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2017 April 29 -- Fighting Against God

Finally, after six months of heating the whole house of which I occupy at most one room at a time, I got the rest of the always-open registers over the heating vents replaced with registers with the usual lever that closes it off. I had already removed the register in my work area, and it doubled the air flow (which also improved heat distribution, with the result that I could run the thermostat substantially lower and still be comfortable), so I had no reason to believe that further reducing the flow into other rooms would improve my heating cost even more. Instead I started smelling the characteristic burnt-sugar odor of over-heated electrical windings (motors and transformers). I thought maybe there was a problem the installer (six months ago, just before I moved in) should be aware of. Like the "TV never works so well as when the repairman comes to fix it," I had run around and opened the vents again, so the smell was gone.

Apart from some nonsense about heat flowing through the walls -- yes, but only if the room on the other side is colder, which is the whole point, because if it is, then the heat loss out the ceiling and outside walls is necessarily less -- and back-pressure -- every restriction creates back-pressure, that's why the vent where I removed the grating flows so much faster, it's simple physics -- he basically told me that the ducts are not wide enough to support the whole output of the fan in the furnace (unless they are all open) and the motor itself is likewise under-rated to cope with the increased back-pressure. He didn't use those words, but I understood him. That's why his company did not install closers on the vents. Cheap schlock (probably Chinese) products for a cheap-schlock town.

The bottom line is that central gas-furnace heat in this house is substantially more costly than local electric heat, despite that electric heat costs three times the price of gas for the same heat per area. So I guess I will keep the thermostat at a low level (50 or less) for the whole house, and buy local space heaters for wherever I am sitting. I already use an electric blanket at night, now that I figured out how to disable the government-mandated the cheap-schlock Chinese blanket disabler, and for a while I kept an electric space heater at my feet in my workspace, but that got packed away in the last move or two, and I don't know where.So my next opportunity I drove to WalMart to buy a replacement space heater or two -- the cost of which would be saved in one month's heat bill -- but they don't have any. It's the wrong time of year. It's like they decreed that starting last month (or whenever it was), there would be no cold mornings until September. God didn't get the message.

Or maybe (this being a blue state), the left-wing bigot idiots who run the government really want us to burn more carbon so they can collect more energy taxes, thereby effectively raising taxes on the poor while pretending otherwise in public.
 

2017 April 15 -- Air Pollution

I mentioned the reek of chemical pollution shortly after moving here. I haven't noticed it since, perhaps because I'm too stoned to notice. Or maybe it was a one-time fault. Today the pollution is acoustic, the neighbor pounding on my window from inside his house. Middle-class neighborhoods don't have that problem so bad because the houses are farther apart -- I had it a few times in the summer in Misery, but I guess the renters moved away; they were farther away than in this cheek-by-jowl neighborhood, so I only heard it on warm summer weekend evenings. In Calif my condo shared a common wall, and when the booming came through, I put my own stereo next to the wall and turned up the volume and they got the hint. Here he does it during prime work time. Today wasn't the first time. A couple days ago I went over to complain, and he said he could turn the bass down, and that helped for a while, but it slowly crept back up. I tried putting some foam in the window, and it seemed to help -- until I noticed (from another window) that he had stopped. He just now started back up, and it comes right through the foam. Or the wall. I can't hear it in the rest of the house. I searched the internet for a "brown noise" mp3 file to download, but it doesn't mask it. I guess I need to buy noise-cancelling earphones. sigh
 

2017 April 7 -- Moses

I guess I was in high school or maybe college when I started the regimen of reading one chapter in the Bible each day. At first it was random chapters, but after a while I started working my way through whole books, and eventually began systematically reading through the whole Bible -- including the boring Old Testament books. The "begats" weren't so bad, it was interesting to link these names to other places in the Bible where they turned up. Like those three friends of Job: Eliphaz the Temanite, Teman was a grandson of Esau, and Eliphaz was not merely "the son of" Teman, nor even "of the family of" Teman, but one of a vast number of Teman descendants (many generations later); similarly, Bildad the Shuhite was a distant descendant of Shuah, one of the sons of Abraham by Keturah after Sarah died. Later the fourth guy, Elihu "of the family of Ram" (Ram is a descendant of Judah in the line of Christ) is closely related to the brother-in-law Aaron the brother of Moses. The book of Job cannot possibly predate Moses. But the detailed tests for leprosy -- including leprosy of houses and clothing (apparently referring to mildew) -- and the complicated sacrificial system, none of which have any relevance to me today, seem even now somewhat tiresome.

But I did it, the whole Bible in about three years, maybe a dozen or more times through. Then it occurred to me that I had studied Greek and Hebrew, why not do it in the original? That was six years ago (first mentioned in my blog in connection with seeing gender issues in the original, later that year). Obviously it goes slower in a language where I don't know many of the words and I must think a lot about the grammatical structure. Anyway, I finished a couple months ago, and started over. Today I'm in Exodus.

Two things struck me. The last half of Exodus 6, which I read yesterday, is bizarre and makes no sense at all unless Moses is the authentic author of the original text. If, as the atheists and closet atheists claim, the Torah is an amalgamation ("mashup" in modern terminology) of work put together by scribes in the time of Hezekiah and/or Ezra (or any other time after Moses), then why on earth would they leave that in? Unless it's what they received as sacred text, and were not allowed to change any of it. There are numerous genealogies of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, at least two of them before this chapter. Here Moses and Aaron are getting ready to do the Plagues of Egypt before Pharaoh, and the sacred Author is explaining their trepidations. Suddenly the text switches to another genealogy in birth order: Reuben and his immediate descendants, then Simeon, then Levi. There is a little more detail, more depth in the family of Levi, so that we can see where Moses and Aaron's father and mother fit in. And then the genealogy stops. It does not go on to Judah. Anything about the history of the Jews written after David (who is from the tribe of Judah) ascended to the throne, Judah is predominant. He's next in birth order, after Levi, but not in Exodus 6. It's like Moses started to write out the whole genealogy, but got to his own family and forgot what he was doing. No later scribe piously trying to invent a history for Israel would make a blunder like that. What is there is accurate and inerrant, and God in His wisdom preserved that strange quarter of a genealogy to remind us that Moses was both human and the authentic author of the text.

Exodus 7:1 is strange in a different way.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I have made you God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet."
The (old) NIV translation I often use for Bible quotes here in my blog (because I have an electronic copy I can search and copy from) has it "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh," but that's an interpretation. The Hebrew text uses the preposition 'K-' ( usually is best translated "like" or "as") in many places, but it's not here. God told Moses "You will be God to Pharaoh." That's all the God he will ever see. You will wave your arm around, and Bad Things will happen, but he will see you doing it. The reason this is so remarkable is that a couple days ago my Jewish atheist friend was discussing a website I was preparing for him, and he said something about me being "God" in the presentation -- then caught himself and apologized. Jews are very careful with the Name of God, often even the generic "God" they misspell as "G-d" and he grew up in that culture, supposing that referring to me as "God" even in metaphor would be blasphemy. I understood it as metaphor (and said so). Obviously his own cultural heritage -- the Jewish religion he has rejected for himself -- in their own sacred text, did the same thing in the words of God Himself, so it cannot be sacriledge. It's too bad he cannot see the Truth behind the religion he rejected. But it's his choice, not mine.
 

2017 April 3 -- Crypto-Fantasy

Long long ago in a far-away place, I knew this young lady barely out of her teens and still filled with starry-eyed notions of fantasy and romance. She had been working on her novel for several years and (silly me) I volunteered to read it and offer comments. Much of what I now understand to be part of the whole package of fantasy (see "Fantasy vs the Truth") came from that experience. I don't much care for it as a fiction genre, but I understand it.

An important part of the fantasy worldview is the predominance of muscle power. Battles are fought with swords and clubs and maybe arrows, but not much else. People ride around on horses and dragons. Another is the casual disregard for the laws of physics. In her novel, water flowed uphill and mountain ranges met at perpendiculars -- you probably never noticed, but in our earth, volcanic mountains are essentially conical, and all the rest form in parallel rows: the Darwinist explanation is plate tectonics, but that should produce a jumble, not even rows; the best explanation I have seen is the near-collision of a celestial body, where gravitational forces lifted the surface on the way by, then the softer center fell back in leaving the partly hardened outer crust in rows tracing the path of the flyby (always along a great circle), one from Alaska through the Rockies and the Andes ranges to Antartica, another from southern European Alps across Turkey to the Himalayas. Her mountains T-boned each other like a basket weave. Her favorite descriptive phrase was "the cool factor."

Another quality of these fantasy writers is the emulation of "epic" ancient literature, very long story lines divided up into volumes. Ordinary authors make self-contained stories, still linked to previous novels by a shared history, but not so tightly that you cannot make sense of some volume in the middle without having read the whole prequel series.

Anyway, I picked up this big fat novel off the fantasy/sci-fi shelf of the library, and it announced itself as "Volume I of a new saga [picking up where] the Seven Suns..." So I found volume 1 of the Seven Suns epic -- that should have been a clue, but it was set in the future with multiple races distributed across multiple solar systems (obviously requiring some kind of faster-than-light starship, typically the only escape from physics that the hard-core sci-fi writers allow themselves) -- but no dragons or unicorns, no obvious predominance of female leads, and the author has a masculine name.

The cover flap blurb sounded innocuous enough, but I should have read the reviews on the back cover (which are usually worthless gush, where the words "cool" and "fantasy" jumped out at me when I realized this is more fantasy than science fiction, and looked around for clues to avoid repeating the mistake.

There is a nod to science, like a pseudo-technical explanation of how they were going to convert a gas giant planet into a "sun" by increasing its mass to the point where it could sustain nuclear fusion, by opening a 10km-wide worm-hole near a neutron star, the other end in the center of the planet. The neutron star then rushes through the worm-hole and presto! Except, why would a neutron star far more dense than the planet move at all, let alone toward the worm-hole? If the gravity is pulling, it would suck the planet through the worm-hole to the star, not the other way around. Then there is the sudden appearance of all this extra gravity inside the planet, so the four moons that somebody in the story planned to terra-form into livable environments, they do not have enough orbital velocity to stay there in the vastly increased gravity, so they'd be sucked straight into the new solar furnace.

Other characters make their living "mining" (scooping up) hydrogen from the surface of gas giant planets and converting it to an "allotrope" of hydrogen to fuel the star drive. The explanation (p.45) is by analogy with carbon, which has three molecular forms: "powdery graphite, diamond, and buckminsterfullerene." The author is obviously not familiar with how covalent chemical bonds form: carbon has four sites, which can link to up to four neighboring carbon atom in different geometrical configurations, whereas hydrogen has only one site, which can link to at most one other atom of any kind. Hydrogen on carbon makes all manner of different organic compounds (because of the different arrangements of the carbon atoms), but hydrogen on hydrogen is H2 with no possibility of variation. One of those mining stations is floating in the gas giant atmosphere low enough dow so that the air is "breathable" -- umm, gas giants (especially where you are harvesting hydrogen) are mostly hydrogen and methane, which is not breathable at any density. The author uses scientific terminology, but he didn't do his homework. Like female authors, the romance and the fancy clothing are more interesting to him than hard science.

Then there's the "cool" factor. To a person who knows nothing at all about linguistics, the apparently random apostrophes in Semitic names looks "cool" whereas in fact it represents a sound in that language that English speakers cannot normally hear, let alone pronounce; it's a consonant, which needs vowels nearby to be pronouncible, so jammed up against other consonants is linguistic nonsense. Unless it's like transliterated Chinese, where they seem to have adopted random Roman alphabet letters for unrelated sounds, like the 'x' in the name "Xao" which seems to be pronounced "Yow". But this author has not used up the Roman alphabet, he just likes the coolness factor of apostrophes.

The story is OK, not a lot of gutter language, so maybe I'll finish this book. But I probably won't go back for the sequels unless his story-telling gets a lot better. Russian-like novels with a zillion apparently unrelated characters is not a plus.

2017 April 8 update: Like all other feminazi fiction, the female characters are definitely smarter than the male characters, except for some not-so-nice characters which are all male. You can't blame the author: women read fantasies, guys don't, so he's catering to his audience. My young authoress friend had her lead character's eyes change color to match her emotions. I thought she invented it for its "cool" factor (nevermind how dangerous that would be in real life), but I see this guy has the skin color of several of his alien races change color to match their emotions. Maybe she got the idea from him. Whatever.
 

2017 March 29 -- Feminazi Coming-of-Age

I should have known. I skipped over a whole shelf full of "sci-fi" novels with dragons and/or horses on the cover art (or else a unicorn "Fantasy" icon on the spine instead of the "sci-fi" planet with rings, both shelved in the same section) because they had female author names. As I learned four years ago (see "Fantasy vs the Truth"), women tend to favor romance (same thing as fantasy, except there is no violation of physics) rather than credible science, and I already know to avoid chick-lit (as I have mentioned on numerous occasions). But this book had both male and female authors listed in equal font size (the guy first), and the topic was time travel. The cover blurb made only passing reference to the girl who was the focus of the story; I already know to avoid stories that focus on a female lead character.

My first clue that this was not your average sci-fi was that despite it's only 22 years old, there was very little vulgar language and almost no sex (certainly nothing explicit). Then the heroine came on scene, only 16 years old but trying to make herself out to be older and smarter (but proved otherwise in the story). It was a "young-adult" coming-of-age story, aimed at teenagers deemed not ready for the trash language that fills modern novels (I wasn't complaining), but basically moralizing them into the common sense that most of us take years to acquire. And like all feminazi themed stories, all the smart people (except for the older hero) were female, and all the (other) guys did all their thinking in their loins. At least they played the girl as emotional and romantic and impetuous. Clever, able to hold her own in a street fight (which is not particularly credible, given that guys have greater upper-body strength), but not overly smart. The female author's touch was evident in that the two lead guys spent way too much time emoting over their mistakes. That's a feminine thing. Real guys (not the girly guys in church) suck it up, like the not-very-female heroine a couple weeks ago. Obviously the female author did most of the writing in this novel. Maybe it's like Butterworth taking over when novelist Griffin retired (see "New Town Woes" last year), you pay for the better writer whose name is first on the cover, but you actually get somebody else's work.

I doubt I'll go back for the sequels.
 

2017 March 18 -- Self-Flagellation

I need to be more diligent to read the copyright date on these things. The sexist blog was the least of this novel's problems. In the apparent name of Political Correctness, the author went out of his way to destroy every marriage in his story except the one that wasn't. A genuine MWU marriage, that is. I don't know whether it was ignorance or more PC balderdash -- probably both -- but his heroine noir is nothing more than a guy with a female name and genitals, perhaps a little more emotional than most guys (except in American churches, which actively exclude real guys, see "Relationshipism"). sigh

It's sort of funny, in my industry "PC" stands for the computer that everybody loved to hate -- that is, until Apple figured out how to make something actually worse. Fear not! The Windoze team is valliantly trying to stay ahead of Apple in the "hard to use" category, and with Win10 they might have succeeded. Well, close anyway, but OSX is a moving target (what I call "unstable") and OSX.11 has hit new lows.
 

2017 March 15 -- Self-Defeating Ideology

A couple months ago some (probably) atheist got himself in a blather over something I'd written arguing in favor of moral absolutes. He never said which of my numerous comments on the topic he was arguing against -- perhaps he never read any of them, but is only repeating something he found on an atheist forum: his comments have the distinct flavor of second-hand reasoning -- but each time I re-think something I've previously written, I get the opportunity to come up with new insights.

Today's insight -- well, I first thought of it last month, but my response to him today was the clearest I've ever said it -- is that not only can he not live in a world without moral absolutes, he cannot even argue against them without depending on (that is, accepting as his own value) at least one moral absolute, namely Truth. If there is no such thing as Truth as an absolute, if there is no objective Reality Out There, about which True and False propositions can be composed and distinguished and judged whether they are True or False, then any opinion I hold about whatever I imagine to be Reality (but which by this hypothesis does not exist) has equal value with any contrary opinion my would-be assailant might hold, and he has no right to complain about my opinions, because they are just as "true" as his. He can only judge me to be Wrong if in fact there is a difference between Right and Wrong, that is, some opinions conform to the Reality out there, and some do not. Truth is conformance to Reality. This guy keeps hammering on me precisely because he does believe that there are such things as moral absolutes -- Truth being one of them -- and he expects them to be obligations binding on all people everywhere, and in particular on me. That is, he has the right to complain if what I say is not in conformance to -- not my own subjective imagined world, but -- the objective Reality that we all experience and can separately describe and judge whether our various descriptions are in fact True or False.

Anyway, so I'm in the process of rewriting my essay on Moral Absolutes to incorporate this new insight.

Related to that insight, I finished the alternative history sci-fi novel, which initially used Nazis having won the war as a device to whine a little about the perception Left-Wing Bigots have that people of faith want to be oppressive -- which, other than Muslim Jihadists and atheists, is generally not true, but only a projection of their own values -- but later on the whole idea of alternative histories became the focus of the plot. Multiple parallel universes are totally unscientific (there's no way to test the hypothesis, unless something like this novel happens where people from different parallel universes cross over into ours. If you don't think about it too hard, it's easy to imagine that so-called quantum computing could be the mechanism by which that happens, but as soon as you consider some of the implications, the whole idea crumbles into the same dust that surrounds the remnants of Darwinism (see "Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?").

So I'm about five (hard to say exactly, the chapters are unnumbered) chapters into the next novel, some kind of crime thriller. The eponymous detective is male, but the first-person central figure is female, and the narrative seems to follow her thinking. I probably would not have brought it home if I'd realized that.

Most annoying is a complete chapter devoted to a fictitious "BladeBitch" blog whining against sexism in (British) medicine. Although not (yet) mentioned in the book, British medicine is socialized, so market economics are suppressed. Obama pushed hard at getting that abomination into the USA (and may yet succeed, as more and more for-profit medical businesses in this country find ObamaCare to be unprofitable even after raising rates), but in a free market, businesses survive or fail almost entirely on whether they can provide a competitive product the customers want to pay for. That means the people they hire must either already be good at what they do in support of the corporate agenda, or else be trained to be good at it. If a woman is better qualified than a man, she will get the job; the company that refuses to consider her will be less competitive than the company that does hire her. The same is true of hiring men that are better qualified.

No whine against sexism can avoid being itself sexist, and most of them (this one included) argue against themselves by identifying particular things at which women are in some way better than men. They usually do this in support of the claim that the women should be hired because of that difference, but the sword cuts both ways. If that trait does not do that job better, then they should not be hired because of it.

Page 33 takes off on a tangent about the job interviewer asking (or being denied the right to ask, but figuring out how anyway) whether the woman is planning on having children. Duh.

...it's a bare fact that it's women who have to be pregnant if a couple wants babies, and it's women who have to breastfeed them and nurture them. That's not some archaic sexist convention: it's the inescapable reality.
There it is again: Reality. The employer doesn't care about babies, he wants somebody who is committed to his corporate agenda, and maternity leave interferes with that. Men don't have that problem. It's a biological difference the Feminazis try to ignore.

If there were no real difference between men and women in their ability to do the job, then there would be no difference in their hiring. If some stupid employer refused to hire women at prevailing wage, his competitor would, and eat his lunch. Or at least the demand for lower-wage women (doing the same work) would drive their wages up. The market really does work.

People who complain about gender differences in the job market are actually showing their own sexual discrimination (sexism) because if they were color-blind, they couldn't see the difference. Thus they prove that there is a difference for employers to look for.

The same is true of racial discrimination: the most effective way to eradicate racism is to refuse to take affirmative-action handouts, but to climb the ladder on your own competence. There are more blacks in American sports because they are better at it. The team that hires the best players (regardless of color) beats the team that makes racial choices, whether favoring minority races or excluding them. In sports, "Winning isn't the most important thing, it's the only thing." It doesn't take long for the team owners to figure out what wins. It isn't race that wins, but women do think different than men. Their bodies are built different, and that affects how they think in ways that compensatory training can mitigate but not completely overcome. In some jobs (like educators and middle managers of banks) it's a competitive advantage; others (like science and technology) it's a disadvantage. The marketplace shows it.
 

2017 March 13 -- Nazis Are Like Zombies

It was supposed to be a sci-fi novel, but it turned out to be alternative history set in the near future. I always held alternative history to be in the same genre as fantasy (see "Fantasy vs the Truth" four years ago), and I would have left this one on the shelf if I'd understood what it was, but in reading it I suddenly realized these alternative histories always posit a different outcome from WWII, that the Nazis had won, and what would life be like? Nazis are safe villains (see "Blood Flag" last week) that can be a deniable metaphor for anti-Christian hatred. It's like the popularity of zombie flicks about the same time (see "Enjoying Evil"), which are deemed a "safe" way to indulge fantasies of doing gory things to people, the Nazis exterminated Jews, so imagining that they had won the war is a "safe" way to indulge anti-Semitic feelings and also feelings of hostility against anybody deemed to be strict and authoritarian (read: "Christians").

The problem is -- and people (not even Christians) don't understand this -- that the Jews are under the protection of God, they cannot be exterminated, at least not all of them. Sure the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were taken into captivity around 800BC (or BCE = "Before the Christian Era" if you are anti-Christian) and never heard of again. Hitler got 6 million of them, but last I looked there were another 6 million in New York alone (I recently read that the Israelis themselves exterminated twice that number in abortions). Hitler could not have won (and succeeded at his "final solution") in any alternative reality that God is in control of.
 

2017 March 10 -- Blood Flag

I had a hard time getting into the novel. The first-person hero/narrator has an encounter with neo-Nazis who did nothing worse to him than break a rental car window and steal his son's camera; the rest of the story is him working to take them all down. Before the Iron Curtain fell, the Commies were the Bad Guys in most novels. Then it was China and now the Jihadists. You gotta have Bad Guys in fiction to provide dramatic tension. Nazis fill the bill, but the author did not explain why, so I felt that his prejudice against them was no more credible and tolerable than their prejudice against him. Hate and anger are two sides of the same coin, both are forbidden by God -- and there is no fundamental difference in this story between the Good Guys doing it and the Bad Guys doing it -- so my suspension of disbelief is frazzled.

He could have taken the trouble to explain that the Bad Guys do Bad Things -- except they weren't, they were only planning it. Speech is protected in the USA, so there were no crimes to prosecute, other than being on the wrong side of the hero's hate.

Hate is a funny thing. Like that church that didn't want to accept me, we all are uncomfortable with what we don't understand (or didn't grow up with), so we want to push them away. Me, I don't like loud rock "music." I would have been more comfortable in the little church that didn't want me, than in the slightly larger one that did accept me. The little church formalized their discomfort into rules of exclusion, nevermind that Jesus did not teach that kind of exclusion. It would have been interesting to hear their justification of that, but it probably won't happen. Church leaders are traditionally reluctant to (in the words of St.Peter) "Give an answer for the hope that is within [them]," probably because they know they can't defend it. Me, if I can't defend it, I'll abandon it.

I guess I'm sort of glad the next nearest church wasn't Calvinist or Arminian (they are both wrong). Well, the Church of Christ is Arminian, and they are three blocks closer physically, but I already know their denominational dogma doesn't accept me. It was OK for a year or so while I learned what they actually taught, and because I knew I was leaving the state as soon as possible, but I wanted a long-term solution here. Dunno if the Baptist church is it, but it's the best shot within walking distance.

So what's the difference between "closed communion" and excluding negros and Jews and Muslims from your country? Not much, it's a matter of degree, not kind. Neither the Baptists nor the CoCers nor the Plymouth Brethren want me teaching their kids until they "know" I won't be teaching something their denom doesn't teach, and that's reasonable -- we don't want atheist Jews or Jihadist Muslims teaching our kids either -- but that's different from excluding them from the neighborhood. Or maybe not, if parents are not doing their God-given job of teaching their own kids. Too many similarities, too close to home.

At least this novel minimizes the gutter language, and there are no steamy sex scenes. The hero is a guy, and he drags along a female agent on his trips here and there, but it's not really political correctness because she does not contribute much to the story. You can also tell the publisher did not pay a (human) proof-reader (the mark of a computer spell-checker is numerous misspelled words, every one of them spelled correctly), and occasional wrong facts: a "thin crescent moon" rose about 8pm (it would be setting around 8pm, or rising at 3 or 4 in the morning; the moon rising at 8pm is closer to full, which tends to rise around sunset and set at sunrise). Small stuff. If the library has more of his books, I'll try another.
 

2017 March 6 -- Done Shopping

I live about a mile from the business center of town. On a clear day I can walk to the Post Office or my bank or the library, but the round trip is most of an hour. There's a Safeway in the same neighborhood, but I'm unlikely to want to carry many groceries home that far on foot, and I'm still on a Wal-Mart budget (Wal-Mart is a couple miles, too far to walk), so I mostly do all my errands in a single sweep in the car, once a week.

Other than that one snooty church around the corner -- I passively view movies and books when I'm too tired to "work" but not tired enough to sleep, but mostly I'm not into spectator activities, and Christianity is certainly not a spectator sport, so I cannot make any place like that my church home -- the nearest churches are a half-dozen sprinkled within a few blocks of the center of town. A couple are probably too "liberal" for my comfort (I prefer to give my tithes where it will be used by people with a commitment to Jesus as LORD), one is a denomination where I spent a couple recent years (and numerous blog posts, most recently "Cessationism," and a book review "Muscle and a Shovel"), but they are also not very accepting of outsiders claiming to be Christian, and another of these churches is more pentecostal than I am comfortable with.

So I went to the next nearest of these churches on the short list, fully expecting them to also tell me they practice "closed" communion (the word used by the leader in my first choice), but the pastor denied it. Membership is required for voting there, but I don't particularly believe in that anyway (see my essay "Models of Church Government" three years ago). They sing "praise" songs I don't know rather than hymns -- and with a very loud rock band -- so there's nothing in the music for me there, but as I said last month, that's not why I'm there. They are strongly Relationshipistic, but pretty much everybody is (or else has some other, even more goofy, unBiblical dogma), so I'll just have to be quiet. There are young people there, which says the church is not dying.

So I guess I chose a church.
 

2017 February 25 -- Very "Christian" Fiction

I read the first four novels in Rosenberg's The Last Jihad series not long after they came out -- hmm, I see in my post "Brain Dead" some four years ago that I read all five at the time; I guess the fifth one was forgetable (I did not recognize any of it re-reading it just now) -- then moved on to other books, some also by Rosenberg, although he doesn't get much shelf space in small libraries such as I frequent. I liked and repeated the acronym "NAMEstan" (for "North Africa, Middle East, and a bunch of 'stans") which I think Rosenberg invented then later stopped using for reasons I don't know. I seem to recall the fourth book looking like the end of the series, with apocalyptic fire and great hailstones raining down from Heaven and destroying the enemies of Israel, so I was surprised to see Dead Heat show up in his list of novels as the fifth and last of the series.

The local library had it, and I just now finished reading it. When he isn't getting all religious, Rosenberg is a pretty good writer, but this is by far the most religiosity I have seen in any novel in many years -- at least since reading Randy Alcorn's novel that violated his own "Four P's" (see the explanation in "Brain Dead"). Maybe that's why I don't remember reading it. Whatever.

Anyway, I wanted to mention today how the American religion of Relationshipism interferes with the Christian message Rosenberg tries to portray in this fifth novel. He spends a lot of ink describing God's "love" for people, never mind that nowhere in the Bible is love used as an apologetic, but only as an encouragement to people who are already believers. But it makes his hero rather simpy and less than credible when he continues to gush all over us about his love for his wife, especially as the author spells out what that love looks like, which is a very feminine selfish weepy clinging (see "'Love' in Fiction" two years ago). If a Christian is going to express that kind of devotion, it should be directed toward God, not another person, not even your spouse. But it's not a guy thing, and it's not taught as a virtue anywhere in the Bible. "Love" in the Bible is mostly other-directed self-sacrifice better translated as "charity" and not an emotion at all (see my comments in "Mistranslated Words in the Bible").

This problem with "love" manifests itself again a few chapters later, when a newly converted guy ascends to the Presidency just when the nation is about to launch a nuclear war:

Was he really supposed to turn the other cheek to America's attackers? Was he really supposed to love his enemies, even if they committed genocide on American soil? [p.343]
This is only a problem when you consider "love" to be a warm, fuzzy emotional response. Does anybody really believe God had a warm fuzzy emotional response to His Son dying on the Cross? It doesn't make sense. "Loving your enemy as yourself" means doing The Right Thing for them. If they attack you personally, don't fight back (because your anger will cloud your perspective), but if they attack somebody you have an obligation to protect -- notably widows and orphans, but if you are in a place of authority, then anybody under your protection -- then protect them, even if that means bringing harm to the attacker. There is no contradiction.
 

2017 February 21 -- Choosing a Church

I mentioned church-shopping here in Ore-gone a few times. This town is bigger than where I was in Texas, and is also the county seat, so there are more to choose from, and (I think I mentioned) better quality, but I've pretty much worked through the whole list. The last couple weeks I visited a couple churches across the river, which is farther than I prefer to go if there is something acceptable closer. Last Sunday -- I almost crossed that one off unvisited -- was the most delightful church experience I've had in years. I do not go to church for what I get out of it, because mostly it's pretty close to zero, but rather because God tells me to go. However, every once in a while the sermon speaks to me (not this time, but several other times in the last three months). Sometimes I get to help somebody, perhaps more often than I know about (see "Helping People" last October), but probably less often than I would hope. Oh well.

This week it was the music. I like singing out of the hymnal so I can sing the harmony. My previous church (in Texas) sang from the hymnal but a cappella, and it's much harder to find the key that way. The pianist this week was very good, and her prelude included one of my favorite Bach tunes, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," which the bellmaster at Berkeley often played from the Campanile in the mornings when I was a student there. She also played another favorite Bach hymn during communion, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (I think from the St.Mathew Passion, which I sang several times when as a member of the San Francisco Bach Choir many decades ago) and which I first sang from the hymnbook (again as a student) at the Urbana InterVarsity Missionary Conference in 1964. Wow, I must be getting old, when pleasures date back to student years; mostly I still look forward, not back ;-)

There were young people there, parents with children, a good mix. This church, which I almost didn't try at all, leapt to the top of my Short List. It didn't stay there long. After I got home and thought more about it, I realized that the pastor used those code words "under the authority of elders," which clearly point to an insistance on membership as a requirement for communion. After I did the study, I can't support it. I have nothing against making membership a requirement for teaching -- the church has the right and obligation to control their teachings to be whatever they have determined to be what they stand for (even if it's contrary to the Established Religion of the host country, which is already becoming the case in this country in the matter of sexual preference; it's called "free speech" and it's not free if the government can tell you what to say or not say) -- but if what they stand for is the right of a small number of people (often one, the pastor) to boss people around, Jesus said not to do that, and I can't support it. Jesus clearly taught that the leaders of a church should be servants, not slave-masters, and many more pastors give lip-service to that concept than practice (they call themselves "servant-leaders" while their focus is clearly on the "leader" part rather than the "searvant" part, see my essay "Servant Leadership" written back when I was teaching at a university that used the term).

It's not like I want to be rebellious, but all of my conflicts in churches in the past have been over pastoral staff doing what they ought not, and I shouldn't ignore clear signs that this is likely to be another of them. I hope whatever church I choose here and now will (can) be the last one I choose for the rest of my life, so I should do this responsibly. Bad Things still Happen (and God alone controls that), but at least I can give it "due diligence" (my best shot). Like I said, I don't go to church for what I can get out of it.

Turns out there's a tiny church within walking distance. They're not in the yellow pages, Google knows nothing of them, but they left a flyer on my door giving their hours. When I visited, I didn't see the usual denominational paraphernalia on the walls, just a bookshelf with a row of identical untitled books (the words to hymns, but no music). No hymnal racks on the pews. Nobody standing around, nobody sitting in the sanctuary. A table saw in the far corner, where the piano usually sits in most churches. No microphones up front, no band instruments, but a woman's purse flopped on the back pew. Finally guy came out from somewhere in back to greet me, and yes they were about to start. It seems they were finishing up a lunch or something, visiting with the guest speaker, a missionary from Ireland to Malawi. That's usually a good sign. I asked about their affiliation, and he dodged the question, "We're completely independent." but he used a code word "assembly" that I recognized from a church I had been involved with some 50 years ago.

When I got home I Googled "Plymouth Brethren Oregon" and got several hits (not counting multiple church-finder sites that basically don't). A couple offered lists of "assemblies" and "Gospel Halls" but the link was broken on one of them, and the other had no listings at all for Oregon (but they did list the church in California I had gone to). Several of the hits were blogs that said nothing of Oregon, but mostly griped about the denominational factiousness in one way or another. I'm probably too inclusive for their taste. I guess I'll go back and invite myself to meet with one or more of their leaders -- as I recall, most PB churches have no paid clergy and no formal membership -- to see if they'll have me. I think (I hope) I made a reasonably good impression on my first visit. Otherwise, somebody's going to need to bend a little... sigh

(The following week) I went back to try for that meeting. They wanted me to come to more regular meetings before meeting with the elders, so (the guy said) I could determine if I'm comfortable with them. I allowed as I'm the one to decide my comfort level, and I already had enough information. As is often the case when people make unjustified claims about my inner thoughts, he was actually projecting his own discomfort (see my "It Takes One to Know One" post 13 years ago). But he was unwilling to give me some idea how long it would take them (not me) to decide if there was a "fit" (his word), but it might be "three weeks or three months or three years."

On further reflection -- I think slowly, usually taking hours and days (sometimes, but not often, weeks or months) to understand what many people want decided in seconds or minutes (see "How to Win") -- I realized I already have my answer: I have a God-given responsibility to be in fellowship (that's a Christian concept, which I distinguish from "membership" but some others do not) with a local congregation of believers. Of all the churches in this area, this church is the most "local" to where I live, so I am strongly motivated to jump through whatever hoops can make that happen, but not to be in violation of my obligation to God for "three years" or whatever it takes for them to perform the impossible task of "getting to know" me while excluding me from full participation (or else to recognize that they cannot). In my theological understanding of "the Keys of the Kingdom" they have the right and obligation to run their church any way they want to, and if they don't want to let me in after a reasonably brief evaluation period (one or two meetings of confrontation won't get them much because I think slowly and do poorly in real time, except for what I can prepare for), then I need to find some place that will accept me. I got pressured into agreeing to be there on Wednesday -- my Bible seems to recommend doing the church thing on Sundays (no other meetings are mentioned, except for occasional visiting speakers) -- so I will go and give him the opportunity to convince me that my analysis is incorrect. Failing that, I guess I will settle for one of the less appealing churches on my short list. That's disappointing, I kind of liked the idea of walking to church.
 

2017 February 8 -- SciFi as Religion

Long long ago in a far-away place, I was obliged to read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for some class. What I came away remembering from that experience is totally different from what I found today in one of the top-rated Google hits, so maybe I confused the book with some other imponderable novel equally distant in my memory, or maybe the post-modern academics cannot reconcile what Conrad really meant with how they view the world. In any case I'm not going to re-read the novel, but I still think of Conrad's title as reflecting the human condition first reported in Genesis 6:5 "that every imagination of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually."

The author of the sci-fi novel I'm currently trudging through is no Joseph Conrad, real or imagined. It's the sequel to an end-of-the-world story with the aliens coming in at the last minute (see "Sci-Fi Redemption") to rescue an Ark (his word) full of people and animals and literature. I like positive stories better than doom and gloom -- this is, after all, leisure diversion from working too hard -- so maybe he is trying to make this one more positive. The result is oversexed (I almost returned the book the second day) and total fantasy as to what 85 children with no adult supervision might grow up into. Y'all know what I think of fantasy. Halfway through the book, one of the kids is inventing a feel-good religion, which the hero (obviously an atheist like the author) has little sympathy for. He has inherited Christian morals -- except sexuality, which he strives to be politically correct (all the top math and science whizzes are female, and the guys tend to think in their loins) but can't quite bring himself to give equal time to graphic depictions of homosexual acts, and his females still tend to seek affirmation while the guys don't understand it (which is realistic, not PC) -- but he can't explain his morals. Atheists in America cannot.

The author has several novels on the library fantasy & sci-fi shelf, but I probably won't be checking them out. One of them with "Darwin" in the title, the jacket blurb gushes on how he takes evolution to its next step. Most people who write positively about Darwinism don't really understand how it is supposed to work (as imagined by the Darwinist biologists themselves), they just see the label as a cheap and easily fictionzalized mechanism for inventing unrealistic life-forms in very short time scales. I told you, they don't understand it, it just fiction, "it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" (as one author I reviewed four years ago said openly). The blurb is as far as I expect to go on that one.
 

2017 February 7 -- Fearing the Future

Wow, has it been a whole month since my last posting? How does that line go, "Time flies when you're having fun." I have been working hard preparing for my first paid work in I don't know how many years. It's great to feel useful and wanted.

I guess I mentioned it once or twice, I'm looking for a suitable church here. This Sunday it was the only Presbyterian church I saw in the yellow pages, but they seem to have fallen on hard times. The sanctuary is quite large, but crowded in on all sides by unrelated businesses, as if they used to have the whole block (like some of the other churches in town), but sold off most of it. Churches do that. After hearing the guy preach, I kind of see why. I mean, his sermon was OK, but he started his general prayer off "Oh God, whom we call Father, and who loves us like a Mother,..." Conservative preachers do not commit gender neutrality in their prayers. He then talked about his relationship with his own father, whom he described as opposite to himself in both politics and theology, but he (the father) loved him (the preacher). I don't recall if he said that love was reciprocated, but at least he was trying, once a month. The introductory topic of the sermon was the perilous times we face in this country, as reported to him by parishoners both Republican and Democrat (he didn't disclose his own political preference, except indirectly as noted).

Most conservative pastors everywhere (and also here in southwest Oregon: I heard this several times in the last three months) tend to tell their congregation that "God is in control, trust God and do not be afraid." It's the message all over the Bible, you can't miss it. But less-than-conservative pastors and laity alike tend not to read and/or believe their Bibles, so they don't have that assurance. So all this guy could offer his fearful congregation was to love their neighbors, as if somehow that would make things better (he didn't say it would).

The problem is that half of this country hates the current sitting President, and the other half hated his predecessor. That's been true for at least 20+ years, but I think it's getting worse -- probably because the left-wing bigots, who have no god greater than the government, are beginning to convert the right-wing bigots to the same religious persuasion, and when your god is replaced by the Devil Incarnate (that's certainly what the lefties think of Trump), all Hades will break loose. When a Sovereign God (that's a Calvinist notion, and Presbyterians should all be good Calvinists, but I don't think this guy is), when God is in control, it doesn't matter who is in the White House, God has the final say.

My sister keeps telling me what a terrible thing it is that Trump is Prez, and I keep reminding her that he can't override Congress. The Senate needs a 60-vote super-majority to do anything, and the Reps have only 52 votes. Half of the Reps hated Trump almost as much as the Dems did; he's not going to succeed on anything that's bad for the country. That's the whole point of "checks and balances." Anything Obama could do on his own without Congress, Trump now has a precedent for, so be careful what rules you set up when you are in office, because you get to live under them when the other team is in. You knew I didn't think highly of Obama, but I don't like Trump either. I voted "none of the above," so you can't blame me.

Anyway, I already read the last chapter, there is no USA in the final battles, so maybe Trump will be the catalyst that takes the USA down from being #1 in the world -- it doesn't really depend on the White House: Iran or North Korea or Pakistan could do it in a weekend by launching four nukes from offshore at NewYork, LosAngeles, Houston, and any other large port like Atlanta or Seattle. We cannot stop them, and it would devastate the economy. I sort of expected Obama's giving nuclear permission to Iran to start it. Pakistan is right on the edge of Jihadist take-over, and North Korea is as crazy as ever. Most of the other countries with nuclear power wouldn't dare (Putin is getting belligerent, but we still have our nukes pointed at Moscow, and he's not that stupid: Ukraine yes, USA no). Dunno about you-all, but I haven't lived in a target area in years -- well, maybe Dallas was, but who cares about southwest Ore-gone? It's already gone to pot. Literally.
 

2017 January 7 -- Winter

The Windows development team has put a lot of effort into making their system harder to use than OSX -- and Apple has tried even harder to make sure that is no easy task -- but everybody succeeded. As a consequence, I'm now waiting for I guess this is the fifth or sixth system restore since I got this Win10 computer last month. There's a lot of stuff that simply doesn't work. Restoring from a system backup is exceedingly difficult to get started, and once started it takes a couple hours, so I have time to blog and go eat lunch and do any number of other things I normally don't get around to...

Maybe y'all know about the ravages of winter. Me, I spent 12 years in the relatively mild winters of the State of Misery, but the house was on city water. I had the pipes freeze once in the kitchen (which faced on the north wall and got the storm blast); thereafter I left the under-sink doors open to allow the warmer house air access to the sink pipes. Usually the house heat keeps the pipes under the floor from freezing, but the kitchen pipes were too close to the wall.

I never lived in a house with its own well and pump house -- until two months ago. So I never gave any thought to keeping the water flowing through the winter. Yesterday none of the taps worked. When I turned another tap on, I could hear the whistle of air being sucked down the pipe to balance out the water level under the house, so I guess nothing under there was frozen, it had to be the pump. I'd seen a van drive by earlier this week with "Pump-something" on its side, so I figured this was a common problem here. Sure enough, all the pump service companies in the yellow pages were either busy or went straight to voice mail (on one I got a recording saying voice mail had not yet been set up for that account; I guess he figured that he could only handle one customer at a time, and didn't need to plan future business, so he won't be getting mine). Anyway, one the numbers that actually got through to a person, the guy suggested I put a space heater out in the pump house. It took about four hours, but it worked. What I really should have done is left the water running at a trickle all night (and probably all day too); I did that last night and this morning the water flowed, but very slow for several minutes while it melted the ice build-up in the pipe.

The restore finished, and now it's showing the Blue Screen of Death "Working on updates / 100% complete / Don't turn off your computer." It will hang there for hours, so I normally just force-off the computer (hold the power switch for 5 seconds) then restart. Nothing bad seems to happen from it, at least not as bad as being frozen on the Blue Screen of Death. WinXP was never this bad.

I need to do this because I have been tasked with building a Java interface to a camera which only has a Windoze API in C. VisualStudio, the Microsoft development environment seems to have been done by the same team as the Win10 system, so it's completely non-functional. I downloaded the Eclipse development environment, but it's incomplete in various unspecified (unixy) ways. Fortunately, Google has all the answers for stuff that's broken. That's why I needed to restore the system to a pre-Eclipse level and re-install everything today. This happens a lot on non-Mac (both OSX and Win10) systems. sigh I'm sure glad I insisted on full system backup capability, which is something early Windoze and OSX systems lacked; now it's built in but hard to find (in both cases). It was always there and easy to use on the Mac, but the Mac is dead, and none of its successors were ever any good. I still use the Mac (a 15-year-old computer) for everything I can, it's sooo much faster than the newer garbage, even though the Mac hardware is ten times slower than the newer trash.
 

2017 January 4 -- 144,000 Women

I'm now almost finished reading the New Testament in Greek, and I just finished Revelation 14 this morning, the first verse of which astonished me. John the Dreamer/Revealer saw "the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 women having his name on their foreheads." He didn't use the Greek word meaning "woman" but only the participle "having" is feminine plural. It makes perfect sense in Greek, because John didn't see persons, he saw souls (which is feminine in both Greek and Hebrew), and the reader is expected to figure that out from the fact that he also saw souls under the altar eight chapters earlier (in Rev.6:9). We tend to think of souls as ethereal and invisible, but in John's dream he can see them. Check it out, not one of the so-called "gender accurate" translations correctly (per their own standards) represent the 144,000 as females, but the participle parsed out for us in the Net Bible Greek rendition is clearly feminine plural. They lucked out, because in English (like Greek) the plural possessive pronoun "their" (in "their foreheads") is gender neutral, so by neglecting to add an English word to reflect the participle gender, they can claim to dodge the bullet. Hogwash.

See my blog post "Translating Gender" five years ago for the whole story on so-called "gender-accurate" translations.
 

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