Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Christian Carnival XXIV

The Christian Carnival is up at Parableman. Be sure to see what other Christian bloggers are saying.

My post on being born again is included. Jeremy Pierce wonders when I'm going to get around to explaining what this has to do with the difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. I thought I had explained that, although a second look shows that I just breezed through it at the end of the second, extraordinarily long post--partly a result of my own exhaustion after having written it. I'll try to explain it in more detail later.

They may look like wimps, but...

Today Torg and Dave, my favorite characters in their respective webcomics (Sluggy Freelance and College Roomies from Hell!!!), demonstrate once again why it is very dangerous to underestimate them. I'm sure I could draw some political analogies or talk about mythic archetypes or infer both good and bad theological lessons, but right now, it's just a lot of fun to watch. As usual, I recommend reading the comics from the beginning--the links are in the sidebar--but if you don't want to do that, the current storylines start here for Sluggy and here for CRFH. (The CRFH storyline is a lot longer, having started in August of last year.)

Update: I neglected to mention Jason from It's Walky!, who also proved quite dangerous today. Of course, Jason doesn't seem to be a wimp as much as Torg and Dave--except in comparison to all the superpowered freaks he works with. The storyline started here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Fahrenheit 911

I really have no intention of seeing this movie. I haven't gotten around to seeing the movies I might actually enjoy, much less one that'll just leave me angry and frustrated (my standard response when I want to argue about something but don't have anyone to argue with). But I did read Christopher Hitchens' review, which everybody is recommending. An excerpt:
It must be evident to anyone, despite the rapid-fire way in which Moore's direction eases the audience hastily past the contradictions, that these discrepant scatter shots do not cohere at any point. Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not. As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush's removal of it, or they did not. (They opposed the removal, all right: They wouldn't even let Tony Blair land his own plane on their soil at the time of the operation.) Either we sent too many troops, or were wrong to send any at all—the latter was Moore's view as late as 2002—or we sent too few. If we were going to make sure no Taliban or al-Qaida forces survived or escaped, we would have had to be more ruthless than I suspect that Mr. Moore is really recommending. And these are simply observations on what is "in" the film. If we turn to the facts that are deliberately left out, we discover that there is an emerging Afghan army, that the country is now a joint NATO responsibility and thus under the protection of the broadest military alliance in history, that it has a new constitution and is preparing against hellish odds to hold a general election, and that at least a million and a half of its former refugees have opted to return. I don't think a pipeline is being constructed yet, not that Afghanistan couldn't do with a pipeline. But a highway from Kabul to Kandahar—an insurance against warlordism and a condition of nation-building—is nearing completion with infinite labor and risk. We also discover that the parties of the Afghan secular left—like the parties of the Iraqi secular left—are strongly in favor of the regime change. But this is not the sort of irony in which Moore chooses to deal.

I agree, this review is worth reading.

Monday, June 28, 2004

More info on the turnover

Old Post: I first mentioned the early turnover of Iraqi sovereignty below.

Robert Alt has a good article on the early turnover at National Review. Robert Alt has more to say on how the US has been slowly turning more and more power over to the Iraqis for the last couple of months:
In the days and weeks leading up to the transition, many in the United States criticized the June 30 transition date as too soon — while some, such as Sen. John Kerry, were critical of the decision to set a firm deadline for the transfer of power at all. Even so, the transition began much earlier than anyone anticipated. On March 28, 2004, the Ministry of Health became the first of Iraq's 26 ministries to shift to Iraqi control, thus beginning the transition process that was completed last week, when the last of the ministries came under Iraqi authority. Today's ceremony was in many ways just that — ceremonial — representing a change in authority that had effectively already occurred.

Despite some claims to the contrary, the autonomy enjoyed by the agencies is substantive rather than merely symbolic. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Electricity, and the Ministry of Communication will retain only a small handful of Coalition consultants, who will have no operational authority, but will simply provide technical assistance as requested by the respective Iraqi ministers. Other ministries, like the Ministry of Education — whose 300,000 employees make it the largest of the 26 — will have no Coalition consultants at all.

All in all, a good day for Iraq.

When did that happen?

Parablemania has apparently changed its name to Parableman. I'm not quite sure when that happened--I wouldn't have noticed without the e-mail sent out about the Christian Carnival. Parableman is a long time nickname for Jeremy Pierce, and an inspiration for his blog's name, at least according to a post that I can no longer find, so it's not too surprising he'd return to the original name, but I still can't find any post announcing the change. Parablemania or Parableman, it's still a good blog. Check it out.

Turnover early

Now this is good news. Demonstrating once again Bush's love for surprises, the CPA has turned over authority to the Iraqis early. Most bloggers shouldn't be too surprised by this. People like Captain Ed had noticed that the CPA had already turned quite a bit of authority to the Iraqis, but it's nice to see the official turnover done ahead of schedule. It won't stop the violence, of course. Those prisoners currently in the hands of the terrorists are still unlikely to survive. It does do a lot to take the wind out of their sails, and ruins any plans they might have had to target the turnover itself.

Anyway, it now looks as though the new Iraq and I share the same birthday.

New Post: More above.

Today marks three decades since...

The day I was born. Not to make a big deal of it or anything, but I'm thirty today. I think I have to consider myself a grown-up now.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Week in Review

Once again a rather slow week, with few posts. Of course, if you exchange quantity of posts for quantity of words, due to two very lengthy posts, it's not too bad.

Honesty and the sitcom mentality -- I discuss how most sitcoms get their humor from the lies their characters tell, and wonder whether this is a new development.

C2 Review -- Coke has a new half-calorie drink, and I give my thoughts on it.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Born Again I -- I return to my discussion of the differences between fundamentalism and evangelicalism in a discussion on what it means to be born again.

I'm a brownshirt? -- It may not be original, but I join in the fun in mocking Al Gore.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Born Again II -- The second and even longer post on being born again, and how one becomes so.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Review

Nothing clever to say this week. Just read the summaries, okay?

Sluggy Freelance -- So the magic talking sword is a little bit evil--it's still cool. And now we have a mystery magic woman. I think it's obviously Alt-Gwynn, but others are saying Alt-Oasis or Alt-Sasha.

Day by Day -- It's a hodge-podge of mockery this week--the media, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the Ruckus Society, and more.

It's Walky! -- Jason and Sal attack, but neither are having much success against their targets.

College Roomies from Hell!!! -- Mike and Roger are captured, Dave's being held at gunpoint, and Marsha's suicidal. Overall, not a good week for the Roomies.

General Protection Fault -- Fooker finally manages to leave the UGA--meaning that he has now returned to GPF!

Schlock Mercenary -- There's a new mercenary contract for Tagon's crew--knocking over a pet shop.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Born again II

Old Post: Part I, where I offer a bit of context about what it means to be born again, can be found here.

In the tradition in which I was raised, you would be born-again by sincerely praying the Sinner's Prayer, of which there are several versions. This is one:
Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving me of my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.

(From Campus Crusade for Christ's website)

I do not wish to mock the Sinner's Prayer, as I think it is an elegant compilation of what the Bible says that a life with Christ looks like. However, the key word here is "compilation." The Sinner's Prayer does not appear in the Bible. It is a relatively new development, and while I think you can commit your life to Christ by praying this prayer, I don't think it's the only way.

What it comes down to is the least common denominator. If the Sinner's Prayer is how one becomes a Christian, then what happens if you get the words wrong? For that matter, there are numerous formulations of the Sinner's Prayer. Which one is right? The general belief is that the words themselves are unimportant, as long as you pray with sincerity. Even if the exact words don't matter, do you still have to hit all the correct points: Repentance of sin, submission to God, asking to be remade? And what about understanding? You need to understand what you're praying in order to be sincere about it, right? That would disqualify the large number of young children who say this prayer before they fully understand it. And there's something disconcerting about the fact that the vast majority of those who have called themselves Christians throughout history have never heard this prayer, much less said it.

What does the Bible say about what it takes to be born again? Jesus never really explained it to Nicodemus, but he was asked about how to have eternal life on numerous occasions by plenty of people. To the rich ruler, Jesus said "You know the commandments, 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.'" When the ruler answered that he had done all these things, Jesus contined, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Luke 18:17-30, NAS) To the lawyer, he said, "What does the law say?" The lawyer responded, "To love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and might, and to love my neighbor as I love myself." Jesus explained, "Do this and you will be saved." (Luke 10:25-28, paraphrase) When the thief on the cross said, "We deserve the punishment we receive, but this man [Jesus] has done nothing. Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom," Jesus replied, "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43, paraphrase) At Pentecost, when the Jews asked, "What must we do?", Peter said, "Repent and be baptized, all of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38, NAS) In one of his letters, Paul told the Romans, "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved."(Romans 10:9, paraphrase)

This last one is often quoted in response to the "How do I become born-again?" question, so I'll add a little context:
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved."

(Romans 10:8-13, NAS)

This is part of the Roman road to salvation, a collection of verses which spell out how one becomes saved. The full collection is:
Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom 5:88 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Rom 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Rom 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Rom 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Rom 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

(KJV)

This is useful, and it does cover all the components in the Sinner's Prayer above. However, I'm always a bit suspicious of seemingly random collections of verses being given as a clear step-by-step process to anything. It wasn't so clear to Paul's readers, as Paul didn't put them together in a nice compact package, as has been done here.

So looking at this huge variety of answers, what do I think it takes to be saved? What the Sinner's Prayer does is compile the elements from all these answers, to give a nice, clear prayer that should cover it all. However, no one in the Bible was ever called to pray exactly these things. In fact, a straightforward reading of the scripture might lead one to believe that if you did any of the things mentioned above, you would be saved. At the least, if you were that person in that situation and you were told to do this by Jesus or one of his apostles, then that is what you would have had to do to be saved. Does that tell us what we, or for that matter, I have to do, in order to be saved?

Let's return to Paul's answer, as it was simple and the most general, addressed to a diverse audience most of whom Paul had never met. (It was written before Paul got to Rome.) "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Saying the Sinner's Prayer covers that right? In fact, pretty much anybody who's gone to church has at some point said, "Jesus is Lord," (it's in creeds, songs, prayers--you name it). Granted, not everyone who goes to church believes that Jesus rose from the dead, but I'd say that even in these post-modern times, most who regularly attend church do. Ah, but do they mean the "Jesus is Lord" part? The word after all is confess, which is a pretty accurate translation of the Greek word (homologeseis -- to agree with (I apologize in advance for the poor transliteration)). It doesn't count unless you mean "Jesus is Lord" when you say it. But what should you mean by that? In the general sense, that he really is the Son of God and has all the rights and priveleges thereof? Or in the personal sense, that he's the Lord of your life--the whole submission part of the Sinner's Prayer? But how much do we really submit, even when we mean it? It's easier said than done, which may be the reason that Paul calls on us to confess, or even admit, that "Jesus is Lord." It is not so we can mouth the words without meaning them, but by saying the words, and meaning them to the full extent that we are able, they slowly become more true in our lives.

In this sense, maybe Romans 10:9 is not so much about the sinner who, in one moment of belief and repentance, finally comes to Christ, but the imperfect Christian, who despite doubt and reluctance, day after day says "Jesus is Lord," praying that it might be truer and truer in his life. And this is where I think evangelicalism departs from fundamentalism. Not every evangelical will agree with this assessment, but many will. While there is no denying the dramatic, instantaneous salvation experience, which is attested to in both the Bible and in experience, many Christians--arguably including the Apostles themselves and definitely including all who have grown up in the Church--have experienced a growing faith and commitment where it is hard to pin down a starting point and a completion point. Most evangelicals accept the legitimacy of this salvation experience, while fundamentalists will insist on pointing to a particular moment where the Christian was born again, saying the Sinner's Prayer and having a conversion experience, in order to accept him as a true Christian.

In my own life, where I was raised in the tradition of instantaneous salvation, I would be hard pressed to point to one place where I became a Christian. Or rather, I could point to a half-dozen times while growing up where I prayed a form of the Sinner's Prayer with various degrees of understanding and sincerity. While I'd have a hard time pointing to the one and only place where I said it and meant it, I do know the point where I had fully come to mean it. If you'd like to read about it, it's in my autobiographical webpage here.

Friday, June 25, 2004

I'm a brownshirt?

You'd think we'd have stopped paying attention to Gore. Or you'd at least think that the Democrats would find some way to shut him up. Everytime he speaks conservatives have a field day, because everytime he speaks he says something like this:
The [Bush] administration works closely with a network of "rapid response" digital brownshirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for "undermining support for our troops." [Former Enron adviser] Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first journalists to regularly expose the President's consistent distortions of the facts. Krugman writes, "Let's not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative of the President . . . you had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation."

If I were a liberal, I'd be crying "crushing of dissent" right now. Fortunately, it's a lot easier to laugh at Gore than to get angry at him. You've got to figure that he doesn't know the Internet he invented all that well if he doesn't realize he just invoked Godwin's Law.

(Hat tip to too many to count, but I liked Best of the Web's write up.)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: Born again I

Old Post: Way back when I was first writing this series, I told you I'd get back to this topic. The last substantive post was on the inerrancy of Scripture. So it took a couple of months. Let's begin.

The phrase "born again" appears twice in the Bible. The first time is in Jesus's conversation with Nicodemus, in John 3:1-8:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."

Jesus answered and said unto him, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus saith unto him, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?"

Jesus answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

The second time is in 1 Peter 1:13-23:
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."

Although Paul never uses the phrase, you can see its association with his talk about Christians being new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17; also Galatians 6:15,Ephesians 4:24, Colossions 3:10):
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

From these, you can see that Christians are born-again by definition. What does it mean? Well, it means that you have a new beginning, the old sins and alienation are washed away (2 Corinthians 5:17), you are adopted into the family of God, in a sense born into his family, so now you may be called a son of God (John 1:12). Finally, you have eternal life that begins with your new birth (1 Peter 1:23) and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

So, this is what it means to be born again. The question is how do you become born again. When fundamentalists and evangelicals talk about being born again, they're usually referring not to this "new creature" understanding, but to the moment when someone becomes a Christian. This is also called being saved or coming to Christ.

I'll talk about a couple of different views on this in the next post on this topic.

New Post: This discussion is continued above.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Publishing Errors

I've had some difficulties publishing this blog today. I'd like to use this as an excuse for my non-existant blogging these last couple of days, but I'd be lying. Now if this post doesn't go up by Thursday, then it becomes a good excuse.

C2 Review

This is not a normal topic for this blog, but what the heck, I haven't been blogging much anyway. Work is such that I haven't been able to keep up with the news recently. To the best of my knowledge, the world hasn't changed much since the last time I commented on it, and it certainly hasn't missed my commentary. So on to something trivial about which I have something to say.

If you're not aware, C2 is the new low-calorie Coke. Rather than trying to get rid of all calories, it settles for half-calories, using both sugar and an artificial sweetener. The idea is that it tastes better than Diet Coke, but has less calories than regular Coke. As someone who can't stand diet sodas, but likes regular soda (and depends on them for my caffeine intake, since I also detest coffee), I thought I'd give it a try.

My judgement: 3.5/5. The thing is not devoid of the aftertaste that makes diet sodas so undrinkable to me, but it's much weaker, and after drinking through most of an eight-pack this week, I've decided it doesn't bother me. It's not as sweet as regular Coke, but since I sometimes find regular Coke too sweet, this isn't a problem. Given the choice between regular and C2 Coke, I'll take the regular if calories aren't an issue. If calories are an issue, then I'll take C2 rather than sacrifice something else.

As a side note, I'd add that if you aren't wedded to cola, you might want to try Diet Snapple. Despite the fact that I've never liked Iced Tea, I like Snapple's flavored Diet Iced Teas. I think making tea diet does less damage than doing the same to colas. Unfortunately, the Snapple is more expensive, and hard to find a decent variety thereof. I like the peach, and I think the lemon's okay. They also make diet versions of some of their fruit drinks. I'm not a fan of the pink lemonade, but if I could find a store that carried 12-packs of their diet Kiwi-Strawberry, I'd be very happy.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The 9/11 commission, the media, and the truth

Captain Ed has a lot of information on the 9/11 commission's report, starting with this post, which describes how the commission has been surprised to learn about the lieutenant colonel of Saddam's Fedayeen who was at one of the 9/11 planning meeting. Considering that this story was reported in the Wall Street Journal weeks ago, and I had seen it reported on various blogs, I want to know how the Commission failed to hear about it. They're treating it as if it were classified information they didn't have access to rather than a news story in the public domain. Then the Captain gives his take on William Safire's suggestions to fix the 9/11 Commission. Captain Ed thinks this is impossible to do, although I would like to see the Commission actually give a nonpartisan, accurate, and informative report with useful suggestions. I don't think it's likely, but I don't think it's impossible either. And finally, Captain Ed finds that at least one newspaper is retracting its absurd statments about the Commission's staff report last week. It's good when a newspaper realizes its mistakes, but as Captain Ed says, "Either all of these people simply take marching orders from the NY Times or they don't bother to read their source material very carefully, and likely the problem is a combination of both." All in all, good material from Captain Ed today. Read it all.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Honesty and the sitcom mentality

This subject came up at my Bible study on Tuesday: Do sitcoms today glamorize dishonesty? Does this affect the honesty of people who grow up watching them?

The question may be a bit too simplistic. Overall, I think I'd blame moral relativism as the source, and sitcoms as just a vehicle by which popular media helps to disseminate a really bad idea. But it is hard to deny that sitcoms seem to glorify that kind of behavior. The sitcoms I grew up with were shows like Family Ties, The Cosby Show, and Full House. These shows generally featured the cute kid, the rambunctious teenager, and the responsible adult, and numerous variations thereof. Humor more often came from the kids' cuteness and naivete than anything else. When there was lying involved, it was always the kids, they would always be found out, and always learn that lying was wrong. Important life lessons were a staple of the genre.

In edgy modern sitcoms, the humor comes more from misunderstanding and deceit than anything else. Hiding a romantic (meaning sexual) relationship, and the lies that entails, or faking a British accent to get a job, are certainly funny to watch, but if the lying does finally catch up to the culprit in these shows, and that's a huge if, it's generally swept under the rug and trivialized--no criminal charges, barely any hurt feelings, at most some embarrassment. Not exactly life lessons here.

This is of course a massive generalization. There have always been adult sitcoms and family sitcoms on television. Am I just comparing the family sitcoms I used to watch with the adult sitcoms I watch now? Or are adult sitcoms just more common now? Has the adult humor and mindset gradually edged into even the family sitcoms? Any thoughts?

Week in Review

Here are the things I was talking about over this past week. Fortunately, I had more to say this week than last. As usual, this post is timestamped to put it in the correct place in the archive.

Free Will and Eternal Security -- And the debate over whether free will and eternal security are internally inconsistent continues. Check Letters from Babylon for more.

Why I blog -- I answer La Shawn Barber's question and explain why I blog.

Of tigers and hamsters -- While everyone else is making fun of John Kerry's new nickname, "caged hamster," I take the New York Times to task for such a poor choice of words.

9/11 Commission reports no cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda on attacks -- I'm not sure which is worse, the Commission's vague deference to the conventional wisdom, or the media's misrepresentation of their admittedly vague position.

Mark Steyn misses the great communicator -- Yes, sometimes even we Bush supporters wish he were more like Reagan.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Once again this is late. Once again I've changed the timestamp to put it in the right place.

Sluggy Freelance -- Despite two days of filler, this was a very good week for Sluggy. So what if alt-Bert is dead, the DoP demons have captured alt-Riff, and alt-Zoe is now terrified of Torg, Torg's got a talking magic sword!

Day by Day -- It's the media this week. Even Fox News isn't immune.

It's Walky! -- It's a week for revelations. Beef is working for the bad guys willingly. But so is Mrs. Walkerton!

College Roomies from Hell!!! -- Roger meets the dragon while Diana figures out the truth about Roger.

General Protection Fault -- A tearful reunion of Fooker and Sharon. It's about time!

Schlock Mercenary -- Kevyn comes up with a way to ger Breya's ship running at slightly below optimal capacity.

Doc Rampage blogs

I've been remiss not to point out some excellent articles by Doc Rampage. Be sure to read the following:

fisking David Greenberg
-- Doc takes Mr. Greenberg to task for his partisan attempt to sound reasonable. A brief example:
[Greenberg]
Myth No. 3: Reagan was an incorrigible optimist. Or, as we've been hearing, his sunny disposition made him impossible to dislike. This is more a half-truth than a whole lie. Certainly, Reagan charmed political antagonists like Tip O'Neill. His morning-in-America campaign tapped into a public sense of hope. And he could deploy humor brilliantly. But Reagan also possessed an ugly mean streak. It was evident back when, as California governor, he warned student protesters, "If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with." Anyone who has watched the replays of Reagan saying, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green," or "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," can see the manifest ferocity that was as crucial to Reagan's persona as his self-effacing grin.


I don't know if Greenberg is deliberately slandering Reagan here or he really is incapable of distinguishing between "an ugly mean streak" and courage. His second two quotes suggest the latter. The fact that he thinks his readers will interpret those two quotes as "an ugly mean streak" suggests that Greenberg is just morally stupid and can't see the difference.

As to the first quote, Greenberg obviously hasn't seen enough westerns. When the good guy points a gun at the bad guy, he has to make the bad guy understand that he means to use it. That's the only way to avoid using it. By making the students believe there really would be a blood bath, Reagan was trying to avoid a bloodbath. This should be blatantly obvious to everyone, including the students at the time. And if Reagan really was willing to have a blood bath? Well, the alternative was anarchy. The willingness to do what needs to be done is not a mean streak, it's courage. Get a dictionary, Mr. Greenberg.

The UN's sex-for-food scandal -- Doc thinks the sex-for-food scandal is overblown:
At the risk of being viewed as callous, I'd like to point out that prostitution is a nearly universal accompaniment of troops. The phrase "camp followers" sometimes specifically refers to prostitutes (and almost always includes them). These UN soldiers are acting no differently than any other soldiers in history, including American soldiers.

If there is a real horror here, (and I emphasize "if") it is that these girls are being so poorly fed at the refugee camp that they are forced into prostitution for a banana or other small bit of food. But I'm skeptical of even that. From the article, it seems that these girls are all former victims of sexual slavery. That is, it seems that they were all kept prisoner and raped repeatedly, by many men, over a long period of time before they got to the camps. And they came to the camps with babies conceived by those rapes.

on whether Bush is a conservative -- Doc takes on Andrew Sullivan in his attempt to paint Bush as... well, I guess I'm not really certain what Andrew's trying to do. He lists a bunch of Bush's conservative positions and then says they prove that Bush isn't really a conservative. Anyway, this appears to have been Doc's impression as well: "Now, anyone who reads my blog knows I'm not a Bush fan. I didn't vote for him, and if the Democrats had put up any kind of reasonable candidate, I would likely have voted against him this year. But really, this list of complaints is so off-the-wall that someone has to respond to them..."

All in all, it's good reading. You may not agree with all of it (I don't), but I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Mark Steyn misses the Great Communicator

Although he likes Bush, Mark Steyn wishes he were as well-spoken as Reagan:
I feel a bit like a guy who’s been dating a pleasant lady in the office for a couple of years and suddenly bumps into the gal he always adored in high school. As readers will know, I’m very supportive of George W. Bush, especially on the foreign policy front. But it was unfortunate that a week of 24/7 Ronald Reagan greatest hits on the cable networks should have had to stop once or twice a day to cross to a blinking, groggy Dubya at some G8 press conference with a duplicitous pseudo-ally going round in circles on Iraq for the umpteenth time. Bush is a great and remarkable president and, between Normandy and G8 and the UN, he actually had a very good week. But gosh, it’s hard not to miss the Gipper...
....
Bush has set himself a similar challenge — to remake the Middle East. I think he can do it. He’s played a shrewd hand with both fractious Iraqi politicians and devious UN diplomats and he’s seen off Chirac, but at home there’s undeniably a rhetorical shortfall, as there was in his Reagan eulogy. He could use some Reaganesque clarity and toughness, plus a little more lyricism in the patriotic uplift. But one of the problems with the Bush Administration is that they think they’re so good at walking the walk they don’t have to bother talking the talk. Wrong. Last week conservatives were reminded of everything they’ve missed these last ten years. Never glad confident ‘Morning In America’ again? Your call, Dubya.

It's hard to disagree with Steyn. On the whole, I agree with what Bush is doing and what he's trying to do. I think that too often he refuses to make the strong arguments he needs to make, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves. If the media were the bastion of truth and objectivity it makes itself out to be, that might work. But it's not. Even without the transparent liberal bias, all too often its quest for sensationalism and bad news would keep it from reporting on what's really going on. I'm just glad blogs are taking up some of the slack.

9/11 Commission reports no cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda on attacks

But do we believe them? The 9/11 Commission has severely damaged its own credibility already, so when they make a statement like this, we wonder:
Bin Laden also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

First, note that the commission doesn't deny links, just that these links included actual co-planning of attacks (something that no one's ever made a strong claim for, although there are tantalizing bits of evidence). Andrew McCarthy puts this in perspective:
That doesn't appear to be what it is saying at all. This is clear — if anything in this regard can be said to be "clear" — from the staff's murky but carefully phrased summation sentence, which is worth parsing since it is already being gleefully misreported: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." (Italics mine. [McCarthy's]) That is, the staff is not saying al Qaeda and Iraq did cooperate — far from it. The staff seems to be saying: "they appear to have cooperated but we do not have sufficient evidence to conclude that they worked in tandem on a specific terrorist attack, such as 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole bombing, or the embassy bombings."

The same might, of course, be said about the deposed Taliban government in Afghanistan. Before anyone gets unhinged, I am not suggesting that bin Laden's ties to Iraq were as extensive as his connections to Afghanistan. But as is the case with Iraq, no one has yet tied the Taliban to a direct attack on the United States, although no one doubts for a moment that deposing the Taliban post-9/11 was absolutely the right thing to do.

I would point out, moreover, that al Qaeda is a full-time terrorist organization — it does not have the same pretensions as, say, Sinn Fein or Hamas, to be a part-time political party. Al Qaeda's time is fully devoted to conducting terrorist attacks and planning terrorist attacks. Thus, if a country cooperates with al Qaeda, it is cooperating in (or facilitating, abetting, promoting — you choose the euphemism) terrorism. What difference should it make that no one can find an actual bomb that was once in Saddam's closet and ended up at the Cole's hull? If al Qaeda and Iraq were cooperating, they had to be cooperating on terrorism, and as al Qaeda made no secret that it existed for the narrow purpose of inflicting terrorism on the United States, exactly what should we suppose Saddam was hoping to achieve by cooperating with bin Laden?

Frankly, the commission report hasn't added anything new, merely restated the evidence for cooperation (while leaving out some significant, and what McCarthy would call inconvenient, evidence) and rehashed the conventional wisdom. I'm not impressed, but then, I'm not too surprised. Read all of McCarthy's article.

Torg rules

This is the best Sluggy Freelance in a long time. Not only is Torg cool when he runs to rescue the girl, he takes along a sentient magic sword--which no one knew was magic until now (although I have speculated about that being the case). All right, enough of me crowing about Sluggy Freelance. This is one webcomic which you really need to read from the beginning.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Christian Carnival XXIII

The Christian Carnival is up at Belief Seeking Understanding. Douglas Bass has divided the carnival into two parts, the first one here and second here.

Amazon Associate

As you may have noticed, there's a new button on my sidebar that takes you to Amazon. I've recently become an Amazon Associate, which basically means that if I link to a book on their website, I'll get a commission if someone follows the link and buys it. I also get a commission if someone follows the general link in my sidebar and buys something. I figured it wasn't a bad idea, as I tend to link to their website anyway whenever I'm discussing a book. I've been in the program for almost two weeks now, and I've only made the link once, so it's pretty clear that I'm not abusing it. But, if you intend to visit Amazon anyway, you may want to follow the link in my sidebar. (That's the one at the bottom: there's another button to Amazon's Honor System, but that's only for direct donations, and it doesn't say Amazon on it.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Of tigers and hamsters

This sort of thing would usually slip beneath my radar, although Tim Blair is having a lot of fun with it. From the New York Times, of all places:
Like a caged hamster, Senator John Kerry is restless on the road. He pokes at the perimeter of the campaign bubble that envelops him, constantly trying to break out for a walk around the block, a restaurant dinner, the latest movie.

Congrats to the VRWC operative who managed to slip that one into the paper of record. I don't even want to know who he bribed to make it happen.

Seriously, you'd think any newspaper editor who wants to make a good faith effort not to belittle a candidate (something I think they should do regardless of political bias) could come up with a better choice of words. For a counterexample, I have a tendency to pace when I'm thinking. When I'm in my own home, this doesn't bother anyone but me. If I do this while at work, however, it can annoy my co-workers. If they ask me to stop, I do, embarrassed that I'd fallen into the habit again. Just a month or so ago one co-worker said I was distracting her by pacing around like a caged tiger. So I stopped, embarrassed again, but being called a caged tiger did a lot to assuage my pride. If my co-worker, who is not a native English speaker, has enough tact to boost my ego while asking me to stop being so annoying, you'd think that the New York Times ought to be able to manage it for the man they want to be president. I realize Democrats, with their victim cult belief system, may have difficulty understanding why most men would rather be considered tigers than hamsters, but surely they realize that the dumb masses out there would rather have a tiger than a hamster as president during a time of war.

Why I blog

La Shawn Barber wants to know why we blog and why we read blogs. For me, the second part is easier to answer than the first part. I started reading blogs during the Iraq War in 2003. I tried to follow the war in the usual news outlets--CNN, MSNBC, ABC. It became clear very fast that I wasn't getting the whole story. The doom and gloom that they were preaching just didn't match up with what any idiot with a map could see. I found a bit of insight on MSNBC in the form of glennreynolds.com, where I could find links to other places with more accurate information on the war. This in turn brought me to Glenn's "other" blog, Instapundit. From Instapundit, of course, I discovered all sorts of other blogs, and soon I was reading them daily.

As for why I started to blog myself: the first reason was just one of productivity. I felt that with all the blogs I was reading, I just wasn't producing a whole lot, and I wanted to be writing something. And part of it was that I'd occasionally feel I had something to contribute to the debate, and commenting on the blogs of other people just wasn't a very good way to make my contribution.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Have a Christian blog post you want to share?

If you want to submit a post to the Christian Carnival, send an e-mail to Douglass Bass of Belief Seeking Understanding. The post should be of a Christian nature, although it can also cover other issues from a Christian point of view. Please include the following information:

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

The deadline is 11:59:59 PM Tuesday.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Free Will and Eternal Security

Old Post: My last post on this was here.

Joshua Davey at Letters from Babylon argues that free will and eternal security are inconsistent:
If this is true, then I believe the Arminian who holds to eternal security puts himself in a very difficult position indeed. For if he believes that humans exercise genuine free will in the choice whether or not to accept the salvation that Christ offers, but at the same time believes that the believer cannot lose his salvation, he is essentially saying that the believer, in accepting Christ, forfeits at least an element of his free will—he cannot “un-choose” salvation. Thus, the Arminian who holds to eternal security seems to be saying that (1) part of what it means to be made in the image of God is to have genuine free will, (2) humans exercise this genuine free will in their choice whether or not to accept the salvation offered by Christ (3) once humans have accepted Christ, they cannot exercise their free will to un-choose salvation. To me, what seems to follow from this is that the Arminian who holds to eternal security must also believe that in making the choice to accept salvation, humans surrender their free will as to that most important decision, which in essence means they surrender part of the imago dei. And because I do not believe that humans can surrender part of the imago dei, I believe that holding to both Arminian free will and Calvinist eternal security is incoherent.

I'll admit that I do not find this argument very compelling. As surrender to God is in fact a large part of what it means to accept His grace, giving up a portion of your free will does not seem incompatible with the view that it is initially your will to give. He likens making the choice to accept God to crossing a street--sure you can cross it, but you can also walk back. I tend to think of our relationship with God in more binding terms, such as a contract or, more fittingly, a marriage. A marriage cannot be easily undone, at least not as Jesus saw it (Matthew 5:31-32), where, sure, you can have a divorce, but that's just a legal fiction, not really an end to the marriage. Admittedly, even from Jesus's view, a marriage could be undone (by adultery), but it still wasn't as easily unmade as made.

Of course, I have some peculiar views on God's relationship to time and thus his relationship with us linear creatures, so I tend to view these things in a different light entirely.

Week in Review

Once again, I'm a bit late, so the timestamp is changed to put it in its proper place. It was a pretty slow week anyway, so there's not a whole lot to discuss.

What I remember about Ronald Reagan -- My own reminiscences of our 40th president.

Saved once, saved always -- How a view of God outside of time affects my view of eternal security

Wait, you mean scientists aren't altruistic guardians of the truth? -- A few thoughts on the motivations of scientists

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Sluggy Freelance -- Alt-Kiki has come over to the dark side--which she was never very far from. Torg comes up with a daring plan, but then decides he isn't quite daring enough when he discovers that he's suddenly become the most hunted man on the planet. And it turns out that Alt-Riff built the retreat-bot just a bit too well when he and Alt-Zoe run into the resistaunce--which is run by people who were kitty food in our universe.

Day by Day -- Sam accidentally sends a virus to the team, causing much consternation. Reagan's funeral is a major topic of discussion among the group.

It's Walky! -- Jason kicks butt! I sure hope he survives the upcoming sure-to-be tragic ending to It's Walky!

College Roomies from Hell!!! -- Dave sneaks back into the facility using his wits and his eye-lasers, while Marsha lets slip Roger's secret to Diana.

General Protection Fault -- Maddie and Sharon take on the henchwomen, while Fooker is pinned down by Dr. Not.

Schlock Mercenary -- After much contemplation, and nudging from Breya, Tagon comes up with a plan for the little ones. Meanwhile, Kevyn hasn't gotten the fabber quite up and running yet.

Wait, you mean scientists aren't altruistic guardians of the truth?

Joe Carter points out something that seems obvious to us professional science types: scientists have a tendency to hype their own areas of research, glossing over difficulties. There are various reasons for this.

First, as Joe mentions, there's the money angle. For some fields, the potential for entrepreneurial success teaches scientists salesmanship. For most scientists, however, it's a matter of writing grant proposals in order to convince government and industry funders that you can do the research that they want. That money doesn't usually go directly into your paycheck, but it does allow you to hire more graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, to buy more equipment, and overall to do better research. That, in turn, brings you the more important coin of academic research: prestige. The better the funding, the easier it is to do better research, publishing more papers. Now, when discussing your research among your peers, overhyping your work can have a detrimental effect on prestige, so you need to be a little less enthusiastic in your peer-reviewed papers, but not too unenthusiastic. When you're talking to sponsors, however, you're a salesman, and that means putting a positive spin on things.

Second, when all you have is a hammer, all you see is nails. Most scientists went into their respective fields because they saw potential in it. They don't give up their initial optimism easily. So they are always looking at problems and wondering whether their particular field can help. It may be true that some other field is more likely to solve the problem first, but no scientist understands--or trusts--other fields as well as he does his own. His natural inclination is to think that his research holds the most potential to help, and it takes a bit to convince him otherwise. My particular specialty is superconductivity, and for a long time now, it's been a solution in search of a problem. I'm just hoping that quantum computation is finally it.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Reagan's Funeral Procession

Intolerant Elle reports on Reagan's funeral procession here.

E-mail woes

I use Netscape's free e-mail service as my non-work e-mail account. When I started this morning, I couldn't send e-mail through Netscape's server. So I spent the morning modifying and deleting and restoring files, making things even worse, until I reached the conclusion that the problem was probably on Netscape's end. Then I spent the first part of the afternoon fixing the stuff I had broken. Now, having spent all that time, I still can't send e-mail through netscape's server. But at least it's in no worse shape than it was this morning.

Sigh... On the whole, not time well spent.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

So where's our cheap gas?

Parablemania directed me to this wonderful post at Evangelical Outpost (which I had overlooked previously). I guess I wasn't the only one who noticed that the VRWC* dropped the ball on this one. The problem was that we forgot to tell that gullible Bush that we didn't really mean all that stuff about liberating Iraq and finding Saddam's WMDs. You know he's not all that smart, and sometimes he forgets that he's not really in charge.

*Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the ones who really are in charge. The Neocon Cabal is just our scapegoat.

Christian Carnival is up

The Christian Carnival is now posted at Christ Web. Check out what other Christian bloggers are saying.

God and Time

Old Post: I considered the question of how eternal security from the perspective of God being outside of time below.

John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon has further thoughts on what it means if God is outside of time and we are not.

Sluggy Freelance and the UN

Pete Abrams mocks the UN again this week. (For a bit of background, start here. For a lot of background, try here.) While Pete usually tries to avoid politics, and has in fact blasted Guatanamo Bay in the past, strips like this one and this give the impression that Pete has a low opinion of the UN.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Saved once, saved always?

Jeremy Frank at Letters from Babylon briefly touches on the question of whether the concept of free will is compatible with the concept of eternal security. He argues that it is, even though he's a Calvinist and thus doesn't feel much need to make that argument.

I've always been an advocate for free will rather than predestination myself, although in recent years I've begun to wonder whether this is one of those doctrinal disputes where both sides are equally right, in that they aren't at all. I won't go into that right now (you may consider C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 4, "Morality and Psychoanalysis," for one of the ideas that is shaping my thinking in this), but I will make this tricky question even trickier.

I've always thought that it makes more sense to consider God outside of time, unconfined by its constraints, and that His view of us is not a linear one. We humans tend to think of our lives linearly: we go from point A to point B, and that leads us to the conclusion that when it comes to your relationship with God, it doesn't matter where you've been for most of your life, what matters is where you are when you die. That's what really counts. And so the criminal who stole and raped and murdered, if he repents on the way to the electric chair, is saved. What of the minister, who preached and cared for the sick and loved his neighbor, who at the end of his life finds himself in poverty, loneliness, and despair, and in his twilight years loses his faith and dies in bitterness? Do we give him up? Does God?

If God looks on our lives as a whole, does He view our salvation as a turning point, as we do, or as a high point? Is faithlessness and disbelief worse for being on one side of that point than the other? Here's where I'll run counter to my own argument and say that it is, since from our point of view, our linear point of view, it is worse. If a child takes a toy from a store without understanding he is stealing, we don't see it as a crime. If a teenager does the same thing, we do, not because the teenager is older, but because he knows better. Rejection of God after salvation is worse than rejection before not because it's on the other side, but because before you didn't know God to reject Him, and now you do. But if God sees our lives as a whole, is that much worse crime of rejection by one who knows Him enough to negate earlier faithfulness? We might consider it so, but then, we live linear lives, and to us the rejection is more recent than the faithfulness. If it is no more recent to God than the faithfulness, then would He see it the same way?

Okay, that's enough making hard questions harder for today.

Monday, June 07, 2004

What I remember about Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan died this past Saturday at the age of 93. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's for a decade, and while we mourn his passing, we are thankful that he is finally at peace.

Reagan was the first president I was aware of, and at the time, it was hard for me to imagine that there was ever any other. I was six when Ronald Reagan took office, and as I don't remember anything about the Carter administration, I think it's fair to say that I grew up with him as president. My parents were moderate Southern Baptists (which would mean fairly conservative to anyone else). While my father liked Reagan, my mother didn't think he was all that smart. We lived in some fairly liberal parts of the country for most of that time, and the outright scorn many of my peers felt for Reagan made it difficult for me to hold him in high esteem. I remember in the 1984 election, where all the kids in my class were talking about how their parents would vote for Mondale. I was astounded when my father told me he was voting for Reagan and explained to me what a good job he was doing. I had never thought about it before, and only now can I see how true that was.

I remember hearing about how during the Clinton campaign, during a townhall meeting, one of the audience stood up and said the World War 2 generation just couldn't understand how horrible it had been to grow up under the threat of nuclear war. Frankly, I wondered what he was talking about. I grew up under that threat, and while I was vaguely aware of it, I didn't spend much time worrying about it. Part of that was religious belief--"Of course the world is going to end someday, but God is in control" summed up my attitude then and now--but I think part of it was Reagan as well. I grew up knowing that the US was strong, so that the Soviet Union wouldn't dare attack us with nuclear weapons, and that it was good, so that we would never launch a nuclear first strike. Considering how many people in the previous decades had believed exactly the opposite on both counts, I have to credit that attitude to Reagan, his optimism and his faith.

When the cold war ended, I was as astounded as anyone. Who knew that the Soviet Union was so weak? Well, it turns out that Reagan knew, and even though I had appreciated his optimism, I had become too cynical to believe that he had been right. But he was, and the pressure he placed on the USSR is what brought it down. I believe that communism is an inherently flawed political and economic model, and I suppose the Soviet Union would have eventually failed anyway, but without Reagan and the will to bring the might of the US to bear on the USSR's weak infrastructure, it might have taken decades, and who knows how many more millions communism would have oppressed and killed in the meantime?

I owe Reagan a debt of gratitude, both for the hopefulness with which I grew up, and for bringing the greatest threat to the US and the world in that age to an end. Rest in peace, Mr. President.

Week(s) in Review

I missed a week for this, so here's my two-week review.

Papers published -- I give full references for a couple of my published papers... I had mentioned them earlier, but they were still in the publication process

Peace in the Sudan? -- Another Bush foreign policy success.

Americans Killed by Middle-Eastern Terrorism -- I look at some statistics and try, without much success to find trends.

Partisan prayer -- Some thoughts on praying about politics, along with an exception.

Bible Translations -- My comments on the Biblical translation discussion in the blogosphere.

Second Revision Done -- The second revision of A Phoenix in Darkness has been done for a week now. You'll hopefully get a chance to read it soon.

Hey, I won! -- My entry to the Captain's caption contest wins. Cool!

Good books nobody's read -- My thoughts on unknown but talented writers, in response to Dean's thoughts.

Publishing A Phoenix in Darkness -- I show off my mad drawing skillz.

Scientists speaking out -- Scientists annoy me. Not people who do science--I'm one of those--but those who claim to speak for all of science.

Americans Killed by Middle Eastern Terrorists, Part II -- I take another look at the data, this time counting attacks rather than deaths, and a trend becomes clearer.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

I missed last week's update, so I'll cover two weeks this time

Sluggy Freelance -- Torg is transported to the Dimension of Lame which is being invaded by the Dimension of Pain. Fortunately, he's transported with the Sword of Torgamus and one of Bun-bun's Glocks. Unfortunately, the demons are sword-proof and he's only got one bullet.

Day by Day -- Zed tries to figure out how to use a new camera, and accidentally takes an embarassing picture of Sam. Al Gore is severely mocked, and I don't think it's undeserved.

It's Walky! -- SEMME faces brainwashing, but we get a flashback from Billie's past. When we return to the present we find that Billie's in trouble. She's snuck into SEMME's facilities and it looks like she's caught in the crossfire between SEMME and the Britjas. And she's dragging poor Danny into it.

College Roomies from Hell!!! -- While April's dreaming of Mike, Mike decides not to interfere with his mother's upcoming marriage to the evil mastermind who kidnapped him and his friends. Meanwhile Thad helps Mike, the newly introduced Jay blackmails Thad, the evil mastermind finds out there's trouble, and Dave has a revelation.

General Protection Fault -- The fake Craig makes his move, Fooker and Maddie make theirs, and there's Dr. Not and her henchwomen And and Or. And there's Sharon, caught in the middle. After a couple of close run-in, she finally discovers that Fooker's in the area.

Schlock Mercenary -- Schlock is released. He isn't out of prison for more than a couple of days before he gets in trouble again. And now Tagon must figure out how to deal with reproduction among the crew. Not Schlock's, thankfully.

More great books

Old Post: I mention a few of my own recommendations below.

Doc Rampage is recommending books again, in response to Dean Esmay's post on great books no one's read. He mentions The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy. By this point it's been mentioned so many times that it's pretty clear that plenty of people have read it. I agree that it's a great trilogy, and a significant inspiration for my own writing. It was the first fantasy series I read after Tolkien (must have been around fourth grade), and it's what convinced me that fantasy was worth reading--fantasy's been my primary reading material since then.

He also mentions a bunch of other series, only a few of which I've heard of and none of which I've read. Once again, more books are added to the list of Books I Really Should Read Once I Get Through the Ones I Already Have. It's a pretty long list by now.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Americans killed by Middle Eastern Terrorists Part II

Old Post: Originally this was an update to an earlier post, but I decided to bump it and give it its own post. The original post is here.

In my previous post, I showed a rolling plot of the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks. The problem was that highly successful attacks tended to cause sharp peaks which skewed the data, so I've done a plot of the number of Middle Eastern Terrorism attacks per year affecting Americans. This is also a five-year rolling average, and I think it shows a much clearer trend. Number of attacks doesn't consider the effectiveness of attacks, so it's more of a measure of intent than competence. It includes attacks that resulted in injury and deaths, as well as kidnappings where the prisoner was released. It also includes bombings on American property which didn't hurt anyone. Once again, it also includes attacks on Israeli targets which killed and injured Americans. I need to control for those at some point, but not right away.



This shows a peak in the Eighties, a decline around 1990, but a clear upward trend in the late nineties. In this chart, the whole of 9/11 counts as only one attack.

Scientists speaking out

Nothing annoys me more than people pretending they're experts when they're not. Well, okay, stating speculation as fact annoys me more, but it's closely related.

What brought this to mind is something Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost said:
John Marburger, the science advisor for the Bush Administration, would make an excellent blogger. After the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) issued a report, "Scientific Integrity In Policy Making", that listed instances of what it described as the administration's "misuse of science", Marburger fired back with a point-by-point fisking of the USC’s claims.
...
The true "misuse of science" is when reputable scientists make false claims about their area of knowledge in order to further a political agenda. The public has already grown wary of authoritative claim by scientists on such areas as politics and ethics. If they continue to erode their credibility in this manner we may find that we can't trust them on issues of science either.

[Incidentally, I think it's UCS, not USC.] What I'd like to know is whether these scientists really are making claims, false or not, about their area of knowledge. "Scientist" is a general and highly misleading term. Scientist, whether theorists or experimentalists, know a lot about their particular fields of study. When it comes to things outside their fields, even areas of scientific research outside their fields, they generally don't know much more than the well-educated layman. They may have a better generic understanding of the manner in which research is done, but they rarely know the specifics of the facts and procedures and caveats of fields other than their own. Thus I'm very reluctant to take a physicist's word on what the results of CDC research, or a biologist's word on the philosophical ramifications of quantum physics (on this subject, I'm reluctant to take anyone's word). I get very annoyed when scientists use their moniker to pretend they're knowledgeable in all things science.

Publishing A Phoenix in Darkness

I was looking into ways to self-publish A Pheonix in Darkness. It's too long for a short story and too short for a novel, so I don't see any way to publish it the traditional ways. I could self-publish it as an e-book, but there are expenses involved. I can handle the formatting myself (I put everything I write in PDF anyway). It'd be nice to have a professional copy-editor, but it's expensive, and I think I can manage on my own. Most expensive is the cover art. It's not just aesthetically pleasing, it's important for drawing attention to the story in an online bookstore. It'd be nice to be able to get someone to do it.

Then I figured, I'm no artist, but why not? I can use Microsoft Publisher just as well as the next guy, and while I can't do much in the way of freehand drawing, I didn't get an engineering degree without learning some technical drawing skills. Start with one of Publisher's templates, completely change the color scheme, add an extensively remodeled symbol from Campaign Cartographer, and I might have something half-way decent. In any case here's what I came up with:



I think it turned out pretty well. While I'm not entirely certain of copyright issues, both Publisher and Campaign Cartographer are designed to make publishable documents, so I doubt there'd be a problem.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Mark Steyn on Memorial Day

Mark Steyn has some Memorial Day thoughts worth reading:
Like the French Resistance, tiny in its day but of apparently unlimited manpower since the war ended, for some people it's not obvious which side to be on until the dust's settled. New York, for example, resisted the Civil War my small town's menfolk were so eager to enlist in. The big city was racked by bloody riots against the draft. And you can sort of see the rioters' point. More than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War -- or about 1.8 percent of the population. Today, if 1.8 percent of the population were killed in war, there would be 5.4 million graves to decorate on Decoration Day.

But that's the difference between then and now: the loss of proportion. They had victims galore back in 1863, but they weren't a victim culture. They had a lot of crummy decisions and bureaucratic screwups worth re-examining, but they weren't a nation that prioritized retroactive pseudo-legalistic self-flagellating vaudeville over all else. They had hellish setbacks but they didn't lose sight of the forest in order to obsess week after week on one tiny twig of one weedy little tree.

There is something not just ridiculous but unbecoming about a hyperpower 300 million strong whose elites -- from the deranged former vice president down -- want the outcome of a war, and the fate of a nation, to hinge on one freaky jailhouse; elites who are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, as long as it's pain-free, squeaky clean and over in a week. The sheer silliness dishonors the memory of all those we're supposed to be remembering this Memorial Day.

Playing by Gore-Kennedy rules, the Union would have lost the Civil War, the rebels the Revolutionary War, and the colonists the French and Indian Wars. There would, in other words, be no America. Even in its grief, my part of New Hampshire understood that 141 years ago. We should, too.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Good books nobody's read

Dean Esmay is asking for recommendations on good books which aren't widely known. He mentions Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton and Ariel by Stephen R. Boyett. Readers have offered their own opinions, including a bunch which I wouldn't consider unknown, by authors such as Patricia McKillip, Ursula K. LeGuin, Poul Anderson, and Stephen R. Donaldson, who certainly aren't unknowns (to SF readers, anyway). Admittedly, it could just be that I don't consider anything I've read unknown.

Sadly, no one's mentioned Fire yet.

Let's see, is there anything I'd add to the list? Frankly, most of the books in my library are popular books from popular writers. How about Jane Jensen's The Beast Within? Jane Jensen designs computer games, specifically the Gabriel Knight series, which are fabulous games with intricate, engrossing plotlines. Her first attempt to convert a game into a book, Sins of the Fathers, didn't turn out too well, but her second book was very good. I'm not sure she ever tried to turn the third Gabriel Knight game (Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned) into a book, but it was the weakest game in the series (not to mention host to some religious elements I found disturbing). I'd also recommend John Ringo, whom I think is pretty well-known, so I'm probably not recommending an unread author. He's written some intriguing Sci-Fi series, including A Hymn Before Battle and There will be Dragons, and he makes it clear in his books that he's a Sluggy Freelance fan.

New Post: I note that Doc Rampage has made some suggestions above.

Lileks the writer

Lileks gets a bit uppity:
Anyway. So I’m waiting at the Gap for my wife to try on some outfits. I sit down, I read the book. Later I wander up to the men’s floor, try some shorts, size Small; baggy beyond belief. But! They have X-small size. They fit. Hmm. Time, perhaps, to eat carbs again. As I buy the shorts the clerk says:

“Are you a writer?”

I think: what?

“There were some people up here,” he said, “who pointed at you as you went into the changing rooms? And they said you were a writer.”

I spread my arms out. “They were correct. I am a writer.”

“Cool.”

And I’m thinking: how nice that I was carrying around a battered 1957 book, eh? That’s just what writers do! I went downstairs and related the anecdote to my wife, who said that the clerks had been whispering about something there being a writer upstairs.

Don’t think I didn’t milk that one all night. Hello, there’s a writer in the kitchen, looking for ice! Make way, mortal. What, you want to change the channel? Don’t you know a WRITER is watching this?

I want to be able to do that someday. Well, granted, I could do it now, but I'd be a delusional jerk. It'd be better if I were just a jerk. I think I have to publish something first. You know, aside from on my website.

Hey, I won!

Each week, Captain's Quarters holds a caption contest, where he invites his readers to caption photographs of Democrats in action. Up until now, it's always been Kerry who's been captioned. I've never participated before, partly because I don't think it's dignified to make fun of people simply because you disagree with their political views, but mostly because I couldn't think of anything funny.

This week, however, Gore was the one in the photo, and it was from the insane rav--er, I mean, speech he gave in front of MoveOn.org. I looked at the photo, thought of something funny, and submitted an entry. Ten seconds later, I thought of a way to make my entry funnier, but I didn't want to make another submission. Go here to see what the winning entry was. And here is what it should have been:


Fighting to contain a violent yawn at his own words, Al Gore is mistaken for a raving lunatic. He decides to go with it.

Update: Edward Yee, who judged this week's contest, reminded me that I'm late with his bri--uh, I mean, check out his blog. You know he must have a good sense of humor.

Christian Carnival XX

Christian Carnival XX is up at Patriot Paradox. I submitted my post on Bible Translations. I had almost forgotten about the Carnival until I got the e-mail that the deadline had been extended. Good thing, as it was already past the original deadline when I got it. Go check out what other Christian bloggers are writing about.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Prayer request

I've just heard that my two-year-old niece is in the hospital with pneumonia. She's expected to be okay, but any prayers would be appreciated.

Second Revision Done!

Well, I'm a week behind, but the second revision of A Phoenix in Darkness is now done. On to the third and final revision!

Update: If you're wondering why the blogging's slow, this is it. As I may have mentioned earlier, I tend to work harder when I'm near the end. I finished over three quarters of the work on Monday, got the final quarter done today by the time I put up this post, and I've been adding small touches for the rest of the day. I have a day job, but I've spent somewhere around seven hours on this project over these past two days.