade governments and other rich people to do that.

Bill Gates is supposed to be "Guest Editor" of this issue, but there's not much evidence he did more than write a short essay and show up for an interview with long-time tech writer Steven Levy. Others (probably low-level staff writers) picked up on several things that had the Gates name attached, and wrote them up as one-page featurettes.

Fixing the world is a worthy goal, but the WIRED issue is a fraud. Near the front of Gates' essay, he mentions "an idea we learned from our parents: Everyone's life has equal value." Except of course the lives of all the children his money kills before they are born (see "Bill Gates Foundation Openly Supports Abortion"), but those kinds of inconsistencies are quietly omitted from left-wing rags like WIRED.

Bill Gates is not stupid. The (real) editor enlarged the lead sentence of Bill's essay, "I am a little obsessed with fertilizer." It's not just fertilizer, but that's one important aspect of factory farming that so annoys the greenies, and which otherwise made the USA (and Bill Gates) rich, as I noted previously. It wasn't clear in the story here, but Gates is probably the biggest bucks behind the push to eradicate polio. There's an interesting chart on "The Economics of Eradication" that shows the "cost per reported polio case" skyrocketing to $2.5M each, partly from fighting (or rather, 22 health workers being killed by) the Taliban in Pakistan. Throwing money at the problem is not going to solve problems caused by throwing money at them.

One of the little teasers on the cover boasts that we can "End Poverty" by "mining data to find what works." It's a fraud. The inside story tells about doing statistical studies on the effects of charity, but doesn't mention poverty at all. The fact is, "poverty" is one of those mushy words that morphs as fast as you attack it. Near the end of the story the author turns to the favorite whipping-boy of the left-wing bigots, the USA, and tells us about "15 percent of Americans living below the poverty line." It's a statistical legerdemain performed by raising the poverty line (FPL). My income is less than half the FPL, and I'm not poor. Bill Gates, in his essay, was "shocked" at the radical poverty in some of the countries he visited with his wife when they were first looking at what to throw his money at. They had not seen real poverty, because it pretty much doesn't exist here in the USA. What we do have is a differential between the top and bottom, but it's not all that different from the differential in other countries, just higher for everybody. So we raise the FPL to make sure at least 15% fall below it. That's why Jesus said we would always have poor among us. Most Americans don't know what "poor" is.

2013 November 29 -- Government Bungling

I woke up in the middle of the night freezing. All the electric blankets on the market today are designed to shut down in the middle of the night and leave you freezing. Normally when there is no competition you call it "restraint of trade" and it is unlawful, but they all do it at exactly the same time, which suggests that the government is forcing them to do it. It's still restraint of trade, but now required by law rather than being forbidden. Except in the mind of Muslims and atheists, God's Laws are not arbitrary. If it's wrong, it's wrong, and not even God commands it. But because human laws (like the Muslim god; the atheists are merely ignorant of what they despise) were not designed from the perfection of an all-knowing almighty Creator, there are mistakes and inconsistencies.

This blanket is unique among the broken models for sale, in that it recovers from a power failure, so I bought a timer to interrupt the power for a minute every few hours, and that fixed the problem. Until last night, when the timer stopped doing what it was programmed to do. "Chinese junk" no longer refers to an oriental sailing vessel.

It's not just electric blankets. I used to warm the tiny place where I eat with a low-wattage heating pad, but they too have stopped doing what people buy them to do, which is to keep you warm. So now I must do the same job with a high-wattage space heater -- or else heat the whole room with an inefficient ceiling heater which puts most of the heat above my head where it does nothing but melt the snow off the roof (which is probably not the government's fault; they don't have a monopoly on stupidity). When the left-wing bigots tell you about "carbon footprint" they are lying through their teeth. Their government forces me to waste electricity on high-wattage heaters, because they took the low-power solution off the market. They almost did that to lights, too. The "Costly Failed Lumenaries" (CFL, usually thought to stand for "compact flourescent") are so dim during the first ten minutes, that you must leave them on for a long time ahead of actual usage, so you can see what they are there to illuminate when you need it, with the result that -- except for the places where you plan to leave them on all day or night anyway -- they actually waste more electricity than the cheap functional non-polluting tungsten bulbs, which you can turn on for a minute while you do what needs doing, then turn off again. No matter, the whole "global warming" thing was a political crock, as everybody except the government idiots in Washington already knows.

It's not just electric stuff. Last time I drove across the country, I got a nasty cramp in my hand because the steering wheel was designed by government bureaucrats in Washington instead of the smart Japanese who made the rest of the car. So now whenever I need to steer through some complex path (like my own driveway) I keep hitting the horn button, which on the previous car was in the middle of the steering wheel where I could find it when I need it, and not otherwise. Shortly after I bought the car, I went to a conference in Canada. Their government wasn't as stupid then as it is today, and the same model car was sold there with a much more comfortable steering wheel. I asked the local dealer about trading the goofy wheel out for a good one, but he didn't have any in stock and wanted to charge me $700. So now I get cramps from trying to hold a badly-designed steering wheel without hitting the horn button.

2013 November 28 -- Giving Thanks

Today being Thanksgiving Day -- I like to thank God every day, but the Psalm that came up in my regular reading today started off with thanksgiving:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psa.118:1 oNIV
Also, I have been thanking God all week for factory farms and processed food, which freed up millions of people to do things that made America rich, so I can do fun things like program computers. Read all about it here and also my two postings last week.

I was prepared to say something about it over dinner today -- some family traditions go around the table with each person expressing something they are thankful for -- but the family that invited me this year didn't do that. One young lady had an 8-month-old child, and her cousin was a couple months into her first pregnancy, so much of the conversation centered on having babies. And football, which was continuously running in the background. I don't have much to contribute to those topics.

2013 November 27 -- The Greeks Were Smart

I finished reading Anabasis, which I mentioned starting at the beginning of this month. Except for the occasional  sacrifice to the gods, from the entrails (the translator politely used the word "victim") of which the author was presumably able to read divine direction for difficult decisions, and the fact they had horses instead of tanks, and spears instead of guns, it could have been a modern story. I was particularly impressed that Xenophon frequently put group decisions to the vote of his soldiers. I had not realized democracy was so pervasive in 400BC.

Two really good insights struck me. In book 3, chapter 1 "The March to Kurdestan" Xenophon is giving a pep speech to his generals and captains -- he seemed to do that often -- and he says of his troops, "there will be a great rise in their spirits if one can change the way they think, so that instead of having in their heads the one idea of 'what is going to happen to me?' they may think 'what action am I going to take?'" This is awesome advice, and it is no wonder that John Ringo, whose anti-left-wing politics I have previously mentioned, thinks so highly of this book. Ringo derides as "grasshoppers" the first group of people, who passively wait for something to happen to them, and praises as "ants" those who plan ahead and do constructive things.

The other one was in book 5, chapter 6, where Xenophon expresses a Machiavellian "might makes right" kind of thinking, "One of the results of power is the ability to take what belongs to the weaker." Bullies in every age and culture -- including our own -- live this policy, but few are willing to express it so clearly. With an army of 10,000 soldiers to feed, Xenophon is constantly worrying about where to get provisions. Sometimes the king they served provided, but mostly they had to forage the local villages, plundering and taking what they can grab. This is of course Greek soldiers in Bithynia (northwest modern Turkey) 400 years before Christ told us to do otherwise. Bullies still do that kind of thing, but they are mostly ashamed to say so, because Christian values so pervade our culture.

2013 November 18 -- Minority Faith

After posting last week's piece on agricultural sustainability, it occurs to me that organic food is a lot like atheism and Marxist economics: it looks good if you have blinders to keep you from seeing the whole picture, but it only survives as a tiny minority in a culture dominated by the opposite faith, and maybe also in isolated primitive pre-Christian tribal cultures. The "pre-Christian" part is important, because Christian values made it possible for far more people to survive and thrive than were previously possible; take that away and you get massive death, war and famine and disease. Are we ready for that? Not with Christian values we aren't.

It's hard to separate atheism from Marxism, they tend to grow and die together. Economics and religion are soft sciences, lots of unsubstantiated opinion, but weak on facts. However we do have history. The atheist-Marxist Soviet Union (with its satellites) self-destructed after seventy years. Sixty years after Mao, China has already abandonned Marxism, and its atheism is already on a slippery slope down. Cuba and North Korea have not yet reached their time of demise, but everybody sees it coming.

On the other hand, we have hard science and facts to evaluate food production. Thomas Malthus was proven wrong by technology (aka factory farms); take that away, and Malthusian predictions will prove true with a vengeance. Maybe that's why the greenies are so eager to kill people off, it's inevitable in their economic model. But it's not Christian.

Ultimately, market economics works in political and religious themes also. Low-pollution cars can be enforced all over the USA because it does not cause massive starvation; all it does is drive up the cost of the vehicle. That may increase the number of clunkers on the road (thereby defeating the intent of the laws), and be particularly hard on poor people -- but nobody ever cares about the poor, especially not the left-wing bigots they regularly vote for, and who continually inflict these hardships on them. But not even the left-wing bigots can force organic farming on the country, because the hunger would be too obviously linked to their laws, and would drive them out of office. Market economics (also known as Natural Selection) is a powerful force. It just doesn't create anything, smart people -- and God -- do that.

2013 November 15 -- Agricultural Sustainability

A feature article in the current ChristianityToday gives a nice warm fuzzy rainbowy description of local organic farming as a "sustainable" and particularly Christian way to thank God for the food we eat. "Organic" is a great idea to be in favor of, but its promoters don't tell the whole story. Recall that last month I was reading and (almost, but for the foul language) enjoying an explanation of the other side of the coin.

I tried looking for independent verification of the facts, but it's pretty hard to find anybody at all willing to defend conventional ("factory") farming methods, and then they do it mostly on the crop yield per acre, which is only 25% higher than factory-farmed organic. Yes, most of the organic farmers do "factory farm" things too, like using (USDA-certified) pesticides, which the government approves as "organic" but are less effective, so they must use more of them with the consequent higher burden on the environment (see Christie Wilcox's "Mythbusting 101").

I suspect that "organic" is politically correct (like promoting unhealthy and unnatural sexual preferences), and anyway, the economics speak for it. It's not just the yield per acre, which is close enough that taking out a few more wilderness parks would enable 100% organic farming to feed the USA (but probably not the world: recall that the USA is a net exporter of factory-grown food). The real difference is the labor cost. Everybody -- including the organic promoters -- admits that organic farming is labor intensive. But nobody wants to give any numbers, because it's so bad. I did find one farmer who gave real numbers: "If you took my size of acres of operation and farmed it conventionally, it would probably only have one operator, and we are involving three people on a full-time basis." Organic requires three times the labor as conventional farming.

But organic farming is profitable. Everybody (at least all the promoters) say so. Of course they admit that's because organic produce sells at nearly twice the price as conventional. If the whole country was forced to go 100% organic, the labor costs would skyrocket. Today, the organic farmers are mostly small family farms, where everybody wants to be there, so they are willing to work for low wages. Triple the demand for farm labor, and the cost of labor will go up dramatically. It's called "supply and demand." Nobody wants to do stoop labor, that's why they hire Mexicans to come in illegally to do it. If you are going to hire citizen union labor, the cost of organic food won't be just double the conventional, it will be double or triple what it is now. Right now organic food is a luxury item, something rich Americans can indulge their wastefulness on. Take away the factory farms, and the price of food will quickly become unaffordable for all the rest of us.

This CT article makes a big thing of "locally grown" produce, but they neglect to tell us what the cost of that is. In Ohio (where the featured chicken farm is) they might be able to grow chickens all year, and they might be able to grow the grain they feed them locally, and store up enough to cover feeding them during the winter, but where are you going to get fresh fruit and vegetables during the off-season? Canned? Up-scale restaurants (again mentioned in the article, and lots of hits when you Google the terms) cannot feed canned or frozen food to their rich patrons, it doesn't taste as good. Hot-house growing is a lot more expensive than growing in fields, and uses a lot more energy. Yes, energy is another supposed benefit of eating local. Don't believe it, it's a crock. That works in July through September, but otherwise not. California farms may raise three crops a year, but not in the rest of the country. California is not local to Ohio and New York residents.

The bottom line for this article in a Christian magazine is that we should thank God for our food. The author seemed to think seeing the chickens slaughtered "humanely" helped him do that. Me, I thank God for my low-cost food that I do not need to dirty my hands to buy. Sure the veggies are grown in the Salinas valley not far from where I used to live, and the fruit comes from Chile and New Zealand and Florida, and I can thank God that He gave lots of oil to the Arabs, so I don't have to pay very much for that fruit and those veggies -- less even than I paid for the same produce in California where they grow it.

The author is trying hard to make a Christian case for local organic food, but by neglecting the larger economic issues, he fails utterly. Factory farming methods reduced the cost of living in this country to where large numbers of people -- none of them needed on the farms -- could be paid to take the gospel to distant countries. Some of those people not needed to grow food could spend their time productively inventing computers and programming them to be word processors so ChristianityToday can tell us about organic farming, and with an additional result that one of those programmers can afford to work for free for 15+ years on a computer program to translate the Bible into languages that don't yet have it. Maybe I won't succeed, but we would never know if I had to spend all my time growing the food I eat, or working hard to earn enough to pay for it.

Nov.23 Addendum: After carefully reviewing the CT article again, I am unable to find the word "organic" in it. It also does not appear on the featured Lamppost Farm's own website. I asked, and they replied effectively, "all but certified." Substitute "sustainable, GMO-free, free-range" for "organic" above, because that phrase did appear in the article and it means about the same thing -- but without the government certification, so they can fudge when the economics doesn't work out conveniently. The Salt of the Earth restaurant the article mentioned has no website that Google could find, but there were five accessible review websites, and one of them used the word "organic" to describe it. Not all the reviews were favorable (high priced small servings, more focus on flash than flavor, no reservations, petty little stuff like that), but it was clear from the menu items mentioned that not all their fare is "local" to Pittsburgh. Western Pennsylvania may be local to eastern Ohio, but not to where scallops and octopus and salmon are obtained. My point remains: "local organic" may be a convenient label for charging more for the same basic nutritional content, but it's not sustainable except as a small-scale luxury item in an economy sustained by factory farming methods.

My letter to CT is here.

2013 November 6 -- Sneakers

It's not often I stumble across a flick as delightful as this one. And so close to home, too! It's about information, what I deal with every day. OK, I never get involved with international spies or breaking into banks -- that part wasn't quite credible: the US government has persuaded a lot of the industry to use their (known to be weak) DES encryption algorithm, and it is common knowledge among technologists that the NSA computers can crack it (probably in real time -- that's why they insisted on its adoption as a standard), but the RSA algorithm is still unbroken and as far as anybody knows, unbreakable, and it's mostly what the internet uses. They had a mathematician giving a math lecture for a few seconds, and the math sounded somewhat bogus to me. The "making of" documentary claimed that Leonard Adleman (the "A" in the unbreakable RSA algorithm; I did a presentation on that technology in grad school when it was still new and poorly understood, I think as part of my MS degree) wrote the lecture, but maybe the actor flubbed the lines. After all, who would know (besides a few nerds like me)? Or maybe it was farther over my head than I supposed it could be. It isn't like it was outside my specialty.

The "making of" documentary for Sneakers was particularly interesting, after a slow start in which the writer/directors or whoever they were spent a long time telling us how their flick got off to a slow start. They had brief cameos of key real-world people like Adleman and John Draper aka "Cap'n Crunch" and others. I suspect Draper tested some of his hacks on my computer, before I knew anything about "Cap'n Crunch" and his blue-box exploits. I never knew until today when they told us on the DVD why he was missing all those teeth and looked so decrepit the last time I talked to him.

I guess it was three years ago I stumbled across a movie whose leading actress is probably the granddaughter of one of my playmates as a kid. John Draper was on this screen for less than a minute, but he was once in my house, and he knew me by name, I guess now 15 years ago. A bigger frog in a smaller pond, but still something to write home about anyway.

2013 November 1 -- Persia

I seem to be reading books placed in and around Persia (Iran) lately, now starting the third in a row. Last week it was Ringo's Last Centurion, earlier this week is was Rosenberg's Tehran Initiative (the second in his "Twelfth Imam" series), and now I'm starting Xenophon's Anabasis -- this particular English translation is titled The Persian Expedition, and John Ringo refers to it as "Ten Thousand" (soldiers). Ringo seems to like Anabasis, and has patterned several of his stories after it. Apart from his potty mouth, Ringo is a good writer, so I guess that got me into it. The Rosenberg novel is not in the local library, so I sent out for it on Inter-Library Loan, and it came in just after I finished Centurion. Rosenberg's stuff really sucks you in, so I probably spent time on it that I should have been doing other things (like sleeping, but who can sleep in the middle of a page-turner?). Anabasis is 2400 years old, so it's not a fine-tuned page-turner like the modern stuff, but it has the advantage of being history, not fiction. This particular translation is much more readable than Homer's Odyssey I read last year, probably because it's history, not fiction. You may recall my remarks earlier this year on "Post-Christian Fiction" as distinguished from history.

I almost forgot, my Bible readings also have me in the early chapters of Ezra, where Cyrus King of Persia sends the Jews back (from Persia) to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple there. This seems to be a different Cyrus than the guy who led the Ten Thousand (they actually started in western Turkey at more like 13,000 soldiers) to battle against the King of Persia in hopes of taking his throne; that Cyrus died in the battle. Perhaps he was a descendant of the guy in the Bible, Wikipedia is a little vague.

2013 October 28 -- Really Bad Politics

I finished reading John Ringo's The Last Centurion over the weekend. The last five chapters got really ugly political, kind of like he was stumping against Obama in 2008, the way D'Souza's "Obama's 2016" did last year, except it was placed 20 years in the future, and the Democrat Prez he criticized was a Hillary clone (rather than Obama, which probably would have come off too racist for even Ringo's own tastes).

In the last chapter, Ringo's left-wing bigots (he uses epithets that make my "left-wing bigot"* label sound like praise) have taken over Detroit and replaced the normal democratic (small-D, the political process, not the party falsely so named) government with a "Caliph" who is raping children and treating "dhimis" (non-Muslims) as slaves. The hero, "Bandit Six" comes riding in on his white horse (Abrams tanks) to the rescue and kills the Bad Guys. And everybody lives happily ever after.

It's not real. I mean, like I'm on the same (political) side as Ringo, and the American people were stupid enough to elect Obama a second time, and the MSM (main-stream media) really are lying to the public, but the reporters mostly believe their own rhetoric. They have to look at their own faces in the mirror each morning, and they could not think of themselves as "good honest people" (which I'm sure most of them do) if their lies were as blatant as Ringo makes them out to be.

Detroit really is (literally) bankrupt (even in 2008), and the left-wing bigots really did do it to them, but there are a lot of Christians in Detroit defeating the Powers of Evil there -- see for example the WORLD magazine cover story or Christianity Today's feature, both earlier this year -- and like the brave guys on Flight 93, they are not going to let the Powers of Evil win. Bandit Six is not the only guy in the USA with his head screwed on straight. But Muslims really do those kinds of things -- if not in Detroit, certainly in Sudan and Nigeria and (probably) Saudi Arabia and Iran, and they wish they could do so in every other Muslim-dominated country, but cannot always get away with it (think: "Arab Spring" in Egypt today). The only reason they do not attempt it today in Detroit is because they are not a majority, and even the left-wing bigots have Christians (and probably also atheists with closet-Christian values) among them who would not stand for it.

Ringo makes a big thing of "trust" in this book, but does not offer any basis for that trust. He admits that some of the so-called "high-trust" people he describes are not doing it because they trust anybody, but rather because their Christian faith requires it of them. I'd guess (he does not say) the philosophical basis for his theory is Darwinist: "trust" is deemed better for society and therefore confers survival value on its practitioners, but it suffers from the whole Darwinist failure to explain altruism, which truly is better for society as a whole, but not for the individual practitioners of it (they only benefit from other people's altruism). Therefore it cannot start up in a culture without it and then be preserved by Natural Selection, nor is it likely to survive in a culture that already has it -- apart from religious (meaning: Christian or post-Christian) values promoting it, witness Ringo's own description of Detroit. Unlike some of the other anti-religious writers and reporters discussing the same topics, Ringo is honest enough to admit that Christians generally made better distributors of charity (his preferred term was "voluntary random associations" but Christian service organizations don't very well fit the description, most notably the "random" part) in places where that is needed. He compared the March of Dimes (30% efficiency, the other 70% going to overhead and high executive salaries) with Christian Children's Fund (90% efficiency, and open records). Come to think of it, I have not seen any MoD collection boxes lately, probably not since 2008. I wonder why.

Ringo accurately demolishes the pseudo-science around global warming (his second catastrophe is global cooling, which the science he cites actually supports), and he explains the science about "organic" farming, showing why the USA exports food today -- factory farm methods produce three times the crop yield of organic methods -- and why American factory farmers could produce comparable output even in the face of massive climate change, but not if the government meddlers get involved. It was the left-wing-bigot government in his story that turned a 20% population decrease from a virulent bird flu (his first catastrophe) into massive starvation. That's still more than likely, given that even the so-called "Republicans" in Washington can't keep their hands off. We still need government to make the vendors tell the truth about their products, and to keep predatory super-corporations from driving smaller competitors out of business by temporarily selling for less than cost (Ringo does not mention these temptations, nor the need for government to prevent them).

The bottom line is that the catastrophes Ringo builds his story on are somewhat improbable, but plausible, and the knee-jerk responses of the left-wing bigots in his story are in fact what actually took the richest nation in Africa (Rhodesia) down to being poorest in the world (now called Zimbabwe). Like I said, it's a good wake-up call, if you like drinking sewer water. sigh

* Left-Wing Bigots -- Polite people, and the LWBs themselves, prefer to call them "liberals" but this is both inaccurate and misleading. The word "liberal" means open and generous and accepting, but these people are knee-jerk heterophobic anti-Christian left-wing bigots (their own phrase, with the polar words inverted). I refuse to call "liberal" anybody whose pants are on so tight they can't even sit down and discuss the issues politely, it just isn't honest.

2013 October 25 -- "If You Care About Our Security," avoid this film

The producer of On Native Soil wanted to make people angry. They succeeded in my case, but not about their agenda. They succeeded in making the DVD hard to watch, so it froze up my PC, and OSX refused to respond to reasonable controls. The DVD maker can make it easy or hard, and they chose to make it hard.

They spent a lot of time interviewing people who thought the government failed leading to and on 9/11 -- and never mentioned the non-government guy(s) whose bravery brought the fourth plane down in Pensylvania instead of on Pensylvania Avenue. They made a big deal over the one guy who said, on-camera, that the government failed -- and then immediately misquoted him. He did not say the government could have done better: they could not have done significantly better with the information and experience they had. Yes, some people dawdled and dithered when they should have been getting information to relevant authorities, but even if the information had gotten through, and even if the military pilots could have gotten there and intercepted the hijacked planes, what are they going to do, shoot down a civilian plane filled with non-combatant civilian passengers? It goes against everything we knew. I think it was the third or fourth novel in Joel Rosenberg's Last Jihad series, where the President is faced with eactly that question -- and this is after 9/11 -- and gets severely criticized for shooting them down, over the ocean even (so only those on the plane died). None of the four planes on 9/11 were over water. By the time people figured out what their intentions were, most of them were over population centers. More people would have died if a plane came down in a shopping mall or a school than actually happened at the WTC.

3000 people died. That sounds horrific, until you realize that's only 0.001% of the population of this country. More people die in traffic accidents every year. Who's complaining about government inaction in those deaths? Nobody, because we already know what the government does to prevent auto accidents: they make cars slower and more expensive. You personally can do something to reduce traffic deaths -- but you probably don't want to drive slower. You almost certainly don't want to take public transportation instead of driving. Most people don't even know anybody who died in a car accident. Maybe they know somebody who knew somebody. It's not an immediate problem. Neither was hijackers flying planes into distant skyscrapers. More people die every day in abortions than the entire 9/11 death toll, and what are we doing about that? Nothing. What is the government doing about it? They are paying for it from your tax dollars. Why aren't people demanding that it stop? There's a disconnect here.

Nobody had response protocols (their term) for the kind of attack that happened on 9/11, because it had never happened before. To see what I mean, think for a minute, What recovery plans have you personally made for whan an airplane falls out of the sky on your own home in the middle of the night? None, right? It's never happened to you, nor to anybody you know. So if it happens tonight, you will have "failed" just like the Federal government failed to prepare for 9/11. The government did not have enough specific information to take effective preventative actions. They said so on this flick, but then voice-over quickly shifted to criticizing that same Cabinet member for not being more forthcoming. She was both honest and respectfully defensive in the face of unwarranted hostility from the interviewer. Sure the INS bungled the hijackers' entry visas. If they had been more careful, then the Bad Guys would have taken a little more effort to fill in the forms correctly -- and still gotten in with plenty of time to do their nasty stuff. But this movie did not say that.

I mentioned that I'm reading The Last Centurion. Author John Ringo divides people into two classes, grasshoppers and ants. In his description, ants plan ahead. Ants are farmers and soldiers. Ants get things done. Grasshoppers just want to sit around and let the government do everything, and eat what somebody else worked for. This movie was made by and for grasshoppers. Grasshoppers will always be angry at the government. I'd rather be one of Ringo's ants.

Bottom line, you don't want to watch this movie. Unless you like Obama. But, as Ringo points out, Obama's policies (really, his Hillary clone's, but the same politics) are far more devastating to the country during a catastrophe than Bush's ever were.

2013 October 23 -- One Thumb Up, the Other Down

As I mentioned previously, author John Ringo is a mixed bag. Unlike the tiresome left-wing bigotry of most sci-fi authors, Ringo's heroes are on the right end (both senses). He knows military and he knows business, so his descriptions are credible and even delightfully so. The local library has not picked up the sequels to Live Free or Die (librarians are notoriously left-wing in their politics, but I don't know if that's why), so I found another of his books not in the wretched commando series. I'm only a half-dozen chapters into The Last Centurion so far, but it's a delightful and witty take on the foolish politics of a Hillary look-alike President and most blue-state cities -- the book is copyright 2008, presumably before Obama snagged the nomination (or maybe after, and it's too dangerous to pillory a black the way he does her) but set in the early 2020s -- it is seriously marred by the relentless potty mouth of the protagonist. I'm guessing that this is a deliberate effort on Ringo's part to make his soldier realistic, because every once in a while he forgets for a couple pages to fill the narrative with vile words. So unless you like drinking sewer water, I can't recommend it. More's the shame, because this book should serve as a wake-up call against the government policies we see coming from the WhiteHouse today.

2013 October 21 -- Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

Marvin Olasky generally has good Biblical insights -- he's the one who put "compassionate conservatism" in the Republican vocabulary, nevermind that the pols in Washington remained clueless after it got Bush elected -- and as sometime editor of WORLD magazine, he gets to write the fun stuff, like this week's cover story, wherein he offers the opinion that "the Bible sets a very high bar for capital punishment, and the American legal system rarely reaches it." I'm sure that's true for all the reasons he mentions, and the inequity of the system is certainly appalling. As we learned from the O.J.Simpson circus, race is no longer the basis for that inequity, but rather money. Well, it's always been money and public approval, but it was harder to see when there were no rich and popular minority perps.

Anyway (Olasky prehaps excepted), it seems to me that most of the moral arguments people bring to bear against the death penalty are based on the atheistic notion that there is no afterlife, no Heaven to look forward to, plus a rather ostrich ignorance of the barbaric conditions in the American prison system. It isn't just in the movies, Olasky himself admits the terrifying and dehumanizing quality of life behind bars. A sentence of "life" (or even many years) under those conditions cannot be less cruel and inhumane than a quick end to it all.  As a Christian, I would consider a quick trip to Heaven much more attractive than anything this world has to offer, let alone the tortures of the modern prison system, and so apparently did the Apostles in the Bible.

I believe it was shortly before the Patty Hearst trial, when pundits everywhere were predicting that she would get off with a minimal sentence because of her father's money, I heard the sarcastic line, "America has the finest justice that money can buy." In my experience, that's true: in my few contacts with the system I didn't pay for any justice, and I didn't get any. While the Patty Hearst verdict surprised everybody with its severity, the predictions nevertheless proved true, as the increasingly left-wing politics of the American news media got rewarded by her early release and pardon by Democrat Presidents.

Anyway, I do not intend to commit any crimes (let alone capital crimes), but mistakes happen, and if I should find myself thus on trial, I think I would insist that any plea bargain I agree to would minimize incarceration in favor of execution. As if my opinion in such matters carried any weight at all.

2013 October 17 -- Coulda Fooled Me

It was your standard Hollywood blood-and-guts fare, you know, the kind that the psychologists who study such things tell us encourages violence in our youth. My sister observed in raising her son that violent movies and video games definitely made him more sullen and belligerent. She was able to observe this because she denied him such "pleasures" but her estranged (now divorced) husband did not, and the kid's behavior suffered substantially for several days after those visits.

It wasn't until I got to the "making-of" documentary that I learned that this was supposed to be an anti-violence flick. The irony was astounding. The director was saying "I wanted [the audience] to be complicit," as if that would result in revulsion instead of adoption. He really should understand the dynamic. Right there on-screen he says:

The fact that in the United States violence is celebrated, it tells you that, as a society, we have a long way to go. And we sort of become inured to violence because it's just relentless, it's constant. So you're never really allowed to take a break and think about what just happened.
Nevermind that his flicks, and this one in particular, do that celebration, that relentless constant. Film is like that, it's relentless, you are whisked along at the breathless speed of the movie, with no time to stop and think. Playing it at home, I can pause, but this stupid DVD player (see "Blame Hollywood") doesn't know that the computer shut down the disk drive, and that it takes a couple seconds to spin back up, so it skips a couple seconds of movie trying to get back on schedule. Which is ridiculous, I just came out of pause, there's no schedule to catch up to. Even if there were, and the player is going to freeze for two or three seconds, I'd much rather it just resumed where it left off. Most movies I can back up over the missed content, but some of the movies are starting to disable that feature. Blame Hollywood. So pausing to think about what one just saw is a hassle not encouraged by the vendor. This director can't be that clueless, can he?

Maybe so. Like most modern movies, this one was filmed in Canada -- the Canadians are rather smarter than the idiots in Sacramento, who are trying to chase everything of value out of their state -- and it happened to be during November 2004, so the film crew staged a mock election. One of the voters held up their ballot to the camera showing some offensive pejorative scribbled over Bush's face. It was no surprise that Kerry got 75 votes to Bush's 6 (probably some of the Canadian crew, who were also invited to vote). The film industry is as out of touch with the American people as the other media (TV and print). So I shouldn't be surprised that the director of this flick should be so clueless about his contribution to what he claims to oppose, that is, violence in America.

Politics aside, there was a little linguistic tidbit that I found interesting. I don't live back there, so I had not noticed that there is a definite dialect difference between Philadelphia (where the Bad Guys in the flick were from), and say New York or (presumably) Indiana where most of the action was set. But one of the credits was for a dialog coach, and he was boasting about an actor who was familiar with the phonetic alphabet, so he could tell him to use or not use a schwa there, and he understood and could change his dialect. They gave a little sample on-screen, and you really could tell the accent difference, from the same actor, one second to the next. These guys are professionals. A different flick earlier this week, the lead actor had a native Irish accent, but I didn't notice until the "making-of" doc, because he did the American accent so well on-screen.

2013 October 16 -- Blurry Pixels

Nevermind what they tell you, the video monitor industry has a long history of preferring low-quality blurry images to black bars in the margins. When TV first started the CRT tubes were round, but the transmitted images were 4x3 rectangular like the movies (before anamorphic lenses and cinemascope). So the TV receiver manufacturers enlarged the image to fill the width of the tube, and lopped off the corners. In the studio, where the producer wanted to see the whole picture, they shrank it down and showed black crescents around the edges. The CRT manufacturers soon learned how to make tubes that were closer to the shape of the transmitted picture but still had rounded corners, so they still lopped off the corners. The camera people knew that, and were careful to zoom back far enough so that nothing important was in the outer 20% of the image. I remember, the networks sent a little white square in the upper right corner a few seconds before the commercial breaks, so the local broadcasters -- who showed high-quality full-image views in their studio monitors -- knew when to cue up the local commercials. I had shrunk the image on the family TV set (or maybe it was just getting old) so I saw this dot and figured out what it meant.

Except in the high-priced supercomputers, the first computer displays were just TV monitors. Engineers knew how to get full image quality (no lopped corners), but that's not a control available on your average consumer TV set, so the rest of us just put up with lopped corners. Or else our display driver hardware shrank the image before it got to the TV set.

When LCD displays came out, they could make them exactly the size of the image, no lopped corners, and no black crescents around the edges. That was great. Until they started playing movies on these screens. Most of the cinemascope movies that were repackaged for TV lopped off the ends of the image to make it fit. Maybe they adjusted the position if the image focus was at one end, or maybe the camera operators (like their TV colleagues) knew not to put anything important on the ends, but I never noticed it -- except once, the guy on-screen was talking like he was seeing somebody coming in the distance, but there was nobody there (until he got close, big enough to not be completely lopped off). I guess this annoyed the directors, so they started shrinking the movies to show their full width on TV, with black bars at the top and bottom. The computer people saw more and more movies being played on their systems, so they made the screen wider. Now you cannot buy a 4x3 screen on a computer any more, they are all various degrees of wide, all different.

Enter the software fixups. Black bars are still (traditionally) anathema, so they stretch the image horizontally or vertically to fill the available space, and you get this goofy low-quality image where all the people are tall and skinny, or else short and fat. When (low-quality) digital TV replaced the much better analog a few years back, it's all done on computers, so they kept on shrinking or stretching the images, so there's no way you can get a good quality (correctly proportioned) image on one of these new digital TVs: in addition to one-inch blocks of frozen image and stuttered sound, you also get fat or skinny people. Every one. The DVD movies do that too. When I get a library movie that offers both "full-screen" (4x3, with the ends lopped off) and the other kind (with black bars at the top and bottom), I always choose the full-screen version, because at least the circles are round and the people not fat. The camera operators still know to keep the important parts of the picture in the center, so I don't miss anything (except that once). Most of the recent flicks don't give that option, so I get to see the tiny image with fat people and the black bars. One of them put black bars on all four sides.

Do I care about the movies? Not much. But the same pea-brains doing the TV monitors are designing the computer monitor hardware. That basically sank my attempt to get Linux up on my PC laptop, because the castrati doing Linux couldn't make it work with the hardware, and the hardware people refused to display in high quality what the computer people gave them. The result was unreadable blurry pixels. WinXP at least is smart enough to display the desktop with black bars around it if you wanted 1024x768 and wanted to actually read the text, but who ever said unixies were smart? Bye and bye, the same demonic serpent bit me on my development PC (see "Chinese Junk" yesterday). The computer is old, it only does 1024x768 or smaller. The display I got is stupid, so the pixels muddle together unreadably. Why can't they just show black bars around a high quality image?

Anybody know where I can find a flat 1024x768 monitor?

2013 October 15 -- Putrid Chinese (PC) Junk

Almost ten years ago now, after I knew I was getting fired, I ordered a PC computer with the hope of restarting my contract programming business. That never happened (I got involved in something else), but if you've been reading my blog very long, you've seen my take on the trials and tribulations of working with a PC from time to time.

One of the problems I don't think I mentioned was the monitor that came with it. It worked more or less OK, but never was very bright, and slowly degraded until it was very hard to see with the room lights on. The monitor's own menu was bright enough, but it seemed to think the PC was telling it to go dim. I later tried it on the OSX computer, and it was no brighter. Cheap Chinese junk, not to be confused with an oriental sailing vessel. Anyway, the PC gets very little use, except when I'm trying to make a program run on it. That started again yesterday, except that the monitor finally became completely inoperable. Not dead, just that it would blink on (dim) for one second every time the host computer changed resolution, then back off again. The local Wal-Mart sells monitors, but nothing in 1024x768, which is the only thing this PC knows about. Radio Shack has none at all any more. The computer integrator where I bought the computer is gone I know not where, there was a bookstore there instead. But across the street was a used-stuff vendor, and they had several monitors, but nobody there knew what resolution. The first one I tried was 1280x800 and glaringly bright (no brightness control), and the pixels were all blurry. It seems the monitor vendors don't know how to make sharp pixels unless you feed it native resolution, but they don't want to tell you what that is. I took it back and traded up to another screen that turns out to be the same blurry resolution, but at least I can dim it down to something reasonable. At $20 less than a new monster from Wal-Mart, I'm not sure I got a good deal. sigh At least I only have to look at it for a few days.

Anybody know where I can find a flat 1024x768 monitor? I don't have desk space for a tube.

2013 October 14 -- Pressure Cooker

It wasn't a feel-good movie like the despicable Hallmark faux-Christmas flicks. The main character apparently was a real person (not an actress) in a real Philadelphia high school, with real students. She didn't dish out unearned affirmation. For the first half of the movie there was hardly any affirmation at all. She ran her kitchen-classroom like an army drill sergeant. Behind her, clearly readable on the classroom wall, was the very disaffirming but true motto: "Actions Have Consequences." There was no unearned self-esteem in her class. If you want to be praised, you had to earn it, you had to choose your actions so they had desirable consequences -- and she did hand out earned praise. All 13 of her students that year went on to the finals for culinary school scholarships. Apparently not so many that year as the previous year actually got full scholarships, which she announced to her entering students that the previous year's 11 students had collectively pulled in "three quarters of a million dollars" in scholarships. That's quite a chunk of change for disadvantaged students from an inner-city ghetto.

Even more remarkably -- I hope the Anti-Christian Litigation Unit doesn't notice and shut it down -- she's a Christian, and she prayed over her finalist students before they went into the final competition. There was also a short scene shot inside a church, where (I think it was one of the students) clearly sang one of the same praise songs we sing in the church where I go:

What a mighty God we serve.
What a mighty God we serve.
Angels bow before Him,
Heaven and earth adore Him,
What a mighty God we serve.
The main difference between this Christian version of "God is great" and the Muslim version, is that we really believe it, we bow and adore and let our mighty God fight His own battles, whereas the Muslims know their god is helpless, so they must do everything for him. I finished reading The Last Jihad series a couple weeks ago, and he tells it like we believe it: God fought the battles, the humans (including the Muslims) stood back in shock and awe while God wiped out their capital cities and their militaries. The school teacher in this movie works hard, and gets her students to work hard, then lets God do whatever God is going to do. I think that's a great balance.

2013 October 10 -- Rotten Movies

Have you ever had the experience -- I know I never did, not before today, that is -- when you are watching a movie, and kind of liking it (other than an excess of potty language), relating to the main character, and then another guy says something that totally destroys it. When he said that, I knew it was going to be a rotten movie. Right then, I stopped and wrote down the offensive line:
I can't learn anything about you I can't learn in some book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that, do you, sport?
The first half of the flick was about this super smart wiz, just a janitor, who could solve math problems that stumped the profs at MIT. Then Robin Williams came in and turned the whole thing into mush. And I knew where it was going when he gave that line. The wiz was going to throw it all away. And he did! The closing credits were over him driving into the sunset, away from doing the Right Thing. I should have known. The movie industry (like the churches in America) is run by and for Feelers. A smart guy doing smart things is anathema to them. That's why the USA is dead last in math and science among industrial nations. It's why we have somebody like Obama as President.

Robin Williams may be a good actor, but when I see his name on the billing, it tells me something about the movie, like seeing Harrison Ford tells me whether I will like the move. I can't think of a Ford movie I didn't like. Harrison Ford is a big name, and he can pick the stories he is willing to play, and he picks good ones. Robin Williams is a big name too, but he has lousy taste in story lines. Maybe I liked one or two early Williams flicks, but it was so long ago, I can't remember it ever happening. He plays his part well, but the movie itself sucks, and good acting cannot redeem a rotten script. Every one in at least the last decade. Probably longer. I think the first time I saw him, it was so bad, the group I was with didn't finish it. That was 25 years ago. This one was made in 1997. He has not gotten better.

2013 October 7 -- Feminist vs Feminazi

Although he never disclosed enough of himself for me to know who he is (in another blog post I called that "cowardly"), it appears from the website at the domain from which he sent his email that he might consider himself a feminist, and thus could reasonably be offended that I adopted Rush Limbaugh's derisive label "feminazi" for them. It is, as Rush pointed out, an accurate descriptor. My assailant did argue (somewhat hypocritically) the Golden Rule, and because I claim that as a personal value, I need to evaluate whether I am at fault here.

I can start by comparing this label to a different label that also offends those whom it describes. Three years ago a Darwinist took issue with my use of that label to describe the adherents of his religion. In my reply I pointed out that his preferred term is ambiguous and therefore misleading and dishonest. That is not the case here. There is only one dictionary definition of the term, and its adherents are not arguing for a different sense.

The accepted term does not imply nor deny the fascist imposition of religious dogma on people who (for religious or scientific reasons, independently) believe otherwise, but it is in fact the law of the land; using the derisive label is thus both a form of political speech and an expression of freedom of religion, both guaranteed in the US Constitution. Being in a minority on this topic makes it all the more important to speak out.

From time to time the science against the feminist lie squirms its way past the opposition into public view, and I mention it here when I notice; just today, while looking for something else in my blog, I happened on "Gender Wars" from a couple years ago, where the obviously feminist writers in a popular business magazine could not hide the facts they were arguing against.

Referring also to my remarks on lack of employment, my assailant blamed my outspoken opinions and claimed that he would prefer to hire somebody [only] "if it means I can tolerate them." Basically, he was admitting to religious discrimination in the workplace, which is unlawful but hard to prove. No matter, I wouldn't want to work for a bigot, either. I'm pretty sure one university declined to make me an offer in 2002 because I'm a complementarian, but as a religious institution, they had that right. Another college stopped the interview process in 2010 after reading some of my blog posts, perhaps including one expressing opinions too diverse for their misleading "diversity" policy. Those rebuffs may be rude and insulting and just plain wrong-headed, but people are entitled to their own bigotry, and I am disinclined to impose myself where I am unwanted, whatever the reason. While those employers lacked the courage and honesty to disclose their reasons, I do not intend to be so dishonest about my beliefs. I'd rather they know what I believe because I said so, than that they invent something to believe about me because I didn't say -- I get enough of that anyway, and it's far more offensive than not getting hired.

The Golden Rule is about treating others as I want to be treated. Do I want to be called a derogatory (but accurate) label when there are less derogatory (and less accurate) but unambiguous labels available? Accuracy is the key. This guy started out insulting me in ways that were informative. Perhaps he did not intend it to be informative, and I have no way of knowing if he intended it to be inaccurate. I thanked him honestly. That apparently wasn't what he was aiming for, so he raised the level of hostility to include things he could not possibly know to be true or even likely. No, I don't like people being hostile and just plain wrong, and I won't do it to other people. It's against my religion, twice over. What I have said is not an example of it -- and this guy never argued otherwise -- but he certainly gave that to me. I also don't like people being hypocritically "nice" and just plain wrong, and I won't do it to other people. It also is against my religion. His religion is different, but he's too ashamed of it to engage.

All things considered, the more derisive term is more accurate, but perhaps unnecessarily offensive to people who are already committed to a position they are unlikely to be moved from for any reason. This person admitted that of himself, albeit indirectly. On the other hand (again like Rush), I try not to apply the term to any particular people -- certainly not to this guy. So I don't know. Perhaps I can be more moderate, perhaps God will not allow it. As I told him, the time for political correctness (politeness) on this topic is past. That was often the case with God's prophets. Sometimes even Jesus himself was rather insulting. I will never apologize for (nor turn from) being like Jesus.

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