Friday, December 16, 2005

Gosh dang that Victor Davis Hanson for always being so frickin' brilliant. Highlights include:

Europe’s policy about Iran’s nuclear program can best be summed up as “Hurry up, sane and Western Israel, and take out this awful thing — so we can damn you Zionist aggressors for doing so in our morning papers.”

For the last three years we have seen a carbuncle swell as the old Vietnam War opposition rematerialized, with Michael Moore, the Hollywood elite, and Cindy Sheehan scaring the daylights out of the Democratic establishment that either pandered to or triangulated around their crazy rhetoric. The size of the Islamicist/Baathist insurrection caught the United States for a time off guard, as was true also of the sudden vehement slurs from our erstwhile allies in Europe, Canada, and Asia. Few anticipated that the turmoil in Iraq would force the Syrians out of Lebanon, the Libyans to give up their WMDs, and the Egyptians to hold elections — and that all the killing, acrimony, and furor over these developments would begin to engulf the Middle East and threaten the old order.
I'm not shy about saying that I think VDH is the most brilliant political and military writer alive today. Maybe he's a bit optimistic, but you can't fault his analysis. This may be my first link to him, but I should probably consider just having a side-bar that always links his latest column or essay.

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Good ol' Jonah Goldberg...

Ok, over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg pretty much sums up my entire p.o.v. on the whole Tookie Williams debacle (well, really, the debacle was on the part of the protesters, not on anyone else's part). Two bits in particular struck my fancy:

Sister Helen Prejean told NPR that Williams didn’t need to confess his sin to find redemption. “One way to show remorse is just say, ‘I am so sorry I killed those people.’ Another way to show remorse is with your life, what you do with your life. And look what he’s done with his.” That’s good p.r. but bad theology.

Heehee... also, I believe that woman is the Susan Sarandon character in "Dead Man Walking", just fyi. The other line:

I find it revealing that a significant number of conservatives I know (and even work with) either oppose the death penalty on moral grounds or are inclined to. But they are consistently put off by the radical chic crowd, which has grown deceitful, narcissistic, and married to agendas no conservative would ever sign on to.

Hey, that's me! And it's so very true... I would be against it, if it weren't for the people who would become my "allies". Ick.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Eternally Saved?

I've been talking about the issue of eternal, irrevocable salvation with a number of people, including my wife, my brother, and others. This has prompted me to issue forth the thoughts on the issue that have been going around in my head, for all the world to see. First, let me get it out in the open: I honestly don't know the answer to the question of whether or not a person can lose their salvation once gained. I used to blindly belong to the "once saved, always saved" camp, but now I must admit I'm on the fence. My official position is no position. Fortunately, I do not think my lack of position, nor a lack on the part of anyone else, affects either my own salvation, or anyone else's. God is the ultimate, and indeed ONLY, arbiter of salvation, and I do not think the possibility of losing one's salvation is necessarily a "stumbling block" (1 Corinthians 8:9) to new believers that Paul was warning about.

(Aside: if you pound away on a new believer that he must live a perfect life or risk eternity in hell every time he says a swear word, then yes, perhaps this would be such a stumbling block. But I do not think my own ambivalence will cause any new believers any consternation.)

Let me also state that I do not believe that a particular sin can cause a person to lose their salvation, with one exception I will discuss below. We all sin. As reader Geology Boy pointed out in an email (and which I only paraphrase here), Jesus died once and for all for ALL of our sins (and here, let "our" refer to the saved. I'm not even going to get into a discussion of predestination and salvific election here). Thus, to say that new sins we commit after the point of salvation somehow cause us to lose that salvation is saying that Christ's sacrifice was somehow limited, flawed, or imperfect, which it absolutely was not. I believe the Catholics teach that one loses one's "State of Grace" upon sinning, only to reobtain it at the point of confession and forgiveness. However, I do not believe this implies a loss of salvation, but a loss of "innocence", for which they then invented the doctrine of Purgatory (i.e, if you are graceless at the time of death, but are still saved, you must go somewhere to purge yourself and become innocent again before entering heaven, a place of perfection which can incur no imperfection on the part of its constituents).

Another criticism of mine is an argument frequently made by some among the "once-saved always-saved" camp. A person becomes active and faithful in the church body, having made that initial acceptance of Christ. Then, perhaps because of a history of habitual sin, that individual backslides and reverts to their sinful ways. They fall away from the church and revel in their sin. The OSAS folk often declare "well, he must never have been saved in the first place!" I loathe this pronouncement, and think it has no place in the church. I believe this is precisely the judgement Christ was referring to when he told is to "judge not lest we be judged". I can't find the reference at the moment, but one of Paul's letters, I believe, instructs us that those among us (Christians) who refuse to repent will ultimately be "given over" to their sins, so that (my own words here) they can be purified by the fire of their sinful life -- it never says they lose their salvation or never were saved.

SO, the question remains: IF a person can lose their salvation, WHAT would they have to have done to cause that to occur, if no series of sinful behaviors could cause that loss? First: I DO believe that we must be forgiven to enter heaven. Fortunately, I also believe that forgiveness occurred at the moment of Christ's atoning death, and we receive that forgiveness once and for all upon accepting Christ as our Savior. However, this whole discussion was largely prompted by a reading of Matthew 12:31-32, which in the NASB states:

31"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

32"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come."

Geology Boy also pointed out that to say that God cannot save everyone is to say that there is something that is too big for God, which, if one considers that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what saves us, could be construed as "blasphemy of the Spirit". I AM NOT SAYING THIS IS BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, only that it might be. Honestly, I do not know specifically what this thing may actually be. After all, we Trinitarians (aka REAL CHRISTIANS) believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One God in Three Persons, so how can one speak against one without speaking against the other? However, the key point here is that these verses do not say "cannot forgive", but "will not forgive." So God chooses not to forgive that particular sin, even though it is well within His power to do so. God could end suffering, pain, disease, poverty, and sin, without even thinking about it, but He, in His infinite wisdom, chooses not to. Similarly, God could forgive every single possible sin that anyone could commit, but chooses, in this one exception, not to.

So, what does this have to do with a loss of salvation? Well, as I indicated above, if you are unforgiven, I believe you are not saved. If you "blaspheme the Spirit," then, you are unsaved, regardless of past sins. So: suppose a truly saved individual were to recant, willfully and unambiguously (e.g., not at gunpoint, and not in a drunken stupor), their faith in God and Jesus Christ. Would this person then be saved? Like I discussed above, some OSAS proponents would say this person was NEVER saved, as a truly saved individual could never recant. I don't believe that argument. Would this be classified as blasphemy of the Spirit? Possibly. It is like saying "Although salvation is perfect and eternal, I say that the Holy Spirit cannot save me!" This is certainly speaking against the Spirit, so it may constitute an unforgiveable sin, and hence, lost salvation.

I recognize the relative incoherence of my arguments. There are a lot of thoughts on this issue going around in my head, and it's difficult to sort them all out. However, I think I've stated a few of the louder arguments rattling around up there. Like I said, I just don't know. I guess I believe that it MIGHT be possible, but it's really damned hard.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Judicial Accountability

Ok, first, I am not a lawyer. This is not a law blog, and I have no legal training at all. However, I have eyes to read, ears to hear, and a brain to digest that information. So perhaps occasionally I WILL divulge my thoughts on legal shenanigans and such.

Anywho, it just occurred to me: through the appeals process, many lower courts' decisions are overturned by higher courts, which may or may not be overturned by a still-higher court, all the way up to the SCOTUS (see? I know ACRONYMS!). What is occurring, effectively, is one court telling another, subservient court that it is, in fact, wrong. It has done a poor job. It failed its test. Et cetera. Of course, the Supremes are the ultimate arbitors of what decisions are right and/or wrong. If I were to turn in a report, and my ultimate boss came down and told me that all my conclusions were downright WRONG, and this happened repeatedly, would I keep my job long? Whether or not my boss was actually correct, no, I would not. I would be fired, if not after the first time, then at least the second time. And I DEFINITELY would not survive long enough to gain a reputation of one who was frequently not only WRONG, but corrected by the head honchos as well.

And yet judges, particularly at the federal level (yes, 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, I'm talking about YOU), who maintain their jobs for as long as they please (barring "high crimes and misdemeanors", of course), have no such threat of job termination in the face of contant correction from their higher-ups. Doesn't this seem a bit fishy? It's bad enough, for ANY judge, that they keep their jobs so long (worse than a tenured moonbat professor, I'd say), but the fact that there is no oversight as to their job performance, even for such an obvious figure of merit as "sustained rulings", is a tragedy that I think explains a good deal about the corruption of our federal judiciary.

So I propose a very simple solution: three strikes and you're out. If you (as a federal judge) decided, sided, or concurred, with the majority opinion, and that opinion was ultimately voided by a higher court (i.e., the last point of its appeal resulted in a countering of your own decision) no more than THREE times, you lose your job. Period. The law of the United States is no trifling, insignificant thing, and to incorrectly interpret its law indicates a serious failure as a legal mind. To do so repeatedly indicates a serious failure not so much on the part of the indivudual, but on the legal system as a whole, for allowing an incompetent individual to exist as a member of its body for so long.

I'm willing to be flexible here. We could add to that a caveat that the overturning opinion must have been authored by a different individual in each case (to avoid personal vendettas), or perhaps even that the overturning opinion must not consist of the exact same body of justices in each of the three cases (group vendettas, perhaps?). Of course, I would then add that the number of strikes goes to 2 if such overturnings are unanimous. Perhaps, also, weight such overturned decisions by the level of the court -- so a SCOTUS decision that voids a previous decision carries more "points" than, say, an appellate court one, etc. Those are all design issues. My point here is that THERE IS NO SYSTEM CURRENTLY. Accountability, I say!

Of course, this begs the question as to: who holds accountable the SCOTUS? Nobody can overturn their decision except a later court, and at that point the overturned individual(s) would presumably be long since departed, and if not, they would be vulnerable to the very delicate shifts in balance of the court (e.g., a controversial 5-4 decision gets reversed when one of the 5 is replaced by someone of opposite leanings for another 5-4 decision), so I don't think self-accountability would be worthwhile. And no US president is ever going to become sufficiently bold enough to attempt to remove a SCOTUS justice, except in the most extraordinary circumstances (e.g., said justice was caught on tape murdering kittens or something, and even then, I'm not so sure). Such is the "balance" of power we face today.

[That leads me to an aside here: Notice how the US Congress is often bold enough to call for the removal of the president or another member of the executive branch, and it's not unreasonable for members of the executive branch to do likewise (although it's much less usual, I'd say), but how often do you hear of members of either branch discuss the removal of a particular supreme court justice? Are their jobs THAT sacrosanct? Why should we give such obeisance to the ONLY NON-ELECTED BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, when we can and often DO remove the elected officials at will? Seems to me they're the ones who should be MOST subject to scrutiny and public ire. YEEEAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGH! Okay, whew, done venting.]

Anywho, I can't think of a good solution to the question of who watches the watchmen, when the watchment are the SCOTUS justices. But I still think there's something to this system of overturned decisions being effectively a "job performance" metric by which all non-supreme jobs are either retained or lost.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Stimulating conversation!

Not my own work, found it over in a comments thread at LGF, and it's attributed to a user calling themselves "Templar":

Her: "We're only over there for the oil."

Me: "So why didn't we just drop the embargo?"

Her: "I don't know."

Me: "You know, we could start buying Iranian oil, if we really wanted lower the price of oil. Did you know that we haven't bought oil from Iran since 1979?"

Her: "No I didn't. But there weren't any WMDs."

Me: "So I guess when President Clinton lobbed a bunch of cruise missles into Iraq in 1998 as part of Operation Desert Fox Saddam didn't have any WMDs then either."

Her: "Clinton did what?"

Me: "Oh and don't the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 which Clinton signed and most of the Democrats voted for. It made regime change in Baghdad the stated policy of the US government."

Her: "That doesn't matter. We shouldn't be there."

Me: "Have you actually read the Senate's Authorization of Force Resolution? There were other reasons listed besides WMD. Like the fact that when Saddam fired on US aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones he violated the 1991 ceasefire."

Her: "No I haven't read it."

Me: "So, I guess then you would have left the rape rooms and plastic shredders open for operation. I mean, he ONLY killed 300,000 of his own people."

Her: "Saddam was a brutal dictator, but there are lots of dictators in the world."

Me: "And that makes removing this one somehow wrong?"

Her: "I don't know."

Heehee... good times, good times!

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Semi-Rebuttal of the Implausability of a Trash Compactor On Board the Death Star

Ok, first things first, read this article. It's a reasonably articulate, and superficially convincing argument as to why the trash compactor on board the Death Star, into which Luke, Leia, et al., ventured to escape imperial guards, is at best implausible and at worst completely absurd. However, being a huge nerd, I have a number of bones to pick with the author's arguments, and I DO recall promising to include a number of posts of a science-fictioney nature. So without further ado:

0) The author explicitly assumes the Death Star ejects all its trash into space, based on an extrapolation of the fact that ISD-class ships (and let us further assume lower-class ships as well) eject their trash into space, as evidenced when the Millenium Falcon sneaks out with the trash. This is an invalid extrapolation, for several reasons. First, The sheer size differential between an ISD (Imperial Star Destroyer) and the Death Star dictates that different trash disposal systems may be entirely necessary. While able to travel through space at will, the Death Star, as the flagship battle platform of the Empire, may often find itself in extended geostationary orbit about a planet. As this article indicates, the station requires literally millions of workers, soldiers, and managers to operate to its full capacity. Millions of active people produce a LOT of waste. Even assuming the station has ample temporary waste storage facilities, it must eventually dispose of that trash in some manner. Ejecting it into space while stationary seems to be an absolutely disasterous approach, as the flotsam and jetsam created by such a process would create havoc among the massive force of accompanying starfighters and support craft. Imagine having to dodge every frozen flying turd while trying to dock!
So what solution apart from long-term storage and ejection is there for proper waste disposal? Keep in mind that the Death Star is nothing more than a platform for the galaxy's most powerful super weapon, the oh-so-imaginatively-titled Super-Laser. Apart from the ancillary and support services requiring power on board the station (and providing power for millions of people simultaneously is no simple task!), the laser itself requires an incredible amount of power. I won't even begin to guess as to the pure wattage required here, but as we know from Return of the Jedi, the reactor core is, in scientific terms, friggin' huge. So the simple solution is: why not use the waste-heat, or the core itself, to incinerate the trash? Seems simple enough. Of course, delivery to the incinerator requires some sort of transportable form of waste material, hence the compactor: nice, neat blocks of poo, ready for burning!

Now for his specific points, which I paraphrase in each case:

1) Why have a ventilation system leading to the trash compactor?
Proper one-way airflow and suction could have prevented any "out-go" of effluvia, hence the VENT COVER and the fact that she actually had to BLAST the thing to remove it. The "vent" might have ventilated out of the hallway rather than into it -- perhaps an air-purifying vent that trapped and removed impurities from the air, much like the CO2 scrubbers on board our own space facilities.

2) Why have a two-walled system of trash compaction rather than a single moving wall and a more stable, fixed second wall?
I promised myself that I'd only use this argument once: George Lucas is an idiot-manchild who got very lucky 2 1/2 times (woulda been three except for the ewoks).

3) Why does the trash compactor move so slowly, and why does a relatively thin metal rod nearly stop its compaction altogether?
The author makes the assumption that this particular trash compactor is supposed to compact metal and other solid trash. First of all, assuming this is true, I would imagine a slow, steady compaction is more safe and robust than a quick smash -- have you ever seen your own kitchen trash compactor at work? It takes a significant amount of time, and that's only for cardboard and paper products. Moreover, I call this assumption flawed. Two points here: first, while the DS was a relatively new facility, it WAS complete. How many of you working in fully-built buildings that are NOT production facilities of any sort throw away large pieces of scrap metal on a regular basis? Just because it's made of metal does not mean you'll be toting around and disposing of metal. Thus, it is highly likely this particular compactor may not have been designed to handle metal with any efficiency.
That brings me to my second point: if not designed for metal, why was there metal in the compactor? Well, here the newness of the structure plays into my favor. With millions of employees on board, you would be bound to have more than a few stupid or ignorant workers who are not familiar with the rules and regulations, and would thus attempt to dispose of their garbage improperly. I'm sure those workers were dealt with in the usual Imperial manner, which is to say a laser blast to the back of the head.

4) Why only compact the trash in one dimension, resulting in large flat pieces of trash to be ejected into space?
See my comment zero. You're not ejecting into space, but rather preparing it for incineration. Additionally, this assumes that the two-wall method was the only part of the compaction process -- perhaps the ceiling would descend at some point, and then the other side walls? We only saw this process because the remaining compaction process was thwarted by our intrepid heroes.

5) How did the critter living in the compactor survive?
I actually like the author's suggestion that the creature living there was actually put there on purpose, to devour organic trash, although I would suggest an alternative. My first point in rebuttal three addresses the presence of inorganic material. Then keep in mind that there are millions of people on board the Death Star. Those people must be fed. Rather than have to import food constantly, I would suggest that some of the massive space on board may be set aside for the growth of nourishment, perhaps through hydroponic methods. This, of course, requires fertilizer, so it's not a stretch to think that the designers would employ some method of recycling organic material for greater efficiency. Thus, I propose that the creatures is there to serve a purpose similar to our own earthworms: it "churns up" the organic material, aiding in the process of decomposition of organic material. Larger bits get compacted for disposal, but the heavier, decomposed bits fall to the bottom, as suggested by the author, and are collected for reuse in the food production facilities.
This may be a bit of a stretch, however. A simpler solution is as follows: Much like our own alligator-pets, some mid-level commander had an illicit pet one-eyed space eel (or whatever it was) that just got too big for his dinky quarters, so he just happened to have surreptitiously disposed of it after the last compaction cycle, so it was a relative newcomer to the area, just as scared as our aforementioned intrepid heroes (although if they were afraid, I guess they'd be trepid heroes rather than intrepid, right?).

6) Why have separate organic and inorganic waste disposal systems?
See response #3.

7) Why would an evil empire care about the environment?

I address the notion of trash dumping in my argument zero. Assuming the game Tie Fighter is canonical (and it was so friggin' awesome that it could be nothing BUT canonical!), we are presented with a much more sympathetic picture of the Empire. Sure, the overlords are evil bastards, but at the end of the day, they are out to control the universe, not destroy it. Even evil dictators can be good, if not "nice", stewards. If they trash up their empire, it's not much to brag about at the annual Convention of Evil Imperial Overlords conference, is it?

8) The worm-compactor combo is more inefficient than, say, a trash-ship to tote the trash away.

My arguments 0 and 5 rebut this complaint.

9) Space is so huge. Why bother compacting at all?

How many times must my argument zero counter his arguments? At least this is the last point he makes.

Therefore, quod erat non demonstrandum. The Empire was not in the business of creating hassles for itself. Ruthless efficiency indeed!

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Merry Christmas, you jerks!

Ok, my only reader (Hi, Sam!) has been bugging me to post more, so I shall.

I was just perusing over at the Mazur Boys' blog, which I enjoy from time to time, and I saw this post, regarding the renaming of the "Holiday Tree" in DC back to its original name of "Christmas Tree." Now for all you rational folks out there, this is a no-brainer. It's a tree, and its only purpose for even being there is to celebrate CHRISTMAS. Not Channukah, not Ramadan, not even the pre-fab joke on African-Americans known as Kwanzaa. (Author's note: this has inspired me to write about my own made-up holiday, which I think I will do soon.)

Anyways, this got me thinking about how verboten the simple phrase "Merry Christmas" has become in our society. My darling and beautiful wife, about 3 years ago, worked at a Williams-Sonoma and a Pottery Barn back in Seattle as a holiday temp worker. I should mention that this was mostly for the FORTY PERCENT DISCOUNT she got at WS, which rocks in terms of what they sell, plus we needed the money at the time, since I was a simple farmboy working on the plantation -- er, I was a grad student working on slave wages. Anyways, she was explicitly instructed by her employers not to wish anyone "Merry Christmas," but instead to recite the more bland "Happy Holidays." This sort of practice is becoming more and more common among a number of stores around the country. Are the store owners seriously THAT bent out of shape over the possibility of offending someone who would otherwise shop there, or is this just more capitulation to the ever-present culture of "Separation of Church and ________"?

So that leads me to another inevitable conclusion: what about offending the atheists? After all, a holiday is merely a "Holy Day," and I would imagine that any athiest, upon being wished a happy holy day, might become irate. And we wouldn't want that, would we? Their dollars are precious, precious I say! Therefore, we must limit ourselves to something that ensures that we in no way favor any holidays or events taking place during that time. My first thought was to propose the phrase "Have a completely value-neutral winter season!" However, it is obvious that this phrase might offend Wiccans and/or Druids, so we have to discard it, as they have a weird sort of fixation on the winter solstice. So then I thought of "Have a fine, but in no way outstanding, period of time during which the axial tilt of the earth is such that, in the northern hemisphere of the Earth, colder temperatures, shorter days, and overall lack of any natural agricultural production are the norm." However, this might severely alienate the following groups: astronomers, physicists, optimists, pessimists, farmers, flat-earthers, weathermen, sun-bathers, geographers, extraterrestrials, nonheliocentrists, and mathematicians.

It is clear that I am taking the wrong tack here. Rather than trying to offend no one in the name of equality, I should rather extend my efforts to offend as many people as possible equally. Since I am in no way a masochist, I am unable to offend myself as a Christian, so rather, I choose to offend everyone who is NOT a Christian, with the following greeting: "Happy Jesus' Birthday, all you godless heathens!"

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