Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Don't make me beg...

...again! If you haven't given to the Spirit of America, please consider doing so. You have until Thursday to contribute. Click the link at the bottom of the post.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over, you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Why I believe in God: The Trinity

The Trinity is one of the most difficult Christian concepts to understand, and I think many would-be believers give up when they cannot wrap their minds around it. When I was very young, the Trinity bothered me. As a teenager, I simply decided it was one of those things that man couldn't comprehend, so why worry about it? I was having more serious crises of faith anyway. It wasn't until recently, within the last five years, that I've taken a close look at the Trinity again. To say that I've probed its depths would be hubris of the first order, but I've finally seen beyond the surface to begin to comprehend its meaning. Once you get past the surface, so many of the Bible's more esoteric sayings begin to make sense, and the very nature of God becomes clearer. My investigations have reaffirmed my faith by showing me that once again, God is deeper than I thought.

I adapted the following from an article on MIT GCF's Skeptics Anonymous webpage, which I co-authored with Susan Kern and Cynthia Lo:

Christians believe that the three persons of the Trinity are all one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 states, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" He is a super-person, so to speak, His nature being so much more complex than our own that we cannot describe Him as a single "person." The doctrine of the trinity is perhaps the most difficult and perplexing to explain, since we are trying to describe the nature of the infinite God, which finite human beings are incapable of comprehending.

The term trinity describes a relationship not of three gods, but of one God who is three persons. Trinity does not mean tritheism, that is, that there are three beings who together are God, but the word trinity is used in an effort to define the fullness of the Godhead both in terms of His unity and diversity. The term trinity is never used explicitly in Scripture, but the concept is there from the beginning and specific passages such as Matthew 28:19, "baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit", refer explicitly to there being three "persons". All three persons of the trinity make an appearance at Jesus's baptism, as recorded in Mark 1:10-11, "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'" The "he" who saw this may be either Jesus or John the Baptist, who later testified about this event (John 1:32-34).

The church has rejected from the beginning heresies of modalism and tritheism. Modalism is the denial of the distinction of persons within the Godhead, claiming that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are simply three "modes" of God expressing Himself. Tritheism reaches to the other extreme, that of falsely declaring that there are three beings who together make up God. The term "person" does not mean a distinction in essence, but a difference in subsistence. Jesus is different in subsistence from the Father or the Holy Spirit, but he is the same essence in terms of being. The Christian definition of God asserts that the three persons of the Godhead share the same essence, the same co-eternal existence, and the same will, but not the same mind, the same position, the same role, or the same relationship. All the persons in the Godhead have all the attributes of deity.

The trinity does not refer to "parts" of God and, unfortunately, human analogies fall short. An interesting but imperfect analogy may be found in ourselves, however. Human beings are composite creatures. Physically, we are trillions of cells working together to form the body, billions of neurons firing simultaneously to produce thought, two distinct hemispheres of the brain which "think" in different ways. Psychologically, we are a mess of conflicting emotions and ideas, each vying for primacy in our psyche. Spiritually, we are creatures of both soul and body, an uncomfortable mix filled with the strife between the physical and spiritual parts of our nature. Ultimately, one human person has less internal unity than the three persons of the trinity. And yet we never think of ourselves as more than one being.

The following is a traditional explanation for the roles of the three persons of God, taken from C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:

God is a Being which contains three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube contains six squares while remaining one body. But as soon as I begin trying to explain how these Persons are connected, I have to use words which make it sound as if one of them was there before the others. The First Person is called the Father and the Second the Son. We say that the First begets or produces the Second; we call it begetting, not making, because what he produces is of the same kind as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only one to use. But unfortunately it suggests that He is there first--just as a human father exists before his son. But that is not so. There is no before and after about it... The Son exists because the Father exists: but there never was a time before the Father produced the Son.

We must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father--what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it... All these pictures of light or heat are making it sound as if the Father and the Son are two things instead of two Persons. So that, after all, the New Testament picture of a Father and a Son turns out to be much more accurate than anything we try to substitute for it... Naturally God knows how to describe Himself much better than we know how to describe Him. He knows that Father and Son is more like the relation between the First and Second Persons than anything else we can think of. Much the most important thing to know is that it is a relation of love. The Father delights in His Son; the Son looks up to His Father...

The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the "spirit" of that family, or club, or trade union. They talk about its "spirit" because the individual members, when they are together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving, which they would not have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the difference between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God.

This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the "spirit" of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two... Perhaps some people might find it easier to begin with the third Person and work backward. God is love, and that love works through men--especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son.

This explanation helps to illustrate a number of things. For one, the term "Word" applied to the Son in John 1 begins to make sense when we consider the Son as the "self-expression of the Father." Perhaps more importantly, it illustrates what is meant by 1 John 4:8, which declares that "God is love." We tend to minimize this, saying it means that God is loving. But throughout the Bible, the refrain is that God loves us because His very nature is love, and it would be unlike Him not to love us. But before humans and angels, what was there to love? What besides God is eternal? Love requires an object; the word is meaningless otherwise. Love could not be part of His eternal nature if He has not had some eternal object for His love. Instead, it would be something God learned to do once He had created someone to love. Only the trinity offers an explanation of how love can be a facet of the eternal nature of God, since contained in the three persons of the trinity are the subject, object, and expression of love. The three persons of the trinity are defined primarily by the relationship shared among them.

Update: (5/1/2004) I changed the phrasing to make it clear that Susan, Cynthia, and I are responsible for the article on Skeptic's Anonymous, not the whole page. Although... Cynthia as webmaster really is co-author on all of them, and I had a hand in quite a few. Susan may have joined in the debates on some of the other questions, but I don't really remember.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Second revision progress

Old Post: To find out what I'm talking about, check here.

I'm 18% of the way through the second revision of "A Pheonix in Darkness." It's slow progress, I know, but the second revision always is.

Chemical weapons plot in Jordan

Old Post: I posted on this over a week ago.

Remember the terrorist plot to attack targets in Jordan with chemical weapons? Well, CNN has finally picked up on it. Most of us knew about it a week ago, but CNN at least has a lot more information about it than we've seen elsewhere:
Officials said there is debate within the CIA and other U.S. agencies over whether the plotters were planning to kill innocent people using toxic chemicals.

At issue is the presence of a large quantity of sulfuric acid among the tons of chemicals seized by Jordanian authorities. Sulfuric acid can be used as a blister agent, but it more commonly can increase the size ofconventional explosions, according to U.S. officials.
...
The plot was within days of being carried out, Jordanian officials said, when security forces broke it up April 20.

In a nighttime raid in Amman, Jordanian security forces moved in on the terrorist cell. After the shooting stopped, four men were dead. Jordanian authorities said. They said at least three others were arrested, including Azmi Jayyousi, the cell's suspected ringleader, whom Jordanian intelligence alleges was responsible for planning and recruiting.

On a confession shown on state-run Jordanian television, Jayyousi said he took orders from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a suspected terrorist leader who has been linked to al Qaeda and whom U.S. officials have said is behind some attacks in Iraq.
...
Jordanian authorities said the attack would have mixed a combination of 71 lethal chemicals,which they said has never been done before, including blistering agents to cause third-degree burns, nerve gas and choking agents.

A Jordanian government scientist said the plot had been carefully worked out, with just the right amount of explosives to spread the deadly cloud without diminishing the effects of the chemicals. The blast would not burn up the poisonous chemicals but instead produce a toxic cloud, the scientist said, possibly spreading for a mile, maybe more.

The Jordanian intelligence buildings are within a mile of a large medical center, a shopping mall and a residential area.

"And there is no one combination of antidote to treat nerve agent, choking agent and blistering agent," the scientist said.

There are some inconsistencies, as the first reports, like this one from Newsmax, indicated that the trucks were captured earlier, and that some of the arrests were as early at April 1st. I'd guess there were ongoing operations to catch all of these guys for the whole month. I can't say whether or not this is the last of it. I'm not even fully convinced that they've managed to foil the operation completely. I'm not qualified to comment on the chemical weapons, but if it was such a diverse mixture of chemicals, I'm surprised that we're still uncertain as to the nature of the attack. Surely with some of the chemicals we'd be able to say, "Yes, that's a chemical weapon all right," even if there were questions about others. Unless, that is, the Jordanians haven't found all the chemicals allegedly involved yet.

Update: Letters from Babylon also noticed the CNN article. CNN's new information came from the confessions of those captured. I'm not really sure whether CNN got the news first, it's just the first place I saw it, but other news organizations have the same information now. I should point out that as Jordan's ideas about the rights of the accused are very different from the US's, the confessions should be taken with a grain of salt.

Would you like to participate in the Christian Carnival?

The Christian Carnival is soliciting entries. If you'd like to participate this week and submit a post you think others might enjoy, e-mail Fringe Blog with the following information by 8 PM on Tuesday night:

Name of your Blog
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Title of your Post
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John Kerry's long slide into irrelevancy

I haven't blogged much about politics recently. I don't like beating a dead horse, and by now everyone's noticed Kerry's free-fall in the polls. When the New York Times and ABC News are both questioning the Democratic presidential candidate's honesty, you know he's in trouble. Bush isn't invulnerable, but it sure doesn't look like Kerry's going to be the one beating him. Now if they'd only apply the same standards to him that they did to Bush and provide some real scrutiny into his other actions in the VVAW. Frankly, it might be a smart idea from the Democratic partisan point of view. It's becoming clear that the more people learn about Kerry, the less they like him. The only vote he gets will be the anybody-but-Bush crowd. The best chance the Democrats have is a last-minute substitution, which can only be done, as far as I understand it, by forcing Kerry to resign in disgrace. Then they can replace him with someone electable (Hillary?). Frankly, a relative unknown seems to do best against Bush, although I'm not sure how well that will hold right around the election.

Please give!

It's not too late to contribute to Spirit of America. Click the link below.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over, you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Long live the Queen!

Rosemary, the Queen of All Evil, has just started her blog. Even though it's brand new, I'm sure she's getting ten times the traffic I get (I can see that she's getting ten times the comments). That's not so surprising given that she's married to Dean Esmay of Dean's World. I predict that she'll be Instalanched within a week. Dang, I need to marry a high traffic blogger. Wonkette's single, right?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Week in Review

Here are my major posts from this past week. It's been a little slow, but I haven't been entirely negligent. (The timestamp on this post is 12:01 AM on Sunday, which is half a day off. As this post is not time-critical, I set this timestamp in order to ensure that this post is at the bottom of the page in the archives.

Time to panic
-- I wonder why people aren't more worried about al Qaeda's attempt to use chemical weapons in Jordan.

The nail-scarred hands -- A passage from Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew which touched me.

First revision done -- A quick report on my progress on the short story.

Quantum Cryptography -- I explain how quantum key distribution works.

The war has begun -- The blogwar to raise money for Spirit of America has started. I'm part of the Liberty Alliance, which is losing badly. To contribute, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Blogging Gerard Alexander -- I blog Gerard Alexander's talk at tht University of Rochester.

Why I believe in God: His Name -- The name of God has been a powerful influence on my life.

Update: (4/26) I edited the last entry to reflect a change to the title of the post.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over, you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

And once again, I avoid seriously posting on a Saturday and instead bring you a webcomic review.

Sluggy Freelance -- Zoe's thinks it's time for the others to start paying their way around there. If only they could be paid for fighting vampires, ghosts, demons, and evil corporations. It's not like they don't pull their weight when the going gets tough, they're just not paid for the things they do.

Day by Day -- Air America gets the majority of the mocking this week.

It's Walky! -- Premarital hanky panky for Walky and Joyce?! Time to end the comic and kill everyone off, according to Willis's advertisement.

College Roomies from Hell! -- The guys have been divided, which is unfortunate, since they work better when they combine their superpowers. But now Dave's lost at sea, Mike's under the sea, and Roger's chatting up centaurs and unicorns.

General Protection Fault -- Fred coaches Dexter on the fine art of speed dating.

Schlock Mercenary -- Tagon manages to raise some money by selling off some excess cargo: Jeevee and Xinchub.

Funny Christians

Apparently Mike Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a devoted Christian. And here I thought Christians weren't allowed to be funny...

A Pheonix in Darkness

Old Post: My last post on my revising progress was here.

The above is the tentative title of my short story in progress, at which I arrived after much brainstorming that produced twenty-five rejected titles (not including the half-a-dozen or so working titles the story has had during its initial writing). Some of them were variations on this theme, some of them variations on other themes, but there were a lot of them before I came up with something that sounded not just good but appropriate. (One of the rejected titles sounded really good to me, an intriguing title that would definitely get me to look at a story. Unfortunately, it just wasn't right for this story. It might work for another story idea with which I've been playing, though, one inspired by a post on this blog, in fact.) I've just about decided that this story is worth the time I've put into it so far, which means I'll have to devote yet more time to it to make it presentable. I haven't yet started on the second revision, both because I've been busy this week, and because I didn't want to rush into it before I gave the first revision time to settle. I should start on it this weekend.

I don't want to talk too much about the story, but I will say that it's in the same world as Fire, and takes place in the time period between the events of "A Stranger in the Library" and of Fire. (Go here for more.) That's all I'll say for now.

New Post: It took a while, but I've made some progress, discussed above.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Have you contributed...

...to Spirit of America yet?

I'm not going to do the whole Dean Esmay bribe and threaten thing. You should just realize that it's a good cause. The situation in Iraq is about winning the hearts and minds of average Iraqis. There's a lot working against this, including terrorists, the nations who openly support them (Iran and Syria), the nations who may not directly support terrorism but who have an interest in seeing democracy fail in Iraq, propaganda outlets like Al Jazeera (who, even in their English language webpage have a section titled Conspiracy Theories, right up there with Sports and Weather--if they had Sports and Weather sections), etc. However, the single biggest force working for our side is the American military. They are doing not just what they're trained to do (killing the bad guys), but also what they're not trained for, though it comes naturally to them--helping people. They are the best ambassadors America has, and they're doing more to change the attitudes of Iraqis about the US than any propaganda machine the US is capable of running. If you want to see them succeed, if you want to see democracy flourish in the Mideast, then you should contribute to this cause. Click on the link below.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over, you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Why I believe in God: His Name

I don't know that this will be a series. To answer the question in full would take a long series of posts, and likely several years, but when I was discussing it with my small group on Monday, I explained how God kept surprising me with his "fittingness" (I checked: it's a real word). As I learn more about God, as I glimpse more and more of His mystery, the better everything fits in place, and the more I can say, "Of course, that's exactly as it should be." In some ways, it's like a scientific theory. A good theory should not only explain what we've observed, it should predict what we haven't observed yet, and new, even unexpected discoveries, should follow the theory, sometimes leading us to say, "Of course. We should have expected that." Here's one example, from my youth (I was probably 12 at the time):

I was pondering the question of why we call God "God." "God" isn't a name--it's not even a title--it's a classification. It's a hazy one, to be sure, having been applied to a wide range of immortal (and semi-immortal) beings with authority and influence over mortal events. Of course, I don't believe in any of those gods: Zeus, Odin, Moloch, or the like. And that, I suppose, is the reason why we simply call God "God." If there are lots of gods, you need names to tell them apart, just like we need names to distinguish us. But if there's only one god, he doesn't need a name, because there's no one to distinguish him from. Oh, that's no reason not to give him descriptive titles, which are peppered all through the Bible, titles such as the Lord of Hosts, the God who sees. All descriptive, none necessary to distinguish him. How cool, I thought. Of course God doesn't need a name.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered God did have a name. Not a title or an appellation, but a formal name that he's claimed for himself. We know it by it's Latinized form, Jehovah, but the Hebrew, which was by the first century never pronounced aloud, is YHWH, also called the Tetragrammaton. The pronunciation would be something like Yahweh. If you have a King James Version Bible, everyplace you see LORD (in all caps), it's substituted for the Tetragrammaton (similar to what the Jews would do whenever they encountered the name while reading the scripture aloud). That discovery was disheartening to me. I suppose no one else will appreciate this, but in my mind it may God less, closer to the hundreds of national gods worshipped by the peoples appearing in the Old Testament.

That is, until I learned what YHWH meant. The name appears very early in the Bible, and is commonly used for God in Genesis, but it isn't until Moses asks God what he is called that we get an explanation:
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
(Exodus 3:14)

God's name means I AM. And suddenly I found my logic trumped. Not only does God not need a name, he doesn't even need a classification. It is enough that he exists, as he is the only thing which exists independently, self-subsistently. He is the origin of all other existence. God is, and the simple declaration of that fact is name enough for him.

I've found that most people are mightily unimpressed with this story: it doesn't prove anything. There are, in fact, other, less profound interpretations of what YHWH means. For me, though, it was an "Aha!" moment, one that showed me that God was greater than my expectations, greater than my philosophy predicted. But if God is real, if he is what I think he is, then isn't he greater than my imagination can predict? Only when the truth is revealed to me can I recognize its appropriateness. Going back to my scientific theory analogy, it's one more piece of evidence, unexpected but congruent with the theory: God is, and he has spoken to us.

Update: (4/26) I changed the name of this post from "Why I believe in God -- A small part of it, anyway" to "Why I believe in God: His Name." I figured a better name was worthwhile.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Blogging Gerard Alexander

Old Post: My last post on this was here.

The Gerard Alexander talk was tonight at 8 pm. I took notes during the talk, of which these are a copy. Since they were taken as I listened, there may be some typos and such:

I can't speak for the audience as a whole, but the people directly in front of me are definitely hostile to the speaker. One guy says: "They’re not racist--they’re homophobic and racist...I’m here for a laugh. Maybe some of the individuals aren’t racist, but the party as a whole..." One girl says she's writing a paper about how the Republican party is inherently racist, and this is part of her research. I wonder if she has a clue what the talk is about. It doesn't sound like any of the people here have read the article.

I do intend to ask Ramesh's question if I get a chance. It's possible someone will beat me to it.

They're running late... it's already ten after and it hasn't started. Of course, I'm pretty sure Ralph Nader started late as well.

Okay, the MC is speaking--Noah, the chairman of CR.

Gerard Alexander is starting. He feels the need to defend himself against racism. He grew up in the US Virgin Islands, which is only 5-10% white. He found the way mainlanders dealt with race to be very different. While in the US, he and his friends from the Virgin Islands did their best to ignore race entirely.

He was surprised to find himself considered racist by association.

There is a strain of thought that the Republicans came to power by winning over the South, and they won it by becoming party of white solidarity, by pandering to white racists. The thinking is that the Republicans are defined by racism.

Many Republicans fear that there is some truth to this belief.

Dr. Alexander thinks the evidence for this is very poor. He thinks it relies on two kinds of evidence: the voting history of the South, and Republican policies on race issues.

The elections in the South. Basic history: South is not the only region with a history of racism, but it does have the strongest history of it, from slavery to segregation. For all of that time, voted solidly Democrat, including for progressive Democrats, who turned a blind eye to the racism of the Southern Democrats. During that time, Republicans most solidly supported civil rights, and had no voice in the South. After WW2, national Democrats broke with segregation, and Southern racists broke with Democrat party, looked for someone else. Voted for Thurmond, Goldwater, and Wallace. Thurmond and Wallace ran on states' rights, a codeword for segregation, and Goldwater did pander to Deep South, using the states' rights codeword. Winning the South is not chump change, and in the story, this is the sort of thing worth selling your soul for.

A couple of problems with that story. If the GOP did sell itself as party of white solidarity, should be able to make four predictions:
1. GOP should have made biggest inroads when and where the racial issue was strongest.
2. GOP should have a different voter profile in the South than its usual profile (educated, upper middle class), instead the Southern GOP profile should be that of the Wallace voters: lower middle class, less educated.
3. GOP should have been more popular among native Southerners than those who moved South.
4. GOP should, over time, have an older voter population, among those who were raised in more racist times.

None of these are true.

1. This is not the case. Republican party grew faster in Outer South rather than Deep South. Republican party started making progress in the South during Eisenhower’s time, when Republicans were the main supporters of civil rights laws. Eisenhower won the Outer South. The story looks much the same with Congressional elections. Goldwater is the exception, not the rule. [It looks like he answered Ramesh's question by conceding it.]
2. The Electoral Demographic of Republican voters in the South during this time are middle class, suburban, educated, the same as elsewhere.
3. Native Southerners vs. Immigrants -- In '60s, '70s, and '80s, the migrants self-identify as Republicans more than the native Southerners.
4. Into the 90s, the younger generations of Southerners identify themselves as Republicans more than the older ones.

Still, didn’t George Wallace's younger voters vote for Ronald Reagan? Does the fact that some of FDR's younger voters later vote for Wallace mean that FDR, and his policies, were racist?

They voted for Wallace in '68, and they didn't get anything. Nixon won without the segregationists in '68, by getting the Outer South--the Republicans demonstrated that they didn't need them. The segregationists had to settle, the same way the Naderites might have to settle for Kerry. Republicans didn't have to offer them much to get it.

The Emerging Republican Majority Kevin Phillips says that Republicans don't need to appeal to segregationists.

What about Republican Party's policies today? Does their policy use codewords? Goldwater used codewords. A policy is only a codeword if there's a legitimate position it also represents. If you think someone's using a code word, you have to discern between the legitimate and illegitimate.

If you don’t think opposing affirmative action is legitimate, then it's not a codeword--it's not hiding anything.

There's a difference between opposing a result (Blacks in good jobs), and between opposing the means (affirmative action). Difference between opposing Jews, and opposing Israel's policies.

Anti-welfare vs. anti-poor. We got welfare reform, didn't we? Many Democrats came around to the conservative view, that welfare was more harmful than not.

Anti-death penalty vs. pro-crime. Have to separate means from results

Questions:
1. Were the whites who moved to the South from the North more racists than those who stayed behind?
No evidence of that.

2. Is there so much accusation of Republicans for being racist?
Read The New York Times.

3. Now the Deep South is more Republican than the Outer South.
Now that it’s less segregationist, they’re more Republican. Why is this a problem?

4. Industrial-prison complex is racist.
Don’t know enough.

5. Republicans may look racist because they tend to go for upper middle class vote, not where Blacks are. So they tend not to be responsive to the Black vote. Need an alternative to affirmative action rather than just getting rid of it.
True enough. [At a later point he says that's what's necessary to improve the lot of Blacks--the alternative of Affirmative Action--is (1) Improving K-12 schools, (2) Making it possible for them to go to college, etc. There was more, but I don't remember the specifics.]

6. Why did Reagan start in South? Why do Republicans still use the codewords, if they’re not racist? Have the segregationists had an influence on Republicans, like they did on FDR in the New Deal?
Had to take the South, from Jimmy Carter. Because they are good words. Yes, racists have had an influence on the Republicans, and on the Democrats.

7. Why did Blacks move toward the Democratic party? Why do southerners locally vote for Democrats and nationally for Republicans?
Democrats spoke better for civil rights, but more than that, spoke better for the economic desires of Blacks. Many Blacks voted for Wallace when he dropped his segregationist platform. Southern Democrats are more conservative than national Democrats, so Southern voters are more promiscuous with their votes.

8. Why is there still racism? How does popular culture foster racism?
Don't think it's indigenous to human beings. Reflect on human history and realize how far we’ve come. Slavery and racism have a really long history. Look after September 11th, and how little violence happened. Popular culture has done more to lessen racism than to increase it.

9. But there’s still racism. Those who don’t grow up around Blacks are more racist, so the Northerners are really more racist than the Southerners.
[This sounds more like an argument that the Democrats are the racists.]

10. Republican policies are not intentionally racist, but are they that way in effect?
Certainly possible, but need to discuss specifics.

11. Why did George Bush speak at Bob Jones University?
He shouldn’t have. Many politicians flirt with people they shouldn’t. Democrats and anti-Semitism [Farrakhan?].

12. Covert racism better than overt. As long as we aren't acting it out, is it really better?
Deal with problems individually. We’re underestimating how far we’ve come, most of it not by state regulation, but by cultural development. Of course there's more to do, but we need to take a hard look at the best way to do it.

13. When Democrats supported civil rights, did segregationists go Republican?
First went for the segregationist party. In '64, went for Goldwater, who was more segregationist than the Republicans as a whole (one of only 2? Republicans to vote against the civil rights act). Threw in the towel by '72, and went for Nixon.

New graphic

I've added an image at the top of the page, something I think is appropriate to this blog's title. The equation shown, by the way, is the energy of a simple harmonic oscillator, where n is an integer from 0 and infinity, indicating the energy level. I'd also like to add an icon, but I'm having trouble creating it.

Update: The icon should be working now.

Spirit of America

Don't forget to contribute to Spirit of America. Click the link below.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over, you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

"Racist Republicans"

Old Post: My post about Gerard Alexander's talk at Rochester is below.

Dean Esmay has picked up on Gerard Alexander's essay. Of course, I've been blogging about it since it was first mentioned on the Corner. I'll be attending a talk given by him at the University of Rochester tomorrow night.

New Post: My blogging of Gerard Alexander's talk is above.

The war has begun

The blogwar, that is. At least three blog alliances have formed in a contest to see who can raise the most money for Spirit of America, an organization which raises money to support charitable projects run by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've joined the Liberty Alliance, run by Dean Esmay of Dean's World. If you'd like to contribute, supporting our troops (and, incidentally, the Liberty Alliance), please click on the link that will be appearing at the bottom of every post for the next ten days.

Update: While the fundraiser is now over (and I've removed the link at the bottom of every post), you can still contribute to Spirit of America here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Holographic Storage

I first read about holographic storage around 1990. The idea is that you can store information in three-dimensions in a crystalline material which you can both write to and read from by crossing two laser beams and writing with their interference pattern. The two beams are a reference beam and a data beam, patterned by a 2-D mask, and storing that image in a light sensitive material. The reference beam can then read the data by projecting the data image on a photosensitive array. By changing the frequency or angle of incidence of the reference beam, you can store multiple 2-D data masks in the same block of material, multiplexing the images together and reading them out individually, vastly increasing the amount you can store.

Back in 1990, I was looking forward to when holographic storage was available on every desktop. Of course, that day's still not here, and I was wondering what had happened to it. Well, it hasn't gone away entirely, and there are companies still working on it. Via MIT's Technology Review (not available without a subscription, I'm afraid):
You could store a whole lot of stuff on a one-terabyte computer disc--say a million novels, 250,000 MP3 song files, or hundreds of full-length movies. A Lucent Technologies spin-off is hoping to bring you that kind of capacity using a long-talked-about technology: holographic storage, in which a laser records data in three dimensions on a polymer medium. The technology can store up to 300 times as much data as traditional optical drives of the same physical size, and the startup, Longmont, CO-based InPhase Technologies, says it will start selling the holographic drives next year.

Unfortunately, it's not yet rewritable, although InPhase hopes it will be in a couple of years. And even then commercial availability looks to be four years away, and these estimates tend to be optimistic. InPhase Technology has a website, and the explanation of how holographic storage works is here.

Quantum Cryptography

Doc Rampage has this to say about one-time pads:
The problem with one-time pads is that the pad contains as much information as the message and it requires a fully secure channel because if anyone can intercept the pad, he can easily decrypt the message. If you have a fully secure channel with enough bandwidth for the pad, why not use it to send the message? One-time pads are really only useful when you have two channels, one secure and one insecure, and you don't always have the secure channel available. Usually the non-secure channel is a wide-area network and the secure channel is some guy on a plane carrying a CD. In these cases, you can use the secure channel to send the pads whenever you can and you use the non-secure but faster, more reliable, or more widely available channel to send the messages.

This seems like the perfect time to talk about quantum cryptography, or as it's more accurately known, quantum key distribution, which proves once again that there's an exception to every rule, and it's quantum mechanics. The idea is to distribute some amount of data which will be used as the key to encrypt the message you want to send. So this data you exchange, the key, is the equivalent of a one-time pad, distributed securely. Why not just send the message this way? Well, as we'll see, QKD is very inefficient, and only a quarter of the data gets through, which would be pretty useless if you were sending message data. It's also vulnerable to eavesdropping; the trick is that you can tell when it's being eavesdropped.

Let's say you have a public channel, which can be eavesdropped. One party, Alice, wants to send a message to another party, Bob, but is worried that it could be eavesdropped by a third party, Eve. (These are the standard names used in the quantum key distribution literature.) However, this channel is capable of carrying not just regular bits, but also qubits. This is simple enough to imagine, since sending individual photons in essence sends qubits down the channel. Photons also make it easier to explain how the process works, so we'll stick with that. Alice's photons are linearly polarized, in 4 different directions, 0 degrees, 90 degrees, 45 degrees, and 135 degrees. If you use a polarizing filter, then orthogonal light can't get through the filter. If your filter is at 0 degrees, then the photon doesn't get through if it's at 90 degrees. However, due to the magic of quantum mechanics, a photon polarized at 45 or 135 degrees has a fifty percent change of getting through since you can decompose it into a 0 degree and a 90 degree component. Similarly, a 45 degree filter will block 135 degree polarized photons, but pass 50% of the 0 and 90 degree photons. There's no way to tell what the original polarization was. If you have a 0 degree polarizing filter, and a photon gets through to your detector on the other side, then it may have been polarized at 0 degrees, or it could have been polarized at 45 or 135. If the photon is blocked, then it may have been polarized at 90 degrees, or at 45 or 135. So we have two sets of two polarizations which are orthogonal to one another (0-90 and 45-135) but not orthogonal to the other set.

Alice takes a string of random bits, a, and decides on the polarization from a equal-length string of random bits b. For the kth bit in each string, if a(k)b(k) is 00, then she sends a photon polarized at 90 degrees. If a(k)b(k)=10, she sends a photon polarized at 0 degrees. Using a 0 degree polarizing filter with a photodetector on the other side, measuring a photon indicates that a(k) is 1 and measuring no photon indicates that a(k) is 0. If a(k)b(k) is 01, the photon Alice sends is at 135 degrees, and if a(k)b(k) is 11, the photon is at 45 degrees. So if b(k) is 0, the photon should be measured with the 0 degree filter, if b(k) is 1, it should be measured with the 45 degree filter. However, neither Bob nor Eve have any way of knowing this. Instead, Bob randomly chooses the filter with which to measure, using random string b'. The results of the measurement gives a string of a'. If there's an eavesdropper, Eve, she can also try to measure it, but there's no way to measure a photon and then send it to Bob. It's also not possible to copy a photon exactly and measure the copy. Eve could try measuring the photon by guessing at the correct polarization, then send a new photon to Bob based on her guess. If she guessed that the photon would be either 0 or 90 degrees and used a 0 degree filter, she could send Bob a new photon at either 0 or 90 degrees based on her measurement, and if she had guessed correctly, the photon would be at the correct angle. However, if she guessed incorrectly, it would be at the wrong angle. If Bob also measures with the 0 degree filter, it won't make much difference, so if Alice, Bob, and Eve all used the same polarization (a 1 in 4 chance), Eve would have successfully eavesdropped. If Bob measures with a 45 degree filter and the original photon was in the 45-135 set, while Eve measured and resent at 0 degrees, then there's only a 50% chance he'll get the correct value.

Once Bob tells Alice he's gotten the message, the two compare their b and b' strings. This is done publically, so Eve can hear what's being said. They then toss out all the bits where b and b' disagree, where Bob measured at a different polarization than Alice sent, since for each of those bits a(j)=a'(j) only 50% of the time. All the remaining bits should agree. So next they randomly choose about half the remaining bits to compare. There'll probably be some errors just due to the difficulty of sending single photons over long distances, but if the error rate exceeds a certain threshold, then they can know that someone's been eavesdropping on their communication. In that case, they can scratch the attempt and try again. (However, if Eve was smart, she may have eavesdropped only a small number bits, thus settling for a partial key while keeping below the threshold error rate.) If they decide they weren't eavesdropped, they need to correct for errors in the transmission by information reconciliation. Information reconciliation is a form of error correction, doing parity checking on random subsets of the shared string (a and a'), discarding the last bit each time so that Eve gains no new information (a parity check of a set of bits sums all the 1s and determines whether the result is odd or even; any single bit in a set can change its parity, so if you discard a bit without disclosing its value, you reveal no new information by revealing a set's parity). The subsets are chosen to be small enough so that each is unlikely to contain more than one error, and if an error is found, the subset is bissected and the parities checked again until the error is located. This is done repeatedly, with different, randomly chosen subsets, to negate mistakes caused by selecting subsets where an even number of errors may have given a false parity check. Let's say this is done, but Eve still has some information about the key--not a lot, else they would have detected her. Information reconciliation neither increases nor decreases the amount of information Eve has, since if you discard a bit she knew, she then learns what the parity of the remainder of the subset is. Privacy amplification reduces the information available to Eve, even if she's intercepted some information, while reducing the total number of bits in the key. One way of doing this would be to publically select a permutation of the remaining bits in a=a' (without sharing any of the values), then divide it into blocks of a certain size, and using the parity of each block to form the new key. This is a pretty inefficient way of doing it, where the total number of bits in the new key, r, equals the original number of bits divided by the block size. However, it drastically reduces the amount of information that Eve has, since Eve only knows the parity of a block when she has all the bits in it. There are more efficient functions, but the smaller the final key is compared to its original length, the less information available to Eve, even if she managed to get some information from eavesdropping.

The remaining bits form the key, which can then be used to encrypt the message Alice wants to send. Depending on degree of privacy amplification (how much you're willing to reduce the key size) and the error threshold (how many errors you'll accept before concluding that someone's eavesdropping), the distributed key can be made arbitrarily secure.

One thing you'll notice right away is that QKD is very inefficient. Even before information reconciliation and privacy amplification, you're down to about one-fourth the number of bits you started with. However, you can't expect any provably secure communication over a public channel to be efficient. This form of quantum cryptography (there are others, different in details but similar in concept) has been demonstrated in a lab environment, and at distances of up to 100 km. This particular application of quantum information is in the early stages of commercial application.

I didn't write all of this from memory, although I have studied it before. I needed to look up the details, so I used Nielsen and Chuang's Quantum Computation and Quantum Information, and this useful website.

Update: Doc Rampage gives a... uh, simpler explanation. Also, I edited for clarity.

Blogwar!

Dean Esmay reports that the blogwar to start collecting money for Spirit of America starts tomorrow. I'm not listed on the Alliance blogroll, but I did receive the e-mail. Until Dean confirms that I'm part of the Alliance, I'll be unable to mobilize my vast Internet audience--all three of them--to contribute to the effort.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Busy today

I haven't blogged much today. Aside from my church small group earlier tonight, I was in the lab all day at work. I've been learning how to do laser trapping and cooling, or more accurately, how to get a laser up and running at the right wavelength so you can use it for laser cooling. I've never done much work with laser optics before (I'm a superconducting Electrical Engineering guy), so it was fun and informative. I suspect that once I've been doing it for a while, it'll become pretty tedious. I'll probably be in the lab most of the day tomorrow as well, so I don't know how much blogging I'll be doing.

Expanding the blogroll

I've been adding to the blogroll, and I thought I'd point out the new entries. The first, Mostly Cajun, is the view of the world from Southwest Louisiana. The writer's probably to the right of me, and his language is rough at times, but an entertaining read nonetheless. Intolerant Elle writes a lot about abortion, but also covers a wide range of topics from a Christian perspective. Finally, Dean's World is one of the bigger blogs (he gets links from Instapundit all the time), and he's writing in what he calls the "Liberal Tradition." From his perspective, though, liberal means free, not leftist.

Update: Oops, I forgot to add Parablemania. Jeremy Pierce is a Christian philosophy student from Syracuse, and his blog shows tight logic.

First revision done

I've finished the first revision of the story, which means it's time for the second revision, which generally takes even longer.

The way I write, the first draft is like a rough sketch, containing the basic outline of the story, but hazy on the details. I place all sorts of little notes in the story, along the lines of [NOTE: Describe this room in more detail.], [NOTE: Look up details on ancient Roman construction techniques.], [NOTE: I need to clarify the logical connection to show why the detective would suspect this guy.], or [NOTE: Place scene here.] It's messy, but I'm in a hurry to give the story its skeleton. The first revision has the big job of filling in all these little details. If I do it right, there's no more need for the notes when I'm done. Then comes the second revision, where I print out the whole story and read through it out loud, making changes to how it sounds and flows. I find this helps a lot, especially when it comes to spotting things that sound good in my head but really stupid when said out loud. It also helps me to make sure each character's style of speaking is consistent and just fits. Anyway, I mark up the hard copy of the story a lot when I do this, and the next step is to go back to the word processor and make the revisions there. Once this is done, the story is ready to share--with my close friends who can advise me of whether the story makes sense and is any good. Once I've gotten their input, I make the corrections they've suggested (if I agree with them, anyway), then read through it one more time, fixing any errors that have cropped up due to all the revising.

At that point, the story is "done," at least in the sense that it's ready to share with the public. This doesn't necessarily stop me from going back and revising it again, but I'm pretty reluctant to do that once it's been published, even in the web format.

New Post: I finally have a tentative name for the story, above.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The nail-scarred hands

I've been leading a group which gets together to study Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew. I thought I'd share a passage from it (p. 219):
One detail in the Easter stories always intrigued me: Why did Jesus keep the scars from his crucifixion? Presumably he could have any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why?

I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin was the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, and emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering.

I take hope in Jesus' scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe. Even that event, though--the crucifixion--Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, all these will become memories, like Jesus' scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.

This is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

Time to panic

Not to be alarmist, but someone ought to be alarmed (via Instapundit):
Jordan's King Abdullah revealed on Saturday that vehicles reportedly containing chemical weapons and poison gas that were part of a deadly al-Qaida bomb plot came from Syria, the country named by U.S. weapons inspector David Kay last year as a likely repository for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the nightmare scenario? The one where the terrorists get hold of WMDs and use them against the US and its allies? If these are the missing Iraqi WMDs, this shows that we should have moved sooner, ignored the UN and invaded a year earlier, before Saddam had a chance to send the WMDs off to where they could be used by the terrorists. Whether they are or not, this shows we need to do something about Syria. I thought we could wait. I was pretty sure that Assad would come around, that he might already be negotiating, and King Abdullah at least believes that Assad had no knowledge of this attack, but is he willing and able to deal with the terrorists and their supporters in his own country? Or is he one of those supporters himself? I think that unless he starts showing Libyan-style cooperation, we may have to move against Syria, without the luxury of waiting for Iraq to settle down and the resolution of the November election.

Update: At Letters from Babylon, Jeremy Frank notes that while plenty of other news sources talk about the chemical nature of the planned attack, CNN does not. It's always possible that the chemical part is based on bad intelligence--there have been plenty of other scares that proved false, and I hope this is one--but with a source as high as King Abdullah, you'd think it would be worth reporting.

New Post: Apparently the attempts to break up this plot are still in progress, as discussed above.

Week in Review

Here are my major posts from the previous week.

The Harmony of the Gospels -- I quote from all four Resurrection accounts. Don't miss the follow-up post on the similarities and differences.

Galileo: Other sources -- A follow up on an earlier post, I quote from another source to confirm some of the details about Galileo's difficulties with the Catholic Church.

Ted Kennedy's Vietnam -- I explain why Iraq won't be George Bush's Vietnam, but why it could be John Kerry's.

The Progressive Church -- The first in a series of posts about liberal Christianity, its good points and its bad.

Democratic Advertising -- I point out that the ad which called for Rumsfeld's execution (figuratively, at least) was, aside from inflammatory, also poorly researched. This post appeared in Right Wing News's sidebar for a couple of days.

Blogging Bush's Press Conference
-- I live-blog Bush's press conference.

Gerard Alexander at Rochester -- Gerard Alexander, the author of "The Myth of Republican Racism," is giving a talk at Rochester. I'll be attending, and if you have any questions you think I should ask, please pass them along.

Spirit of America -- I offer to join the blogwar between Michelle Catalano and Dean Esmay -- for a price to be named later.

The Shroud of Turin -- My sparse thoughts on the Shroud of Turin.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

And now we'll divert ourselves from discussing religion to discussing webcomics. I'm getting this done early, but I'll eventually bump it to its rightful place at the end of the week.

Sluggy Freelance -- Once Gwynn defeats the evil vacuum cleaner, it's time for a Kiki activity week. Ooooh, shiny!

Day by Day -- Plenty of comments on Iraq, and I thought Chris's thoughts on the press conference were most appropriate.

It's Walky! -- Walky and Joyce. Joe and what's-her-name. Love, or maybe hate, is in the air. But back at SEMME headquarters, there's trouble brewing.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Roger meets a unicorn, Mike meets a mermaid, and Dave meets, well, fights with, anyway, a half-metal mad scientist doctor who just wants to escape. Can Dave retain consciousness long enough to stop him from abandoning the others?

General Protection Fault -- Ki's plan to visit Nick gets off to a rough start, but all's well that ends well. Right?

Schlock Mercenary -- Tagon's would-be employer is vaporized. It's a good thing he got half in advance.

More on Liberal Christianity

Old Post: My previous post is here.

In my previous post, I acknowledged that the progressive church's efforts to reach out to groups who had traditionally been neglected by the Church indicated an admirable desire on their part. After all, Jesus reached out to prostitutes and tax collectors. Unfortunately, this desire is not matched by a respect for scripture. Indeed, they seem to be encouraging the very normalization of sin that bothered me in the previous post, and they seem to have a contempt for orthodox Christianity that is apparent on their front page:
Religion doesn't have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, repressive...

Do you find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions rather than in the answers?

Do you have religious interests and longings but cannot accept the beliefs and dogmas you associate with Christianity?

Are you repelled by claims that Christianity is the "only way"?

In their desire not to offend people who are normally offended by Christianity, they forget that Christianity is a message of offense. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Matt. 11:6) Jesus was not universally loved, and those who thought themselves sinless had the hardest time accepting him. Ignoring sin, offering acceptance without redemption, tells people that they don't really need Jesus. (Of course, this doesn't seem to bother the progessive Christians, judging from their second point: "Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.") Jesus taught the legitimacy of the law, with strong warnings for those who ignored it: "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:19) While we need to love all sinners, while there is forgiveness available for them and for us, we dare not forget just how dangerous, how deadly sin is. When we do, we treat Christ's sacrifice as worthless.

Quite a rollercoaster ride

My blog traffic has been up and down this week, as can be seen from this graph of visits per day from Sitemeter.

The Blogs for Bush carnival on Monday (no doubt augmented by the Instapundit link to Blogs for Bush on that day), the Christian Carnival on Wednesday, the link in Right Wing News's sidebar, all brought a lot of traffic at the beginning of the week. Of course, it tapered off near the end, helped along by my own sluggish blogging. For a while there I thought my average might be moving up to 50+ per day, but it looks like I'm still in the 25-35 range (which actually is an improvement since I last mentioned it, as I've since figured out how to ignore my own visits--well I technically knew how, I just didn't think it would work with dynamic IP addressing, but it's smarter than I thought).

Blogs beget Blog Traffic

Bill Hobbs has a post pointing out that a link in a high traffic blog brings a blog more traffic than a mention in any "old media" outlet. Not to be facetious, but is anyone really surprised by this? As I see it, there are two reasons:

1. Ease of use: I mean, really, if you're reading a blog, and you see a link to something you're remotely interested in, you click on it. Easiest thing in the world. Now, if you hear about it on television, or read it in a newspaper, first you have to get online, then type in the address. If you think to yourself "I'll do it the next time I'm online," are you going to even remember the intention, much less what the URL was?

2. Targeted advertising: People who read the big blogs are, after all, the people who, um, read blogs. If you see a link in a blog, then obviously you already know what a blog is, and you already read them, so you're the perfect audience for the link.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Shroud of Turin

Both Letters from Babylon and the Captain's Quarters have thoughts about the new evidence concerning the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is supposed to be evidence for the resurrection, but very few Christians consider it important evidence for their beliefs. The Catholic Church has maintained careful neutrality. It is supposed to be the cloth in which Jesus was wrapped when he was buried, and it has the image of a face that is particularly visible in photonegatives. It turns out that this image is actually visible on both sides of the shroud, thus making the possibility of forgery less likely.

I first heard the details about the shroud when I went to a lecture on it at the Virginia Junior Classical League Convention when I was in High School (the VJCL Convention is a get-together for Latin students, with contests and lectures and all sorts of fun stuff). This lecture was actually the first place I heard about the gruesome details of crucifixion. Oh, I knew about Jesus's death from the Bible, but oddly no one had ever explained to me how crucifixion actually killed someone. I had never understood how nailing someone to a piece of wood could kill them in just three hours. (It does so by asphyxiation. The arms are drawn out to expand the ribcage and make breathing difficult and painful. You can ease the difficulty by supporting yourself on your legs, but this also becomes very painful when there's a nail driven through them. Usually, though, it took days to die. They broke the thieves' legs to speed it up for them, but Jesus had already given up the ghost, apparently not fighting to survive.) The impression I got from the lecture was that the shroud had most likely been wrapped around someone who had been crucified, although no one really knew whether that person was Jesus. (The speaker was pretty neutral on this point, preferring naturalistic explanations for the image.) As for myself, I don't really consider it evidence for the Resurrection.

Writing

From the "In case you were wondering" desk, the revising proceeds apace. I'm about 77% through the first revision of the still unnamed short story.

Liberal Christianity

Old Post: My previous post was here.

John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon commented on my post on the progressive church:
I found the statements about welcoming those groups not traditionally associated with Christianity (like homosexuals) particularly notable. It seems to me that the positions espoused by these "liberal Christians" are born of a commendable desire to extend the love of God to all. Indeed, it is desirable for the Church catholic to be as welcoming as possible, just as Jesus was to the traditionally unrighteous people of his day, like the tax collectors. But how do we strike the right balance between the desirable unconditional acceptance of people and the diligent adherence to the teachings of Scripture (e.g., homosexual practices are sinful)? How do we make it clear that we strive for the holiness of God but also accept all people who, like we, are failing miserably in that pursuit?

Perhaps part of the problem is labeling in our minds some sins as more abhorrent than others. For example, we may not consciously hold the idea that homosexuality is a greater evil than pride, but we often behave as if we did believe so. We should denounce both with the same spirit.

I think it is true that we have a tendency to denounce certain sins as greater than others, and the actions of various Christians in regards to homosexuality has done much to hurt the cause of the Gospel. What caused Christians to take such offense at homosexuality was not the perceived abhorrence of the sin itself, but the desire to normalize it, to say that there's nothing wrong with it, that there is in fact something wrong with you for thinking there is something wrong with it. The homosexual movement has been quite successful in this effort, so that in Canada a pastor can be charged with a hate crime for publishing an ad saying that homosexuality is sinful.

But homosexuality is hardly the first or the last sin to be normalized. Certainly extramarital sex has long been so, and only "prudes" in "fundamentalist" churches say otherwise. And what of greed, envy, and pride, are we not so inured to the appeal to them in each television commercial that we rarely recognize the sin anymore? The Church has almost always functioned in a society that doesn't believe in the wrongness of the things the Church says are sinful, and in some ways I think it is better that way. In a society which agrees too closely with the Church, we're less likely to recognize those sins our society fails to recognize.

New Post: More above.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Spirit of America

A Small Victory and Dean's World have begun a blogwar to see who can raise the most money for Spirit of America, which funds projects by troops to help Iraqis. The specific project they're supporting is one that helps Iraqis start up TV news stations to counter the prevalence of Al Jazeera. I think this is a great idea, and I'd gladly help out, although neither is courting me to become a part of either alliance. Hey, I may only get 1% of their traffic, but I'm sure I can contribute something. And frankly, I come cheap.

Gerard Alexander at Rochester

Old Post: I mentioned Gerard Alexander's article below.

Gerard Alexander, the author of this article on the GOP in the South, is coming to speak at Rochester. Does anyone have suggestions for questions I should ask him?

Update: For anyone near or around the Rochester area, the talk is in Hoyt Hall at the University of Rochester, at 8 pm on Thursday, April 22nd. It's sponsored by the College Republicans, with whom I'm not associated.

New Post: I blog Gerard Alexander's talk above.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Right Wing News links

John Hawkins from Right Wing News put a link in his sidebar to my post about Bush visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. I'm surprised he linked to that rather than the original Kausfile I got it from, but that's the advantage of Permalinks, I guess. This has been responsible for about 2/3rds of my traffic today. Thanks for the link, John! I guess my strategy of shamelessly promoting myself in other people's comments is still working. (I do try not to overdo it, though.)

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is up at the GodBlog. This is the first time I've had a post included, the one on Heliocentrism and the Church. Check out what other Christian bloggers are saying.

Personal thoughts on Bush's press conference

Old Post: I live-blogged Bush's press conference last night in the post below.

Well, I live blogged it, but that was mostly just the facts. What did I think of it? I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be. As much as I might wish it, Bush is just never going to be very articulate. (Fortunately for him, Kerry comes across as worse. He doesn't mangle his words, but he can't give a straight answer to save his life.) The President's opening speech was good, emphasizing that the June 30th date will hold firm and that our commitment to Iraq remains strong and will remain strong well past the turnover date (we'll probably continue operations for a year or so, and keep bases there for on the order of a decade). When it came to answering questions, I wish he had done better. In the immediate aftermath I was disappointed with his answers, but having had a day to think about it, I think I was more disappointed with the reporters. That sort of passive-agressive "Why won't you just admit you're a miserable failure?" questioning made them look much worse than it did Bush, even if I don't think he came off so well either. The answer to why Bush won't admit to his mistakes can be found here. Bush's ideas, and mine, about his mistakes are not the same as the press's. They want him to admit he shouldn't have gone to Iraq, while I think his only mistake was basing his reasoning on WMDs to win over Tony Blair and the UN. You don't need WMDs to make the argument, as I (and many others) have shown. Yet that answer would surely just infuriate the press, so why bother? On the other hand, maybe that's plenty of reason to do so. Enough with what the press thinks, or the Democrats, he should just say what he's thinking.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Blogging Bush's Press Conference

Since my live blogging of Nader's speech didn't work out, I'll try it again, this time with Bush's press conference. This time I'm in my living room with my home wireless network, so there are no connectivity worries.

8:31 PM -- President starts opening statement.

8:32 PM -- Three groups: Ba'athists in Fallujah, outside terrorists, and al-Sadr. Long condemnation of Sadr. He's calling the violence a power grab by these extreme faction.

8:33 PM -- He's making the case that most Iraqis don't support the uprising. True enough, but it would be better if they weren't so dedicated to neutrality in the present situation.

8:35 PM -- Bush is praising the troops and saying we will push for success. He will send more troops and resources if needed.

8:36 PM -- He's saying we have to keep the June 30th turnover. Now he's saying that the Iraqis will have to manage their own affairs, and that that's what will happen in Fallujah. [I guess that's why we pulled back, to try to give the Iraqis the ability to do their job.] Part of the demand [to the Fallujah militants] is that they turn over those responsible for killing and mutilating the contractors.

8:39 PM -- He's saying we will use force necessary to maintain order and protect troops.

8:40 PM -- He's discussing how the transition will proceed, both for the turnover, the constitution, and the election (January). [While there's a timetable, a lot of the details are still being worked out, with help from the UN special envoy.]

8:41 PM -- He's sending Armitage to talk to Iraq's neighbors. It's stated positively, but I wonder if it's to "dialogue" or "threaten." He also accidentally called Rumsfeld Secretary of State.

8:43 PM -- He's saying that we must hold firm in Iraq, since it is a meeting place of the civilized world (us) and terrorism, and that we cannot back down.

8:45 PM -- Bush is reviewing terrorist attacks, starting from the Beirut bombing, to the World Trade Center.

8:47 PM -- Any concession will only embolden them. Now, we're fighting against them at full force. They're desperate, and the work may get harder as we go on, but to give up will make things much worse.

8:50 PM -- First question: Is Iraq vietnam? Answer: No. But this is hard work. We've been there a year, but it's a relatively short time and we've made progress.

8:51 PM -- Next question: How long will troops be there? Are we sending more? Answer: We'll send troops if Abizaid asks for them, and it looks like he wants them now. Troops will be there as long as necessary. They'll be there after turnover, and we'll need to train Iraqis better.

8:54 PM -- Next question: How'd you get so much wrong? WMDs, greeted as liberators. Answer: WMD: The calculus had changed. We're less tolerant than we were then. Liberators: Iraqis are afraid, reluctant to step up.

[If you look at the old news reports, we were greeted as liberators when we first arrived. Gratitude doesn't last very long, does it?]

8:58 PM -- Next question: Do you feel personal responsibility for 9/11? Answer: In hindsight, of course there are things I would have done different, but hindsight is 20/20. Country was not on war footing.

9:00 PM -- Next question: Why won't you ever admit a mistake? Answer: [Not on point, but he thinks he overall did the right thing.]

[The point is that what he views as mistakes is very different from what the press views as mistakes. The only way he can "admit mistakes" to their satisfaction is to say "you were right and I was wrong," and I don't think he's going to do that, because he doesn't believe that.]

9:02 PM -- Next question: PDB warned of hijackings. Answer: Warning about bin Laden--nothing new. Report on FBI conducting field investigations--looked like good news.

I think it's kind of weak response.

9:07 PM -- Next question: Was PDB valid? [Some question as to whether the information on 70 FBI investigations was accurate.] Answer: I have no more information than you do, but I intend to find out.

9:08 PM -- Question: Will you be giving an apology like Clarke's? Answer: Osama bin Laden is the one responsible. We will bring them to justice.

9:10 PM -- Question: Is the coalition real? The other countries make a much smaller contribution than we do. Answer: There are people from other countries sacrificing their lives, why should we demean our allies?

9:12 PM -- He keeps bringing it back to making the case for the importance of freedom in Iraq, and the importance to pursuing the war on terror.

9:15 PM -- Question: You are being accused of waiting too long on al Qaeda, but not long enough on Iraq. Answer: Country was not on a war footing, and moving against Afghanistan would have been difficult before 9/11. After 9/11, our threshold is much lower now. We've had some success because of this: Libya, A.Q. Khan.

9:17 PM -- Question: If you lose your job, will it be worth it? Answer: I don't think I'll lose. I think the American people understand that, and will stay with me. They may decide to vote against me, but I don't think that will happen.

9:22 PM -- The soldiers are very motivated, very high morale.

9:22 PM -- Question: What's your biggest mistake since 9/11? Answer: Still would have gone into Iraq. Don't know what my biggest mistake is, only know that in retrospect. [Personally, I think how he made the case on Iraq was the biggest mistake. It should have been stated as the completion of the 1991 Gulf War.]

9:25 PM -- Question: Do you intend to split FBI's two divisions? Answer: I'm looking for input, it hasn't been decided yet.

[Probably not, from the looks of it.]

9:30 PM -- Question: Have you failed as a communicator? Answer: That will be decided in November. I don't fine-tune [the message] according to polls.

Update: Glenn Reynolds gives a much more detailed blow-by-blow of the press conference. I'm jealous, but I guess that's why he's the Instapundit and I'm just a low-level blogger.

Update: I did some cleaning up, with substantive additions put in brackets [like this]. I think the effort of juggling Blogger's interface took a lot out of the writing. I did better pseudo-live-blogging Ralph Nader, where connection problems kept me from posting during the talk, but I could type continuously and post it afterwards.

New Post: My personal thoughts above.

Democratic Advertising

I wasn't going to say anything about the Democratic advertisement that says "we" should put Rumsfeld "up against a wall and say 'This is one of our bad days' and pull the trigger." However, Best of the Web had a longer quote than I'd seen before which said the following:
We have Marines and soldiers being killed by the dozens with many more wounded. How many have to be killed before the Bush Bunch is satisfied? How many burial services of our Iraq dead has Bush attended? Any? How many military hospitals has Bush visited to talk to our wounded who have lost arms, or legs, or their eye sight, or combinations of these--how many?

For the first, I'm not sure the president should go to the funerals. Funerals are for the grieving, not for the President to make some sort of spectacle out of. He has met regularly with the families of those who've died, and I have much more respect for that than going to soldiers' funerals--something which I don't recall any other President doing in time of war. As for visiting the wounded in hospitals--that he has done, and apparently quite frequently, according to Mickey Kaus (March 25th, 8:36 pm entry):
The soldier sitting closest to me clearly liked Bush, perhaps because he had just seen the president, in person, for the third time. Apparently, Bush pays regular visits to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Did you know that? I didn't. Admittedly, it's easier to visit the wounded than to go to funerals, which Bush has been accused of not doing enough of. Still ...

That's another reason I admire Bush. He doesn't call attention to his good deeds.

Religion blogging

I've posted a lot of stuff about religion recently. How come? There are several reasons, I suppose. The first is that it was just Easter, and that meant I had the occasion to post a few things I'd been thinking about for a while. The second is I started reading Letters from Babylon, a group blog which includes a friend of mine from MIT, and their thoughts on faith and science inspired some of my posting (especially read their posts about chemistry leprechauns). Finally, I just got tired of talking about politics. I had a number of things I'd been wanting to say on the subject for a while, and I've mostly said them, and after that all the major players are just repeating themselves, and there's not much to say without repeating myself. I still do it when a particularly egregious example of stupidity rears its ugly head again, and I'm sure that sooner or later something new will come along and I'll talk about it, but for right now I'm finding other topics of conversation.

The Progressive Church

Cynthia, a good friend of mine from MIT (we co-led the Hardcore Bible Study at one point), has started a discussion with the Study on Liberal Christianity. In the process, she's e-mailed me this fisking of the 8 points of the progressive church (she didn't include the points themselves in her e-mail, but I've put them in for this post, and cleaned up things a bit without altering the content).

Last night I realized how little I really know about liberal Christianity. Who are these people, and which denominations typically identify themselves as liberal?

[A friend] showed me this website on progressive Christianity. Here are their 8 points of belief.

As a fairly conservative evangelical, let me go through each of the 8 points, starting from the last one and moving up:
8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

Sounds okay from a first glance. However, "evil" is probably going to be a part of our lives no matter what in this fallen world. "Evil one", as in Satan, is probably more appropriate. Also, what do they mean by "renunciation of privilege"? Aren't we privileged to be God's children?
7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers;

On its own, it's not so bad.
6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

Here we go with postmodern thought. I believe God does set absolute standards, and some parts of doctrine are firm (Jesus as the son of God,
fully human and fully divine, savior of the world, etc.) Other things (infant/adult baptism, wine/grape juice, etc.) are not as firm.
5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

Mmm, maybe. This is a tough one. Should we expect to act like Jesus did and just expect people to ask us questions? Or should we actively try to share our faith with nonbelievers?
4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):
believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;

Well, sure, we welcome all people to church and to worship. But clearly, in terms of who we marry or serve in ministry with, we need to find those who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. At some point, even the agnostic needs to make a decision.
3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus's name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

Um, all peoples, as in all believers? Why would a nonbeliever be allowed to partake in the Lord's supper? What would it mean to a nonbeliever?
2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

Does that mean Allah and Buddha are okay?
1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

Sure, but Jesus is more than just a "gate". He is God too.

Am I totally off base? Please share your thoughts.

I'd also like to hear your thoughts. Before I do so, I want to point out what this organization (The Center for Progressive Christianity) says on its front page, which goes a long way towards putting their eight points in context:
Religion doesn't have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, repressive...

Do you find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions rather than in the answers?

Do you have religious interests and longings but cannot accept the beliefs and dogmas you associate with Christianity?

Are you repelled by claims that Christianity is the "only way"?

For comparison, this is the MIT Graduate Christian Fellowship's Statement of Faith (adapted from Intervarsity's, it's also in 8 points--hmm, it seems longer than it was in my day):
We affirm the historic Christian faith as expressed in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. We also hold to the Doctrinal Basis of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship:
  • The only true God, the almighty Creator of all things, existing eternally in three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- full of love and glory.

  • The unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible.

  • The value and dignity of all people: created in God's image to live in love and holiness, but alienated from God and each other because of our sin and guilt, and justly subject to God's wrath.

  • Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, who lived as a perfect example, who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place, and who was bodily raised from the dead and ascended as Savior and Lord.

  • Justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

  • The indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service.

  • The unity of all believers in Jesus Christ, manifest in worshiping and witnessing churches, making disciples throughout the world.

  • The victorious reign and future personal return of Jesus Christ, who will judge all people with justice and mercy, giving over the unrepentant to eternal condemnation but receiving the redeemed into eternal life.

Update: John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon has comments.

New Post: More above.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Ted Kennedy's Vietnam

Jonah Goldberg has a good article criticizing Ted Kennedy for calling Iraq Bush's Vietnam:
So when you declare "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam and we need a new president," that undoubtedly strikes a chord with our enemies and those susceptible to their message. Indeed, the day after Kennedy's speech, Muqtada al-Sadr — the fascistic militia leader who's fomenting rebellion against America and calling himself an ally of various terrorist groups — declared, "Iraq will be another Vietnam for America and the occupiers."

It's not hard to imagine that Sadr got this talking point after seeing a clip of Kennedy on the BBC, Al-Jazeera, or CNN.

The Arab street doesn't know that Kennedy's a partisan hatchet man. All it knows is what it is told — which in this case is that one of America's most revered senators and the brother of JFK has declared that Iraq is the equivalent of Vietnam and that the violence in Iraq means Bush should go. If that's not a signal to our enemies that America is losing its resolve and that continued violence is worthwhile, I'm not sure what is.

Iraq is not George Bush's Vietnam, and it won't be his Vietnam, but it could end up being John Kerry's Vietnam. George Bush is not going to give up, and as long as he's determined, we can win. Public opinion waxes and wanes, but it's not going to hit rock bottom any time soon, and even if it did, I think Bush would push forward as long as he was able--until Congress forced him to withdraw, and I don't see that happening. If Kerry is elected, however, there's every chance he will bolt when the going gets tough and public opinion droops, and that will make it another Vietnam, with our enemies victorious because we didn't have the will to carry through. That's why I'm determined to do what I can to make sure that Kerry doesn't get elected.

Carnival of the Bush Bloggers

A new carnival is up at Blogs for Bush. Check it out. It references this article of mine about Kerry's Catholicism. Unfortunately, the link appears to be broken.

The August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing

The short version: there's nothing to see here. Read it for yourself.

The long version: there's still nothing to see here. The media thinks they can convince people that there is, but it will take some hard spinning to do that.

The only part that even hints that something like 9/11 might be possible is the following:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [deleted text] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar' Abd aI-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

I suppose someone might have made a leap of logic here and connected surveillance of federal buildings with hijacking, but they would have been wrong. The WTC was not a federal building, it was not surveyed, and the surveyors turned out to be Yemeni tourists anyway. I would be interested in what "suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings" had been observed. From what Condoleeza Rice said, however, none of that "suspicious activity" aside from the "surveillance" was recent, and the memo gave the indication that the FBI had the situation well in hand in the next paragraph:
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

We can always speculate that if only we had pursued just the right angle, we might have stopped things. It wasn't for lack of alerts: the Bush administration gave five of them to US airlines over the summer based on non-specific threats. In the end, it is not possible to fully secure the US, and we have to take the fight to the enemy.