Blinded by the Light

reflectacles demo - camera 13If you watch a lot of cop shows like I do, you may have noticed how often facial recognition software provides the good guys with crucial images for identifying criminals, victims, and even witnesses. Though the real thing probably doesn’t have quite the success rate as its fictional counterpart, it really is amazing technology.

However,… with CCTV cameras here, there, and everywhere, — and not always obvious — isn’t it a bit disconcerting, knowing that people are (or could be) watching your every move? (At least, when those cameras are present.) Most of us probably recognize the need for such security measures in and around banks, for instance, and other institutions where financial transactions are handled and proprietary information is located. But, when the cameras are on street corners, traffic lights, subway platforms, etc., monitored by law enforcement and other government officials, it can get kinda creepy. “Police-state” creepy.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that someone has finally invented technology to counter such surveillance. Call it “anti-facial recognition”, if you will. Or, as creator Scott Urban calls his new eyewear product, “Reflectacles”. They are made from “solid blocks of clear cellulose acetate” and “micro-prismatic retro-reflective materials” normally only used in specialized fields. Microscopic examination reveals “many very small cube-like prisms that bounce light along each edge of the prism surface and then bounce it right back in the direction the light originated from,” as Urban explained to The Sun. No glare to the wearer, though.

Reflectacles Originals, available in seven different colors, reflect only visible light. Reflectacles Ghost, available only in Gray, intensifies the effect by incorporating micro-corner-cubes, “the most reflective material that currently exists… used in laboratory situations or for signal/controller applications.” This model reflects light from the visible and infrared portions of the spectrum.

reflectacles“This means, security cameras that work using infrared technology, which basically means a majority of such devices, will never capture your facial features when you are wearing Reflectacles Ghost…. [They] can also reflect visible light, due to which drivers on the road will be able to notice you at once as soon as you enter the road no matter if you are walking or riding a bike.” (H/T Hackread)

I think this is pretty cool, and I totally understand some people’s being a bit freaked out by the increased surveillance by the state. (Even more so in places like the UK than in the US… for now.) No surprise, then, that these are Urban’s primary target market. But I was concerned about criminals of various sorts using the tech to protect their own identities while committing crimes. To this, Urban points out that full-face ski masks are still cheaper and (in most cases) more effective for such nefarious purposes.

Sturdily built and reasonably priced (£77 Originals; £101 Ghost), Reflectacles will begin being sold in June 2017.

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Pure Fantasy

“[A]fter many decades of trying to comprehend the gender confusion that persisted even after my sex transition, I came to understand that my grandmother’s cross-dressing of me was emotional child abuse. The psychological harm grew as years went by.” — Walt Heyer

National_Geographic_Transgender_Cover_460_by_470You probably saw it — the recent National Geographic cover featuring a “transgendered” young boy by the name of Avery Jackson. Why NG decided to help push the LGBT agenda, I don’t know. But, the cover and issue are stirring a lot of controversy.

Former transgendered man, Walt Heyer, has previously written about the LGBT community and about his own experiences as part of that community and after having left it. This past week, Heyer wrote a commentary on NG’s transgender issue (no pun intended) and about the damage being done to young Avery and to society at large. He has no patience for NG’s conflation of mere cross-dressing with the more popular term, “transgenderism”.

“Avery is simply a cross-dressing boy. Cross-dressing affects outward appearance only; what you do not see are the deeper long-term psychological consequences. No sex is changed; no biological transformation takes place.”

Heyer’s combination of relating personal experience and sharing several sad realities about transgenders and transsexuals — the latter having undergone “sex reassignment” surgery — is particularly effective.

“I can see from my experience that transgenderism is fantasy motivated by strong feelings. When it comes to gender, people can change clothing and other aspects of the public persona, but biological sex will always remain fixed…. No amount of hormones or cosmetic surgery can effect a biological change of sex. Feelings, no matter how strong, cannot change sex. To pretend anything else is only a masquerade. At best, transgenderism is Mardi Gras, not reality….

Notably, the magazine does not include any interviews with individuals who have had their lives destroyed by the long-term consequences of cross-dressing and gender confusion. Cross-dressing eroded my true gender which in turn ruined my teen years, ripped apart my marriage, and ended my career.”

Why not check out Heyer’s article?  It’s not terribly long and definitely worth a read.

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The Obama Delusion

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”  — Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro

Are you familiar with Ben Shapiro? He’s one of those conservative “young guns” making a name for himself these days — an attorney-turned-political commentator, columnist/author, and radio show host. He’s very sharp, articulate, possesses a familiarity with an amazing number of issues and pertinent facts, thinks clearly & critically about those issues, doesn’t get tripped up by PC nonsense, and has no problem calling out corruption, ineptitude, hypocrisy, foolishness, etc., regardless of race, creed, position, or political ideology. I like that. He’s also fearless, as he speaks at ideologically hostile venues (except when “tolerant” protestors manage to get his talks cancelled) and on panels where his non-PC, conservative views are clearly in the minority. (Here are a couple examples.) I greatly admire that, too.

I’m not saying I am totally in line with everything I’ve read or heard Shapiro say, but I am very impressed with him. So, when I discovered his daily “The Ben Shapiro Report” back around Thanksgiving last year, I subscribed. (Still training Hotmail not to automatically send it to the ‘Junk’ folder, unfortunately. Dang Russians!) Each email issue contains a “Subscriber Exclusive” from Ben, along with links to 4 more articles on The Daily Wire, which Shapiro founded and where he serves as editor-in-chief.

Last Monday, Shapiro started off the week/month/year with a reaction to President Obama’s quasi-revisionist, and possibly self-delusional, tweets about his administration’s legacy. Shapiro was civil but held nothing back….

“With the beginning of 2017 comes newfound optimism: in just two weeks, President Barack Obama’s term of office will come to an ignominious end. As the clock ticks down, Americans get more and more excited to see Obama’s back – we’ll no longer have to hear his sonorous baritone lecturing us about his higher morality, which invariably requires the overthrow of individualism in favor of the collective.

But Obama won’t leave without some historical rewriting.

He tweeted on January 1, “As we look ahead to the future, I wanted to take a moment to look back on the remarkable progress that you made possible these past 8 years.” What progress, pray tell? Obama tweeted that “Facing the worst financial crisis in 80 years, you delivered the longest streak of job growth in our history.” That neglects to mention that this was the weakest economic recovery in American history – that recessions are usually followed by booms, except when big government interventionism quashes those booms.

He tweeted, “After decades of rising health care costs, today nearly every American now has access to the financial security of affordable health care.” That’s patently insane. Obamacare has been a massive bust. When you mandate that people buy health insurance, people typically will do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s quality, that doctors will take it, or that health care gets better. Actually, premiums have skyrocketed nationwide under Obama, and only Medicaid has seen true growth – and many doctors are now rejecting Medicaid thanks to its low reimbursement rates. Amazingly, despite Obama’s health insurance mandate nearly 9 percent of Americans still have no health insurance.

obama-not-done-lyingObama said that America “traded foreign oil for clean energy, we doubled fuel efficiency standards, & we acted on a global scale to save the one planet we’ve got.” This has nothing to do with Obama’s policy. It has to do with dropping prices of oil worldwide, as well as the fracking industry’s production increase, which helped fill the gap domestically.

Obama added, “We brought home more of our troops & strengthened US leadership – leading with diplomacy & partnering with nations to meet global problems.” This is nuts, too. Syria is in flames. Libya is in flames.

Obama just set Israel on fire to watch it burn. Iran is now a burgeoning regional hegemon. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is on the move everywhere from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. China is moving rapidly to consolidate control over the South China Sea and expand its sphere of influence over surrounding states ranging from Taiwan and the Philippines to South Korea and Japan. Iraq is a war zone. Afghanistan is a disaster area.

Obama stated, “From realizing marriage equality to removing barriers to opportunity, we’ve made history in our work to reaffirm that all are created equal.” Actually, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a Constitutional right, Obama has utilized his power to crack down on religious Americans, and race relations are at a serious low in the modern era.

Obama concluded, “It’s been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. I look forward to standing with you as a citizen. Happy New Year everybody.”

Get out, President Obama.

And don’t let the door hit you.”

Nailed it! Thanks, Ben. (Can I call you ‘Ben’?)

P.S.  Just f.y.i., he’s no fan of Trump, either.

P.P.S.  This brings to mind one of my favorite Frasier Crane quotes from “Cheers”: “[Mr. President], what color is the sky in your world?” Also, I just realized that this isn’t the first time I’ve used “Obama” and “Delusion(s)” together in a title.

P.P.P.S.  I don’t know what the terms of use are for these “subscriber exclusives”, because the “Terms of use” text at the bottom of the emails is not hotlinked. But, if you haven’t already, let me hereby highly recommend that you all subscribe to “The Ben Shapiro Report”. It’s great stuff! (Check out ‘The Daily Wire‘, too.)

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24 Quotes About “24”

“You are gonna tell me what I want to know. It’s just a question of how much you want it to hurt.”  — Jack Bauer, Season 5

Something kinda fun to ring in the New Year…

Did you know that a new “24” TV series is about to debut? Yup! “24: Legacy” will premiere on Feb. 5, 2017, on the Fox Network. No Jack Bauer, though. Corey Hawkins stars as Eric Carter, “A military hero who returns to the U.S. with a whole lot of trouble following him back. With nowhere else to turn, the man asks CTU to help him save his life while also stopping one of the largest-scale terror attacks on American soil.” (IMDB plot summary) It’s too bad Kiefer Sutherland opted not to return, but I am still optimistic and looking forward to the new show.

For Christmas 2015, I received a copy of the book Secrets of 24: The Unauthorized Guide to the Political & Moral Issues Behind TV’s Most Riveting Drama as a gift. (Note: It was published prior to the debut of Season 7.) It’s a great choice for me, since it mixes the subjects of my two blogs. It has been a year now, and I haven’t yet worked it into my reading schedule. But, I was recently skimming through it and got an idea for a blogpost. This one, in fact.

secretsof24Interspersed throughout the book’s text — which includes articles by and interviews with various journalists, writers, actors, experts of different kinds, etc. — are little sidebars, “quick takes on the facts, humor, and breadth of voices and ideas generated by ’24′”. So, I have chosen 24 of my favorites to share with you. A few are funny or merely informative, but most give insight into the show, the central character of Jack Bauer, and their influence by and on American culture. Hope you like…

Among the boldface names who are fans of the show: Dave Barry, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Jim Cramer, Billy Crystal, Tony Danza, Trent Dilfer, Geena Davis, Bill Gates, Laura Ingraham, Stephen King, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain, Jim McMahon, Donald Rumsfeld, Seal, Barbra Streisand, Clarence Thomas, and Tina Turner.

“We do want democratic process, but we also want justice. And the show allows us to have both, and that’s why we love it.”  — David Heyman, terrorism scholar, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“We always had the idea of this King Lear story, of Jack being the prodigal son, the guy who was his father’s favorite but turned against his dad, and the less favorite son took over the empire. In some ways, you get to see that his family is his destiny.”  — ’24’ executive producer Howard Gordon on the plan to give Jack Bauer “genetic responsibility for a lot of the misery by association” in Season six, when he duels with both his brother and his father

“An America that looks to Bauer rather than Batman is an altered nation indeed.”  — Ezra Klein, blogger and writing fellow, The American Prospect

o  Jack Bauer has been to Mars. That’s why there’s no life on Mars.
o  Superman wears Jack Bauer pajamas.
o  How many CTU special agents does it take to change a lightbulb? Twenty. Nineteen to set up a perimeter, while Jack Bauer tortures the lightbulb into revealing the whereabouts of the socket. [Ed. Note: I think the better answer is, of course, twenty-four.]
— sampling of Internet humor about ’24’

“The show reflects where we are in the culture at this moment in time. Every generation has it. There’s social transformation going now in the way we see the world, domestic policy, foreign policy, domestic intelligence, and foreign intelligence. All these things are becoming blurred, as are the questions that we have to face on morality. And the show does a really great job of trying to put those questions on a personal level for all of us. We’re all Jack Bauer in our hearts.”  — David Heyman, terrorism scholar, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“I have fallen in love with another man. For the past five months we have been meeting in a dark room every Sunday night, while the children are tucked up in bed and my husband snores upstairs. It is crazy because I know he would love him too, but he lacks the stamina that this relationship requires. So it’s just me… and Jack Bauer…. His sense of duty is unbreakable. His idea of a hot date is to bundle you into the boot of a mercenary’s car and he is more interested in speed-dialing the office than sex. Yet there is a vulnerability about Jack where women are concerned. Tenderness even. He would lay down his life to get you home safely and maybe, just maybe, this time you could make him stay.”  — Sheila McClennan, The Guardian (UK)

24-seasons-1-6“Characters that push things over the limit are interesting characters. It’s very natural to create a character like that in the world of terrorism because there are so many difficult moral, ethical and legal dilemmas, political dilemmas, that constantly arise. You want a character that’s over the edge a little.”  — Robert Cochran, co-creator, ’24’

“When men watch Tony Soprano and Jack Bauer they enter into a contract with the characters. They watch and savor the brutality but recognize how pathetic these heroes are. Guys watch TV shows such as ‘The Sopranos’ and ’24’ and see all the horror, humiliations and complications of being male. Tony Soprano and Jack Bauer are not role models to emulate. They are case studies to brood upon. They are a warning. Every man knows that.”  — John Doyle, Globe and Mail (Toronto)

According to co-creator Joel Surnow, the first few episodes of ’24’ were heavily influenced by the movies Three Days of the Condor, La Femme Nikita, and The Day of the Jackal. But these episodes were “in the can” before 9/11. Afterward, and in fact for every season after the first, Surnow says the plots were influenced by “real events.”

“While we don’t try to represent any kind of real truth — obviously 24 hours in the format makes it impossible — we try to, I think, present an essential truth, or an essential problem. So when Jack Bauer tortures, it’s in a compressed reality… We try to compress these arguments and these issues and dramatize them in obviously very unreal ways, but hopefully in dramatic and compelling ways. And that’s really ultimately our master… making a compelling, ‘adrenalized’ TV show.”  — Howard Gordon, executive producer of ’24’

“’24’ dispenses with the politically correct evasions that pervade prime time episodic television…. It identifies the terrorist enemy without flinching and lets the good guys fight to win — without apologies.”  — Christian Toto, The Washington Times

“In this age of terror and worldwide insecurity, ’24’ created the illusion of an all-American superagent on whose watch the bad guys, whether Muslims or Russians or shady white men, would inevitably blow off their sorry behinds. It was political comfort food.”  — Andrea Peyser, the New York Post

“’24’ was well into production when the terrorist attacks on September 11 happened. The effect on the show was that Fox’s legal department reviewed the first few episodes and made us recut the sequence where the 747 blows up at 36,000 feet (11,000m). Fox did not want to show the actual plane exploding in the air. It also meant that an extensive aerial sequence which was to have been shot by a second unit downtown was shut down and we had to substitute Glendale for downtown.”  — Jon Cassar, director and producer of ’24’

Over six seasons, the enemies depicted on ’24’ have included mercenaries, Serbian nationalists, Arab terrorists, American oil executives, Mexican drug lords, corrupt British businessmen, the Chinese, pseudo-Chechen terrorists, a vast right-wing conspiracy based in the White House, more Arab terrorists, rogue Russian officials, and, of course, Jack Bauer’s own father and brother.

A Christmas Essay by Harry Reasoner

“Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  — Luke 1:30-33 (HCSB)

Harry Reasoner

Harry Reasoner

There are a few journalists/broadcasters — most of them “old school” — who are known not just for presenting the news but for sharing thoughtful commentary and personal insights about current events and holidays. While perhaps not as prolific in this area as, say, Paul Harvey or Andy Rooney, the respected news correspondent Harry Reasoner was indeed known for his articulate commentary.

This particular piece is attributed to different years and places, depending on who you read, and there are slightly different versions of it. According to biographer Douglass K. Daniel (Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News), Reasoner originally penned it back in 1962, when working for “Calendar”. He shared it with the larger “60 Minutes” audience in 1969 and again on the “ABC Evening News” two years later. Reasoner said that he received more viewer mail about this piece than about anything else he ever did.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Harry Reasoner…

“What Christ Looked Like”

The basis for this tremendous annual burst of gift buying and parties and near hysteria is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan. But you come back to the central fact of the day and quietness of Christmas morning — the birth of God on earth. It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas.

One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it.

One is graciously, the appropriate attitude for non-Christians, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe, then it is a very important day.

It’s a startling idea, of course. My guess is that the whole story — that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern for man — is not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It’s a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It’s so revolutionary a thought that it probably could only come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology.

It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like. And the truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly and standing in a very bright light is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea.

octive-of-the-nativity-mangerBut everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly here. If He wanted to know His people as well as rule them, He moved correctly here, for a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly, for the experiences of birth and familyhood are our most intimate and precious experiences.

So it goes beyond logic. It is what Bishop Karl Morgan Block used to call a kind of divine insanity. It is either all falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It either rises above the tawdriness of what we make of Christmas or it is part of it and completely irrelevant. It’s the story of the great innocence of God the baby — God in the form of man.

And it is such a dramatic shot for the heart, that if it is not true for Christians, nothing else is, because this story reaches Christians universally and with profound emotion. So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take.

Because the message of Christmas IS the Christmas Story. If it is false, we are doomed. If it is true, as it must be, it makes everything else in the world all right.”

Now, I don’t know what Reasoner’s religious beliefs were, and I would have some disagreement with the ideas of “beyond logic” and “divine insanity” and perhaps quibble on a couple other bits. The piece certainly touches on different aspects of the Incarnation that bear further examination. (Another time, perhaps.) But, overall, I found it to be honest, thoughtful, perhaps even challenging. Hope you enjoyed it, too.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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Top 10, Again

top-10It’s that time, again. Time for another year-end list of “top posts” on various topics from preceding years (including the one just ending). I try to pick those that are “evergreen”, though, or at least still interesting/entertaining. In case you’re curious, here are the previous lists: “Celebrating 5 Years of AVftR (plus a Top 10)!”, “Top 10: The Sequel”, “Top 10: The Threequel”. Between those and this one, hopefully you’ll find a few posts of interest that you might otherwise have missed.

“Church, Family, and Immigration Law” (3 parts)

“Almost everything you read these days about immigration law, especially the recently-passed Arizona legislation, has to do with what exactly does the law say, is it racist, what does “reasonable suspicion” mean, will good citizens be unfairly targeted and inconvenienced, will immigrants’ rights be abused, should law enforcement officers “waste” their time trying to identify and arrest illegals, etc. But, there are other concerns to consider, as well.

As author Jenny Hwang puts it in her article “Arizona’s Border Crisis” in Christianity Today‘s guest opinion column (5/12/2010), “I have read the entire Arizona law and fear that there will be many unintended consequences that will impact not only hundreds of families in Arizona, but also Christian ministries and churches that serve immigrants in Arizona.” [Beyond the usual issues, I would like to examine] what Ms. Hwang has to say on the issues concerning families and ministries and make a few comments of my own.”

“Rights Are Right, Right?”

“Everybody’s got “rights”. Just ask ’em!

Rights to freedom of _________. Natural rights. Human rights. Civil rights. Property rights. Privacy rights. Abortion rights. Women’s rights. Gay rights. Marriage rights. Workers’ rights. The right to a minimum wage. The right to free healthcare. The right to clean air. You name it, and somebody’s gonna claim it. Everybody’s so sure they’ve got all these rights,… but why? What are rights? Where do they come from?”

“Must Christians Accept Evolution?”

Bible merged with Origin of Species“The simple answer to the title question is “Yes”… or “No”… or “Sometimes”.

If you talk to (or read) many devotees of Darwinian evolutionary theory, either professional or layman, you will often find them perplexed as to how any “rational” person can deny the “fact” of evolution. For them, it is so clearly the only valid explanation for life’s history that, for one to not accept this obvious truth, you have to be either a) ignorant of the evidence or just misunderstand it; or, b) blinded by religious dogma. (Maybe both.) Or, possibly, c) you believe the evidence points to evolution but are deceitfully using ID/creationism for personal gain. (Fame? Limited. Fortune? Very limited. Thrill of being an iconoclast? I suppose, maybe. Actually, being a science professional who is a “Darwin denier” is more likely to earn you scorn in your profession and cost you friends and tenure, maybe even your job.)”

“Costumes, Candy, and Courting Evil”

“I’m not really into Halloween. Haven’t been for years. Sure, in my early years, I did the whole trick-or-treating thing…. Now, as a single adult, Halloween has just become that one night of the year that little kids (and big ones) come knocking on my door, while I “hide” in the dark and hope they go away. That’s right. I don’t even give out candy. I’m such a grinch! (No, wait. Wrong holiday.)

Yet, I have to admit that I sometimes envy people having fun in their costumes, goofing around, etc. So, would I join in, if the opportunity presented itself? Can a conservative Christian like myself, who believes in demonic entities and the “spiritual warfare” going on about me, in good conscience participate in Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, or celebrations of any sort? Well, it depends….”

“The Scientific Method” (2 parts)

“So, what *is* the “scientific method”, anyway? As with the definition for “science” (and a number of other things), if you ask a dozen scientists or philosophers of science to define or explain the scientific method, you’ll probably get a dozen (or more) variations on an answer. But, before I try, I think a brief bit of history is in order….

Roger Bacon, who was himself heavily influenced by Robert Grosseteste, is called by many the “father of modern scientific method”. The investigative approach we now call the “scientific method” — though it has since been refined — was so closely identified with his descendant, Sir Francis Bacon, that it was known as the “Baconian method”.”

“Primer on Origins Views for Christians” (4 parts, despite them all being numbered “X of 3”)

“As an admin at the “Old Earth Creationists” Facebook Group, I’ve been reminded on multiple occasions that not everyone, even within the Christian community, is aware of the various positions held by orthodox Christians — historically and currently — on the matter of origins…. Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, think that there is only one position on these matters that is “biblical” and consistent with orthodox Christianity….

My goal for this series of articles is to present the basics of these three general positions, as well as alternative categories. I’ll also define “Intelligent Design” and discuss how it fits in. Finally, I’ll briefly explain several ways that Christian scholars have developed to understand and interpret the Creation Days of Genesis.”

“Newsweek Tells Christians They Are Wrong”

“Continuing a time-honored tradition among skeptics and atheists, especially around this time of year (and Easter), Newsweek published a major article informing Christians — conservative ones, at least — where they go wrong in regards to the Bible…. In his screed, Eichenwald rails against the ignorance, inconsistency, and bias of Christians, while seemingly oblivious to his own. He marshals many “evidences” — somewhat scattershot, though within sections — to cast doubt on the authenticity and reliability of the Bible and seeks to denigrate those who credulously believe in it, while not really knowing the truth about it…. There is a lot of truth in several of Eichenwald’s initial pronouncements…. As for the broader message of the piece, however, Eichenwald greatly overstates his case.”

“In Search of the Best Bible Translation”

Which Bible Translation“Most people — at least, in “the West” — know that there are several different versions or “translations” of the Bible, and most who read it with any (semi-)regularity have their favorite. We all have our reasons…. Outside of the “woodenly literal” translation one might find within a Hebrew/English or Greek/English interlinear, English translations range along a spectrum of “formal equivalence” (aka “word-for-word” or “essentially literal”) to “dynamic equivalence” (aka “thought-for-thought” or “functional equivalence”), with those on the latter end becoming increasingly paraphrasitic and less accurate. Over the years, I have owned some on both ends (e.g., KJV –> Living Bible) and in the middle (e.g., NIV 1984), and they all have their pluses and minuses.”

“On the Resurrection Hypothesis” (5 parts)

“Most people these days use the “minimal facts” approach popularized by Gary Habermas, laying out the 4-6 lines of evidence that are accepted “by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.” It is a great method, eliminating as it does some of the more controversial aspects. Some of those minimal facts were already addressed in my posts about the death and burial of Jesus. The rest are included in this series, but I have also included additional helpful information, such as the bit about testing historical explanations given below. As with the earlier posts, I have summarized the source material as best I can, with a few additions of my own….”

“Mr. Peña Nieto, Pay For That Wall!”

“The subject of immigration, and particularly of illegal immigration, into the U.S. has been a hot potato for several years now, and it’s only heating up during the run-up to the 2016 elections. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ, in which he laid out his official position on the matter…. What I want to focus on is Trump’s longstanding and consistent call for an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” along the border with Mexico and, especially, his insistence that he will make Mexico pay for it. That one has had me stumped for awhile and shaking my head every time I heard him say it…. According to the narrative by many news outlets, Trump doesn’t really have a plan for paying for his proposed wall, let alone for making Mexico pay for it. In fact, Trump *has* mentioned some ideas on this, and he even provided a two-page memo to The Washington Post back in March that outlined several funding options he was considering….”

Well, that ought to keep you occupied during the slow moments between gift-wrapping, gift-opening, caroling, feasting, Church service(s), snowball fights and tobogganing (for those who can), playing games, and spending time with family and friends. (Some of us — i.e., introverts — need to relax and spend some time alone, after all.) Happy reading!

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Godspeed, John Glenn

“Zero G, and I feel fine.”  — Col. John Glenn

On December 8, 2016, America and the world lost a hero and, some might even say, a “living legend”, when former Marine aviator, astronaut, and U.S. Senator John Glenn passed away at the age of 95. He will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

John Glenn (1959)

John Glenn (1959)

Glenn enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet in March 1942 but was later transferred to the Marine Corps. According to Wikipedia, “From June 1944, stationed in the Marshall Islands, he flew 59 combat missions until his return, bombing and strafing Japanese positions in the area. He was hit by antiaircraft fire five times, and was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.” After WWII he flew missions with a Corsair squadron in China and Guam. In the early 1950s, Captain Glenn spent time as a flight instructor before being posted to the staff of the Commandant, Marine Corps Schools.

In October 1952, the now-Major Glenn was assigned to a fighter squadron in South Korea, with whom he flew 63 combat missions. He later participated in an interservice exchange with the U.S. Air Force, where he was able to fly 27 combat missions in an F-86 Sabre with the 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. For his service in the Korean War, Glenn was awarded 8 Air Medals and 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Glenn attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1954. “From November 1956 until April 1959, Glenn was assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C., during which time he also attended the University of Maryland.” He was awarded a fifth DFC for completing the first supersonic transcontinental flight in July 1957 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in April 1959.

Once he was selected for Project Mercury in 1959, Glenn was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group, Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. (The group moved to Houston in 1962.) I won’t go into his accomplishments in detail, but Glenn’s NASA career was quite noteworthy. As part of the Mercury Seven group, he performed research experiments, participated in scientific breakthroughs, dodged death several (more) times, and set new records. For example:

“In 1962, Glenn circled the Earth three times over the course of less than five hours, traveling faster than 27,359 km/h (17,000 mph) on board the Mercury capsule “Friendship 7” – a ship run by a computer less powerful than an iPhone.”  — Sarah Marquart, Futurism.com

Glenn was the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth. This flight boosted the national morale by showing that America still had the “right stuff” to at least match the Soviet Union, who had already put men in orbit, and possibly lead the “Space Race”. (It was the height of the Cold War, after all.)

“It seemed that he had given Americans back their self-respect and more than that — it seemed Americans dared again to hope.”  — Walter A. McDougall, author, quoted by the New York Times

The “clean-cut, good-natured, well-grounded” Ohioan, Col. John Glenn, became a national hero and an iconic figure, while inspiring many others to seek careers in aerospace. He also met and became friends with President John F. Kennedy and the Kennedy family. JFK awarded Glenn the NASA Distinguished Service Medal on Feb. 23, 1962. Glenn resigned from astronautics in 1964 and went into private industry.

John Glenn (1998)

John Glenn (1998)

Glenn later entered politics and became a U.S. Senator (D-OH) in December 1974, and he represented Ohio until January 1999. While in office, he served as the Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee from 1987 to 1995. But Glenn was itching to see Earth from orbit again, so he lobbied NASA for two years to allow him to go up in a Space Shuttle “as a human guinea pig for geriatric studies.” On Oct. 29, 1998, he became the oldest person to ever go into space at age 77, when he served as a Payload Specialist on Discovery’s STS-95 mission. Glenn and the crew spent 9 days up there and orbited the planet 134 times.

What then? According to Wikipedia, “Glenn helped found the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University in 1998 to encourage public service. On July 22, 2006, the institute merged with OSU’s School of Public Policy and Management to become the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, and Glenn held an adjunct professorship at the Glenn School. In February 2015, it was announced that the School would become the John Glenn College of Public Affairs beginning in April 2015.” Of course, he was also a member — either regular or honorary — of various boards, clubs, and societies, from the International Academy of Astronautics to the International Association of Holiday Inns (as a former franchise owner).

Not many know it, but Glenn was also a Freemason and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). He was noted for saying, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.” Based on the following quote, I’m guessing he was some manner of Theistic Evolutionist:

“I don’t see that I’m any less religious that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact. It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.”

I may not have agreed with Glenn’s positions on a number of issues both political and theological, but I certainly respect his service to America in the military, NASA, and as an earnest public servant. He made a great contribution to science and society, and he was and is an inspiring figure. Thank you for your service, sir!

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Is the Bible “History”?

“I will remember the LORD’s works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders. I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions.”  — Psalm 77:11-12 (HCSB), one of the “historical psalms”

apologetics-study-bibleEarlier this year, I bought an HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. I haven’t delved into it much, since I’ve been focused on reading through my ESV (which I wrote about back in May). But, I do occasionally look something up in the HCSB, and I really like it. What I have started doing recently is reading the apologetics-oriented articles that are interspersed throughout the text. Great stuff! One of the earliest ones is titled, “Writing History — Then and Now”, in which Kirk Lowery — an expert in ancient near eastern languages who teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary — looks at whether or not the biblical authors wrote what we moderns would call “history”. I’d like to share a few excerpts….

“In order to evaluate the usefulness of the Bible for history and its trustworthiness as a source of both information and judgment on people and events, we must remember that there are two separate points of view — the ancient and the modern. Are we talking about modern ideas of history or ancient ones? Were the biblical writers attempting to write history as we understand it? If they were not attempting to write a modern history, just what were they trying to do? … The basic concern is that the Bible asserts certain facts or that certain events happened. Did they happen and in the way the Bible presents them? The Bible also makes judgments on people’s actions, attitudes and deeds. Can we trust its judgment on events we cannot access? …

How should we evaluate these ancient texts? We should allow the ancient writers to speak in the manner that they wish. We should try to understand the ancient writers before posing questions of them that is outside of both their intention and their worldview. We should “translate” the message of the ancients from the ancient context to the modern. Finally, we must embrace humility: We do not have all the data; we do not have complete or even certain understanding to answer all our questions. Let us make a virtue of necessity and take what the ancient writers give and be content with that.

So what were the biblical writers doing, what did they expect to accomplish, and how ought the modern reader attempt to understand their literary output? The books of Kings and Chronicles, along with the other “historical” books of the Hebrew Bible, are not books written by modern historians for modern readers. Their literary nature is much different. For one thing, their purpose is didactic or polemic; that is, the authors are attempting to convince their readers about moral and spiritual principles. Their stories are intended to support this purpose and their various propositions. Second, their commitment to truth does not aspire to modern standards of reporting. What they valued as important and unimportant does not translate easily to third millennium A.D. values. For example, the recording of genealogies strikes many modern readers as irrelevant to the story. But it was critical to how these ancient peoples conceived of their identity. Genealogies may have had the function of establishing chronology or the framework for the story being told. It establishes precedence, relationship, and identity.

The Numbering of the Israelites (Num. 1), engraving by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1815–1884)

The Numbering of the Israelites (as in Numbers 1), engraving by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1815–1884)

Allowance must be made for paraphrase, abbreviation, explanation, omission, rearrangement, and other techniques used by the ancient author that might offend modern principles of historiography. This is not to say that the ancients did not write history. To the contrary, they often show sensitivity to the events and corroborating witnesses to those events. But they also did not make a distinction between the writer’s judgment or evaluation of events and the events themselves. They did not have precision — or, at least, modern notions of precision — in mind when they wrote. That does not mean the authors were not trying to tell a story that corresponds to real events! In order to understand the ancient texts, one must mentally and emotionally become an ancient and enter into their world. The process is very similar to watching a film where one must grant the filmmaker the premise of the film and even suspend belief in how the world should work before the message of the filmmaker can be perceived. The difference with the ancient writers is that we have much more work to do before we can enter into their world. Only then have we earned the right to form an opinion.

The ancient writer made choices: subject matter (events needing telling), point of view (theological purpose), and aesthetics (creative choices). These writers selected their material, glossed over less relevant events, simplified the story to meet space constraints and only included detail that illuminated the significance of the events as the writer understood them. This is true of modern professional historians as much as of ancient story tellers.

How, then, should we understand the intentions of the biblical writers? … [In contrast to the Sumerians and later Mesopotamian historiographers, the view of the] ancient Hebrew writers is that history has a planned goal. History is not the result of forces or great men, but moves forward to an end planned by God. Their purpose in writing history was didactic: to teach the reader about how God acts in human affairs, what are His purposes and the consequences of obedience and disobedience to that purpose.”

I actually touched on some of this stuff in a couple posts a few years ago, but Dr. Lowery is certainly more knowledgeable. As he explains, we “moderns” (and “postmoderns”) really shouldn’t expect or demand (however subconsciously) that the Bible be written in the style and to the degree of specificity that we are used to reading — especially when there are different authors, genres, and purposes for the various books within it. Our reading will be much more fruitful when we take Dr. Lowery’s advice and read the Bible within its cultural and temporal context, allowing the inspired writers to say what they have to say.

Can I get an ‘Amen’?

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The Uniquely Christian Nature of Thanksgiving in America

Who (or what) do non-theists thank — for whatever they are “thankful” for — on Thanksgiving?

atheists-thanking-evolution-for-turkeysThat’s the question I was pondering, however briefly, this Thanksgiving. I mean, I think most non-theists here in America participate in the holiday, and you’ll often hear them mention things that they are thankful for. But, if one is giving thanks, there needs to be an object to whom or to which that feeling of gratitude is directed and expressed. Right? And it only makes sense if that object is a person; giving thanks to impersonal things is absurd.

But, someone who believes there is no such thing as a supernatural being known as God (or a god) — i.e., in particular, a “supreme being” with some control over their lives and the world around them — has no one, no Person, to thank. Seems to me, the most they can say with any accuracy is that they are expressing to anyone who will listen that they enjoy or appreciate some people and/or things in their lives that got there by happenstance. Or, as one Facebook acquaintance put it, “Today is a day to be THANKFUL for the things that dumb luck has dropped in our laps.”

So, it was with great interest that I saw the following audio-podcast posted on Thursday night. In his first “Cold-Case Christianity” podcast in over a year, J. Warner Wallace addresses this exact topic. (Well, that’s part of it, anyway.) He mentions that some atheists who have written about this or developed ‘secular’ benedictions for use on Thanksgiving will direct thanks to people such as the Pilgrims or farmers or the military, etc., for what they have done that benefits that person and/or family, society, the nation, the world. Note that some of these people are dead and others alive, some they know/knew personally and others not. However, Wallace points out that even that is inconsistent within a materialist/physicalist worldview. (I’ll leave the explanation to him, ‘cuz I want you to listen to the podcast.)

“Why Thanksgiving Will Always Be A Uniquely Christian Holiday (Podcast)”

Wallace takes a brief look at Scripture, too, observing the consistent offering of thanksgiving to God and explaining the link between sin and ingratitude. He also references an article from the previous day, in which he explores the history of “Thanksgiving” in America and the clearly Christian origins and reasons for this day of celebration. Here’s the link to “Enjoy The Distinctly Christian Holiday We Call Thanksgiving”. And with that I wish you all a…

Happy Thanksgiving!!

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A Better Voting System?

“A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.”  — Alexander Hamilton

There have been a lot of articles and Facebook posts lately about the U.S. Electoral College and whether or not it should be altered or eliminated altogether. I might weigh in on that some other time, but not this week. Instead, what I want to bring to your attention is something called “ranked choice voting” (RCV) (aka “alternative vote” or “instant-runoff vote”). I haven’t analyzed it in detail, but I really do like what I have read & heard.

maine-rcv-sample-ballot-image_origI think I originally heard about RCV awhile ago but never looked into it and soon forgot. What put it on my radar recently was this article: “Maine became the first state in the country Tuesday to pass ranked choice voting”. (There are at least 10 American cities that already use this method, as do some European countries.) As per The Boston Globe‘s Nik DeCosta-Klipa, here’s how it works:

“In a ranked choice vote system, rather than simply voting for one candidate, voters rank their candidates by preference — first, second, third, and so on.

Then, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote after the first choices are counted, the candidate with the least first-choice rankings is eliminated, and the voters who preferred the last place finisher have their vote reallocated according to their next choice. The votes are then recounted and the process is repeated until one candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.”

I am very intrigued by this method, especially given all of the frustration we had this past election season, arguing and struggling over who (if anyone) we could in good conscience vote for. Disadvantages of the current system became all too apparent. The advantages of ranked choice voting? In short, it…

1) “… increases the diversity of views available for voters to consider by allowing candidates from outside the two major parties to compete.” (Of course, many places allow for more than two parties to compete, but this system makes it easier for them to stay in the running.)

2) “… resolves the conundrum of strategic voting, in which residents worry that their ballot may have a ‘spoiler effect’ if they cast it for a third-party candidate.”

3) “… results in more civil campaigns,… disincentiv[izing] negative attacks that could alienate voters and forces candidates to broaden their appeal.”

Those are some great benefits over the current, ‘first past the post’ method that dominates the landscape, as it were. Unfortunately, the problem of gerrymandering still exists. Also, there is still the question of whether or not to retain the Electoral College for use in the national general election. In the meantime, though, I would be in favor of using RCV in more local and state elections and maybe the national primaries (for each party).

One variation on RCV that I thought of — which probably exists somewhere and has an official name — would be to use a form of weighted voting. First, though, officials would probably need to limit the number of candidates on the ballot to, maybe, five. Voters would still rank the candidates in order of their individual preference. But, rather than tallying up to see if anyone reached a majority and then shifting votes when necessary, the votes would be weighted — 1st choice gets 5 points, 2nd choice gets 4, 3rd choice gets 3, 4th choice gets 2, 5th choice gets 1. The points would then be added up for each candidate, and the one with the most points wins. I just haven’t figured out what to do in case of a tie. (Separate runoff vote?)

If you’re interested, the primary source of info about ranked choice voting in the U.S. appears to be the folks at FairVote. Also, a guy named C.G.P. Grey has a series of short vids that help explain RVC and a couple other voting systems and related concepts, which are also worth considering. (For example, the MMP and STV methods sound good for things like legislatures, city councils, and other bodies where a voting district is looking for proportional representation.) You can check them all out at his blog or look for them on YouTube. Here’s the one specifically on RVC:

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