Thursday, December 11, 2014

How Should We Then Live

"How Should We Then Live" (Francis Schaeffer)(audio) - This book really surprised me.

First, the title made me think that it would be on orthopraxy (right living).  It is actually a short survey of history from the Fall of Rome to "modern" day (1976).

Second, Schaeffer always struck me as somewhat liberal.  But his analysis is strictly orthodox.

Third, I was surprised how succinct he was, and how accurately he could sense the flow of the spirit of the age (and predict what would come over the next 38 years).

This is a book I will need to go over again...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What it would take to end Climate Change

A report from Google, which confirms what I've said for some time - that even going to zero carbon emissions today will not prevent climate change (as projected by mainstream science).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Doctrine and Politics

I often hear that Catholics have unity, while Protestants are divided (the old forty thousand denominations canard).

However, I always reply that Catholic unity is outward (ritual and authority structure), while conservative Protestants find unity in doctrine.

A new survey confirms what I have said.

Note the split between "Mainline" (aka Liberal, lower right) Protestants and "Evangelical" (conservative, upper right).  We also see that Catholics are not identified with any political ideology (they are disparate in their application of doctrine to practice).

It's interesting that "Other" tend toward the lower left (except for Muslims, Hindus, and Jews).

It's as I have said - conservative Christians tend toward conservative politics.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why the Abortion Debate Won't Go Away

A telling article from CNN:
"These conversations about contraception are happening now, in the present day, with outdated views and inaccurate information playing a leading role."
Note first that believing that human life should not be extinguished arbitrarily is an "outdated view".

Second, let me analyze this claim of "inaccurate information".  It comes here:
"The employers think that certain forms of contraception (emergency contraception pills and intrauterine devices) cause abortions. But what they believe about science is contradicted by the science itself.
Emergency contraception pills work by inhibiting or postponing ovulation, or the release of the egg, and this prevents fertilization from occurring. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) work by preventing sperm from reaching the egg, either by creating a barrier or by creating an environment that inhibits the mobility and viability of sperm or, in the case of copper IUDs, potentially by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg before a woman is pregnant." (emphasis added)
Ah, now we come to the crux of the matter!

The medical establishment has declared that pregnancy does not begin until implantation, and that abortion is the end of pregnancy.  Therefore, preventing implantation prevents pregnancy, and no pregnancy means no abortion.

So, science tells us these treatments do lead to the death of human beings - just not "abortion" as defined by the medical establishment.  Those who define abortion as "intentionally killing an unborn human being" are supported by science.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trusting God

"Trusting God" (Jerry Bridges) (audio) - This book starts with a discussion of the attributes of God, and progresses from there to show why it is possible and indeed necessary for us to trust God.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Failure in Oversight at NSA

Continuing the catalog of failures at NSA, from Ars:
"Overall, the audit found 2,776 'incidents' in which the NSA broke its own privacy rules while collecting information."
These are violations of their own rules, which are arguably too weak.  These are known violations, one can only imagine what the unknown is...

I encourage you to read the article, it is short and to the point.

The failures of any system will fall into these categories:
  1. Failures in specifying what is desired from the system.  Including failure to protect the rights of the innocent.
  2. Failures in implementation - including allowing people access to information they should not have.
  3. Failures in use - including intentional abuse of power, and unintentional access.
There is little evidence so far of intentional abuse of power.  But it is easy to see how such abuse is possible.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This Momentary Marriage

"This Momentary Marriage" (John Piper) - I like reading John Piper.  His love for God is evident, his passion flows off the page.  And his beliefs are similar to mine, but not identical - so I am always looking for how he comes to the positions he does.

This book is an overview of how marriage glorifies God.  It covers many topics, and is intended to help a couple think about what they are committing to.

And it's number one focus is on the glory of God :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sotomayor and 1984

Recently on Reddit, someone asked which SciFi universe was most likely in our future.

I responded 1984 - and was severely downvoted (go figure).

I am somewhat vindicated by recent statements by Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor:
"We are in that brave new world, and we are capable of being in that Orwellian world, too."
It's good that the is someone on the Supreme Court who has this problem in view.

But it's not all good news:
"And when the high court got its first chance to look at one aspect of the program, it declined to do so and let stand the government's bulk metadata phone collection program Snowden disclosed."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Overreach at the NSA

An excellent article at Ars, detailing some of the overreach at NSA:
"NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement had been 'so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall…regime has never functioned effectively'"
So, this is violations of their own standard (which is arguably built on top of an unconstitutional system).  There is no discussion as to whether the system is itself a violation.

I actually agree with one of the caveats of the system administrator:
"'This is not an egregious overreaching by a greedy agency seeking to spy on Americans,' he said. 'It's an inadvertent collection of a relatively small number of US person communications.'"
My argument is not that the NSA is a greedy agency seeking to spy on Americans.

My argument is that the NSA has lost sight of its purpose, and is letting the (dubious) ends justify their (atrocious) means.

From the judges:
"the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program"
"neither the NSA nor the Court has the ability to know with certainty how many Americans’ rights have been violated"
Any system will be abused.  And systems grow and become perverted from the original intent.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Population Management and Climate Change

If you think I'm crazy because I draw a line between climate change proponents and those who love death - read this article at CNN:
"Last, however, if we can't control consumption, we can control the number of consumers."
The author points to the same open secret I did four years ago:
"According to the World Resources Institute, to stay on the safe side of a 2-degree Celsius increase, we'd have to go back to the amount we were expelling in 1990 -- and then cut that in half."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Knowing God

"Knowing God" (J. I. Packer) (audio) - I don't like doing heavy books via audio, but this book was very comforting to listen to in crazy traffic.  I will need to do it again, because I'm sure I missed stuff.

It is an overview and surface introduction to theology proper (the study of God).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Power Generation and Water

An interesting article at Ars:
"In the US, fully half of the water withdrawn from sources such as lakes and aquifers ends up being used for generating electricity."
This creates a wrinkle when looking at using nuclear power to replace carbon dioxide producing plants - nuclear uses a lot of water.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Waste and Oppression

I don't know what is the worst part of all the NSA revelations: the rampant violation and disregard of the Constitution and the rights of the people, the cover-ups, the arrogance of those in charge, or the waste of money.

A number of articles on Wikipedia reveal this is not all new to Edward Snowden.

According to the Baltimore Sun (link is now dead, but available on the Wayback machine), there was a program called ThinThread which might have been the beginning of the panopticon.  It was not as egregious as the current systems, although I would not say it is legal.

ThinThread was discontinued, in favor of a more aggressive program (Trailblazer).  It continued to monitor everyone, and eliminated any attempt at privacy protection:
"'They basically just disabled the [privacy] safeguards,' said one intelligence official."
"In 2003, the NSA IG (not the DoD IG) had declared Trailblazer an expensive failure. It had cost more than $1 billion."
Also of interest is the man Thomas Andrews Drake.  He was concerned about privacy violations, and sought to protest the Trailblazer program.  He eventually discussed non-classified information with a reporter.  The result?  FBI agents broke into his home and pointed guns at his family.  He was pressured into pleading guilty, and to reveal other potential whistle-blowers.  He was charged, and eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Secret Government Crackdown on the People Having Secrets

A chilling story from Ars:
"'I was faced with the choice of watching it suffer or putting it to sleep quietly... it was very difficult,' he told Democracy Now. 'I had to pick between the lesser of two evils.'
What was that other choice? 'Unfortunately, I can't talk about that,'"
For those not familiar with Lavabit, it was a mail service (like Yahoo or GMail) that used encryption.  You could be reasonably sure that your email was read only by the intended recipient (normal mail is totally open - it can be read by any party on the network between you and your recipient).

The appearance here is that the government ordered Lavabit to share the encrypted mails - or shutdown.  And they chose to shutdown rather than participate in fraud against their customers.

The most shocking thing is that no one can discuss what the government has done.

So, we have secret laws, secret courts, with secret decisions, issuing secret orders which must be kept secret by those targeted.

And all to unravel any attempt by private citizens to keep secrets.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Raising the Minimum Wage

It really worries me when I see the current debate over raising the minimum wage.  This is especially visible in this article at CNN:
"the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to just $15,080 a year -- as long as you get paid for any time you take off. That's more than $7,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four."
This fact is very sad, there's no escaping it.  A nation as wealthy as ours should not be in a situation where a man cannot support his family (assuming a married couple, and 2.2 kids).

Of course, that is not the whole story.

Firstly, we know that many households consist of single mothers.  And many others have both parents working.

Further, only a minority of households are being supported by a minimum wage earner.

Compounding this: one must ask, why should a teenager working a summer job be expected to be paid a wage capable of supporting a household?

Clearly, minimum wage is the wrong tool for the job.

We should be looking for a way of supporting households.  Strong households, with a father and mother.  Where only the father has to work, and can do something meaningful.  Do we really want a nation of telemarketers, waiters, and bureaucrats?

Technology has made it so that only a tiny fraction of people need to work at providing the essentials (food, clothing, electricity, housing).  Yet, we have maintained the mindset of "if you don't work, you don't eat".

Monday, September 8, 2014

NSA and Crypto standards

An excellent article at Ars on the unfolding scandal at the NSA.

The NSA was originally responsible for the security of our nations compute infrastructure (particularl after the events of World War II made it clear how important reliable cryptography is).

The first national standard for encryption was called DES.  And the NSA played a vital role in making it stronger:
"The S-boxes that the government had specified in DES turned out to be resistant to this kind of attack. It was later revealed that IBM's researchers had discovered differential cryptanalysis and told the NSA about it. Rather than undermining the algorithm, the NSA had used the technique to shore up DES to improve its security, then kept it secret."
At some point, it appears the mission changed.
"Specifically, a NIST-approved standard from 2006 was functionally edited solely by the NSA... The algorithm [Dual_EC_DRBG] was extremely slow, and the random numbers it produced were flawed: they had a detectable bias, with some numbers slightly favored over others. With these issues, the obvious response would be to exclude it, but it was kept in at the NSA's insistence."
"As such, it all seems to be a bit pointless. Unlike the NSA's secretive work on DES—which made the algorithm better—the secretive work presumed to have taken place on SP 800-90 has probably made it a little bit worse. Money well spent? Not really."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Allegorical Hermeneutic

Origen is typically considered the father of the allegorical hermeneutic within the Church.  I have yet to read Origen himself (it's on my list, somewhere), but there seems to be a fair amount of support for this (although Ignatius Insight seeks to modify the view some).

Let's look at what the Copts (a form of Eastern Orthodoxy) have to say:
"Origen's consistent principle of interpretation was: explaining the Bible by the Bible, that is obscure or difficult passages should be explained by other passages, from anywhere else in the Bible. The whole Bible must be allowed to speak for itself, what ever a single text may seem to say; and it must be permitted to speak not merely in its own behalf, but in the name of God." (emphasis in original)
This is an excellent point!  Score one for Origen.
"Origen believes that for only those who have the Spirit of Jesus can understand their spiritual meaning" (emphasis in original)
This could be interpreted harshly (as Gnosticism), but I think that is not necessary.  There is certainly an aspect of Scriptural interpretation which requires first that one is a believer.  There are many non-believers who interpret Scripture, and do so improperly (there are also non-believers who are able to honestly interpret portions of Scripture).
Let's see it in practice:
"Origen sees that, in the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the fire that bakes the bread of exegesis is the love of God, the inspiration that comes from the Spirit and acts both on the inspired writer and on his interpreter. The bread which the preachers cut into pieces and distribute to the crowd is the spiritual meaning."
Ok, that's just crazy talk! There is nothing about hermeneutics in the feeding of the five thousand.

The problem is, this analysis sounds "deep" and "spiritual". The hearer oohs and ahhs over the power of the imagination of the speaker, The hearer never heard this before - what a powerful revelation, it must be from God! /s

But this can go anywhere.

For example, I could say that the fire that bakes the bread is the wrath of God, poured out on the many who have a passing interest in God but lack saving faith; while the leftovers represent the faithful remnant.

Who is right? How could we know? Whichever feels right? Whichever speaker is more persuasive or politically connected?

The literal method is not immune to uncertainty, but at least the context is going to keep the interpretation within some circumscribed space.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Atheism and Science Fiction

An intriguing article by one of the less depressing SF authors I've read lately (Ken MacLeod).

He claims that most SF authors are not atheist, but I would like to see the numbers...
"If science is the theology of nature – with the wilder reaches of physics standing in for its scholastic philosophy – SF is its mythology, its folklore, its peasant superstition. Television, film, anime and computer games supply the statues and holy pictures, which (this time) really do move."
I'm not sure I agree.  SF is fairly low on the radar for most people (besides the occasional Hollywood blockbuster - which barely qualifies as SF).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ars Against Rationalism

A quick post over at Ars, showing how susceptible the human mind is to being fooled.
"Prior to asking the actual number, Mlodinow had asked a question that subtly primed each group. For one half of the audience, he asked if they thought there were more than 180 countries in Africa; this group ended up with a much higher mean. The second half was asked if there were more than five. Their answers were, on average, too low. Although this was a case of conscious manipulation, it's easy to see how a similar effect could be generated accidentally, simply based on (for example) the order of questions in a survey."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Marriage Good for Society?

Digging way back into my queue, I found this from Team Pyro:
"The disappearance of marriage in low-income communities is the predominant cause of child poverty in the U.S. today."
Although it seems the battle is lost, there's lots more good data and Biblical arguments.  It's a must read.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Defenders of the Atheistic Faith

It always gives me a chuckle to see atheists arguing that only religion can make people irrational and confrontational (of course, while denying atheism is a religion).

Michael Flynn (who is a Catholic, and an evolutionist) takes a certain pleasure out of ribbing these guys.

He also has excellent depth in philosophy and reasoning.  I can't do justice in summarizing it.  You really must read it.

The really remarkable part is down a ways:
"There is no distance at all between grasshoppers and locusts. The latter are just grasshoppers that have 'gone Hulk.'  If we didn't know up front that they were the self-same critters, we'd be tempted to classify them as separate species.  The same genome is used by both. The difference is that what the genome does depends on environmental cues within which it does it."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Christianity in the Public Square

If you doubt there are some who will try to eliminate Christianity from being expressed in public, check out this article by Al Mohler.

First, the most chilling statement:
"If a commercial photography business believes that the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] stifles its creativity, it can remain in business, but it can cease to offer its services to the public at large."
So, the ruling here is that if you feel that the government is forcing you to act against your conscience, you only choice is to stop doing business.

This is not an unusual opinion of one, radical judge.  This is a unanimous opinion from a group of judges.

Indeed one of the judges wrote:
"are now compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. "

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CNN and Christianity

My CNN feed is often populated by "Fast Facts".  These range all over the place, and are usually of little interest to me.

When I saw "Fast Facts on Christianity", I knew I'd need to check it out :)
"His death made salvation and forgiveness of sins possible for all."
That's a very Arminian (or semi-Pelagian) view, but I can accept that is probably the majority view among Christians...
"Salvation can only be obtained by believing that Jesus was sent by God to forgive the sins of every human, and to confess those sins to him."
That's actually not a bad summary of the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Don't Take My Word For It

If you don't know who Bruce Schneier is, I recommend looking him up.  He's very smart, and has dedicated his life to the study of security.

He has written an excellent opinion piece for CNN, describing the state of privacy today, and how we got here.
"The result of all this is we're now living in a world where both corporations and governments have us all under pretty much constant surveillance."
"Now we need to figure out what to do about it. This is more than reining in the NSA or fining a corporation for the occasional data abuse. We need to decide whether our data is a shared societal resource, a part of us that is inherently ours by right, or a private good to be bought and sold."

Thursday, January 23, 2014


For those who aren't aware, from the Wiki article on COINTELPRO:
"COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. National Security Agency operation Project MINARET targeted the personal communications of leading Americans, including Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, journalists and athletes who criticized the Vietnam War."
This is a real program, which really happened (not hypothetical, not fiction).

In light of this, consider recent revelations:
"Some of the vulnerabilities, if exposed, would likely call into question a radicalizer's devotion to the jihadist cause, leading to the degradation or loss of his authority."
This is not a program to discover real, imminent threats to the safety of Americans.  It is a program to gather information to use against anyone the government considers a threat (whether a threat to American lives, or a threat to government interests).

Again, the argument is not that the program has been misused, or that there are no safeguards to prevent misuse.

This capability should not exist - it is a threat to the freedom of Americans.  Do not look at how it is currently being used, imagine how it could be used by your political enemies.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Icon Smashers

You don't meet many Eastern Orthodox in day-to-day life.  For some reason, they are more aggressive and conspicuous on-line (like a lot of weird, tiny groups).

I had sudden insight that the Great Schism occurs after the rise of Islam.  I wanted to investigate how much EO have been influenced by dhimmitude and Islam in general (seeing as how the EO view Protestantism as a step away from themselves).

I started on Wikipedia, and (as such things usually work out) ended up reading on Iconclasm.

Some might try to view iconoclasm (or the iconomachy - "icon conflict") through a Reformation lens.  However, I don't think it can be seen that way.

The records are somewhat scarce (the iconolaters or iconodules won the struggle, and purged the iconclasts).  The first phase is connected to 726, when the Byzantine emperor (Leo III) is said to have ordered the removal of icons (religious images).

It's unclear how dedicated to this cause Leo was, as later historians seem to have targeted him as the fall guy for later events.  It does seem Leo's son (Constantine V) was more dedicated to the cause.

Constantine went so far as to summon an ecumenical council, although he stacked the deck with iconoclastic bishops.

What's most remarkable is that it was Constantine's son's widow who had iconclasm overturned.  There was another council, this time enshrining icons.  The wording used is most remarkable:
"As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
We see here an attempt to make a distinction between "reverent adoration" and "worship".

There was a second period of iconoclasm (814-842), which was again overturned under the guidance of the king's widow.

Perhaps most interesting, this all does not seem to have arisen from any particular theological crisis or revival.

The Muslims had started to invade the Byzantine empire, and they had an extreme aversion to religious imagery.  It appears some in Byzantium attached their military troubles to God's displeasure.  It was thought that eliminating these idols would restore God's pleasure (and allow them to defeat the Muslims).