Monday, May 24, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review September 29-October 5, 1997: The Dimensional Flux Agitator

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 6: The Dimensional Flux Agitator

The guys are still trying to get rid of Bun-bun. In their efforts, they accidentally zap themselves to another universe.

1. This is the first indication that Riff is something of an inventor. "Something of an inventor" in the sense that he can create a device which proves the many-worlds quantum theory.

2. For the record, there are only a few many-worlds adherents in the physics community. There are a few, I'll grant, but most just tune them out, considering the many-worlds hypothesis implausible, unproveable, and unnecessary.

3. Random reality pathways?

4. "Let me check my notes." Words to strike dread into the heart.

5. This is actually the introduction of sci-fi into the Sluggy universe. Of course, we already know that the supernatural exists there, from the first week if we take Satan in the computer seriously, and certainly the third.

6. The borg need to be more careful whom they assimilate. Torg and Riff throw the whole collective off, so that the borg end up kicking them out.

7. I loved Sunday's strip. There's plenty to love: "No problem, careful is our middle name." "No, you have no honor!" And the nod to Star Wars. "Trusting and compassionate?" "Gullible. I lied on our resumes and got us jobs on the ship."

8. To be honest, I spent most of the Sci-Fi adventure wishing they would just hurry up and get home. That and wondering whether Pete had decided to change the entire premise of the strip six weeks into it. I wanted to know whether Zoe would become a regular.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archives September 22-28, 1997: Zoe

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 5: Zoe

Pete finally gets around to introducing some women to his strip, starting with Zoe, some hot girl, and the suicide-bikini-frisbee girls. Zoe's really the only one who has any characterization in this strip, or even a name given to her. Her role this week is to suffer. Things to notice:

1. She's wearing a Ranma 1/2 T-shirt. When I first read the archives, I knew nothing about Ranma 1/2. If I had, I might have made something of the shirt. I'd at least think that Zoe read manga.

2. Torg and Riff come across as real jerks this week.

3. Zoe meets Bun-bun. Her response to Bun-bun is the same as most people's, and Bun-bun's reaction to her is the same as for most people.

4. Torg also comes across as rather gullible in Saturday's strip. Overall, I thought that was the funniest strip this week.

5. Sunday's strip shows that it's been a very bad day for Zoe.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Week in Review

As usual, this post is timestamped to put it at 12:01 am on Sunday, even though it was written around 7 pm. I don't consider the timestamp too important on this post. It covers my significant posts for this week.

Sarin used in attack in Iraq, or Terrorists have WMDs! -- I try to get across the idea that the use of a Sarin shell in Iraq is a very bad thing.

Christian Carnival XVIII -- I host the Christian Carnival. See what other Christian bloggers are saying.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 1: August 25-31, 1997 -- I've started a review of Sluggy Freelance. It's a great way to experience Sluggy if you've never read it before.

Angel Series Finale -- My thoughts on the series finale of Angel.

Opposing the Iraq War -- My thoughts on what good reasons for opposing the Iraq War are. I was originally rather ambivalent towards the whole enterprise.

Third Revision Progress -- A quick summary of how A Phoenix in Darkness is going.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Okay, so it's a bit late... this Sunday's Sluggy had me distracted. Still, I timestamped it where it belonged.

Sluggy Freelance -- And it's a successful mission on "Pig Sty for the Gay Guy." And things take a really cool turn as the Dimension of Lame Bun-bun shows up. Is it the final showdown between Torg and the Dimension of Pain? And yes, Pain and Lame are two different dimensions.

Day by Day -- John Kerry gets mocked (twice), but mostly it's a lot of Damon this week.

It's Walky! -- And the fight between SEMME and the Britjas rages on, only the Britjas have brainwashed quite a few SEMME agents.

College Roomies from Hell!!! (I added some exclamation points. I was negligent leaving them off, as "The three exclamation points stand for quality!) -- Mike infiltrates the party, where he has a very nasty flashback. Unfortunatley, there weren't as many updates this week as I would have hoped.

General Protection Fault -- And the false Craig is revealed, to everyone except Sharon.

Schlock Mercenary -- The alien CSI has discovered that Schlock is innocent. Cool.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 4: September 15-21, 1997

All right, I'm running late today, but I changed the timestamp by a few minutes to make sure it didn't leak into Sunday.

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Demon Summoning Week

Not having much luck summoning demons through the Internet, Riff intends to do it the old-fashioned way, with a tome of ancient evil. Torg, of course, goes along with it. Things I noticed:

1. Torg and Riff, best friends that they are, always seem to go along with each others' plans, no matter how crazy, dangerous, and outright stupid they are.

2. Where do you think the Book of E-ville came from in the first place?

3. You'd figure that Bun-bun would be more into summoning evil.

4. I particularly like Tuesday's comic, "What?! It's only okay if Bill Gates does it [summons evil to plunge the world into chaos and darkness]?"

5. It's the first mention of telemarketers on Wednesday.

6. The unpronounceable spell word is neat.

7. The "About the Author" blurb on Saturday is a nice touch.

8. Only Riff and Torg would play with the forces of darkness for such frivolous purposes.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Third Revision Progress

"Third revision? I thought you weren't done with the second revision yet."

Well, yes and no. While I'm less than 70% done with the second revision, A Phoenix in Darkness is written in five parts (as I've mentioned earlier), each of which is 5500-7000 words long. By contrast, "A Stranger in the Library" is just under 6000 words long (which, not coincidentally, is the word limit for short story submissions for most print magazines). So I've finished the second revision on the first three of those parts, and I'm now on the fourth--which is on track to be done this weekend. I sent the first part to my "editors" (family members and friends whom I trust to read the story and comment on it) a couple of weeks ago, and they've finally gotten back to me with their comments. I'll soon send the second part to them, and I'm hoping that they'll be working on the third part by the time I finish the second revision. At that point, it's on to the third revision, which takes their comments into account and makes corrections. So far the most important comment I've received is that the there's not enough background in the first part, and too much reader knowledge is taken for granted. This is one of those things that's easy for me to miss: having written quite a bit of material in this world, I sometimes forget that not everyone has read it. This is bad news for me, since it's going to require some extensive additions to the first part, but good news for the readers, since the first part gets longer. Once I've made those additions, I'll polish and spell-check (I don't spell-check until the end, because spell-checking is a pain and not very useful while I'm still doing significant rewrites), then post the first part. And yes, I plan to do that before I'm done with the third revision for all the parts. If things go smoothly, a new part will be posted every two weeks. I expect I will start in two or three weeks.

Next Christian Carnival

The next Christian Carnival will be hosted at Parablemania. If you'd like to participate, send an e-mail to Jeremy Pierce (jrpierce@syr.edu) with the following information by 8 PM on Tuesday night:

Name of your Blog
Blog URL
Title of your Post
Post URL
Description of your Post

Opposing the war in Iraq

Old Post: I give a spirited defense of the war in Iraq here, during my first week blogging. But that's only part of the story.

Believe it or not, I was not always for the Iraq war. Back in January of 2003, I was very skeptical about the whole enterprise. The main reason was because Bush had made WMDs the centerpoint of his argument, and I wasn't certain of his evidence. Yes, this sounds very snide coming now after we haven't found the WMDs we expected (although we've certainly found some). At the time, my doubts came from being an experimentalist. As an experimentalist, when not taking data, I was analyzing it. This involves a lot of looking at meaningless data points and trying to figure out what they mean, looking for patterns that indicate some phenomenon. I always figured it was similar to what analysts at intelligence agencies do. Separating the signal from the noise is hard enough, even harder for intelligence agencies than experimentalists, but even when you're sure of the facts, it's not always obvious what they mean. When analyzing data, it's very easy to see what you expect to see, even when it's not really there. And thus, before the Iraq war, I was skeptical, since the evidence the Bush administration presented, while weighty, wasn't conclusive, and I had no way of knowing how well they had separated the signal from the noise in the first place (by noise I mean things that simply weren't true, while by signal I mean facts that you may or may not know how to interpret). It bothered me that there was no smoking gun, even with all the intelligence efforts and the weapon inspections.

I guess I wasn't really anti-war, however. Every time I got into a debate with my friends about it, I found myself on the pro-war side. Usually this was because they used the weakest anti-war arguments available, "It's all about the oil!" and "What about international law?" and "Saddam was never a threat!" and "Bush is just trying to avenge the family honor!" All of these were patently false, and war-skeptic that I was, I had to at least disabuse them of these arguments. If they were going to oppose the war, they should use good reasons. Here are the reasons why I thought the war might be a bad idea:

1. The US did not have the will to pursue a successful war against Iraq. Of course, at the time, I did not expect Saddam's government to collapse in three weeks, but this has been somewhat borne out in the opposition to the continuing efforts in the media and the Democratic party, and how the loss of less than a 1000 soldiers is considered unacceptable casualties.

2. The Arab street. Don't laugh! I thought it possible the war in Iraq would spread to other nations. Fortunately, it didn't. My views on the Arab nations and their reactions were wrong, but given what I was reading in the news media, can you blame me?

3. Saddam's threat was overblown. I'm still not sure where I stand on this one, but given our more recent knowledge about his terrorist connections and his weapons program, I'm thinking he was more dangerous than I thought at the time.

4. International law. This was by far the weakest. As I said in my previous post on why I support the war, the international law case is open and shut. Saddam agreed to the terms of a ceasefire, he didn't keep it, therefore the war continued. The question is, with whom did Saddam agree to a ceasefire? The US? Then sure, we can declare the thing voided now that he's broken it and attack. However, if it was with the whole coalition of nations that forced him out of Kuwait, then who could declare it void? The US? The UN Security Council? Would all the nations that took part have to agree? I thought one could make a case for it being the Security Council, but I thought it a pretty weak case.

Now, as I said, I was a skeptic. I balanced the reasons for opposing it against the reasons for supporting it and I didn't know for certain where I stood. Once the war started, I went to full-support. Now that it was underway, we had to see it through, not only for our national prestige and honor (which may just seem to be nice sounding words, but these things are important when it comes to dealing with other nations, friendly and unfriendly), but for the sake of the Iraqis--I remembered what happened after the first Gulf War. It was around this time when I realized that the news media was giving me only parts of the story, talking about how badly we were doing when any fool could look at a map and see that we'd made astounding progress. So I started looking for alternative news sources. I found Glennreynolds.com on MSNBC invaluable for his ability to locate these other sources, which led me to Instapundit (Glenn's other blog), which introduced me to blogs in general. Once I started reading them, I also came to a better understanding of the war and the arguments for and against, which made it easier for me to decide where I stood.

So confession is good for the soul, eh? I'm not sure I meet Dean Esmay's definition of the biggest patriots, but I'll admit his post was part of the inspiration to write this. The other part was that for a long time I've been wanting to make the analogy between experimentalists and intelligence analysts when considering the case for Saddam's WMDs.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 3: September 8-14, 1997

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Teddy Weddy

Since the guys can't beat Bun-bun, and they can't appease him, they need some other way to get rid of him. Like another "cute" talking animal who can replace him violently. Some thoughts:

1. I liked the Monday comic the best. Yeah, trust Bun-bun to sucessfully play the race card. Cute talking animals can get away with anything.

2. Teddy Weddy ain't exactly cute, but he talks, and he looks like a match for the bunny.

3. "Ka-click." That bunny has a switchblade! And he knows how to use it.

4. PETA's back. This almost makes it worth it.

5. So what is the lop-technique?

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Second Revision Progress

It took a while, but I'm now 58% through A Phoenix in Darkness. Technical difficulties contributed significantly to the delay, but not as much as my personal life. In the end, I'm only a week behind schedule if I can get through an entire section this weekend (well within the realm of possibility).

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 2: September 1-7, 1997

I've been known to recommend webcomics on this blog. The thing about webcomics is, because the entire archive is online, they tend to be serial, referring to past events and building on old storylines. For that reason, it's best to start from the beginning, but also kind of intimidating to read through six years of webcomics at once. For that reason, I've started the Sluggy Freelance Archive Review. We'll go through the Sluggy Freelance Archives in week-sized chunks. It'll take a while, but this should serve as a good introduction to one of the mainstays of Internet webcomics.

Along Came a Bunny

Now that the guys have a cute talking animal, they want to get rid of him. Unfortunately, Bun-bun fights back, and the pet store won't take returns unless they're broken. A few things to notice:

1. Monday's strip is a classic, the first where we see that not only is Bun-bun rude, he's violent, and he's more than capable of pummeling a nerd-boy ten times his size.

2. He's mischievous. In the sense that he can get you killed and/or fired. Also, it looks like talking animals are not the rule in the Sluggyverse.

3. Riff is doing an animation render. One might think he was a computer artist. What's he rendering, anyway?

4. Riff has no problem murdering cute talking animals. Of course, he has met Bun-bun.

5. While Bun-bun is usually quite intelligent, sometimes his rabbit instincts take over and he does something really stupid.

6. PETA member gets beaten up by the cute talking animal. This is how I knew I liked Pete.

7. What is it with Bun-bun and Baywatch? Why would a rabbit like human women?

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like spoilers, in the comments of this post. I've cross-posted this on the Sluggy Freelance Forums for all your spoiler needs.

Angel Series Finale

I did watch the Angel series finale last night. I've always liked Angel better than Buffy, the character as well as the series. He was just more interesting and tragic. I also liked the fact that Joss Whedon did a better job of keeping the power-level reasonable in Angel. In the last few seasons of Buffy, Buffy, and especially Willow, had become too powerful, so that it was hard to find challenges for them any longer. In the last season of Angel, the principals had a lot of power, but it was more due to the organization than the characters themselves, and the organization couldn't be trusted.

That leads me to what I found most disappointing about the finale: the manner of Wesley's death. Going into the finale, I thought the chances of Wesley's survival were pretty slim; he's been borderline suicidal since Winnifred's death. Wesley had become one of my favorite characters, growing significantly from the wimp we first encountered on Buffy, and the one thing that I liked the most about him was how smart he was. He had a realistic view of his own abilities, knew where he was weak and where he was strong, and he was able to take on his opponents by finding their weaknesses and exploiting them. While Wesley knew a good bit about magic, he was never shown to be truly powerful in the way that Willow was. Thus, I found the concept of him fighting an uberpowerful sorcerer with magic out-of-character. I kept waiting for him to pull some trick, or at least a pistol (not a switchblade!). (Another reason I liked him was that he used guns. Dramatic as it is, it's unrealistic that in this day and age manually staking vampires is still considered the best way to kill them. Sure, ordinary bullets won't do it, but why hasn't anyone in Whedon's universe thought of this.) Perhaps it was a reflection of his borderline suicidal psyche, but I wouldn't expect him to throw his life away at the cost of the mission. Nor am I convinced that his plan all along was to die in Illyria's arms so she would kill the sorcerer.

I'm also not a huge fan of the cliffhanger ending. Farscape was the worst; this one was at least fun, if infuriatingly inconclusive. But if the rest of them died in the fight at the end, at least they went down appropriately, which is more than I can say for Wesley.

WMDs in the hands of terrorists is bad!

Instapundit points to this article by Collin Levey, which says the same thing I've been saying, that the discovery of this sarin shell is a big deal and it's not good news for any American:
It hadn't been but a few hours since the news broke when former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix grabbed a microphone somewhere to huff that the discovery meant nothing. Others briskly offered that the shell was more likely the bounty of a scavenger hunt by yahoos who didn't even know what they had.

Fair enough to be sure: At this point, none of us knows. But even forgetting the potency of one drop of liquid sarin, when did the prospect of the accidental use of loose WMDs become reassuring?

Fingers have been chewed to the quick around the world at this same prospect for years. Anyone old enough to drink has probably watched at least one show fretting over the whereabouts of vast stockpiles from the former Soviet Union. Given that Iraq's history of using sarin gas during the Iran-Iraq war and against the Iraqi Kurds is well-documented (Saddam Hussein listed some 800 tons in his possession at one point), a twinge of concern wouldn't be inappropriate.
...
Sure, every tiddlywink of Iraq news these days will be absorbed into the political machinery of an election campaign in overdrive.

But like the memo informing the Bush administration that Osama bin Laden was maybe possibly thinking about using planes to ill effect, the discovery of a potential weapon of mass terror in Iraq is a warning we could regret missing in hindsight.

It's also a reminder of why we chose this battle in the first place.

Come on, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, et cetera! I don't particularly care how you spin it as a failure for the Bush administration (I know you can), but you are failing your duty to keep Americans informed. If you can daily terrorize Americans about the dangers of botox injections, fast food, and second-hand smoke, you can at the least get them a little bit concerned about the fact that there are WMDs in the hands of terrorists!

VRWC

Want to know what the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is up to? Kate at Small Dead Animals confesses all.

That reminds me, I need to renew my VRWC membership. Maybe I can get one of those fancy new membership cards.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 1: August 25-31, 1997

I've been known to recommend webcomics on this blog. The thing about webcomics is, because the entire archive is online, they tend to be serial, referring to past events and building on old storylines. For that reason, it's best to start from the beginning, but also kind of intimidating to read through six years of webcomics at once. For that reason, I've started the Sluggy Freelance Archive Review. We'll go through the Sluggy Freelance Archives in week-sized chunks. It'll take a while, but this should serve as a good introduction to one of the mainstays of Internet webcomics.

The First Week

Here is where we first meet Torg and Riff. We notice right away that they're a very self aware bunch, as Torg is addressing the audience in the first comic (Fourth wall, what fourth wall?). Riff, meanwhile, is engaged in a very unconventional use of the Internet: demon summoning. By the time we're done with the good versus evil deathmatch on Riff's hard drive, we meet the strip's cute talking animal, with attitude.

My gut reaction to this week was "eh?" Sluggy always was one of those things that grew on me, like a fungus. Computer mayhem is just too common a theme in webcomics for me to be impressed by this.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Christian Carnival XVIII

Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival. I've carefully read all these posts before putting them up, and I found them all to be good. This doesn't necessarily mean I agree with all of them (or even any of them), but it does mean that they're all worth reading. I believe I got everybody's submission, but as I was shuffling through two e-mail accounts, it's possible I missed some. If you sent me an e-mail but don't see your post, just e-mail me again at the address in the sidebar. I've grouped the posts by topics, although I had no particular strategy for choosing topics aside from what suggested itself from what people wrote.

Prayer

Bob at Mr. Standfast shares a Prayer Request for a friend.

Mr. Standfast's request inspired Rebecca Writes to share a "A Few Thoughts on Prayer," including the importance of telling other people you are praying for them.

Bryan at Spare Change argues that our prayers need to be more like instant messages than snail mail. If you have no idea what this means, you should read his post "Instant Messaging."

War

Darren at Nicene Theology has a post called "The One-upmanship of Evil," describing how an appropriate response to Nick Berg's violence requires us to overcome evil with good.

La Shawn Barber looks at the war with a Christian perspective in "Onward Christian Soldiers."


Theism and Naturalism

Jeremy Pierce at Parablemania writes about miracles, naturalism, and God's will in "God's Will and Naturalism."

John Zimmer from Letters from Babylon has the latest post on whether naturalism is a necessary assumption in science, "Methodological Naturalism and the Proper Scope of Science, Revisited."

Evangelism

Intolerant Elle talks about how teaching spiritual Greeks is different from instructing spiritual Jews in "Thai Greeks."

Douglas Bass at Belief Seeking Understanding tries to understand "A Verse Many People Don't Get...", specifically John 14:12, which says: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

Warren at View from the Pew thinks the Southern Baptists Convention's decision to encourage its members to abandon public schools is a mistake. "Why yield ground to the Enemy?" he argues in "Christians and Public Education."

The Church

Karen Marie Knapp at From the Anchor Hold says that Catholics should not be asking "What's the least I can do to be saved?" but "What more can I do?" in her post "Maximal Catholic Living: Spiritual Fitness Program for Beginners and the Out-of-Shape." There's good advice here for us non-Catholics as well.

Hal Paxton at The Great Separation considers a tough pro-life question in "Mother, who Refused a Medically Advised Abortion, Dies."

Samantha Pierce at Uncle Sam's Cabin takes issue with those who say women shouldn't speak at all in church, in her post "Women Should be Silent in Churches."

Thoughts and Feelings

The verb (aka Jeff) at Kingdom Come has posted "On Sensuality." Sensuality is not synonymous with sexuality, and neither is inherently evil.

Marla Swoffer of Proverbial Wife has some ideas about why both thinking and feeling are incomplete ways of experiencing the world in "Subjective Objections".

Dawn Xiana Moon has a post about community and suburbia called "Language Falters."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Understanding the Left

Doc Rampage has a long but fascinating post entitled "talking past each other." (Doc doesn't capitalize his post titles. No, I don't get it either.) Here's an excerpt:
The difference in a nut shell: the left believes that the measure of a society is how well it produces good people. The right thinks that the measure of a society is how well it controls bad people. To the left, if a society has bad people that need to be controlled, then it is a failure already. To the right, society has little impact on how good a person is, it can only control their more harmful actions.

I think Doc is largely correct. There's one thing I don't think he addressed fully:
This view of the left is also what compels them to piousness on issues of conflict. If someone is violent, it is because someone failed to adjust the perpetrator's inputs properly. So conservatives act to control the worst elements of human nature and leftists sniff, "Well, just don't have such elements." They always seem to think that if we would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. There is the implicit suggestion that if you would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. When the left asked after 9/11, "Why do they hate us?" it was clear from their answers that what they really meant was "Why do they hate you?", meaning conservatives, capitalists, and Christians -- the three C's of Evil or C3oE. And what they mean is that the C3oE is not on board with the effort to reprogram all those nasty violent people into bucolic Europhiles.

If you want to know what the Islamofascists hate most about America, it isn't the Christians. It's the liberals. When they look at America, what disgusts them? The sexual propaganda of our entertainment, for one. The secularism, for another. Glorification of homosexuality, abortion, the dissolution of marriage, post-modernism, the denunciation of religion... If they ever succeed in turning America into a Muslim country, we Christians will suffer, certainly. The liberals will be lucky to survive.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival goes up on Wednesday. You have until 8 pm EST Tuesday night to make a submission. E-mail me (e-mail's in the sidebar) the following information:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

I've received nine submissions thus far. There's still plenty of room.

Sarin used in attack in Iraq, or Terrorists have WMDs!

To the surprise of no one but the liberals, there's been another attempt to use chemical weapons against the US and its allies. (The first attempt was the foiled plot in Jordan.)

Once again, where's the panic? I realize that the liberals are in full denial mode, and either conservatives are just calmer, or that's just wishful thinking and they're too busy gloating. Still, while I'm not usually given to panic and there's still the possibility that this will be a false alarm, someone needs to sound the alarm, false or not:

Terrorists have WMDs.

We went to Iraq hoping to prevent it. We're hoping against hope we can contain North Korea and curb Iran and intimidate Syria all to keep this from happening. It's too late, though:

Terrorists have WMDs.

We knew it might have already happened. We knew they were working on it, but we were hoping they wouldn't be able to develop them, that their plans to acquire them would fail. We hoped and prayed they didn't have them. But they do:

Terrorists have WMDs.

Liberals, go ahead and spin it as a terrible failure of the Bush doctrine. Conservatives, point out that Bush was right all along and that we have to be even more aggressive. Just don't bury it or minimize it or say that there's nothing we can do. Like it or not, the nightmare scenario has happened. The world hasn't ended, and I'm not ready to go buy a gas mask, but can we please drop the arguments over whether we should have gone to war in the first place? While the way we question prisoners is still a legitimate question, let's not pretend that we don't desperately need the information they have. Debate how ethical it is to apply extreme interrogation techniques, but at least acknowledge that we're trying to save thousands of lives by doing so. The mistreatment of Ba'athist prisoners, the horrible murders of civilian contractors, none of these matter as much as one thing:

Terrorists have WMDs.

Update: Stupid quotation marks! The links were broken, but they're fixed now.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Explosions Expedite Change!

By now everyone has done a "Straight Eye for the Gay Guy" parody, but I thought Riff's take on home remodeling worth noting.

Week in Review

Well, this is two days late, and I didn't even write one for the previous week. Still, let's review, shall we?

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Primer -- I try to explain the difference in this first post on the topic. Since both these terms are pretty vague, there's some disagreement. I'm not done with this topic, by the way.

Abu Ghraib -- I wade into the Abu Ghraib debate.

Fallujah Update -- A few thoughts on the progress in the Fallujah situation.

Prisoner Interrogation -- I ask more questions than I answer when I discuss how far you can go questioning prisoners when lives are at risk and there are no legal impediments.

Homicide Bombers -- Sometimes the conservative media irritates me too.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

We're on time this week, maybe even a few hours early.

Sluggy Freelance -- It looks like they aren't hitmen afterall, but freelance bums. Now it's time for a "Queer Eye" parody.

Day by Day -- There's plenty of discussion about Abu Ghraib, plus the disparity between the coverage of Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg's murder.

It's Walky! -- It's Walky to the rescue, with a little help from Melonpool.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Dave loses hope, Mike changes clothes, and Roger meets some mythological creatures. There's a good chance the guys will be together for the big finale.

General Protection Fault -- Fooker's back! Now if only he and Sharon would stop missing one another.

Schlock Mercenary -- Schlock talks to his lawyer. If only he didn't think Schlock was guilty.

Update: I bumped this post to put it at the very end of the week.

Homicide Bombers

All right, time for one of my pet peeves. Since I complain often enough about the mainstream (i.e., liberal) media, I ought to toss a complaint in the direction of Fox News. And this is it. I think their use of the term "homicide bomber" rather than "suicide bomber" is, well I was going to say silly, but that seems wrong for such a grim subject matter. I know that it comes from something President Bush said, saying that suicide bombers are really homicide bombers. When he said it, it was a rhetorical device denying suicide bombers the matyrdom they tried to claim. The fact that Fox uses the term for all suicide bombers annoys me. Suicide bombing is accurate and specific. They are detonating bombs which kill themselves in the process. Homicide bombing is, while not exactly inaccurate, not very specific. Any terrorist using bombs is trying to kill people, but the term homicide bomber doesn't really tell me whether the method the bomber was using would have killed himself as well. Or rather, it does, but only because I already know "homicide bomber" really means "suicide bomber." I know Fox wants to be different, but did they really have to adopt the term "homicide bomber"? I'd be happier if they called the "insurgents" terrorists, which would be more accurate.

Update: A bit of rewriting for clarity. Nothing substantive.

New Post: I'm not the only one who thinks this way. More above.

Blogging Cartoonist

Howard Tayler, the artist behind Schlock Mercenary, has started a Live Journal blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Tayler. Now if we could only convince Pete Abrams to start blogging. Come on, Pete, everybody's doing it. No, it's not just an intricate plot to get me another Instalanche.

In other news, Mr. Tayler likes Cox and Forkum's politics. I suspected he was a political conservative.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Rumsfeld uses my analogy

It looks like Rumsfeld is using my analogy:
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) did suggest that Iraqi troops might be on their own sooner than they would like. He said Iraqi forces are being trained, and the process is similar to teaching a child to ride a bicycle.

"They might wobble and fall, in which case you pick them up, dust them off, put them back up. But if you don't take your finger off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old that can't ride a bike," he said.

(From Fox News)

Here's what I said:
I think our primary reason for waiting [before moving on Fallujah] has been to give us a chance to bring in the Iraqis. Remember, the handover is on June 30th. By then, the Iraqis will have to be able to handle their own problems. Oh, we'll still be there, and we'll still be hunting down terrorists and Ba'athists (assuming there's a difference), but the more the Iraqis do for themselves, the better. They'll look less like US puppets, they'll develop their own sense of mission and pride, and in many ways, they can be more effective in this job than we can. By bringing them in now, while the US is still in control, we're teaching them how to handle the problems they'll deal with later. It's like having the training wheels of American support as they learn to ride the bike of self-rule... Okay, I'll stop now before this metaphor becomes like one of Dave Barry's.

I guess we Donalds think alike. I better not mention this to the other Donald, as he doesn't particularly like Rumsfeld.

Story Progress

I've almost caught up to where I should have been last weekend, but I've run into a problem. I need to do some research for technical accuracy. That may put me a bit behind.

Prisoner Interrogation

Captain Ed links to a New York Times article describing how the CIA was authorized to use harsh interrogation techniques:
The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.


At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.

The last statement seems unlikely. If the rules were secret, how could they generate a "new understanding" for people who knew nothing about them?

Still, there's an important question which arises here: What are the limits to how you interrogate terrorists? These are not US citizens, protected by our Constitutional rights, nor are they POWs, since it would take an extensive re-writing of the Geneva Convention to classify them as such. So there are no legal limitations, just moral ones. What moral duty do you have to preserve the dignity and well-being of one human being when the cost of doing so may be the death of hundreds or thousands of others? Interrogation is used in criminal investigations as well, but the rules governing it are much stronger in that case. Clearly, you need to be able to do more than politely ask questions. So we need to allow at least intimidating body language and raised voices. How about warm or cold rooms? Sleep deprivation? Humiliation? Restraints? Long periods of solitary confinement? Physical threats? Physical abuse? Where's the line here? In the case of Abu Ghraib, everyone agrees that the soldiers crossed the line. In the circumstances described in the article above, it looks like threatening with a gun is over the line, but waterboarding is not (although it sure sounds like it should be).

At an initial glance, the ideal solution would be one not requiring these sort of techniques. It'd be much better if we could give the prisoners some drug which would make them answer questions, truthfully. I doubt there is such a drug (Sodium Pentathol's effect is to lower inhibitions, which doesn't guarantee truthfulness), but if there were, would its use be problematic? I don't see why it would be in questioning terrorists. What about criminal suspects? Surely it would be, since the Fifth Amendment denies the government the ability to coerce citizens to testify against themselves. What about a terrorist who is also a US citizen? Even if there are thousands of lives at risk, are we unable to use the drug? Could a suspect waive this right and take the drug in an attempt to prove his innocence?

Clearly, I'm asking more questions than I'm answering here. Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nicholas Berg

The brutal beheading of Nicholas Berg was supposedly in retaliation for the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The fact that the terrorists blamed the Abu Ghraib atrocities for Nick Berg's beheading tells us more about the media-savviness of the terrorists than their motivation. Nicholas Berg was kidnapped two weeks before the scandal broke. The circumstances were odd, as you'll notice if you read the first article. He clearly wasn't kidnapped because of the prisoner abuse. He may have been taken because he was more vulnerable, since he wasn't attached to the military or the CPA. There may have been some other reason. Once he was taken, his odds of survival were slim.

The Situation in Iraq, Part n

There's a very good post at the Belmont Club about the situation in Iraq. It looks like we're winning. It's been slow--I expected it to be over much more quickly, but the commanders have acted with subtlety rather than brute force, which is slower, and frustrating to those of us who can't see what's happening, but the result looks to be better than I expected.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Accepting Christian Carnival Submissions

I'll be hosting the next Christian Carnival. Here's the information from the e-mail Nick Queen sent to people:
This coming Wednesday is the next Christian Carnival, and will be hosted at Back of the Envelope.

http://crankshaw.blogspot.com/

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read, and possibly pick up readers in the process, or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

email Donald at

cranksha@ece.rochester.edu

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

Cut off date is Tuesday by 8 PM EST.

You can also send the e-mail to my alum address listed in the sidebar. It'll get to me either way.

Fallujah Update

Old Post: My last post on Fallujah was here.

Hugh Hewitt has posted a letter from a Marine in Fallujah which gives some insight into the strategy there:
We are approaching a very significant phase in Fallujah. Very soon, we will execute the first "joint patrol" into the city. The concept is that Marines and elements of the new Iraqi force will enter the town together. To suggest that the cessation of hostilities is fragile is an understatement. The environment is very fluid and one day things look better but the next we gather intelligence that suggests we are making a mistake. The leadership has gone way out on a limb here making a tremendous gamble that the course of action decided on will bring some degree of stability to this area.

Of course, in order to allow the Fallujans a chance to stabilize themselves, we must eat a little crow. We know that people are running around the city proclaiming that the Marines were defeated and the insurgents stopped us. To our dismay, this has even been picked up by our own media. Again, I can barely stand to read it. However, we fully realize that the only way the Iraqis will take control of their own destiny is to regain some of their long lost self image/national pride. They were crushed by Saddam brutally for 35 years, the last 12 of which, the US also had its way with them. They saw us cut right through the worlds 4th largest military in 1991 and then enforce no fly zones along with limited offensive actions against them with impunity for the next 12 years. Finally, we destroyed a regime and occupied their country in less than 3 weeks last year.

Regardless of whether or not the Iraqis hated Saddam, all of these elements above resulted in a tremendous amount of shame in this culture. Later, when we captured Saddam and put pictures and stories in the media of him surrendering like a lamb and sticking his tongue out for doctors, that was further humiliation. Until they start to feel some pride in themselves as a nation, we cannot expect them to want to vest themselves in its future. If that means we have to stand by and let them strut, that is what we will do. It is very hard to swallow as there is not a Marine here who does not know in his heart that we could have taken the entire city down if we were allowed. The whole environment requires discipline and confidence.

This is pretty much in line with what I was thinking: the idea is to put the Iraqis in charge of their own security. A lot of bloggers think the administration has gone soft on Fallujah. While I think putting the Iraqis in charge is the right idea, I'm worried that looking weak could make things worse for us, even if it's better for Iraq. However, as I've said before, I hope the commanders in the field know what they are doing.

New Christian Carnival Online

The Christian Carnival is up at Spare Change. Included are posts at Parablemania and View from the Pew concerning the Evangelical and Fundamentalist debate. I do intend to get back into this, probably by the end of the week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Nanotechnology misconceptions

John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon has some interesting thoughts on nanotechnology and how it's viewed in the media. If that post doesn't deserve an Instalanche, I don't know what does. As an inorganic materials chemist, Zimmer's more qualified to talk about the subject than most bloggers, including myself. (I may do quantum computation, but most of it's mesoscopic quantum systems.)

Abu Ghraib

I haven't commented on this yet, mostly because there doesn't seem to be much to say. The behavior of the accused soldiers was reprehensible; they should be punished to the full extent of the law, which I think will become increasingly difficult with all the publicity. Which brings me to my main point: can we move on? This story ceased to be front page news a week ago, and yet everytime I take a look at Rochester's paper (The Democrat and Chronicle), there it is as the top article. Today's article is "Bush Shown New Torture Pics," although I may have the phrasing wrong (the actual headline is not online). There may be an important story there somewhere, but there must be other news going on in the world. It clearly wasn't important enough to warrant front page treatment on the website, where the lead article is about the Lilac Festival. I don't want to hear any more about the ins and outs of the investigation than I wanted to know about the details of the OJ trial or the Rodney King beating trial. I may have been curious, but in each case I think justice would have been better served had the media not decided it was part of the jury.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Story Progress

In case you're wondering about the story progress, it's going slowly. I got next to nothing done this weekend for obvious reasons. Call it 41%. I'll try to make it up during the week, but I can't make any promises.

INTJ

It turns out Dean Esmay is an INTJ according to the Myers-Briggs test. I was rated that way too the last time I took the test, which must have been eight or nine years ago, which means I'm Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Judging. Although I'm always a little bit skeptical of tests that ask you questions about yourself and then tell you things about yourself, especially those that are hard to answer objectively and easy to answer in such a way that you'll get the result you expect, I do think Myers-Briggs is more or less accurate. I'd be a little bit hesitant to make major decisions based on it, so I haven't read the books telling you how to choose a career or a spouse based on your Myers-Briggs personality type.

Yes, I'm posting again.

You probably already noticed due to my previous post.

One of the more macabre things I noticed is that a lot of Google searches for information on my friend's death are leading people here. These are probably MIT people, as he was well known on the MIT campus and MIT students certainly know how to use Google. I do mention him in some old posts, but I don't know any more about his death than anyone else yet. I probably won't post it on this blog when I do find out.

Don't expect too much from me right away, but I'm sure I'll be posting something every day, even if I don't feel like jumping back into the long, intensive Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism posts.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Anti-anti-communism

There's a nice article on anti-anti-communism in Reason:
More broadly, people like Schrecker can’t or won’t understand that their culture of denial is what created McCarthyism. It was the palpable indifference of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations toward Communist penetration of the American government that finally triggered the backlash led by HUAC [House Unamerican Activities Committee] and McCarthy. McCarthy’s accusation that Roosevelt ushered in "20 years of treason" is an absurd exaggeration. But if Roosevelt didn’t deserve to be executed as a spy, he most certainly ought to have been horsewhipped for his cavalier dismissal of Whittaker Chambers’ accusations. As early as 1939, Chambers warned Roosevelt about Alger Hiss and named at least 12 other U.S. officials who would later be proved Soviet spies. Roosevelt airily told his aides that Chambers could "go fuck himself." The spies kept passing secrets to Moscow for another nine years, until HUAC began making noises about the case. Chambers’ warning was only one of several by regretful spies during that period that first Roosevelt and then Truman ignored. Truman was so lackadaisical that the military code breakers working on the Venona Project kept it secret from him for fear word would leak back to the Soviets.

Fifty years later, the pattern is repeating itself. The character assassinations and lies of the die-hard defenders of American communism have given rise to a movement to rehabilitate McCarthy and other bully-boy anti-communists of the 1940s and ’50s. Some efforts of this movement, such as George Washington University historian Arthur Herman’s Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, are relatively judicious attempts to correct some of the exaggerations about McCarthy -- for instance, the widely repeated but totally erroneous claim that he never correctly identified a single Communist. Others, such as conservative attack-blonde Ann Coulter’s Treason, attempt a radical makeover. McCarthy (who accused everybody from Harry Truman to George Marshall of secret Soviet sympathies) was actually too charitable, Coulter argues; he was too tenderhearted to say, as she does, that all liberals -- everybody from Lyndon Johnson to Tom Daschle -- are traitors at heart. "Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy," Coulter writes. "This is their essence."

That’s idiotic, to be sure, but no more so than American University historian Anna Kasten Nelson’s argument that Venona isn’t important because there are all kinds of good reasons a perfectly innocent person might be secretly passing microfilm to a KGB agent. (No, she doesn’t list any of them.) "It is time to move on," she wrote recently, instead of "rehashing old debates" (because, you know, historians get bored with old stuff). Then there’s the psychobabble contention of Bard College’s Joel Kovel that J. Edgar Hoover hunted spies not because foreign espionage is against the law but because he had some previously undiscovered Freudian condition in which anti-communism "might be interchangeably a womb or anus." Writing stuff like that amounts to handing the Coulters of the world a loaded gun and daring them to pull the trigger. As somebody once said: Have you no sense of decency, Sir?

Communism killed 93 million people. I have little patience for its apologists.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

This is, unsurprisingly, a few days late. I'll move it to the proper point in the archives later.

Sluggy Freelance -- Torg and Riff get a new job--as hitmen?!

Day by Day -- Kerry, Bush, and Bill O'Reilly all get spots in this week's Day by Day.

It's Walky! -- Sarah catches up with Walky and Joyce to warn them about the attack.

College Roomies from Hell! -- The sub sinks, as does the Mad Doc, and Dave meets an angel.

General Protection Fault -- Sharon goes on her trip to France with her good friend, Craig. Unfortunately, there's a spy looking to infiltrate the conference.

Schlock Mercenary -- So they've collected the forensic evidence. Someone needs to tell the cops to keep the lawyer drones away from Schlock.

Update: I've now moved this to its correct place in the archives.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I need some time...

I just received word that a friend of mine from MIT has died. I've just begun trying to process it. I trust you'll understand if I don't post anything for a while.

Are we done yet?

You've probably noticed my major theme for this past week: I've been talking almost exclusively about the difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I've been pretty busy at work, so I haven't had that much time for blogging. Second, the evangelicalism and fundamentalism posts take a lot of time to compose, so most of my blogging time has been spent writing those. Finally, since my initial post was linked to by Glenn Reynolds, I figured I should milk it for all it's worth respond to some of the comments that have come up. Doc Rampage's post in particular made me realize that I needed to explain the inerrancy of scripture and being born again in more detail. It looks like I still have two more posts to write: one explaining what it means to be born again, and one which summarizes the blogosphere response and my response to the response. I should be done with this subject by the end of the week, and be back to my normal posting schedule.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: The Inerrancy of Scripture

Old Post: I promised I would discuss the inerrancy of the Bible in a post below.

The Intervarsity statement of faith I quoted earlier says that one of its founding principles is the belief in
The unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible.

This is a very strong statement about the Bible and its authority, but it is very careful not to say that the Bible is inerrant. I remember that this was an important point during the discussion of whether this statement of faith should be adopted by MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship. The basic fundamentalist understanding of the Bible is that if it is not a word-for-word dictation from God to the human writers, God at the least vouches for every word. Some evangelicals would agree, but many of them would not go that far. They believe the Bible is what it claims to be, and that God's inspiration made sure of that. Some books of the Bible claim to be direct dictation from God: the prophets, Revelation, and parts of the Pentateuch, for example. On these parts, evangelicals and fundamentalists would be in agreement. The Gospels, however, are a different matter. They claim to be eyewitness accounts (or in the case of Luke, a thoroughly researched history) of the life of Jesus. Thus, when there's disagreement between the gospels, such as the differences between the Resurrection accounts, an evangelical can just say that these differences are no greater than any difference in eyewitness accounts of such an eventful and hectic morning (as Lee Strobel argues in The Case for Christ). The fundamentalist must reconcile these differences, because he believes that any difference would be God contradicting himself.

All fundamentalists hold to sola scriptura, and I’d guess that most evangelicals do, but not all. Sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone is the supreme authority for Christian believers, and that all other authority derives from it. On the other hand, the Catholic Church places the highest authority not on the Bible, but on apostolic succession, the idea being that Jesus chose his apostles to be leaders in the Church and gave them authority, who then gave authority to their successors, and so on, through today, where the Pope is the direct heir of that succession. Some other churches also believe in Apostolic succession, such as the Orthodox and Anglican churches, although they don't believe the Pope is the direct heir. As I understand it, the authority granted by apostolic succession weakens the further removed the successor is from Jesus: thus Jesus's own words have absolute authority, the writings of Jesus's apostles have the next greatest authority, then the early church fathers, becoming weaker and weaker throughout the years. Those churches view the Bible’s authority as deriving from apostolic succession, as the Old Testament is vetted by Jesus and the apostles (in Jesus's day, there was disagreement about which parts of the Old Testament were truly authoritative: the Christian church has more or less decided which books had authority according to what Jesus and his apostles said about them, although there are some complications), the New Testament is written by those first apostles, and later codified by others in the early apostolic succession. Therefore, even in the tradition of apostolic succession, the Bible has greater authority than any other writing, but the authority of the apostles is its source.

As I said, evangelicals place great emphasis on the authority of the Bible, although not all of them claim it is inerrant. And while most of them believe that the Bible is the source of all Christian authority, the movement also includes those who believe that the authority of the Bible derives from apostolic succession. All evangelicals believe that the Bible directly applies to their lives, and put great emphasis on studying the Bible and putting it into practice.

Update: Jeremy Pierce of Parablemania has a lot of good comments. Some of them are about details I glossed over in this post, read his comments to find out which. Two of the things he said are pretty important:
I wonder if your explanation on gospel accounts is a dodge. Are there errors in some of the accounts? If so, then even evangelicals are hard pressed to agree. This is perhaps one of the places where some people want to call themselves evangelicals when I'm not sure I want to give them the name. Do they deny the infallibility of the Bible? Perhaps not, but if the gospel accounts are merely reports of what some people remembered, and it turns out that their memory was faulty, it's not an attitude toward scripture that I would consider consistent with evangelicalism.

Jeremy makes a good point, and this is the reason I tend to be more on the inerrancy side of things. Those who claim scripture is authoritative but not inerrant have two points in their favor. The first is that even if the differences in the gospels are errors due to faulty memories, the agreement between them is great enough that no essential Christian doctrines are in question, and are all attested to by multiple witnesses. This isn't a reason to believe it to be the case, but rather a reason that believing it doesn't necessarily put you outside of orthodox Christian thought. The second, and I think more convincing point, is that the gospels don't claim to be divine revelations, or more specifically, the divinity they're revealing is Jesus himself and their accounts of him. Again and again in Acts and the Letters, the apostles use their eyewitness status in their preaching, and the gospels are the eyewitness accounts with some commentary, the amount of which varies from gospel to gospel. I believe that the commentary there is (John has the most) is given the same authority as the Letters, written by those with a special relationship with and knowledge of God, granted authority to be His witnesses.

Evangelicals who believe this don't use their uncertainty to argue against doctrine so much as to reconcile the differences in the accounts. Those who do use this belief to question essential doctrine, such as the Jesus seminar ("Jesus never would have taught his disciples the Lord's prayer!") fall outside my definition of evangelical. Of course, it could be that this belief is more on the left edge of evangelicalism than I realized. Remember, I've lived in Boston for the last seven years.

Jeremy also says he's "never heard of this gradual dilution of authority view before." My "as I understand it" disclaimer probably wasn't strong enough. My knowledge of Catholicism comes mainly from my conversations with Catholics, many self-described evangelicals, rather than personal study of Catholic doctrine. They may have been more atypical of Catholics than I thought, or I may not have understood them very well. I'm fairly certain they held the Bible to be a higher authority than the Church fathers, with less authority being granted to more recent writings. The "dilution" may have been more how I viewed that understanding than they did. They probably would deny there was any conflict between the writings, but I think they would view the Bible as more foundational.

Publishing

Dean Esmay is working on a novel and wants to know whether it's better to seek out an agent or to just send it to a publisher. Having looked into it myself (my magnum opus is at 90,000 words--take that, Dean!), I can tell him that according to every source I've checked, it's much, much, much better to seek out an agent. For practical advice about writing and getting published, I recommend Stephen King's On Writing or Richard Cohen's The Writer's Mind.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Christian Carnival XVI

Parablemania is hosting the latest Christian Carnival. Check out what Christians around the blogosphere are discussing.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: More details

Old Post: This post addresses some of the comments to my previous post.

In case you're curious, I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. Since my family moved around a lot, I went to quite a few of them. Not all Southern Baptists are fundamentalists, but a lot of them are. At one time I would have called myself a fundamentalist, but now I call myself an evangelical. My doctrinal beliefs have changed some, but I still agree with most Southern Baptist doctrine. The main difference is that I no longer think that what makes someone a faithful Christian is the doctrine they believe in. As long as they agree with the minimal evangelical foundational beliefs, I believe that their faithfulness is demonstrated by how they love God and how they love others. It is not for me to judge whether someone is a good Christian or not, although there is a place for correction when someone is clearly going astray, but it is the responsibility of every believer to encourage every other believer to faithfully follow Christ. I no longer think this means trying to convince them to agree with my doctrines.

In my previous post I pointed out that the thing that separated evangelicals from orthodox mainstream Christianity was the emphasis on evangelism: hence the name evangelical. I should probably have pointed out as well that there is a strong emphasis on the Bible as the word of God, an emphasis that is not shared in all orthodox denominations. Evangelicals believe in studying the Bible, both individually and in small group Bible study, believing it to be the way God most directly communicates with his people today. This emphasis is the reason evangelicalism is stronger in Protestant churches than Catholic churches. Catholic doctrine views the Bible differently, and while they aren't opposed to studying the Bible, they don't usually encourage it in the same way Protestants do. That doesn't mean that there are no Catholic evangelicals, but it is a stronger movement in the Protestant church. (And yes, this may get angry responses, but I'm merely explaining it as well as I understand it from my discussions with Catholic evangelicals.)

In the comments, Jim M says:
I guess the most succinct way of saying the whole thing is that Evangelicals consider Fundamentalists as part of their movement, Fundamentalists do not include most Evangelicals in theirs

My personal experience has probably colored my views, but I think this is not entirely accurate. One of the important differences is that evangelicalism is a uniting movement, trying to find the common Christian heritage among various denominations. For that reason, while fundamentalism's doctrine is not too distant from what a lot of evangelicals believe, its reluctance to accept differing beliefs puts them outside of the evangelical movement.

superfly says:
Another difference is in the prohibition of some activities by fundamentalist. Most fundmentalist are opposed to any drinking of alcohol, but most evagelicals are not opposed to all alcohol use. There are also differences within the groups about charasmatic gifting. There may be some surveys to back this up.

There is some of this among fundamentalist churches. From my personal experience, fundamentalists aren't quite so legalistic as non-fundamentalists seem to believe.

I also see that Doc Rampage has commented on my post. I'll discuss some of the blogosphere responses in a later post.

Update: Having had a chance to read Doc Rampage's post, I see why he's upset. In my response, I'll talk a bit about sola scriptura and why I think it's not a common denominator among evangelicals. (For one, quite a few denominations have doctrine that would be incompatible with evangelicalism if it were.) The "born again" reference will require some discussion as well. While I believe that being born again is necessary, describing how we gain a relationship with Christ, I am no longer convinced that being born again has the rather narrow definition that I learned growing up.

In addition, I should clarify some of what I said in this post. Being a Christian requires a relationship with Christ, an adoption into the family of God, being born again. What gaining this looks like is something I plan to discuss later. When I say that doctrine does not matter, I need to be careful, since, obviously, certain doctrines do matter. Clearly you cannot be an evangelical Christian and believe that Jesus is not the Son of God, or believe that the Resurrection never happened. The eight point statement of faith I quoted summarizes what the most important beliefs are, including the importance of the Bible, which informs the remainder of our beliefs. (Certainly, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do not fit the definition of evangelical Christian.) However, evangelicals look around at the various denominations of Christianity and see faithful Christians in all of them. (They might be rarer in some denominations than others.) Then they look at the differences in doctrines, and wonder whether they're as important as they were thought to be when all these denominations split off from one another because of their doctrinal differences.

New Post: I discuss why evangelicals don't consider the inerrancy of scripture to be central to their faith above.

Drinky Winky

Thinking about fundamentalism made me think of Jerry Falwell, and thinking about Jerry Falwell made me think of this. Pete Abrams is a brilliant comic artist, but I think he has issues with children's television. That may stem from the fact that he has children. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Instalanche

Glenn Reynolds, aka "The Instapundit," linked to my post on the differences between evangelicalism and fundamentalism, which accounts for the over 2000 visits I've had so far today. The Instalanche is really cool, and it dwarfs my regular traffic (~50 visits). I've been reluctant to post anything new for fear of jinxing it--no, really, Blogger has already tried to mangle the post once, and I figure now would be a bad time to give it another chance. Still, the comments I've received on the post are interesting, and I'd like to try to address some of them in a later post. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.

Update: Speak of the devil. I'm not sure it was this post that did it, but the archive page for this week wasn't working for a while, leading to problems for anyone who followed Glenn's link. I apologize for that: it should be fixed now.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Primer

Old Post: This is a continuation of the discussion I started below.

I'll admit, I'm not an expert on the evangelical and fundamentalist movements, although I have gone to churches of both varieties. This rather long post gives my insider's view, which tends to be narrower than that of someone who's really studied things. I'd appreciate any thoughts or corrections.

Now that I've broached the subject in my previous post, I ought to go more in-depth. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism are both movements, and like most movements they are ill-defined. While there are leaders in these movements, and organizations within them, there is no hierarchy, no one who really says who's right and who's wrong. You can't divide the movements along denominational lines. There are some denominations in which there are few evangelicals, some in which most members are evangelicals, and some which are evenly divided. It is sometimes fair to describe a local church as evangelical or not, as evangelicals do tend to congregate, but not always. Nor is evangelicalism exclusively Protestant, as there are evangelicals in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Broadly speaking, evangelicals believe that there is a God, that Jesus is the Son of God, that the Bible is His Word to us, that human beings are fallen and sinful and need the forgiveness God offers in Jesus (receiving this forgiveness and dedicating yourself to God is often called salvation--being saved from your sins by God), and that it is our mission to introduce people to him. A more specific list of evangelical beliefs can be found in a statement of faith used by one of the evangelical organizations, such as this one used by MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship, which is affiliated with Intervarsity, the US chapter of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

From this list, evangelicals believe in:
  • 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.

Now all of these beliefs are orthodox Christian beliefs, the same as those stated in the creeds and catechisms used by Christians of various denominations for centuries. The only thing really separating evangelicals from the mainstream of orthodox Christian belief (many of the mainstream churches are no longer very orthodox) is a strong emphasis on evangelism, of telling others about Jesus and inviting them to become Christians. It's not as if there's no precedent for evangelism in the Christian church, but it can be argued that it has atrophied over the years when Western countries were predominantly Christian, and witnessing left to professional ministers and missionaries.

That the foundational beliefs of evangelicals are so few allows there to be a wide array of different beliefs among the members, concerning such hotly debated topics as infant baptism, transubstantiation, pre- vs. post- millenialism, free-will vs. predestination, et cetera. In general, evangelicals accept that faithful Christians can have differing beliefs about these things, and are tolerant of these differences.

Fundamentalism is also a movement, but a much smaller one. Most fundamentalists would agree with the statement of faith above, but they'd want it stronger in some areas, and they would add a few points. Fundamentalist beliefs fall under the broad umbrella of evangelicalism, so that you can find evangelicals who would agree with fundamentalists on their doctrinal beliefs. However, fundamentalists can be intolerant of those evangelicals who disagree with those beliefs, not considering them faithful Christians, if they consider them Christians at all. A few of the doctrines in which fundamentalists believe and about which evangelicals disagree:
  1. The inerrancy of Scripture. While evangelicals believe that the Bible is the Word of God, has authority, and should be obeyed, fundamentalists believe that it is also inerrant, without mistake (at least as originally written), and that it should be taken as literally as possible, which leads fundamentalists to reject evolution, which evangelicals may or may not do.
  2. Being born again. This is a phrase used by fundamentalists to describe the conversion experience, where someone prays to God to become a Christian and receives salvation. Evangelicals do not deny the legitimacy of the conversion experience, but many of them consider salvation to be more of a process than a one time step. They tend to use the phrase "born again" to describe this process (the phrase is used by Jesus in John 3), although its association with the narrow fundamentalist definition has discouraged its use among evangelicals.
  3. Pre-millenialism. Here I usually get bogged down in the technical terms, but pre-millenialism refers to one particular view of the book of Revelation and what the Second Coming of Jesus will look like. Both evangelicals and fundamentalists believe in the Second Coming. Fundamentalists have some rather specific beliefs about what it will be like. Some evangelicals agree with these beliefs, some do not. In general, evangelicals feel less certain about the details than fundamentalists, and tend to put less emphasis on Jesus's return.

So what do these evangelicals and fundamentalists believe politically? That varies. Since they both put strong emphasis on the authority of the Bible, they tend to oppose abortion and the homosexual movement. I should clarify about the homosexual movement, as evangelicals tend to be more tolerant towards homosexuals than fundamentalists. Since the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, evangelicals cannot accept it as an alternate lifestyle. However, to them, homosexuality is just one sin among many, and we should love homosexuals while encouraging them to repent. What they oppose specifically is the normalization of homosexuality, of saying that there's nothing wrong with it and there must be something wrong with those who say there is. Thus, while they won't be up in arms about gays in government or the military, they will oppose them having leadership positions within the Church (the same as they would oppose an unrepentant adulterer in a Church leadership position) or redefining marriage to include male-male and female-female couples. There is not complete agreement even on these things in the evangelical movement, however. Fundamentalists tend to take a much stronger line on homosexuality, although they too will say you should hate the sin but love the sinner. (There are some who hate both, much to the shame of both movements.)

On other conservative issues, evangelicals have less agreement. There is no evangelical consensus about the welfare state, immigration, affirmative action, gun-control, the war on terror, etc. They may believe one way or the other, and they may use their religious beliefs to inform their politics, but as disagreement over doctrines are allowed, so are disagreements over politics. Their political beliefs on these matters can be more accurately predicted by other demographic factors than their evangelicalism. In the last evangelical conference I went to, in January 2003, most of the speakers were against the upcoming war in Iraq. The conference was for graduate students and academics, and most of the speakers were foreign visitors, which turned out to be a good indicator of their political positions. The church I attended in Boston was rather ambivalent on the Iraq war, and even a bit ambivalent toward the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes I think the reason evangelicalism is associated with conservatism is because it is strongest in the South, which is strongly conservative as well as strongly evangelical. [Addendum: This leads to significant overlap, obviously.]

Evangelicals believe in the separation of church and state, not because they worry about what would happen to the state if the church had too much influence--for the most part, they think the state would be better off--but because they think that the church suffers when it has too much secular power. Power brings pride, opportunism, and indifference to God, all things to be avoided by the church.

Fundamentalists tend to be more conservative. Partly, this comes from their narrower range of doctrinal beliefs, which leads to narrower political beliefs, but partly it's because they don't believe as strongly in the separation of church and state. Oh, they're not looking to forcefully convert people as some liberals seem to believe, but they see the same benefit to the state from a bit of Christian guidance that the evangelicals do, and they don't see it harming the church to provide it. They also tend to view the Republicans with some suspicion, as they aren't as open to compromise as evangelicals, which is what political parties do.

What does all this tell us? For one, if Democrats weren't so strongly in the grip of the abortion and homosexual lobbies, they'd have a pretty good chance at getting more of the evangelical vote. Maybe then they'd stop demonizing evangelicals, which is what is now driving off what they do have of it. Second, evangelicals have diverse political and doctrinal beliefs, and shouldn't be lumped with fundamentalists, whose beliefs are narrower.

Update: I fixed a few typos, and dealt with Blogger’s mangling of this post. A few stylistic changes to clarify, but nothing substantive.

New Post: I respond to a couple of comments above.

You know you're an evangelical...

This is pretty old, but I've found myself using this quote a lot recently:
You know you're an evangelical if the fundamentalists think you're a liberal and the liberals think you're a fundamentalist.

It's from a pretty good Boston Globe article by Alan Jacobs which Letters from Babylon has commented on. I don't agree with all the author's conclusions, but it's a useful primer for those who think evangelicalism and fundamentalism are the same thing.

New Post: I discuss the difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the post above.

Story Progress

In case you're wondering, I'm now 38% of the way through the second revision of A Phoenix in Darkness. I've started spelling it right too.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Dave Barry explains outsourcing

I haven't pointed out a Dave Barry column in a while, but this one is pretty good. He has this to say about outsourcing:
The point is that EVERYTHING is being outsourced. In a few years, the only industry left in the United States will be ''reality'' television. A lot of people think this is bad. Congress recently tried to pass a law against outsourcing, only to discover that all federal legislation since 1997 has actually been produced in Taiwan.

So outsourcing is here to stay. Which leads me to my announcement: Starting today, I will no longer personally write my column. It will be produced by foreign humor workers, who, rest assured, are highly trained. You will notice no dropoff in quality as you continue to enjoy the wacky hmogrins of fblsevry lftht hvfrsmnyrs aqdrfltns abtfbls not making this up rltngn alrtrds a good name for a rock band.

Go read the whole thing.

And yet more Fallujah

Old Post: My last post on this topic was here.

So what's going on in Fallujah? Many are upset with Bush for giving in to the terrorists. There are a couple of things to keep in mind, however. First, Bush tends to give his subordinates full authority to deal with the situation without micromanagement. In general, he sets the objectives and lets the commanders on the ground decide how to accomplish the mission. Second, all might not be as it seems. For one, the Marines haven't gone anywhere. They're repositioning while the Iraqi forces take over some of the former duties. Belmont Club has some interesting thoughts on this:
It is in this context that the perplexing cycle of ceasefires punctuated by nocturnal assaults can be understood. The Corps, besides incorporating the Chinese word Gung Ho into it's vocabulary, may have finally proved to the Arabs that they can out-hudna anyone who ever stood on a patch of sand. By alternately throttling and releasing the enemy, or in cruder terms, by a process of talking and shooting, the USMC seems to have squeegeed the foe into the 'Golan' without ever precipitating the feared crisis. ("Like a cut flower in a vase, fair to see, yet doomed to die" -- Winston Churchill)

When the Press began trumpeting a humiliating Marine withdrawal and their ignominous replacement by Iraqi Fallujah Protection Army, the Belmont Club, although perplexed by the origins of the Fallujah Protection Army, still guessed that the Marines would not be withdrawn, as per innuendo, from around the 'Golan' cordon and that the Iraqis would be employed in stabilization and police duties simply because it was impossible for a force in contact with the enemy to be replaced by a unit which had yet to be constituted.

A lot of people with a better grasp of military tactics than I think what the Marines are doing makes sense. At the least, I get the impression that the Marine commanders are the ones calling the shots, rather than being called off by the politicians back home. I am concerned with even the appearance of giving in, but I'm not sure that's what's really happening. As I said before, I hope the commanders on the ground know what they are doing.

New Post: A Marine explains the thinking behind the strategy in Fallujah above.

Week in Review

These were my major posts this week. As usual, the timestamp is decided in order to place this post in the correct place in the archives.

John Kerry's long slide into irrelevancy -- Yes, Kerry's sliding in the polls. I'm wondering whether the Democrats are looking for ways to get rid of Kerry and replace him with someone more electable.

Chemical weapons plot in Jordan -- More on the terror plot that the Jordanians foiled.

Why I believe in God: The Trinity -- I talk about the trinity, and what it means for Christians.

Fallujah -- The first in a series of posts about Fallujah.

Rumsfeld's occupation -- Barbara Lerner has some thoughts on what the occupation would have looked like if Rumsfeld had really been in charge.

Spirit of America fundraiser results -- The results are in, and all told, we raised a total of over $50k. Not bad.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Sluggy Freelance -- It's lemonade stand week on Sluggy.

Day by Day -- Less politics, more personal interaction this week.

It's Walky! -- Walky and Joyce enjoy some peace and quiet, but it doesn't look like anyone else will be having the luxury.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Maritza's missed a few days this week due to computer problems, which is unfortunate, because the story's really good right now. The Mad Doc and Dave play off one another well, and April and Marsha are fighting, as usual.

General Protection Fault -- Dexter gets a chance to try his new dating skills, but things don't go so well.

Schlock Mercenary -- Tagon and Schlock are under arrest while investigators try to figure out what happened. I hope they tell us eventually.

Spirit of America fundraiser results

Well, the fundraiser is over. The Liberty Alliance, which I was a member of, came in dead last, but it still raised just shy of $10,000. And if we came in last, you know the other two coalitions did even better, for a grand total of $55,401.83. The results are posted here. Since the challenge is over, I've removed the link at the bottom of every post. If you still want to contribute, you can do so here. The fundraiser may be over, but Spirit of America is still doing good work, and they can still use your help.