Day by Day Daily Cartoon by Chris Muir

The Mad Scientist... Mwahahahahahahahaha

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Decalogue - Core laws for morally upright individuals

The Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, is quite possibly the most important set of laws ever legislated. After all, it had to be given twice. They are recited at church and synagogue services, and they do form the bedrock of the Western, Judaeo-Christian legal framework -and they said you couldn't legislate morality. Yes, you certainly can.

It behooves us, therefore, to take a close look at these commandments - all of which, by the way, are reinforced in the New Testament (except possibly the law of the Sabbath, but then again the precedent for the Sabbath is pre-Abrahamic), so it's not as if Christians get a free ride on this!

I thought I'd start with the first commandment that had an explicit promise tagged on to it. This happens to be Commandment No 5;
   12 “ Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
(Exodus 20:12, NKJV)

North Asians (the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Koreans) tend to take this commandment waaaayyyy too much to heart. Confucius, one of our greatest sages and philosophers, was the one who recommended ancestor worship - extending our honour and reverence for our earthly parents beyond the grave, which is one step too far. But it just goes to show how important we view our elders.

Now, none of God's commandments are particularly onerous. And you'd figure this one was easier than most; after all, our parents were our source of life. They fed us, clothed us, cleaned us up, taught us to fear the Lord (well, mine did at any rate). They are our guardians, guides, counsellors, and cheerleaders. They will punish us when we go wrong against their warnings and instructions, and they will encourage us to get back up when we fall down. It is estimated that parents spend ~USD10k/year on each kid, and I know Asian parents can spend quite a bit more, just for the necessities (we're not talking about moron parents who get their kids designer dresses here). They give up a quarter of their lives to bring us up, and a bit more worrying over us once we're grown.

So, at least, is what the institution of parents supposed to be all about. While it is difficult, gut-wrenching and oftentimes heartbreaking work, motherhood and fatherhood are blessings from God, a direct reflection of His relationship with us, His children. But you know what adolescents are like; we want to be free from our parents' authority, we think we're the ones in the right, and we're outright ungrateful little beasts.

Therefore, to all of you godly parents who are striving to raise your chidren to the best of your abilities, my most profound respect and best wishes. To my own parents, in the unlikely event they read this; I love you. I honour you. I respect all that you have done for me and for my siblings. I hope you can rest easier now that we are established members of society, and while I have yet to marry, the next generation is already here. You have done right by us by any number of standards. Journey mercies, and come back safely from Melbourne.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Anime Awesomeness and Badassery

I don't know how many people actually read this blog, and of those who do, who is actually into Japanese animation. But for those of you who are, you're likely aware that there are several genres of anime, just like its counterpart media manga. Now, in theory I should be into seinen manga and anime, since that is the age group I'm in, and will be for a while (adult man). But I guess my mental age has never really progressed much beyond shonen (young man). I do enjoy some seinen titles (and also, because seinen by definition includes the more 'ecchi' stuff, then yeah, that too), but for the most part my tastes lie in the shonen category.

Shonen manga and anime, catering as they do to the adolescent male crowd, are heavily action-oriented. Romance, rivalries and whatever else, you can imagine, are at the schoolkid level. Watch a couple of epidoes of Naruto and you'll get the picture.

Now, as Takahashi Rumiko has proven in InuYasha, Japanese culture, civilisation and mythology is exceedingly rich, and indeed, if one adds in the Chinese component as well (which she did), you can come up with an incredible storyline; one that fluidly blends both Middle Ages and Modern World without a hint of Western influence anywhere. Well, except in the technology, of course.

But it is a fact that many Japanese (and not just mangaka) are infatuated with Christianity - or more precisely, Christianity as it is commonly understood with regards to its superficial trappings. This is why many Japanese get married in churches in traditional Christian ceremonies wearing Christian wedding garb, and why Christmas is a MAJOR festival in Japan, and why in a country where 1% of its population are Christian, every other hentai or ecchi manga/anime features nuns and most normal anime have a church or two - complete with priest - somewhere in the storyline. And let's not talk about the weddings; I don't think I've seen a Japanese anime wedding where they actually wear Japanese clothes.

In some ways, this is a shame. One thing is, Japanese culture and tradition is quite rich in and of itself. I mean, you have the shrines, and the miko, and the Buddhist/Zen hermits and monks, and what not. The saddest thing to me, though, is that Japanese have not really used the sourcebook of Christianity as inspiration for their storylines, and this is truly a shame. Well, I've seen a manga depicting the life of Jesus, but that's hardly a genre in itself, and I think it should be.

Because, when you read the Bible, you notice that large chunks of it can be turned straight into a bizzaro-world shonen anime with absolutely no changes required. Mind you, most shonen anime is bizzaro-world. Gigantic freaking mecha fighting each other, ninja flying through forests and replicating themselves, katana-wielding shinigami unleashing ki-powered attacks in mid-air, aliens with power levels OVER NINE THOUSAND!!! - suffice it to say, there's not that many shonen titles out there that are focused on 'slice of life' where life is pretty ordinary and drama-free.

But right from the start, the Bible gives mangaka a run for their money - not to mention their imagination. In Genesis 3, when Kami-sama (God) chases Adam and Eve out of the garden, He places angels with HUGE FREAKING FLAMING SWORDS to guard against anyone trying to return. Won't you like to see what a KyoAni team could do with the Tower of Babel, which pierces the heavens? How about Lot fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah? Lava rising from the ground and several meteors hitting the city setting everything on fire. Yu-Gi-Oh! had the Namonaki Pharaoh (Aten); heck, I'd pay real money to see the Ten Plagues hit Egypt. And the part after that, when 300+ people got swallowed by the ground? Oh yeah!

That's just the first two books. You want to get a truly awesome, badass, what-do-you-mean-it-wasn't-made-on-drugs storyline? Just animate the Revelation to John without changing it in any way. Some choice scenes;

2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was[a] like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns[b] of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.[c] Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the[d] seven Spirits of God.
6 Before the throne there was[e] a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

      “ Holy, holy, holy,[f]
      Lord God Almighty,
      Who was and is and is to come!”

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:
       11 “ You are worthy, O Lord,[g]
      To receive glory and honor and power;
      For You created all things,
      And by Your will they exist[h] and were created.”
(Rev 4, NKJV)

12 I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold,[e] there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon[f] became like blood. 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. 15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders,[g] the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

(Rev 6, NKJV)

The Woman, the Child, and the Dragon

 1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. 2 Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. 5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Satan Thrown Out of Heaven
7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them[a] in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

The Woman Persecuted
13 Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. 14 But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15 So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.[b]

(Rev 12, NKJV)

Man, that last scene? Tengen Toppa Gurrenn Lagann has nothing on that!

You want to do something ecchi or hentai? The Bible offers plenty of scope for that (of course, you'll have to expand it as the Bible does not often go into too much detail of how things worked out). For example, there's Lot and his daughters after they got him good and drunk. Then there's David and Bathsheba. And Jacob who was tricked into having Leah before Rachel (which is itself a funny as well as ecchi scene). Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. And the one book in the Bible that goes into mega-detailed expansions of love scenes, the Songs of Solomon.

Yes, all in all, if you anime writers want to have ready-made material for a really good series, the Bible is a fairly good place to start.

The Damaged Human Condition

All people have some form of damage or another. Generally speaking, of course, most kinds of damage are not fatal or life-threatening, and you might not even be aware of it, because this damage is not necessarily expressed in physical terms.

A sociopath, for example, has a damaged psyche precisely at the place where the conscience lives. The have little if any sense of empathy or sympathy, and they do not have an impulse governor which stops them from anti-social behaviour. A milder version of this might be what we call 'thick-skinned'. It's not that a sociopath is likely to become an unholy demonic terror, but that sociopaths are not restrained by their conscience. You can have a sociopath who's a principled man, for instance, and he masters his impulses intellectually, because he has made the conscious decision to comport himself with the laws of the land.

Autistic people on the other hand have damaged on underdeveloped socialising skills. While a sociopath does not see other human beings as people such as himself, but rather as puppets to be toyed with, an autistic person may very well know that here is another human being, but is utterly unable to interact with the other person. Mildly autistic behaviour can be manifested in people with Asperger's, and even milder versions of such behaviour can be noticed in nerds, geeks, otakus and the like.

And then, of course, you do have damage that manifests itself physically; cancer, genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia, congenital defects such as blindness or deafness (which can also be the result of accidents or just an accumulation of crap the world throws at us on a daily basis), and so forth.

An interesting form of damage is what we call psychosomatic diseases, which are essentially mental stresses manifesting themselves physically. Believe it or not, the fear of needles has its roots in the vasovagal reflex reaction, which is a real problem that causes plunging blood pressure and probable unconsciousness. The fear of certain words (yes, words, don't ask me why) can actually leave me trembling and too weak to move for minutes. Well, not so much the words themselves, I suppose, but what they represent. The term vasectomy, for some reason, is a sure-fire way to kill me.

Well, anyway, all of this has a point to it. We are living under a curse. And it's a powerful one. This curse has incredible far-reaching effects - and one of its effects is to render a large chunk of humanity completely insensate to it. The curse has deprived us of agelessness and immortality, dominion over the world and every living thing in it, lordship over Earth, and has introduced pain and suffering and grief in its place. It has sundered our access to the spiritual world and the supernatural realms from our space-time continuum, and has twisted all paths but one to lead to either nowhere - if you're lucky - or to darkness and doom and damnation. It poisons all our attempts to blot it out; food, drink, glitz and glamour, sex, drugs, music, literature, plays, TV, friendly companionship... it all sours after a while. It has permanently damaged and distorted the rightful relationships between man and woman; brother and brother; man and God. Worse; its effects cannot be escaped or nullified from within - it is a universal curse. This, above all else, is why everyone of us has one form of damage or another.

But there is a way to break the curse. There is a way to escape it. There is a way to regain all that we have lost by our ancestors' willful actions in wanting to go our own way. Jesus is that Way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thanks, Chris!

I hope you've gotten the second payment - they certainly took it from my CC. The only problem is that either the idiots at the USPS or the morons at Pos Malaysia decided it was a good idea to squoosh the drawings in half and shove it into my postbox. Next time, I'll pay extra for FedEx or UPS or DHL or something other than government-run bureaucrats.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Unity of Christians

You know, I was going to put up a post - and a long one too - with regards to Roman Catholics and their strangeness in refusing Holy Communion (also known as the Last Supper, or the Eucharist) to non-RCs. Well, to be more precise, to 'other Christians who are nonetheless not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church'.

And oh boy, it would have been a major post. I would have gone into the specific reasons why the RCs prohibit Holy Communion save under exceptional circumstances (and impose conditions even when those circumstances are encountered), why those reasons didn't hold up, and what they were doing was actually a divisive act and not in keeping with the mission of the Church Universal.

But then, I found out to my dismay, that there are other Christian groups who are equally blockheaded and moronic in their insistence that their way was the right way (or that they were the only group who truly obey God, and that their
worship is true worship). So, I decided to expand my post a little bit and address what I see to be the core issue.

This much is true; the universal church has no divisions. We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters (the term Christian was originally a derogatory one, something along the lines of 'Bible thumper' or 'God-botherer') in Christ. Paul went to great lengths in his epistles to wipe out potential tensions and divisions in the church. Jesus in His prayer asked that we may all be one, as He and His Father are one.

I agree, by the way, that denominations are not what God wants out of His people. We're not going to Heaven and asking which of us was Baptist and which of us was Anabaptist. But the question is, is it really so bad as to say that we are entirely different churches - or faiths, and that we worship entirely different gods? The answer to that should be... not really, not any more. Yes, there was a time when the wrong answer could have you tortured and killed. That time is no longer, and should never have been.

You see, the way we think of denominations has been warped over the centuries. Well, to be sure, when this first came up, it was a matter of importance, and it came up right from the very beginning. The first hint of a denominational split can be seen from Paul's own letters, where he describes a potential rift between people he baptised, and people Apollos, a fellow church-worker, baptised. Paul deals with this in his usual no-nonsense manner, asking bluntly whether Paul was crucified for their sins, or whether it was Apollos' body which was broken for them.

It continued on; you can see this in Gnosticism, Arianism, Monophysitism, and countless other doctrinal differences which the church summarily dealt with as heresies. But what we would consider as the first true denominational split occurred around the 10th century AD, when the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic church would split from one another. The split wasn't really over doctrine, or even worship methods, mind you, it was over church governance. The Orthodox churches believed that since the Apostles died, apostolic authority died with them, and the churches should be self-governing, fairly autonomous with a minimal hierarchical structure, and the highest administrator would be the Patriarch over a particular geographical area. The Roman church, on the other hand, believed that apostolic succession was maintained in Rome, as St Peter, upon which the church was built, laid his hands on his successor the Bishop of Rome (and the Bishop of Rome subsequently lays his hands on other Bishops and so forth). Hence the Bishop of Rome should be the Big Kahoona, or the Pope (Father).

We all know about the Protestant Reformation movement, and since then there have been even more denominations that have come up. But here's the thing; with no exceptions, denominations are basically segmented by either (a) geographical location or (b) certain specific worship traditions/rites. The Anglicans are basically offshoots of the Church of England. The Methodists are an offshoot of the Anglicans. The Lutherans threw out the unbiblical and quite frankly sacrilegious practices of the RCs during the time of their formation. The Presbyterians are the Church of Scotland. The various Orthodox churches are named after their locations; Greek, Syrian, Russian. The Baptists practice full body immersion baptism and strict teetotalism. Messianic Jews (Jewish Christians, the first Christians there ever were) maintain the Law of Moses in its fullness. By the way, I don't have a major problem with that; it's quite clear that they do so as a matter of choice (and out of a sense of obligation, true, but I do not believe they think it is salvific in nature). Generally speaking, we ALL agree on the doctrines of Christianity; what is a salvation issue and must be defended to the end, and what is not and hence a matter of choice.

Okay, there are exceptions, where doctrine is the separating issue. There is the Roman Catholic church. And there are the cults, who are not considered Christian in any sense, except as Christian heretics. Which is why there are a number of Christians who think the RCs should be considered a cult as well. But they do agree on the salvation issues as well, so maybe we can cut them some slack.

The point is, Paul himself says that for issues that are not core (i.e. not as important), freedom and not stumbling your brother are the two main points to consider. Some Christians (like the Messianic Jews) do not believe in eating food offered to idols. Others (like the Seventh Day Adventists) believe in keeping the Sabbath (Saturday) holy. (Just noting that the ISO calendar defines Monday as the 1st day of the week, so maybe they should be keeping Sunday holy instead). In both instances, Paul says let everyone be persuaded in his own mind. So if the Baptists insist on not getting drunk, this is alright. And the Anglican believes that only ordained men can be celebrants of Holy Eucharist, this is alright too.

And so, at the end of the day, almost all denominations break down to a bunch of people who generally feel comfortable with a given set of worship practices and traditions. As we are all different, and we all play different roles in Christ's Church, I do not believe that we should use denomination as a stumbling block. Mind you, I look forwards to the day when I can say unambiguously, "I am a Christian", and not have to qualify that with "I am an Anglican". That day is closer than you'd think, though - many newer churches don't care about denominations any more.

The End Of The World: Is That So Bad?

Well, yes, yes it is. To any conservative, this is an obvious answer. After all, the way I understand my strain of conservatism;

  1. Because humans are generally prone to failure and lack much foresight, it is always better to deny or delay new laws and new ways of doing things until we are sure they don't have any unintended side effects or consequences.
  2. By the same token, we hope that our forebears understood the same thing, and therefore whatever laws and ways of doing things we currently carry on from the past would have had the necessary testing and trials by fire.
Hence, while change is the only constant, it does not follow that it is always a good thing. Of course, sometimes it is the right course of action, but usually the best kind of changes are those that bring us back to the fundamentals. And in any event, there is usually nothing wrong in examining and testing things out first.

The end of the world, by definition, will completely wipe out our current existence; we may carry on living, but our ways of life and thinking will forever be altered, and there will be no turning back. No conservative on the face of the planet will sign up for that, unless it is really going back to the way things were really meant to be in the first place.

Scientists are (or should be) inherently conservative creatures. You do not change the understanding of the nature of physics unless you have compelling proof; proof that will satisfy a hard scientist is not something you throw together in a matter of hours. Technology progresses and changes at a rapid pace, sure - but the underlying sciences do not.

In Christian theology, however, the end of the world, while not something to be wished for or hastened or predicted, is however to be prepared for. It is a time when God declares human history to be at an end, and prepares Creation for judgement. We do not know when this will happen; we do know what must happen first, and so in a sense we 'know' when it will not happen yet (for example, one of the things that must happen before the end of the world is that every tribe and every tongue must have had the chance to hear the Gospel and turn to Jesus - God does not say that we have to do the witnessing because He is quite capable of doing it Himself, but it is a reasonable assumption). This is a major change, and our ways of life will be irrevocably altered. Unless, of course, our way of life is already closely matching the way our new life is supposed to be like. Then the change will not be so terrifying.

On something of a tangent. In the anime series Clannad, one of the episodes deals with a girl who lost her parents due to an airplane crash on her birthday. The details are unimportant, but one of the things that make this series one that tugs on the heartstrings is a short segment on how her parents' last thoughts were of her, and of making sure that her birthday present and their last well-wishes - possibly penned in the last moments before they hit the ocean - reached her. They placed the present - a teddy bear - and a letter that asked the finder to pass it on to their daughter in a suitcase, which passed from person to person, country to country, continent to continent, until after several years it finally reached the hands of the girl. It is a short segment, but a powerfully emotive one as we see the travels of that battered suitcase - and hear each person in his or her own language asking the next bearer to pass it on.

Why do I bring this up? Because in a way, it reminds me of what is to come. In Revelation 7: 9-10, St John records,

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Which is why we say that the world will not end until this comes to pass - that every tribe and every tongue is represented in that great throng in Heaven. But God has His own ways of ensuring this comes to pass - so it's not as if we should be complacent about it either.

Now, just to give you a glimpse of how radically different the Christian concept of Heaven (and eternal life) is to the rest of whatever other religions have to say, you have to grasp the love and the intimacy that ideally exists mother and child, father and son, husband and wife, brother and sister. Now, picture those emotions, the commitment, the closeness... and now understand that we will be sharing that with everyone else in Heaven, and individually and corporately, with God our Father through Christ our Brother. That's how the Church Universal is described; as the Bride of Christ. Now you know why Jesus says in Heaven there is no marrying or giving in marriage - because there is no need. The closeness, the intimacy that was previously sanctified and celebrated and exemplified only within the holy institution of marriage is now available to everyone. Our fellow Christians are our brothers and sisters. There will be no more hunger, and no more thirst, and no more sadness, for God will fill our every need and desire. We will be clothed in the Glory of God, and His Presence will light New Jerusalem. There will be no more war, no more pain, no more sorrow. Every day will be the best day ever, because every day will be spent in God's presence singing God's praise, and every day will be better than the day before.

You know, some of you might be thinking, jeez, what a boring afterlife, but think harder. What would your ideal afterlife be like? Playing unlimited PvP WoW? Unlocking all the mysteries of the universe? Having an unlimited stomach capacity in the universe's largest buffet with a global selection of foods, wines and spirits? Having an eidetic memory and being able to read all of history's works, hear all of the music in all of time, see all the plays, maybe watch history unfold and knowing what really happened during the Flood? Becoming a demigod with incredible powers?

Hmph, how limited a vision. God says that he who truly receives and believes the Gospel and turns to Jesus with all his heart is already more than a conqueror, a prince and co-inheritor of the Kingdom of God, enrolled in spiritual warfare against not flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities, fully armed and armoured by God, and upon death exempt from God's condemnation, having received His mercy and grace, provided with Human Body 2.0 (Resurrection version), which by Jesus' demonstrations is pretty awesome, having all physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs filled to overflowing. He will never be lonely, because he will be surrounded not only by his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but by God our Father Himself. Every day he will learn something new, something awesome and something incredible, which will cause him to praise God more and more; not that he needs any further encouragement, because praising God is the right thing to do anyway. If you thought the Internet was pretty cool for allowing all kinds of people all over the world to communicate to each other, imagine what Heaven is like, with people across time and space.

People do ask, you know, why Christians believe what we do. I do not presume to speak for anyone else, but this is my answer; nothing else makes real sense. Agnostics cannot give a clear answer to save their afterlives; it's all a Great Maybe to them. Atheists answer, but it is a bleak, soul-crushing answer, and quite frankly, what is the point of consciousness now when it becomes oblivion then? Hindus and Buddhists sacrifice their individuality for nirvana or enlightenment, which also snuffs out your being in favour of becoming One with... whoever. Yeah, thanks, guys. Let's not even talk about the Muslims, whose idea of a physical, sensual Paradise cannot even agree amongst themselves whether you get 6 dozen nubile females or seedless dried-up old prunes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Author Review - Edward Marston

First, a little rant about the way literary publishers treat their customers.

Almost everything can be delivered digitally nowadays; from music to videos to sermons to software to TV. In most cases, the cost is a mere formality, and in many cases, free (for examples, check out Hulu, or Joost, or CrunchyRoll for anime/TV). So why is it that so, so many book publishers can't do something as simple as ebook delivery in a universal open format readable by everything under the sun?

Now, there's no doubt I prefer electronic formats in many cases, but not all. Isaac Asimov came up with an essay on why we should prefer paper-based books; he's got a point. They last much longer in terms of physical medium (properly treated, manuscripts can last thousands of years; try that with even optical discs), super-portable, required minimal energy to use (sunlight works quite well), etc and so forth blah blah blah. But you can't beat free.

Baen gets this right. There is even a site out there that serves up almost everything Baen has ever published for free, courtesy of Baen. In CD format, of course, since what they do is distribute the CDs with selected books as a promotion - but they allow redistribution. Baen itself maintains a limited selection of works from authors who volunteer their works in this manner. This is the Baen Public Library. What's even better is that the exact same mechanism is used to deliver their ebooks via their Webscription service. That is, every ebook that is delivered to you via Webscription comes in multiple formats (RTF, PDB, LIT, HTML amongst others), all open and all (once you have it) technically shareable.

Now, let's go to another ebook publisher, Ellora's Cave. Yes, it's erotica, and no, I've not shopped there before, so take this with a large pinch of salt. But notice amongst all the pretty pictures and all the nicely-written hype they don't bother telling you what formats your book's available in. That's because you get to pick. One. And if you regret it, you get to pick. Another one, upon which you PAY AGAIN.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is the Internet age, baby. People are going to convert your pretty little DRMed format (or even if it's open) into something more useful, like a PDF or an RTF, so you might as well offer the various options upfront.

OK, time for a slightly lighter tone. I'm going to continue with my author review series, and this time with a lesser-known name, Edward Marston.

Edward Marston is the pen name of Keith Miles, and he specialises in detective/crime novels. But set in an earlier era, say, oh, post-1066 England, or Puritan times, or Elizabethan times.

I was going to link to some of his books, but if you click the link above, you'll get a reasonably complete bibliography, complete with some Amazon links (of course, the guy's an affiliate, but so what, so am I).

However, you will note that some of the series don't get linky love (why?) so I'll do what I can to remedy that.

The Domesday series is the first one that I read, and I got hooked on it really fast. It's about two census officials, Ralph Delchard, a full-blooded Norman, and Gervase Bret, a half-Saxon. Now, this takes place pretty much after William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings (well, a few years later, at any rate), so you can imagine there's still a lot of resentment towards the invaders. It's an interesting read.

The Wolves of Savernake: A Novel (Marston, Edward. Domesday Books, V. 1.)

The Ravens of Blackwater: A Novel (Marston, Edward. Domesday Books, V. 2.)

That ought to be enough to get you started. You can go on to the Nicholas Bracewell series next, which he wrote first but I picked up later. It's about the bookkeeper (manager/accountant) of a theatrical troupe, and of course the troupe itself. Remember, this is during Elizabethan times, when actors were looked on
very much like prostitutes. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but close.

Then you can go on to the Restoration Mysteries series, which is about the unlikely friendship between
architect Christopher Redmayne and constable Jonathan Bale (who happens to be a Puritan).

The King's Evil

The Repentant Rake (A Restoration mystery)

Why do I like these stories? Well, due to the historical background, I suppose, and the Christian-ness of the setting, I guess. Plus, the murders, heh. Now, it does have romance of sorts in these books, but it's understated and the storyline is more the murder and stuff. If you've read Brother Cadfael before, then you'll have an idea of what to expect from Edward Marston.

For whatever reason, Borders doesn't stock it in Malaysia, and neither does MPH, which kinda limits my choices. And by the way, don't bother looking for it via P2P either; I tried no dice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hot Air finally strikes back

Okay, so onto the story of LGF vs the Right-Wing Blogosphere. This will probably get my account banned for sure, but let's see.

So LGF has been embroiled in a holy war with the rest of the Right-Wing Blogosphere, starting with Gates of Vienna, then Atlas Shrugged, Jihad Watch, The Other McCain, Pajamas Media, and the list goes on and on and on. The banhammer has been falling mightily and swiftly over the past year and some, and now LGF is almost indistinguishable from a lefty blog.

Hot Air has been linking to LGF as part of the GWOT, but after LGF commenter Killgore Trout spammed the comments section with racist terms (I understand he's been very fond of the word nigger, although presumably Allah and Ed have been hard at work cleaning it up; as for me, I'm late to the party so anyone with more details please do let me know).

Well, after that, Hot Air decided to do a bit of housekeeping...
Hot Air strikes back, LGF no longer partner in GWOT

So long, LGF. It was good knowing you. Come back anytime, there's always going to be a soft spot and a hard blogroll for you.

PS Robert Stacy McCain says if I link to him, he'll guarantee a link back. I have no problem being a link whore for a while, so here it is :)

Animes I have watched and am watching

Apropos of nothing, simply because I have another 2 days worth of weekend, here's a short list of anime I can recommend to anyone (but especially young men, because that's the genre I'm normally stuck on "shonen"). Please note that I am Chinese, and like the Chinese, other North Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, etc) have surnames first, given names last. You guessed it, most of these are 'recommendations' from TVTropes.

  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The original one, at any rate. The English dub is fairly alright (which makes it a Surprisingly Good Dub), although the Japanese one has better melodies.
  • Ranma ½. Again, the English dub is pretty good. Funniest show I've seen in ages. But it is a Takahashi Rumiko work, so you really need a lof of patience with the Takahashi couple that Ranma and Akane are.
  • InuYasha. Another Takahashi work; note that most of her works are NOT completely animated primarily because they are soooo looooonnggg.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho. Well, this one was the first anime that really started my inner otaku going.
  • Naruto. Seriously.
  • Nogizaka no Himitsu. Man, they should have labelled this an 'ecchi' anime, because there's plenty of fanservice in terms of panty shots and even the odd yaoi scene (although that's in the manga Haruka reads, subsequently fainting and getting convenient amnesia).
  • Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu. Watch this, watch this!
  • Azumanga Daioh. Words fail me.
  • Lucky Star. You know Azumanga Daioh above? Well, imagine that on crack. Oh yeah, this is worth it.
  • Saber Rider. Yes, this goes back to my childhood days. Real retro.
  • Tenshi na Konamaiki. Eh, could be better.
  • You're Under Arrest. 3 seasons, several OVAs, if you can get this. PS check out Aoi Futaba the trannie police'woman'. Ain't nobody can tell me she's a man, baby.
  • Koukaku no Regios. Taka Fansubs started this one, and so far it looks good. I don't know if there will be a second season, but I do surely hope so.
  • Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. This is the second anime, which apparently follows the manga storyline much closer. Be reminded that the first anime goes its own way fairly quickly, at the behest of the mangaka (manga author) and it's worth watching on its own.
  • Element Hunters. This is targeted at children (so not sex, no romance, and definitely no fanservice). Eh, Dattebayo picked it up which is why I'm following it.
  • Midori Days. Short but sweet. Not half bad.
  • Ouran Koukou Host Club. Supposedly more of a shojo comedy, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Anime I am currently watching or plan to watch
  • Maison Ikkoku.
  • Urusei Yatsura.
  • Hunter x Hunter.
  • Naruto: Shippuuden.
  • Bleach.
  • Suzumiya Haruhu Season 2. Although it probably finished already. But note that half of it is KyoAni (Kyoto Animation) trolling us.
  • Kamen no Maid Guy. Now, see, TVTropes calls him hard gay, but I haven't seen any evidence of that yet. BUt I've only finished the first episode, so who knows?
  • Scrapped Princess.
  • Hayate no Gotoku.
I'll update this post with links once I'm feeling more energetic.

TVTropes: Its usefulness and awesomeness

Some time earlier, I blogged about the site TVTropes, which is sort of a wiki for, well, anything entertainment-related, so it would seem. Here are some of the things I use TVTropes for:

  • Looking for anime/manga. Generally, TVTropes gives you a good first look at what the storyline is like, and assuming you know what the various tropes are, also what to expect from the manga or anime in question. This is my primary use of TVTropes, sad I know.
  • Looking for video/PC games. This is especially good because you get an all-round look at the games in question - sort of mini-reviews,  plus you get to know in a fairly in-depth way what the game is all about, how you should play it, and so forth.
  • Inspirational stories. These stories are under the Real Life sections of Crowning Moment of Awesome, Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, and Crowning Moment of Funny. And you would expect these sections to be under the Sugar Wiki, of course.
  • Just generally keeping up with current culture. Contrary to popular belief, TVTropes has extensive Real Life coverage, so you can get information on Wimbledon as much as Stargate.
What else can you use TVTropes for? If you actually read this blog, put it in the comments!

Friday, September 18, 2009

WTF is Obama thinking?

No, seriously. What The FUCK are you THINKING, Barack Hussein Obama??!!!

You know, up till now I haven't really done anything overtly political on my blog. Why should I? It's my blog, and politics in Malaysia blows. Politics elsewhere also blows, but I do read stuff and now I'm beginning to catch up again. But this, I had to get on.

This latest idiocy - no, just plain tantrum throwing - by the so-called President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama (yeah, I'm calling you out, buster! Internet Tough Guy or whatever) boggles the mind and I really have to ask, what the fuck is he thinking?

Okay, maybe the missile shield business was symbolic. But it sure as hell was an important symbol to the Poles, and to the Czechs. And you just went and PISSED ALL OVER IT, you stupid fuck! And for what? Simply because GWB did it, and so you gotta trample all over everything he came up with? You moronic inbred lapdog, you aren't fit to tie the shoelaces on Bush's feet, and he was no saint. You didn't even get any kind of deal from Russia, and you have just made the world a more dangerous place.

But oh no, that's not all this miserable mongoose did. He went ahead and tried to pass this massive crapfest known as healthcare reform. Yeah, and you got pwned by about a million Americans protesting across the country and in DC on this very issue, while you were elsewhere, you fucking coward!

He pissed on Honduras, which did everything in accordance with its laws and statutes in removing a renegade President trying to set himself up as dictator-for-life. Why, were you jealous that you can't pull the same kind of shit in the USA? You prick-lover, you're chummying up to bastards such as Iran and Venezuela's dictators and fucking over allies like Honduras and the UK.

Words cannot begin to express how disgusted I am with this, this, this... this CREATURE. Impeach the motherfucker and be done with it. I would say hang him for treason, but you'd have to trial him first, and won't that be a waste of resources all round. Just get rid of him and stuff him back in Chicago where he can't really harm anyone - after all, ACORN just got defunded.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blog update

About time I updated my blog. Some stuff on my blogroll is gonna have to be reorganised, some stuff edited, updated, added or removed. So do expect one or two disruptions.

Updates: Completed so far:

1. RSS feed updates. Blogger's had its fair share of problems in the past, but really it's been my fault. I haven't read most of the political blogs for about 6-9 months (since President BHOmbastic's election victories), so quite a number of blogs have updated their sites, including the RSS feeds.

2. A couple of feed removals.

3. Blog additions. Blogger ate my post, so I'm not going to regenerate it. Suffice it to say that I've added a new section called TechnoBlogs, which showcases some of the IT-related stuff I've been reading during my hiatus from the political blogosphere.

Logical Practicum 2 - Evolution part 4

Now, the final bit in this practicum (yes, it's been a long one, but hey, biology's a complicated subject) looks at some of the more interesting logical issues and consequences of evolution.

Understand that evolution posits random, undirected processes ever so slowly leading up to amino acids, then RNA, then DNA, then the first self-unicellular organism, then so on until we reach Homo sapiens. To be sure, I don't really know that they consider us the top of the evolutionary ladder, but it seems a reasonable enough conclusion.


  1. The logical consequence here is that random, undirected processes led to systematic, directed processes (life itself, along with all that makes up metabolic and other cellular activities). This is the logical equivalent of saying that a soused drunkard's random meanderings across the streets of Jaipur can lead to his conducting groundbreaking physics research resulting in his Nobel Prize win. Forgive me if I say this sounds less than plausible, of even possible. No offence to people from Jaipur.
  2. Further, another logical consequence is that ultimately meaningless activity leads to meaningful activity. What I refer to by meaningful is actually looking at reason, purpose, as well as information. Every living being both acts and reacts, and always with a reason and a purpose - more importantly, an understandable cause. The usual analogy here is that a few million monkeys pounding away at typewriters for a few eons can produce Shakespeare. Which may be true - but tell me, without human intelligence to decode their output, would Shakespeare's works have any meaning? Certainly not to the monkeys, and not to the worms that will eventually swallow their output. For information to be transceived, you ultimately need both an intelligent sender and an intelligent receiver. Otherwise, the information is useless and meaningless - but as we can see all over the place, genetics proves RNA and DNA far from meaningless.
  3. The final logical consequence that can be drawn here is that unthinkingness led to consciousness. This is the most laughable consequence of all, because nowhere else will you find this being seriously put forward. For example, the SETI project's main idea is that you can find signs of intelligent life simply by monitoring radio signals. If in the midst of random, generally undifferentiable noise you pick up a prime number sequence, or Fibonacci's sequence, or the Borg transmission "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile", that is a prima facie case for intelligent life, because only intelligent beings can transmit that kind of stuff. Yeah, okay, but the clear evidence for intelligence in the biological computers and mechanisms we call living beings doesn't constitute proof of Intelligence.
Putting all three together, you can see that the general chain of thought is that random and undirected processes can lead to processes with increased direction and complexity. In other words, disorder -> order. This is called breaking the laws of thermodynamics, and you will not believe the ridiculous arguments put forth for why this is possible. You see, the concept of entropy guarantees that the state of the universe will gradually go from highly ordered to highly disordered - or more pragmatically, the amount of useful and usable energy in the universe is running out. Due to energy conversion from one form to another not being 100% efficient, some of that energy gets lost and it cannot be recovered without expending even more energy. Now, there are some people who think the universe is not in a closed state, where this is true. But take a look at why they think so. Yup, some kind of anti-theist or whatever.

In an open system, where external energy is added into the system, you can then have more energy available for useful work, and therefore the laws of thermodynamics do not apply, so goes the argument. However, in every known case where external energy goes into creating and maintaining highly complex systems, there already exist highly complex systems. Where these preexisting systems are not there, adding additional energy doesn't help; rather, it adds to the general disorder.

Furthermore, and this can form the content of some other post, the very model itself relies on several assumptions and requirements that may or may not be valid.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Logical Practicum 2 - Evolution part 3

Now that we have defined some of the terminology used and misused in the debate, let us examine the limitations and shortcomings of evolution and the scientific method as applied to origins science.

Firstly, note that the scientific method cannot say anything about origins science. This is because no observation can be made of what happened in the distant past ('distant' being relative, but accurate enough regardless). Currently, no experiments can be realistically devised or conducted that would prove or disprove that Homo erectus evolved to become Homo sapiens. Certainly, one cannot repeat these experiments - origins science deals with a sequence of events that occurred once in history that we know of. Therefore, neither evolution nor creationism can properly be called theories. They cannot even be called hypotheses, because we have not observed either in action (again, remember that evolution is the arising of new traits and new descendant species from ancestor species through random, undirected processes). At best, they are models, a framework through which we interpret evidence.

In other words, both of these models are just the updated versions of Kipling's "Just So" stories.

Secondly, evolution flies in the face of Occam's Razor -but in order to understand this, we need to digress a little into the world of statistics. If you have a standard 6-sided die, which is truly fair and truly random, then each time you roll it, the probability that you roll any given number (say 1) is 1/6, because each outcome is equally likely. Likewise, the probability of any given sequence of number rolls is equally likely, hence 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1 is just as likely as any other sequence of 15 rolled numbers. Statisticians would say that therefore, you shouldn't be surprised if you get this sequence of rolls.

Well, yes. Statistically, this is true. However, in the real world, by the time you roll the 7th '1' in a D&D game, odds are overwhelmingly in your favour that (a) you're fucking up the die roll or (b) someone has gimmicked the die or the surface on which you roll to give you continuous critical failure rolls. This is because you are no longer operating in a vacuum.

Evolution also does not operate in a vacuum. In order for it to be a viable explanation/model, it must explain a large series of steps, some of which I highlight below;

  1. Life from non-life
  2. Multicellular from unicellular
  3. Sexual reproduction from asexual reproduction
  4. Animal from plant (or vice versa)
  5. ...
  6. Verterbrate from invertebrate
  7. ...
  8. Warm-blooded from cold-blooded
  9. ...
  10. Irreducibly complex systems from scratch
Each ellipse represents several more steps that needs to be explained. Taken one step at a time, maybe you can explain the evolutionary pressure and possibilities, but remember, this is all random and undirected. It's not as if the organisms in question can decide to evolve lungs from gills and start the process going for several generations.

But just to give you a hint of how difficult it is, the simplest self-sufficient organism currently known to mankind is the Mycoplasma genitalium, with 580,000 base pairs. In genetics, the four amino acids that form our genes (and the base pairs) are AGTC; adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. They come paired, so essentially, our genes are both digital binary storage systems and binary computers. The chances of evolution bringing this organism to life (remember that life is an atomic state; either something is alive or it is not alive) in one fell swoop is 1/2^580,000. It's too large for the Windows calculator to output, but to give you a hint? 2^100,000 is 10^30103. That's step 1. You calculate the rest of it.

Thirdly, evolution flies in the face of information science. We know that information exchange must involve at least one intelligent source, and our genes are computers, with DNA being information. Take a good look at the simple organism above. Its genes, amongst other things, have functions for redundancy, repair, replication, energy conversion and locomotion, as well as other cellular activities. And all of this is achieved with essentially half a megabit (or 64KB) of information. How does it do that? Well, it uses a very sophisticated compression algorithm, because if you took the genetic data from position 1-8, for example, it does one valid thing, and if you took positions 2-9, it does another valid thing. This is the stuff of legends, stuff that only Mel the Real Programmer would pull.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The healthcare debate

Being Malaysian, I wonder at the American debate raging over ObamaCare. Not that the debate exists - obviously, as being more conservative than anything else, I can see why anyone would be shocked and horrified at the idiocy President BHOmbastic is spouting forth. No, my wonder is at some people on the left who seemingly do not wish to examine what they are putting forth and comparing it with other countries.

I will be upfront about this post. I really have very little clue about the details of country-specific healthcare systems, so this is really just my take on the matter, having experienced the Australian and Malaysian medical system firsthand.

In Australia, the country-wide health care system that serves all Australian citizens (as well as Australian Permanent Residents, New Zealanders, and some specific EU countries that have similar systems) is called Medicare. This provides for all clinic visits, and free health care at government hospitals. It is paid for by taxpayers in the form of the Medicare levy, which can be up to 2.5% of your taxable income. International students in Australia have to pay a certain annual fee (at the time I was there, around AUD275) to get student coverage identical to that provided by Medicare. Presumably, foreign workers have to pay a substantially higher amount for the same coverage.

Australia also has a private health insurance system, which kicks in for private hospitals and other stuff that Medicare doesn't cover. Let me repeat that. All private health insurance systems ride on top of Medicare, and the only 'replacement' is whether you use a public hospital or a private one. But... for this single 'private option', shall we say, the Australian government actually pays you to take up private health insurance. Up to 30% of your insurance premium, in fact.

For clinic visits, doctors can choose either to bulk-bill (charge you nothing and collect from Medicare directly) or not (in which case you pay upfront and claim back from Medicare). Guess what; doctors hate bulk-billing. They much rather charge you upfront; you go try collect from Medicare. And of course, only the Uni had a walk-in clinic - all the other clinics had appointment times in the weeks or months.

Okay, so that's Australia. Malaysia's got a slightly different scheme. The Malaysian healthcare system is split into two separate and completely distinct components; private and public. All Malaysian citizens have access to the public clinics and hospitals at ludicrously low prices. In fact, they're really just token charges - and if you are a (retired) civil servant, you get it for free. Well, for cattle class treatment, anyway. Even then, for first class wards, you get ludicrously low rates; $80/night. Treatments are similarly ridiculous in pricing; $200 per chemo treatment. Of course, you also get the long lines, the queues for treatment, etc etc etc.

You also have the private clinics and hospitals. Every doctor who wishes to be licensed in Malaysia must work for 3 years in the government healthcare sector; after which, he is free to set up shop and practice anywhere and anyhow he pleases. This is a completely free market situation; within 5 mins walk of my house, I can count upwards to 10 GP clinics, 3 OB/GYN, any number of dentists, and 4-5 of the alternative quacks. You also have the private hospitals, and they're good enough that medical tourism is a viable model for them. To fund these trips to the hospital, you get what's known as medical/health insurance - but only for inpatient treatment. There is no such thing as individual outpatient insurance - if your company doesn't offer it, you pony up the cash yourself. Medical insurance for hospital cover starts from $300 annually.

So, in Australia, the government practically begs people to take up the private option. In Malaysia, those who can afford it quickly buy private health cover themselves, because nobody wants to go to a public hospital if they can help it. Which is really unfair to the public hospitals, because they are of fairly good quality... for government, anyway. But that's the way it is.

I must wonder, therefore, why the morons in the Left want to impose the public option, when others want to get away from it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Logical Practicum 2 - Evolution part 2

Let's have a look at the terminology surrounding the debate, and understand fully what's going on.

Science comes from the Greek word scientia, which simply means knowledge. Previously also known as natural philosophy, science is simply the body of knowledge we have built up about the world (the universe, really) and what we understand of the way it works. Traditionally, the main branches of the sciences are physics, chemistry and biology, and in a general sense everything else we call science can be expressed in terms of these three branches.

The scientific method, which is the single 'trusted' method of adding new things to the sciences, is a simple one;

  1. You observe a certain phenomenon, or certain phenomena. You notice a certain pattern.
  2. Based on your observations, you make a conjecture of why this pattern is so. This is called a hypothesis. It is important that your hypothesis is falsifiable - i.e. can be proven false. This is not to say that it will be proven false, but that there is at least one condition that, if true, means your hypothesis is wrong. This is important because the next step...
  3. You devise, carry out, and document rigorous trials to test your hypothesis true or false. These trials are called experiments. The purpose of these experiments is to see whether your hypothesis can identify result Y given conditions X, basically.
  4. If your hypothesis is shown to correctly associate outcomes with the starting conditions (i.e. has high predictive value), and everyone with your documented experiments can replicate the results, and for any given value of X can correctly provide the correct value of Y (within experimental error, of course), then it is no longer a hypothesis (which is an unproven conjecture), but a theory. Theories are anything but unproven; theories have withstood the test of time and varying conditions, and almost always provide the correct answers.
There are two underlying assumptions behind the scientific method; there is ceteris paribus, which means 'all else being equal' (and so you must control the rest of the variables during the experiments), and there's cause and effect, which simply means (a) for every effect there is at least one cause, (b) the cause comes before the effect and (c) causes can be (but are not necessarily) themselves effects. See how the scientific method works now? A hypothesis is simply saying that ceteris paribus, A -> B, where A is the cause (or causes) and B the effect(s).

The term evolution, as is understood in evolutionary and Darwinian biology, is referring to the change of one species into another over a (usually epochal) period of time. It looks at how new organs and traits can arise that differentiate the ancestor species from the descendants, and the descendants from each other. This is also known as macro-evolution. It is important to note that evolution is described to be a random, undirected process - i.e. it does not require a guiding intelligence to have it started or kept going. The current favoured mechanism for evolution is mutation, which is the process of transcription errors in genetic replication.

The term natural selection is the process through which a species adapts to its environment. Essentially, if an individual of that species exhibits a trait that is more favourable in a particular environment, then it is likely to live longer and produce more offspring than a comparable individual without that trait. The offspring, in turn, if the trait is a genetically determined one, will also live longer and produce even more offspring. Eventually, the species in that environment will have far more individuals with that trait than not, and hence, the trait seems to have been selected. This is also known as micro-evolution.

Creationism refers to the work of a Creator that designed and formed all living things. A creationist believes that far from life being a random and undirected process, Someone deliberately designed, developed and set loose the entire ecosystem in one go - not necessarily in an instant, but within a very rapid period of time.

Okay, so why is evolution against all logic and common sense? That comes up in the next part of the series.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Logical Practicum 2 - Evolution part 1

As with all the series of logical arguments for or against a certain topic, it is essential to note each party's preconceptions, so here's mine. I hold the position of Young Earth Creationism, one of the most vilified, derided and laughed-at positions to hold in the whole origin science field - and yet, I maintain that I came by this position honestly, after much thought and consideration - and moving away from my previous position as a Theistic Evolutionist - due to the evidence. Not to mention that being a YEC puts me squarely in the best of company, with the majority of my fellow Christian saints who have gone to their glory before me.

The YEC position is a simple one to grasp; fundamentally, a Christian YEC accepts the Bible's creation account in Genesis on its face value; hence the world was created in six days (and God rested thereafter on the 7th), and working forwards from that date, using the Bible's internal chronology (and genealogy) until we come to events whose secular dating is known, a figure of ~6.5k - 7k years since Creation is obtained. As contrasted with the current Big Bang model of the earth being ~4.3x10^9 years, and the universe about 3x that, hence the term Young Earth.

Now, the YEC position is not just in terms of cosmological and geological timeframes, but of course in terms of origin science, the position also specifies that God created all life already differentiated into the different kinds, as opposed to the evolutionary model of one common ancestor life form which diverged into the various species we have today.

As an evangelical, orthodox and fundamentalist Christian, the YEC position is a distillation of all the various doctrines which currently make up the only logical and tenable model to hold that is consistent with the Biblical picture. As with all science, the latest word is never the last word, so I expect further refinements to happen along the way.

Onwards to the logical issues at hand. In order to make sense of the debate, the terms must be clearly understood and agreed upon. I'll do this in the next post. Can't make these things too long, after all.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Logical Practicum 1 - Homosexuality

What's with this series? Don't I have a lot of them around? And why only certain topics? Is it a case of 'methinks the lady doth protest too much'?

Well, not really. But also yes. I come across many, many Web sites that hash the same old tired arguments over and over again, and nobody ever seems to get anywhere in a hurry. Not that I'm going to change that in a hurry, but why don't people think these things through? Hence, my way of venting is through my blog - that maybe one or two people actually read. Still.

So, Topic One: Homosexuality.

In order to approach the issue logically, it is also important to examine one's own biases and axioms. When you lay out the presuppositions, then at least people know where you're coming from and can reason with you as well.

So, here is the Christian take on the matter. I'll linkify everything once I've got the necessary supporting evidence and such - but believe me, this is not a major problem were it not for my inveterate laziness.

1. Homosexuality is a sin (against God's divine will, plans and purposes for human beings)
Homosexuality is part and parcel of the twisted, warped, inherently sinful and evil nature of Mankind ever since Adam and Eve fell from grace. In this, it is not different from covetousness, greed, sloth, arrogance, homicidal impulses, lying, and so forth. Insofar as it is human nature to do these things, it is human nature to bear sexual attraction towards someone of the same sex.

2. Homosexuality is sinful in thought, word and deed - but not in mere existence
Like every other sin, however, homosexual impulses are a form of temptation, and we should be fleeing from it, not giving in to our base impulses. Therefore, it is not a sin to be tempted, just in giving in. Similarly, while it is no sin to be alcoholic, it is sinful to give in and drink to excess; nor is it a sin to be a paedophile, but only in giving in and harbouring the thoughts, or speaking the words (think chatrooms) or acting it out.

3. Homosexuality is classed with other sexually immoral practices
The only sanctioned sexual activity (one not only permitted, but celebrated, encouraged and revelled in) is monogamous sex between husband and wife in holy matrimony. Everything else (fornication, adultery, necrophilia, zoophilia, homosexual activity, BDSM, auto-asphyxiation, etc etc etc) is just dead wrong. Marital sex is the only form of sex God intends, as written right from the start in Genesis, and reaffirmed by Jesus.

It is important to note that the Bible as a whole does not speak about sexual orientations as we are wont to do. Instead, it speaks about sexual practices i.e. the result of giving in to various temptations and lusts. It is really obvious that the Biblical view of humanity is that our kind is a complex kind, and that the sexual attractiveness of others is not a binary thing. So, that too is my view - homosexuals are classed not by orientation per se, but by actions.

Having set forth my prejudices therefore, let's move on to the meat of the argument. The causes of homosexual attraction are usually the linchpin of the debates and arguments of its acceptability - after all, if it can be proven that this is no choice, but 'wired in' from an early age, then as it is said, what harm is it? And why persecute us for something we cannot help?

This is a specious argument. Thought crimes are not prosecuted, or so one would hope. Note that any 'laws' against homosexuals as such are usually only aimed at their behaviour (i.e. actions), and usually at sodomy. Public opinion and the actions of bullies react otherwise to the stated laws of the land, of course, but you cannot hope to change that by passing new laws.

So, let's set aside the Christian viewpoint for a moment, and consider a secular look at the root causes of homosexuality. Again, homosexuality is usually seen in a binary viewpoint - either you're gay or you're straight. And if you were previously straight and now you're having a homosexual relationship, then either you were faking (closeted) or you're really bi - but you can't have 'turned' gay - it's not contagious and people cannot change your orientation.

This is important; homosexual advocates cannot admit that you could really have been fully heterosexual earlier on in life, and then later on become fully homosexual - or even bisexual - because if they admitted that then (a) the charges of 'recruitment' and 'perverting morals' are so much more easily substantiated and (b) the converse is also true i.e. you can have been gay and now you can go straight. Either way, the element of choice has now been injected into the picture, and the cry of 'I can't help myself! It's not my fault!' is answered by 'Yes you can, you just don't want to'. The whole platform of gay rights hinges on this - if you can choose, then why should we give a toss when you choose poorly?

Anyway, let's accept the argument that for the vast majority of homosexuals, no element of choice exists; they truly cannot help themselves. Let's take it one step at a time. Suppose a person is 'born gay'. There are two major factors at play within the womb to make this turn out, genetics and the environment. Time to examine each one.

Here's an interesting fact about genetics. Ceteris paribus, any given set of genes (say, the entire genetic makeup of a human being) will always express itself in exactly the same way. Any inherited traits will also be expressed identically. Hence, if you have identical twins, if one of them has cystic fibrosis, the other one must also have it. Similarly, if you have haemophilia, so must your identical twin/triplet/tuple. Strangely enough, there is a sufficient body of research indicating that in pairs of identical twins, sexual orientation is not a 1:1 match. That alone is enough to say that genetics plays no significant role in determining sexual orientation.

Moving on to the environment then, you can imagine that the womb is a shared environment between identical twins. It is always remotely possible that one twin gets more exposure to certain hormones or other compounds and hence develops into a homosexual, but seriously, we can probably throw that out of the window as well.

Okay, so sexual identity is not fixed at birth. Which means to say, the external environment plays a role. This changes homosexuality from a pre-existing condition to something that occurs to you as you walk through life; neither fixedly genetic nor congenital, but something that happens during your growth and maturity process. This is really the root for many mental disorders such as kleptomania. Actually, that was a lie. We don't really know the root causes of kleptomania, just as we do not really know the root causes of homosexuality. But just as kleptomania can be treated, so can homosexuality, and don't let anyone else convince you otherwise. You'll never be free of homosexual temptations. but here's the secret - nobody else is free from their temptations either. We all have our crosses to bear - granted that homosexual attraction is a hard cross to bear.

Here's another secret. Jesus of Nazareth, God's own Son? The Perfect Sinless Man? That guy? He is truly human, being tempted in every way just as we are, and yet without sin. Think he might know a thing or two about temptation and resisting it?