Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nearing the End

As I approach the end of my time here I wanted to give you an idea of what I've been doing during my time away from home in southwest Asia...

My typical day:

Wake up---getting to work, lately I've been on the night shift so I wake up around 5:00p (all times are local time).  Depending on when my shift starts, either early 7:30p or late 10:30p, I'll go to dinner.  If I'm on the later shift I'll also try to sleep in a little.  If I'm on the earlier shift I'll go to "dinner" which for me is breakfast, and then to work.  It recently snowed about 4 inches so the walk to work is treacherous.  If I'm on the later shift I'll generally forgo dinner and get the midnight meal that is brought to the office.  The food kinda overall sucks here and getting it fresh is not really a priority, so I don't mind getting the slightly-cooled-off delivered food as opposed to the sitting-under-the-hotlamp food in the chow hall.

Work, obviously I can't tell you all about what I do for work (security reasons), but the basic idea is this: I get to the office and after signing in and waiting around about half an hour we brief about what kind of mission we're going to do.  Then, after another 30min-hr (during which time I'm prepping for whatever mission we're going to do) we go out to the plane.  We fly the mission, which can take anywhere between 4-7hrs.  It totally depends on what's going on, the weather, and the type of mission as to how long it takes.  Sometimes, I'm completely bored out of my mind.  Other times, I'm constantly busy and don't have time to eat/drink/pee/whatever.  Then of course there are in-between missions that are neither busy nor boring.  After returning and landing we debrief what happened and how the mission went.  Of course, if the mission was complicated and busy, the debrief could take a while as we talk about all the things that happened.  If it was gouge-my-eyes-out boring, we just meet up, fill out the paperwork, and say, "thanks for flying" or something similar.

At that point, I'm technically done with work.  I can (and sometimes have to) stay later and do work-related stuff.  However, most of the time I'm done, and I spend time (at the unit compound) hanging out with my coworkers.  We play spades, smoke cigars, play video games, and just in general hang out.  If there are lots of people hanging out and playing, I'll stay and be social, if not, I'll generally head back to my room.  I've paid a fairly exorbitant price to get WiFi access in my room so I always have something to keep me busy.  Also, my roommate is one of my best friends that has worked with me almost my entire career.  We agree on so much of life.  It's been a pleasure spending this time together; I'm actually going to miss him when we have to leave (we're leaving the same time though so that'll be fun).  Also, since I moved to Japan (about 8 months ago), and he's planning on getting out of the Air Force, we probably won't be able to see each other again.  We'll keep in touch and we'll always be friends, but it's a bit sad to go through transitions in life where you know things will probably never be the same.  Especially when it comes to friendships, it's hard to think that we might NEVER see each other again.

In my room I've been keeping myself busy with a free class online, editing a friend's new book Notes from Afghanistan by Steven Specht, putting together my dad's next book Sermons from a Tiny Pulpit, reading, praying, and watching movies/TV (of course only downloaded TV shows as I don't have regular TV access in my room).

Overall, I felt I've kept myself productive enough, though I'm looking forward to returning home to Japan and being with my family.  Some of my plans for when I get home...  First off, I'm going to eat real, homemade, good food!  The food here isn't bad (as I've said), but it's certainly not good either.  We're going to open some late Christmas presents (this is the first time I've completely missed Christmas with my family), and have a mini, late Christmas party.  I also can't wait to go to the beach!  Living in a sub-tropical paradise certainly has its perks.  Those are the big things I'm excited about, some of the little things include: sleeping in a regular sized bed, NOT having to wear a uniform all the time, NOT having to wear flip-flops to the bathroom, NOT having to wait 4 days for laundry, NOT having to walk a mile or so to work regardless of the weather, and NOT having to walk past a sleeping roommate to go to the bathroom or leave the room among other things.  All those minor inconviences add up after a while and I'll be glad to be rid of them.

A couple other plans for the new year and returning home...  I want to read through the whole Bible cover-to-cover (I plan on writing about it on Facebook but I'll probably discuss my reading here also).  I also plan on reading 50 books over the course of the next year; I don't have any particular preference on what books, but the first one is The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins.  One last plan, I want to start training for a triathlon. My goal, right now, is to train for a half ironman (1.2-mile [1.9 km] swim, 56-mile [90 km] bike ride, and 13.1-mile [21.1 km] run, also known as 70.3 because it's a total of 70.3 miles).  I'll discuss my training plans in a later post.

Sorry this was so long, I've been thinking about a lot of stuff lately.  I'm going to separate what I originally wrote into two separate entries and I'll definitely be writing more soon.

Long Time no Write

Well, I'm sorry... Again...  Obviously my time deployed has not been spent sharing with you in this blog!  I've been thinking about canceling my blog altogether but I've enjoyed it before so I think I just need to get back into it.  I think one of the biggest hindrances was my attempts at translating my blog into Korean.  Every time I thought about writing something, I thought about how I would translate it, and many times I was at a loss.  My skills in Korean are just not high enough to express what I'm thinking on a variety of topics.

Therefore, I've decided NOT to cancel my blog, however, I will NOT be translating every single entry.  I just don't have the time.  I know, I'd get faster over time if I continued practicing but just to put it into perspective for you; I spend anywhere from 30min-1hour on each English entry (sometimes more of course, but that's probably my average).  Then to take that and translate it, even using Google translate to help with spelling, it takes me about DOUBLE the time to translate as it took for the original post.  So, what would have taken me an hour now takes three!  I've considered waiting a day to write the translated piece, but that doesn't really relieve the problem.  It's still going to turn a 1hr project into 3hrs, just not all on the same day.  I'm not canceling my Korean blog just going to minimize it and only translate stuff that I really want to or stuff that'll be easily transferred.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meditation Education

I recently read an interesting article in the magazine, Scientific American Mind called "The Education of Character" by Ingrid Wikelgren, and the concepts intrigued me because it reminded me of the book I read entitled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human StrengthSince I cannot find the article online (without a paid subscription, though there is a related blog here), I'll summarize some of what it says.

There are several places, and it was apparently it started by a variety of people, including some actors, where an interesting concept has been used alongside traditional education.  Students in these programs practice a variety of meditation-like breathing exercises and other concentration and "mindfulness" practices.  These practices, along with emotional self-regulation are growing among elementary educators.  According to the article the MindUP program and the similar program PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) have both been producing great results throughout the students' lives.  Though the article concludes with a couple notes about how tweaking children's thinking can be difficult to understand in general and sometimes has mixed results.

It was quite interesting to me that I found this article after reading the book about Willpower because the article (and the following article about increasing brain power) confirmed quite a bit of the book.  Now, I'm not the type of person that reads a single article and totally believes every word, but with this well researched article and that book confirming each other, I'm pretty convinced that one of the most important thing a person can learn, especially at a young age, is patience and self-control.  I'm excited about working on some of these patience-teaching techniques with my boys when I get home, and maybe working on some of it myself.  I'm fairly sure that everyone agrees they could use more self-control.

When I was young, I distinctly remember not being permitted to learn martial art because of the link to east Asian mysticism/religion and meditation.  Now, while I don't regret my parent's decision, I think they did what they felt was right in shielding me from negative influences, I think meditation would be good for me.  The difference between what my parents were afraid of and what I would like to practice is the reason for meditating.  Meditation for the purpose of reaching some mystical higher plane of existence and some out-of-body religious experience would be contrary to what I believe.  However, meditation to focus on self-control or breath control would be healthy.  Also, part of meditation is concentration, it'd be good for my mind to spend some time each day meditating on God.  I guess you could just say "prayer," but I kind of see it as slightly different.  Basically, I only want to concentrate on one aspect of God during meditation.  Though sometimes I'd also like to try to just concentrate on nothing.  Though, technically thinking about nothing doesn't really seem possible to me--we'll see.

Gosh I miss home

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012 선거일

Or as my Korean friends would say "erection day."  I don't really want an answer to this, and I've already made my preference clear (Third Party), but who or what are you going to vote for?  I'm sad to say that I officially missed the deadline and my vote won't count, but YOUR'S can!  So, rather than pushing one party or ideal, I'd just like to take this chance to encourage you to voice your opinion.  God has blessed (those of my readers that are US citizens) us with the chance to choose the type of governance and lawmakers we want.  Also, we have decided, as a country, to have a popular vote for the position of President/Vice President (though more on that here), sort of.  Either way, and no matter how you feel about the electoral college, go out and vote today.

On a totally different subject, in order to practice writing in Korean, and to appeal to my (possible) Korean readers, I'm going to start writing a blog in Korean.  It may be full of grammatical and spelling errors, but I'm going to try.  I'm also going to try to make it parallel this blog.  Not necessarily a direct translation of this on but at least the same topic.

Our political system

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Intellectual Property Rights

This is an interesting topic I once discussed with a cigar buddy at the Havana Garage in Omaha.  I had sent out an invitation to my church to meet up for cigars and scotch at a cigar bar, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, only one person was able to attend.  We held an interesting conversation for hours about intelectual property and copyright law (he's a copyright lawyer for a firm there in downtown Omaha).  One of the more interesting tidbits I learned is that one does NOT have to have a copyright to sue for intellectual property rights (in the US).  If you write a poem, song, business plan, or anything that requires (virtually) any amount of creative effort on a napkin at a restaurant and someone overhears you talking about it and steals your idea, EVEN if they have a copyright, and you can PROVE that it's your idea that that person stole, you can win in a copyright case.  Though granted it's much easier to prove something is one's intellectual property with a copyright, but it's not necessary.  That's what copyrights are supposed to do, protect or give legitimacy to the claim to one's intellectual property.  A copyright in and of itself is not proof, just good evidence.

Anyways, another thing I talked about at that time was how I thought it kind of silly that large companies sometimes sue little mom-and-pop businesses that make a small amount of money off selling copyrighted material.  (My lawyer friend replied that large companies often overlook small organizations so long as they don't make too much money, because it's not worth the cost of a lawsuit to pursue every single copyright infringement.)  If you look on there are any number of copyright questionable sellers that run the risk of drawing the attention of some big company that decides to crack down on these small-time sellers.  To me, for some reason the 'big guy' picking on these tiny establishments is completely unfair.

I know it's a double standard but it bothers me just as much that there's a person on Etsy that has copyrighted a silly simple technique for making a fabric baby toy called a taggy, and that person is (or was, I see multiple taggy makers now) constantly hunting down fellow makers and forcing them to remove their goods from Etsy based on copyright infringement.  Then I came across this from a English language teaching program I'm interested in getting involved in:

This is about the future of creativity and innovation, a David v Goliath flashpoint that we hope to rally your support around.
We are a tiny company called Languages Out There (LOT) and publish the world's first social media English course called English Out There (EOT).

EOT works with Facebook and Skype and can transform the English speaking ability of long-term frustrated learners. It is inexpensive for the students but can help teachers to start their own businesses.

We have developed our content over 11 years and have only made a tiny profit in the last two years. It has not been at all easy.

Over ALMOST THREE YEARS we provided privileged and confidential information about our unique content to Oxford University Press (OUP) because they said they were interested in our content.

In March of this year they wrote to us,

"we do not feel that LOT offers the type of materials that we could bring within our catalogue, whether in relation to the current offering or our future plans."

JUST FIVE MONTHS LATER they launched a new five level English course book series with the words,

"Network is the first course to use social networking to help students succeed in English."

The first three English teachers we sent the OUP product link (just the link, nothing else), said this:

Link here.

This is even worse!  I can understand the "little guy" making a tiny bit of money off innovating or recreating a copyrighted item but when a large corporation steals copyrighted material from a tiny company that's just despicable.  As I said, I know it's a double standard and no one should get away with stealing someone else's hard work, but hopefully English Out There can win this one and stop Oxford University Press from stealing their material.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Questioning the consistency of the Bible

Recently I (kind of) got suckered into a discussion of the consistency of the Bible.  Namely, someone said that the Bible has two different dates for when Jesus was born and one of them couldn't have happened because it would have been before he was born.  References given were Matt 2:1 and Luke 2:2.  I found an interesting response to this idea here.  To save you the time of reading that (rather lengthy and well formed) response, I'll sum it up: No one knows exactly when Jesus was born and the dating system is based on tradition and conjecture and is subject to men's opinion.

I responded to the person that pointed out this inconsistency and his response remained that those two events (mentioned in those verses) were not at the same time.  Though he did point out that at the most they are only different by about 10 years which is pretty close given the extreme length of time that has passed since.

Well, all this discussion, by the way my counterpart in this discussion has challenged me to find an extra-biblical account of Jesus even existing, led me to do some research into what people perceive as biblical contradictions.  I found a rather lengthy list and started going through them.  Now, to be fair the introduction to the list does state that some of the "contradictions" listed are explainable by a variety of translations.  So, I started going through the list reading as much of each example given as I could.  It was an interesting exposition of the Bible and led me to reading quite a bit.  I didn't make it through the whole list, but of all the supposed contradictions I did read through only one or two made me scratch my head and didn't have an immediate and obvious explanation.  I didn't notate which ones... but I'll be going through the list in more detail in the future.  What I would like to mention about that list is that all but a couple were so easily explained.  It was like the person who compiled the list didn't really read what was written in the verses listed as "contradictory."

Prime example:

Gen 7:7 Noah and his clan enter the Ark.  (KJV)

7 And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood.

Gen 7:13 They enter the Ark (again?) (KJV)

13 In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;

No one claims the the historical accounts in the Bible are in exact chronological order every time.  Obviously verse thirteen is NOT saying they went into the ark AGAIN after they had already entered.  It's simply a restatement about their activities during that time when they were entering the ark, also, who says they didn't go in and out of the window on the deck or some other explanation.  It's not a contradiction at all.  Many of the contradictions listed on that site follow a very similar pattern to this example.  Many mis-translate the word day to an exact 24-hour period of time when often times it's obviously used as just a 'period of time' or similar meaning.

Anyways, all this to say none of this is making me question my faith, but (ironically) it is making me get into the Word more and study a variety of Biblical passages that I may not have studied before.  I wonder if this (obviously anti-Christian) site ever expected that kind of reaction to their post?

Gosh I miss home

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vacation Plans

I don't know much about my readers, but I'm always curious who reads my blog.  I sometimes review my viewership stats and the vast majority of my readers are out of the U.S. (which makes sense), but unfortunately, whenever I look through my blog to edit it, that also counts as a view so my stats are artificially larger because of my views.  But that's all beside the point...

I'm trying to make some vacation plans for when I get home from this deployment.  I have ample vacation time saved up and I'd like to go someplace fun and interesting.  Unfortunately Michelle (my wife) thinks we should postpone any such plans.  However, we've been talking and making plans to possibly have more children.  I'd like to have a little girl.  Michelle wants either no more or two more to make a round 4 total.  I'm content with 2-3.  My issue is that if we don't take this time to travel there won't be a better time.  Traveling with young children is tough, but if we're traveling with a baby it will be much more difficult.  What I'm wondering, is do you have children?  And if so, do you go on vacation?  Or maybe mini-vacations where you don't really go anywhere?  I don't remember much from my childhood but I do seem to remember going on vacation even when I was very young and my brother much younger.  There was a big difference though, my family NEVER flew anywhere for vacation.  Even when we went to Colorado, we drove all the way!

My options are open for vacation.  It is much more expensive, but we could try to go home to Ohio.  Honestly, I don't think that's worth the expense.  It would be nice to see family again but it would be over $1000/person for plane tickets.  I'd like to take my family to visit Korea.  Since I speak Korean I could be their personal guide.  There's tons of great places to ski and it would be fun to teach the boys skiing.  And of course I'd get to practice all the Korean I wanted.  Then of course we could go pretty much ANYWHERE in the S Pacific.  The options are endless, we even discussed going to New Zealand  or Australia.  It's a bit tough choosing to leave the island because we live in a vacation paradise and every weekend is like a mini-vacation.  But, I'd like to go out and explore the world around the tiny island and I think it'd be a great experience for our family.

The boys enjoying dinner on the beach

Friday, October 26, 2012

Third Party?!

Let me first (again) apologize for my long silence, I've mentioned before that I'm deployed and while I most often find myself with plenty of time on my hands I seldom spend it the way I was prior to being deployed.  Prime example, as part of our morale area in our unit we have a couple couches around a card table and I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time sitting around that table playing spades and smoking.  I don't regularly smoke but (only) while deployed I often smoke as I'm sitting around playing cards with my coworkers.  Secondly, let me apologize for a change in topics, especially into a realm I'm not very well versed in, politics.

So, many of my facebook friends, at least many of the vocal political ones, are supporters of the Libertarian party, specifically Ron Paul.  Now, I know he ran originally as a Republican and didn't get the nomination (I'm told because of that fact he won't appear on many states' ballots this November).  But, I've been raised a republican and I've always (more or less) agreed with Republican candidates and voted for Republicans in elections.  In fact, when I wasn't sure of what candidate to vote for in a certain election, I would invariably vote for whichever Republican candidate was on the ballot. However, I've been more and more leaning towards the Libertarian party. I recently read this blog that basically echoes the way I feel about many of the issues.

In that blog the only thing that I sort of disagree with isthis, "My views are not dictated by ONE ISSUE or POLICY, but by the over all character of a candidates CAREER." Specifically the part about one issue/policy kind of bothers me. I believe all life is sacred, and that life beginsin the womb particularly at conception. So, I'm not going to vote (if I know the person's policy) for someone that will legalize or loosen the current legislation on abortion. Other than that, I'm not much of a one-issue-voter.

I've been reading the Libertarian party's platform points and I gotta say I haven't seen much I disagree with.  I think the reason I've never really looked into the LP before is when I was in high school someone described the LP as anarchists, that believed the government should be completely overthrown.  I've since seen that is not true and after thinking about it for a while I think I might vote for a third party for the first time ever.

On voting however, I'm actually not going to be able to vote in this election.  I'm deployed and I don't think I got in my absentee ballot paperwork in before the cutoff.  One thing I am actually looking forward to over the next couple years of being stationed overseas is, absentee voting.  One of my issues in the past has been that I'm not ever really sure who's going to be on the ballot until I actually walk into the booth.  Now, as an absentee voter, I'll get my ballot in the mail and be able to search online for each politician's views on a variety of policies and voting history (if he or she has been in office previously).

DISCLAIMER:  I am NEVER speaking on behalf of the US Air Force or DoD in any of my political opinion posts.  These are just the inane ramblings of a private person in no way associated with the official position of the Air Force or DoD (my employer).

Guest Post: Charles Philip Smith

My friend Steven Specht posted an article on that I'd like to share here. I'm working on a post about third-party politics (I know not one of my usual topics), but I'd like to share this first.

Two Sides of the Same Worn Out Coin
Our system of election is broken.

How many times have Americans been so disgusted with both major candidates that they vote for what they believe is “the lesser of two evils” or not vote at all, yet they will refuse to vote for a third party?

I truly believe that if they looked into the policies of third party candidates, (there are 10 on the 2012 Florida ballot) they would find at least one that they believed in more than the standard two.

Here is the part that doesn’t make sense to me. Americans will complain on end about how either the Democrats or Republicans are ruining their country; often they will not even agree with their own party. Yet, I have heard all my life how voting for a third party candidate is equivalent to throwing your vote away or even how “it will takes votes from candidate X when we really need to beat candidate Y’.

I am not trying to push a candidate or party. (At this time I believe I know who I will vote for. It is not one of the two major candidates, but this is a personal choice and not the purpose of why I am writing this.) It is my hope that sometime in the future we will start voting as a nation for the person and not the party. My belief is that this begins with third parties and being well informed on the issues important to us.

However, I have not seen any indication that Americans could now or ever do this in the climate we have created. There is such an undercurrent of division, especially in the media, that actively polarizes Americans into the two major political parties. The implication being that it is ‘us’ against ‘them’. Most people don’t realize that there are shades of grey to their beliefs and very few absolutes in this world. I could almost guarantee that most average Americans believe in elements of the major two parties, but not in everything that they stand for.

What I am proposing is that we as a nation do our research. If you do not have enthusiasm for a candidate, there is no reason you should not find someone you can believe in. We live in a free country but have been systematically convinced that there is no other options to us when it comes to one of the most fundamental tenets of what it is to be an American—the right to vote–the right to vote for someone we do believe in.

This requires effort on the individual. It is the only option we have to us to start balancing the rampant partisan corruption on both sides that seems to be determined to bring America to ruin for the sake of reelection and not the betterment of the citizens.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are voting for change when you vote for one of the two major parties. The only recourse you have is to change your vote to a third party. The only way to have honest politicians is for them to have enough competition for them to be fearful of not being elected on their own merits. Without this our country will never find balance and it will be stuck with either side of a worn out coin.
-Charles Philip Smith

Saturday, October 6, 2012

This is Not a Deployment Blog

I don't want to change the tone of my blog to a chronicle of my time deployed, however I did write a bit of a journal entry on the flight over here and I have some stuff to share from my first week here.

After my training near Sacramento, CA, I traveled to Baltimore to catch a flight to the middle east (it's called the "rotator").  My short time in Baltimore was fairly pleasant.  I went to the same irish pub I alway go to when I pass through Baltimore.  My previous experiences at that pub were quite interesting, this time however, I was alone and I just sat quietly drinking my one beer then went back to my hotel to sleep.  The next morning I went to the free hotel breakfast (which was pretty disappointing) then, since I didn't have to be at the airport till the afternoon I took a nap.  Around noon I went to the Baltimore Washington International airport and got in line.  The line for passengers on the rotator was at least 200 yards long!  It's a familiar sight for anyone who has deployed before because the flight is almost always packed full.  Fortunately, after checking in for the flight I ran into some friends (one of whom I have deployed with before), and we shared some beers and dinner before boarding.

Fortunately I got a decent seat on this flight, an aisle where there was only one seat beside me.  This plane is amazingly old and crappy.  The inflight entertainment is a VHS tape player!  I didn't think they even made those anymore.  There's no such thing as 'first class' on this plane; we're all packed in like sardines.  The inflight movie was "We Bought a Zoo" which was a good movie, though the sound system on the plane sucked and it was a tiny screen far from my seat.  They also played "John Carter of Mars."  I've heard that it's supposedly a movie version of the first installment of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet.  Now, it has been a while since I read the book so I've forgotten some of the details but I definitely remember that it's quite different from this movie!  Oh well, poetic license I guess.  One of the passengers had some medical issues so we had to divert to Ireland.  I didn't see much of the place, we didn't even get off the plane, but what I did see definitely makes me want to go back some day.

Finally, we arrived at the deployment processing center.  Not really a bad place compared to sitting in a plane.  It's not much (a hundred or so bunk beds in a tent), but at least it's a place to lay down and sleep and NON-airplane food.  Also, regular access to wifi is nice, first real chance to call home.  Oh, and one can drink two beers a day there which is nice.  I didn't really care to drink and after only one day in this limbo I moved on to my deployment location.

I've been here a week and so far it's been quite a bit like my previous deployments.  It's nice to have indoor plumbing though.  Last year the place I stayed didn't.  The morale is pretty high in the unit here and one of my best friends from my previous deployments, Jon, is here; which has made for a decent time so far.  The best part about this trip though is the hope that it's only supposed to be three months as opposed to my previous trips which were all six months.  I'll take some pictures and attach them to my next few blogs, which I don't plan on chronicling my deployment, but I might mention it; depending on how it's going.

I have gained way too much weight!  Starting excersize/diet program now!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Consistency and Completeness

To all my regular readers (ha, as if I have regular readers!) sorry I haven't written in such a long time.  I've been busy going overseas to a combat zone.

Anyways, I've been reading Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and the author brings up an interesting concept.  Can one actually conceive of a universe that doesn't follow logical rules?  In that regard one might use the copout argument that just writing or saying the words means that one can conceive of it.  But that's a silly argument, and doesn't really count.  That's like being able to read Korean script but having no knowledge of what's being said.  Just being able to say the words doesn't mean that it's actually conceivable.

But, it is conceivable?  Think about sci-fi movies and such... or a world that doesn't have mathematical consistency.  Could, even in a movie, there be a world where 1 + 1 = 3?  I'm not talking about the words 'one,' 'plus,' 'equals,' and 'three.'  Even in this world there are a variety of ways to express the number '1' but could there exist a world where having two of something couldn't exist?  In the movies it is easy (or is it?) to blur the lines between conceivable and inconceivable.

The book often references "zen" and that zen readily accepts contradictions.  It seems like cheating to me... like saying 1+1=2 and 1+1=3, and just accepting both as being completely correct.  It's like throwing out Aristotle's laws of non-contradiction.  The same thing, at the same time cannot be two opposite things!  According to Aristotle without these distinctions we cannot know anything, to which zen would probably responds "yes, we cannot know anything."  Accepting contradiction is not a way of dealing with it, it's a way of ignoring it.  I would guess that zen would eventually draw a line somewhere and stick to some standard.  Maybe not, but even if one ignores a fact or a non-fact does that make it any more of a fact or non-fact?

Nothing quite like seeing an airshow from above the planes

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thomas Aquinas

If you've never heard of him Thomas Aquinas was an apologetics master.  As I've mentioned before, I've been listening to the philosophy podcast and the most recent episode was about Aquinas's proofs for God.  He used the unmoved mover, uncaused cause and other arguments to show that the concept of God is perfectly logical.  I need to read more from this brilliant man!  That being said, this made me think of another reason to believe in God (caveat this is by no means a good reason to believe).

Before I go into that reason, let's discuss "human progress."  The only thing that has really progressed for humanity is hubris and pride.  Okay, when I say only I'm not saying that there haven't been lots of technological advances over the years.  In just my short 30 years (almost 31) there has been huge progress in the power of computing.  That's not what I'm talking about, technological advanced are not true progress, it's just more complicated ways to put together different things in different ways.

Let's look at human progress in the realm of morality or at fixing social ills.  In the past few thousand years, how has humanity progressed at eradicating any of these things that plague humanity?  Hunger?  Poverty?  Disease?  Homicide?  War?  How well have we done in getting rid of these things?

Going back to the topic of great philosophers, hearing some of the writings of Thomas Aquinas made me pause and think about another reason to believe in God, aside from all the great apologists' arguments.  There are dozens upon dozens of brilliant people that have proved time and again that the concept of God is rational.  So, when someone stands up on his or her little soap box and states unequivocally that "God is dead" or "man is God," that person is stating that he or she has more knowledge, wisdom, insight, and logic than many of the greatest thinkers.  Of the history of philosophy podcast that I've been listening to, basically all of the philosophers so far, have believed in some form of god/gods, that includes Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.  Then there are the other great thinkers like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Aquinas, and many many more.  I'm not saying there aren't smart people on the other side of the argument.  I'm saying that humanity needs to take a break and remember from where we've come.

Like my last post about believing in God just because without such belief one has no hope, TRILLIONS upon TRILLIONS of people for centuries have believed that there's Something out there that created everything.  Who are you to rail against human history and claim that man is all there is!?

Beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge from the south side

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Existence is Futile

All of human existence is simply a pointless cycle of boredom - desire - satiety - boredom.  Eating is the most basic example, you're hungry - you eat - then you're full; for a time then it starts all over again.  The past is empty/nothingness, the future is vain unattainable hope.  People try to pass themselves on via procreation and leaving a will, but the person is now gone no matter what they try to leave behind.  In the grand scheme of the universe, time, space and eternity no one makes any difference.  There is nothing worth living for; hoping for the future is in vain and nothing can be gained.  All that one gains in life is lost in death.  Even if one passes on a large amount of possessions/money to one's offspring that person still dies, and becomes nothing.

Interesting though in the  made a point against Epicureanism: One shouldn't dwell on the past; it's gone/a dream, nothing can be done about it.  One mustn't dwell on the future; it's unknowable and always unpredictable.  Lastly, one shouldn't live for the present either; it's fleeting, only here for just a moment then lost to the past, which is a dream.

Where is this coming from, you ask...  I've been listening to this podcast here, and it's based on a translation of Author Schopenhauer's work, The Emptiness of Existence.  I can't believe that there aren't more people that commit suicide based on this work.  If all of life is a short tumble down the hill of existence into non-existence, why go on living?

Along the same lines, a friend and I were talking about the concept of being able to transfer one's consciousness into a machine.  He kept calling that technological advance, "the singularity."  I'm assuming he was referencing this book The Singularity is Near by Raymond Kurzweil.  My friend kept saying that being able to do that would render a person (virtually) immortal.  Total hogwash!  Thinking like this is such a small view of eternity/infinity.  Computers break down over time; data corrupts over time.  On an even larger scale energy sources will eventually run out.  Even the sun will eventually run out.  Infinity is so much farther into the future than computers or electricity or the sun.

Keep in mind that one must caveat that first paragraph with... "without God..."  With God, nothing is futile, everything and everyone has meaning and purpose.  I don't agree with Pascal's wager: that one should believe because it doesn't hurt and in the end if it turns out you're wrong then it doesn't matter. However, this is something similar... if life has no meaning without God, then you should believe, so that your life has meaning.

Love the beautiful central California coast

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fear of Looking Stupid

I drove (about 3 1/2 hours) down to Monterey California yesterday to hang out and eat at some of the places I used to enjoy when I was attending the Defense Language Institute there.  It was a great trip, I went for a hike/run at one of my favorite parks, Garrapata State park.  Then took a swim in HUGE waves at Carmel Beach.  Then, after lunch and hanging out on the coast I stopped for gas.  While I was filling up my tank I overheard the conversation that started me thinking about this topic.  I heard a woman walking along, talking to a Chinese man.  He asked a question about what the different prices were on the gas sign.  To which the woman responded that the lowest price was "unleaded" and the higher prices were more leaded.  The highest price has the "most lead."

Now, first I want to say, there's NOTHING WRONG with not knowing everything.  No one knows everything!  What I'm worried about, is why she didn't just answer honestly with "I don't know."  Why do we, in general, fear that tiny little phrase!?  There's nothing wrong with that woman not knowing what the difference is between the different octanes.  Where she went wrong is where she made something up an told someone who honestly didn't know something that's not even close to the actual fact, apparently just to save face from having to say "I don't know."

I love this town, hope to move back there some day

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Abolish meta-insert the blank

First, if you've never heard the term, meta- comes from Greek meaning "after or beyond."  It's been used in various compounds, the most famous being Aristotle's works (not titled by Aristotle).  The irony of this is that the title has double meaning: either that it's the chapter/book after physics, or that it's beyond physics; i.e. on a higher plane than physics.  Interesting enough this is the only compound using "meta-" that I think should be kept, and I'll cover more about that later.

First, let's consider metalanguage.  The idea that there's some conception of language beyond language, doesn't make any sense.  The "thing" behind language, is thought.  Now trying to conceptualize thought is virtually impossible because you have to think to think about thinking (like that?).  Now, studying and thinking about what kinds of thought generate language.  Sure, but don't call it "metalanguage."

Next, meta-philosophy, that's like saying the philosophy of philosophy.  First off, philosophy is a vague enough word as it is: love of learning.  What is that?  Why do we romanticize the idea?  I think the term meta-philosophy was made up by a philosopher that wanted to get laid (aka sound smart).

There's a large variety of words that misuse the term "meta-," and I won't go into them all now let's just say that most often the words could be replaced by some other word or concept.

The exception: As I mentioned before I think the term metaphysics should still be used.  Here's why: God exists (only using the term "exists" because of a lack of a term that fits better) outside the human plane of existence, and there's no better term to describe something that is beyond our concept of the physical universe.  I've written a couple times about this topic on my blog and I've posted some on this topic at a philosophy forum.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Refuse to Participate

The topic of rape/abortion is swirling around the internet as bad as the typhoon that just passed over Okinawa (and is heading towards the Korean peninsula).  I refuse to participate in this argument!  I've already made my position on abortion clear and I'm sticking to my guns.

What I would like to talk about kind of just fell into my lap.  As I was hiking Saturday, the topic of over-diagnosis/over-medicating ADD/ADHD came up out of the blue.  Then today as I was scanning through the New York Times Opinion pages I ran across this article about the topic.

While I'm not a medical professional and this is just my opinion.  I've seen a variety of articles/Op-Ed pieces about this topic over the years and I still think the way I've thought for a long time.  First, the caveat: YES there are cases where people are helped by medication and there are definitely people that need the help of medication to function.  However, I think the whole system is broken where this is concerned.  While medical science has greatly improved over the years but the brain is still very mysterious, especially concerning cognitive function.  If cognizance is still such a medical mystery how can we rely on medicine to alter people's state of mind.  And yet, that is basically what the medicines that "treat" ADD/ADHD do, alter people's state of mind.  If we don't understand how something works, let's not tamper with it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Comment on Book VI of The Republic

So as I've said before, I've been listening to the audiobook version of Plato's Republic and I've said time and again that I disagree with most of the things he says...  Well, this is one more that is totally crazy (at least, to me)!

Once again, books 1-6 have all been about this supposed "Guardian" class of people that are divided into two sections: gold and silver, i.e. true guardians and auxiliaries.  Well among other things, book six talks about marriage and children among the guardians.  Plato/Socrates places love of the state above ALL else (seemingly on par with love of the gods, which I think might be a part of why he was put to death).  So, in light of that view book six makes sense, though I think he overlooks some important parts of the human nature.  First, a bit about what he says about marriage and children in this perfect state:

Basically, women will be given the same rights and responsibilities as men (which, in that day was very forward-thinking).  However, when it comes to marriage and children all the guardians will share all the women and children.  At a large marriage festival, everyone will gather and the lower classes will be deceived into thinking their marriages were drawn by luck/lot but in reality it's just to keep the lower classes in line and maintain the purity of the gene pool of the guardian class.  So, all the guardians will be mated with other guardians and their children will be immediately taken from them and sent to guardian nursery/training schools to be cared for by specially chosen nursemaids.  The mothers will be only brought in to supply milk and they will be carefully matched so they don't ever nurse their own child(ren).  All the children of a certain age, will call each other 'brother/sister' and call all the people of their parent's generation 'father/mother,' and the previous generation 'grandfather/grandmother.'  Here's the worst part: all the children of the guardian-class couples will be evaluated shortly after birth and if they are found defective they're thrown out like trash and killed, basically, state-sanctioned infanticide.

While the concept of a society-family would be nice (there have been other cultures that do something similar, Korean culture is much more familial than western culture) I don't think this kind of concept will really work.  There's an interesting example in the Bible of state-sanctioned infanticide... it gave birth to Moses, one of Israel's greatest heroes.  I think that Plato/Socrates is greatly underestimating the power of a mother's connection to her offspring; mothers really do have deep connections with their children and wouldn't be able to give them up so easily.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again...  I would never want to live in this type of society.  No matter how good a state is it cannot replace family.  The Nazis tried this kind of eugenics and failed (more or less).  Only the people in charge want to perpetuate this kind of system.  I'm glad that Plato didn't write our constitution because if our state wanted to mandate arranged state-sanctioned marriage and infanticide I'd refuse to have any part in it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eidetic Memory and Testing

Do you have an eidetic memory?  According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, you probably don't.  I love Wiki articles as a launching point for further inquiry, and I think this deserves more study. I only know how my own thoughts go and I, most often, think in pictures.  So, the alternate term for eidetic memory is kind of silly, because lots of people think in pictures and recollect via pictures, therefore lots of people have "photographic memories."  I always like to say, I have a photographic memory but the camera is out of focus.  Mostly because I do think in pictures, and, at times, I can recall a specific picture in my mind.  Unfortunately, oftentimes there's a part of the picture that's blurry.

Best example I can think of off the top of my head: I can picture myself in Mr. Gaines' Bible class (not sure what grade, but it was in high school in the "new" building so it must have been between sophomore-senior years), and I'm taking a Bible memory verse quiz.  I can remember that I could picture the verse in my head (though I've lost the verse now) and I could remember the first half, but I was stuck on a certain part.  But, I could remember what column and what part of the page the verse was one and up until that point I could remember the words, but the rest of the page was fuzzy.  I can still picture where on the page it was; left page, right column, a little more than half way down.  So, obviously in some cases I remember in pictures, but when it comes to music, especially music I've heard but not played, I don't always associate a picture with the music in my head.  I just hear it in my mind.

I was listening to Plato's Republic some more today (like that non sequitur?), which again I have many disagreements with, but in one thing (from book four) I agree with Plato; that is: the importance of education.  Then, as I was thinking about how important education is and today's education climate that seems to think that teachers should be held accountable for their student's performance on "standardized tests" which apparently is leading to "gaming the system", I came up with my idea to help.  I know it's not a perfect analysis of the issue, but my initial thought to helping resolve the problem would be to use two tests each year.  I know that seems like it will only lead to more problems and I feel that much of today's education problems stem from too many tests, but I think that if we're going to base teacher's salary, benefits, and promotions etc. on test performance let's make sure we're testing the right things.

Now, about these two tests...  well, first off, it's actually only one test.  Though I don't think it should be the exact same test twice; because, just by virtue of taking the test once all students would presumably perform better the second time.  No, it should be two virtually identical tests which cover everything the class is intended to cover for the whole year.  Yep, you heard me... a comprehensive test which covers everything the student should have learned over the course of the whole year of class.  But here's the kicker... all the students should take this test BEFORE the school year begins, say on the first or second day of class.  You might respond that all the students should fail.  Well, yes in a manner of speaking most of the students shouldn't know hardly any of the answers.  However, the first test serves as a baseline for the second test to show improvement.

Here's my logic behind this... Some people in every class are going to be extraordinary, WITHOUT the teachers' input; some are not...  So, how can we test to show how much someone learns (presumably from the teacher) without a baseline.  The idea of holding teachers accountable is not necessarily a bad thing, but lets make sure we're not just punishing a teacher for having students that aren't as bright as other students.  After students take both the tests (which should be developed by the teacher), as long as some of the students make some progress then the teacher has done his or her job.  That can be quantifiable evidence used in paying, promoting and providing for teachers.  There should be strict proctoring and review of the test by a group of teachers, and as much as possible we should prevent teachers from cheating.  However, if we hire good people to teach the future of humanity there shouldn't be much danger of cheating.  Only the most trustworthy people should be entrusted with the minds of the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Relativity joke taken from Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar; "A man is praying to God. 'Lord,' he prays, 'I would like to ask you a question.' The Lord responds, 'No problem. Go ahead.' 'Lord, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?’ 'Yes, that is true.' 'Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?' 'A million dollars to me is but a penny.' 'Ah, then, Lord,' says the man, 'may I have a penny?' 'Sure,' says the Lord. 'Just a second.'”

What does that joke have to do with barefootedness you ask... well, nothing!  I just like that joke and wanted to use it.

First a bit of my running history: I started running because when I was on the soccer team my freshman year of high-school, the coach said I should try out for cross-country.  Well, since I went to a different campus that didn't have a soccer team the next year I "tried out" for the team, technically they didn't have tryouts, anyone who wanted could be on the team.  I did okay, I made it to the second level of state competition my senior year with a 5k time of 18:35 which, isn't exactly fast but not bad.  After graduating I didn't even try for the college team because I wasn't fast enough and I let my running go all through college and for a couple years after I dropped out, until I decided to join the Air Force.  The first couple years of being in the Air Force I was on a running team and I was getting pretty fast again, though not as fast I was in high school; got my 1.5mi time down to 8:45.  Also, I ran a marathon (first, and only so far) with a time of 3:53 which isn't bad for a first timer.  Just of note, I hadn't really even considered running barefoot up until about 3 or 4 years ago.

Now a bit of my barefooted history: if you don't know me in person you probably don't know that I'm a barefooter/barefoot runner.  I've  been wearing the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) "shoes" for about three years, and when the weather is nice (mostly) I run completely barefoot.  Unfortunately, I have to wear socks when I'm in Air Force physical training gear so I don't wear my VFFs; I wear Merrell trail gloves.  I've done two half-marathons in the VFFs though I really do prefer completely barefoot.  I've also tried out a variety of other footwear options, including huaraches.  I started down my road towards barefoot/minimal shoes by reading the book Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie and the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and a variety of blogs and websites.

All that to say I love running barefoot.  It kinda sucks that I won't get to run barefoot at all for the months I'm deployed.  Fortunately, I'm going to be in California (where I'm writing this) for about a month more and I'll be able to go barefoot (at least some) while I'm here.  I went for a short hike the other day barefoot and as soon as I can find more trails I'll do some more.  It kinda sucks, I can't find a place close by to go running.  I've been here a week and I've only been running once.  Hopefully this next weekend I'll get a chance to go to lake Tahoe and go for a hike/run there.

Anyways, happy trails to you all.  And, if you've never tried, go barefoot.  It's not as dangerous or painful as people think.

Edit: Since the writing of this original piece I've done a half-marathon barefooted, other than that I've been wearing my huaraches (updated link).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plato's Republic, Books 1-3

First I'd like to say, I would NEVER want to live in a country like the one described in the first three books of Plato's definitive work. There's all kinds of interesting concepts even in just the first three parts, but there are all kinds of things I totally disagree with. However, I'll start out with what I do agree with but first a short into:

The first book is a discussion between the characters (the most famous one is Socrates) about what the best kind of society would be like if they could make it so, and the argument about justice vs. injustice. The other characters insist that it's better to be unjust than just, and they offer all sorts of arguments for injustice, though they don't really "decide" anything about this; even after Socrates has his say about why justice is better. They end at an impasse (in greek it's ἀπορɛία; aporia) where no one is "right" no one is "wrong," and the argument is just ended. One of the things that is "decided" in the first book that everyone in the argument more or less agrees with is the idea that each position in society should stick to that position. I, for the most part, agree with this though the discussion doesn't leave any room for hobbies (perhaps because in those days only the über-rich would have spare time to pursue hobbies).

Then in book two, one of the only points that I totally agree with (so far) comes out. That is, the idea that the "defender class" (i.e. the military) should be philosophers or at least think philosophically. It saddens me that the military profession has never really had this type of people in it. Don't get me wrong there are some very philosophical people in the military (many are my peers), but in general philosophy is not really a martial art.

Then book three focuses on the education of the military class, and this is where Plato and I have to part ways. Socrates speaks at great length about how this class should be educated, specifically about the censorship of the writers/poets, art, and music. Like there should be no writings of the gods that shows them doing human-like actions and having distinctly human failures. It's not really surprising the people sentenced him to death. In ancient Greece where the writings of Homer were akin to other sacred texts (the Bible, if you will, for Greek faith), and here Plato/Socrates (assuming Socrates actually taught what Plato was writing that he taught) is teaching that Homer (and others, but Homer is specifically mentioned) should be censored and NOT taught to the military class. That would be like someone in Medieval times preaching that the Bible isn't true. Basically, blasphemy, though of course it's not called that, at least not by anyone I know.

One thing isn't clear (though it doesn't matter I still disagree with him), is ALL art/poetry/music/writing to be censored? Or just that which the military class studies/experiences? Either way I disagree, the only thing I agree with is that we need to be careful about what age we expose children to certain poetry/art/music. Because, (and this is scientifically supported) children lack the ability to discern certain differences between what is real and what is fake or what is right and wrong. There is an innate sense of some right/wrong but children cannot discern real/fake. Also, they cannot see through lies or deceptions or advertisements. Up until a certain age kids don't know the
diference between the TV show they're watching and the commercials. So yes, shield kids from bad influences and temptations that they cannot resist, to a point, then when a person has learned self control/Willpower, let them learn about EVERYTHING (except the darkside of the force, apparently). We want to develop a well-rounded society, so everyone should study as much as he/she can in whatever field he/she is interested in.

I'll continue more on The Republic as I listen to the audiobook, but I'm also trying to read
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and it is a very heady, difficult to read book. My friend also recently sent me, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief which I'll be trying to read also while I'm away from home. I did finish Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, I highly recommend it as a neat/humorous introduction to philosophy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Response to Guest Post from Steven Specht

Steven's insight into such a backwards society is eye-opening!  I've always known that there are people out there that believe things like that and aren't open to scientific advance but I didn't know it was anything like this story.  I can understand people living in areas where there aren't any scientist, schools or any other avenues of learning but once you've been exposed to a scientific or logical explanations to seemingly amazing events (like solar/lunar eclipses).  I hope that our nations' (and the coalition's) actions there in Afghanistan have a more positive impact than the media spin on it.  I hope that we can do more than defend our national interests by getting rid of those that intend to attack western culture with terrorist tactics.

I have never completely agreed with the recent war(s) in the middle east, but IF we are able to bring true safety, fair equitable treatment/freedom, and fair/free education (among other things but I feel those are some of the most important things western society has to give to the world), THEN we can truly say "mission accomplished."  Also, IF we are starting to have a negative impact, to the point that we are stirring up more terrorists against us by poor tactics or just the simple fact that we are occupying their territory, THEN we should leave.  Unfortunately, it seems like leaving (especially if we leave before those goals are accomplished) would only stir up even more enemies.

Our nation hasn't had a very good history when it comes to international relations, especially in the middle east.  As I said before that we are, in some way, responsible for provoking the unrest that we are now trying to quell.  Maybe we shouldn't have done some of the stuff we did to provoke the unrest, but in some ways we just did what we thought was right at the time without much of a view for the future.  Hopefully, we can make up some of that wrong and bring true help to those we've mistreated in the past.

Monday, August 13, 2012


So I've been reading Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar one of the topics in the current chapter was pragmatism. Of course I'm reading while on a trans-Pacific flight so I have no access to my usual sources for study but the book gives a nice concise introduction to pragmatism.

To sum it up "According to [philosopher William] James, we choose our truth by what difference it will make in practice." The reason this caught my eye is I'm a huge fan of denying all types of moral relativism, which is what pragmatism is... moral relativism masquerading as something deeper. As opposed to divine law, pragmatism (and other moral systems) always boil down to something that is mutable. In pragmatism the key words, as far as relativism is concerned, are "we choose". Pragmatism, even though focused on the practical application of moral choices, still hinges ones' choice.

One of the concepts the History of Philosophy podcast mentioned about the innovations brought about by Plato/Socrates was how he made philosophy about finding out how one ought to live. It seems to me that while Socrates was real and in many ways accurately portrayed by Plato, it's really Plato's genius that gave Socrates to the world, and thereby, really it was Plato that changed philosophy for the whole western world. Philosophy has become so generalized it has lost much of its meaning. Don't get me wrong there are all sorts of people seeking practical application in today's world, but if you're following relativistic thinking (any kind) you have to constantly be rethinking your ethics because they change.

That's not to say that divine moralists don't have to consider new issues as they arise; as science changes what we can do (especially medically) we have new things to consider. Notice I didn't say "progress" I've always thought that just because something is new doesn't mean it's better. Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should go back to the middle ages, there are tons of great advances brought about by science; life is much easier now, maybe too easy, we are a very overweight culture.

Interestingly, now that I have access to the Internet and I can look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  That entry talks about pragmatism as a bridging philosophy between metaphysical/religious morality and scientific/empiricist moralities.  I don't really see it that way with how I understand the concept of pragmatism, because it still relies on a non-deity for a source of morality.  The only way I could see pragmatism as an equalizer is if there were (which I don't believe there really is) an issue that is not dealt with in the Bible it would help one make a decision.  I know that may sound naive but if you study the Bible thoroughly, though it may not make a direct reference to all possible moral circumstances, through broad instruction it includes everything.  (For example: 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24  All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own  good,  but that of his neighbor. (NASB) and 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (NASB))

Guest Post Sam Ronicker (my dad)

Quick biography note before getting to the post. My dad has held a variety of jobs, though when I was growing up he mostly worked in the newspaper business. He left the newspaper business when all of us were grown and started working in ministry. He's run a home for men, been a dorm parent, and now the administrator of Operation Rebirth boys' boarding school near St. Paris, Ohio. He's also a pastor of a small Baptist church near there, this is a chapter from his upcoming book, "Sermons from a Tiny Pulpit."

Let’s Be Real!

One of things that I think we are responsible to do as part of the body of Christ is to protect ourselves, protect the Church with a capital ‘C’.

Some verses that really, really bother me:

II Peter 2:-12 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

II Corinthians 11:13-14 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

I Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

This one troubles me most of all-

Matthew 24:24

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

I don’t want to be deceived, I want to be careful that what I believe is the truth, and that the truth is what I believe. It’s tough these days, the world and Satan want to fool us into being of no use to God, to the church to each other. Think about it- even our language has changed: the word ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean. We get bombarded with worldly thinking…we get infiltrated by the media, the environment, our society. We don’t need to be afraid, but be smart. Einstein once said the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limitations…

There have been false teachers since the dawn of time…clear back to the Garden of Eden. Let’s be smart- the Bible calls this discernment. Matthew 10:16- be wise as serpents, harmless as doves.

So how do know when something is real, how do we know when something is true or not. How can we tell if even the elect, the saved have been deceived?

Besides truth, I would guess that the thing that gets counterfeited the most is money. Technology is great- it’s made it so criminals can print fake money easier than ever. So they change the design every so often to stay one step ahead.

But the bottom line is, how can you tell a fake?

To know a counterfeit, study the real thing. Does that seem the opposite?

Think about it- there are many counterfeits, but only one real-

There is lots of untruth in the world, there are lots of counterfeit bills out there but only one is real- there are lots of ‘christs’ but only one is real. All roads lead to God- not true. I am the way the truth and the life said Jesus and there is only one of Him. There are lots of writings out there, but only one Bible. Let’s study the real Scripture, the real Jesus, the real way of salvation so when a phony comes along, we don’t get fooled again (The Who). Dr. Adrian Rogers, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and founder of Love Worth Finding Ministries once preached a message about recognizing counterfeit preachers- five tests:

Source Test- what is their information based upon? Is it the Bible?

Savior Test- do they believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior? The Only Savior?

Subject Test – is the Bible their primary source of teaching?

Salvation Test- how are we saved? What is the requirement for Salvation? Don’t add to it or take away from it! (Romans 10:13 says Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. In the original Greek that literally means Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!)

Sanctification Test- are we holy, set apart, different from the rest of the world, are we even different from the rest of the church little ‘c’?

Let’s study the real thing! Let’s be real! And here is the big question: are we the real thing? Have we been fooled into believing that we are something that we are not? Are we really Christians…what the word used to mean?

Look at the book of James 2:14-26

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.  20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.  25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

You see faith without works is dead, as in real, real dead. (Not just mostly dead, but completely dead.)

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:

Was there a time when I honestly realized I was sinner and admitted this to myself and to God? Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come? Have I ever seriously been bothered by my sins? Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself? Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them? Or, do I hate sin and fear God? Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? (In the original Greek this means have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my Salvation?) Do I enjoy having a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?

Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works or are my works occasional and weak? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus? Do I have a desire to share Christ with others? Or, am I ashamed of Him? Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me? Do I love the Church with a capital “C." Am I ready for the Lord’s return? Or, will I be ashamed when He comes for me?

Is my faith alive or dead?

Let’s be the real thing.

And to make sure we don’t get fooled, let’s study the real thing,

And let’s make sure we know the real Savior, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O Lord, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Numbers 6:24–26, NIV) The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
and give you peace.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Guest Poster Steven Specht

I put out an "advertisement" on Facebook for guest posters, again, this time I received two responses! The first was from my friend Steven Specht who's been working on a book and his website Here's his first of multiple entries, Excerpt of Notes from Afghanistan:

On December 10th 2011, there was a blood-red lunar eclipse which was visible in parts of the northern hemisphere including eastern Asia. This is my commentary on the event as it relates to the Muslims I worked with in Afghanistan as a contractor linguist and taught English in my spare time.
I could not understand the utter fear caused by the lunar eclipse, and it was the first time in my tour that I can truly attest to culture shock. Poor hygiene, low-to-nonexistent literacy, and many other things I could equate to the poor infrastructure and lack of schooling, but when it came to the reaction of the eclipse, I was astounded. While there is a fundamentalist Christian element to American society, for the most part, I feel that I’ve been raised in a culture that focuses predominantly on empiricism over superstition. This is decidedly not the case in a country dominated by fundamental interpretations and outright superstition for many events that Westerners shrug off. This includes lunar activity.

When Fazli came to me to discuss the “Bad Sign,” at first I didn’t even realize what he was talking about. I’d noted the eclipse, chastised myself for not paying better attention to current events, and went on about my evening. He told me that this was a bad omen sent by God to warn people about their sinful ways. All manner of things happened during the time of an eclipse, and he spoke so fast that much of it was lost in translation, but the most poignant part was that families would mourn and pray for salvation on a night like this, and a baby born during an eclipse would need a goat sacrificed on its behalf. Fazli was incredibly nervous, but Ali was shaking, red-eyed, and nearly in tears over the event and asked to leave early to go pray. Among all the rest of the Afghans in the chow hall and around the barracks there was an aura of discontent, and I didn’t need to interview all of them to make sense of it. Even Najeeb half-heartedly assented to the superstitions, but I insisted he come to my class; he wanted to know what I thought, but I needed a white board to properly illustrate my explanation.

While there isn’t anything explicitly negative about the eclipse in the Quran, the Old Testament references the negative connotations associated with eclipses, and Old Testament tradition is such an inseparable part of Islam.

Joel 2:31-32 “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.”

Amos 8: 9 “And [in the end],” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Obviously the second verse is referring to a solar eclipse, but I use it to lead into my next point which is that I think what makes Asadullah and Najeeb so unique in my experiences here. They both are set apart from the rest of the Afghans with whom I’ve worked. Hajmal, Mohammad Ali, Najibullah, and others have all been exceptionally smart, but I question if they will ever have the depths of experience to build a bridge between our societies. Asadullah is well educated and as far as I can tell is filled with an innate curiosity that transcends the bonds of religion. Najeeb, while less educated has worked with the coalition for so long that we have simply rubbed off on him to the point that he trusts us to not lead him astray. They were the only two who attended my English class the night of the eclipse. Both asked me for my opinion, and after I drew a diagram on the white board, both seemed to accept the possibility that it was merely the earth blocking the light of the sun. I wasn’t trying to convince them. I was just passing off what I believed on the issue, and they felt it made more sense than the superstition they’d been brought up with. For both of them, it was an epiphany.

In societies such as Afghanistan, we cannot take for granted that the country as a whole can be capable of understanding our level of empiricism just as we may not be able to understand their level of superstition. This puts further burden on those who can understand fundamental approaches to religion as well as the complexities of Western science, economics, and politics. Whether they are Americans who have immersed themselves in this culture or Afghans who have worked alongside Americans for years at a time, they have the unique role of developing understanding between two different societies.

It’s not that I necessarily think that our empiricism is right or that their superstition is wrong. It’s that without some basic understanding of both, our worlds cannot coexist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Morality of Drone Strikes Response

This is my response to two articles about the morality of drone strikes one here and a scathing response here. The former article is actually a second article in response to things said about the same author's opinions in first piece. First off, I'll be honest I didn't read ALL of all the articles, all together they're quite long, but I did read most of them. Second disclaimer, I'm a member of the USAF, even so, NONE of what I say has anything to do with the views of the Air Force or the Department of Defense (by the way, that's true of all my posts). In this I feel I have a unique perspective on this whole issue.

There are all sorts of weapons our military uses. I'm part of one of the systems, though in most of my experience I've only been a small part of it. All I've seen is how incredibly careful we, and our allies are when it comes to finding and taking out (using the vernacular) targets. I have NEVER felt uncomfortable with how we eliminate targets. There are so many rules, regulations, and redundancies to make absolutely sure that we're targeting an actual terrorist that it can actually be frustrating sometimes. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs or as they're now called unmanned aerial systems, UASes) is just one of the different tools in the arsenal. It is no more moral, immoral, or amoral than a bomb, bullet, bow and arrow, or any other weapon. About the use of the system in general, yes I think it could start the users of it down a dangerous pathway to wanton killing however there is so much back-study (read: intelligence) gathered on each target that the idea that drones are supposedly causing so many civilian casualties is nonsense.

Does it allow for eliminating enemies at great distance yes, does it allow the enemy to surrender? Not directly... The rebuttal
blog talked about this at length even referencing the Geneva Conventions, and I'll admit there is a flaw in the use of such long range weaponry. The target cannot surrender to it. But then, the target can't surrender to any bomb or bullet. He, rightfully, says: "very few would be likely to waive this right for their own soldiers who one day may need to surrender, and declaring as antiquated the provisions of the international agreement that was created specifically to prevent a repeat of the mass bloodletting of World War II is a slippery slope." Yes, I agree, it's a slippery slope, but not one that we're treading down as a military, yet.

Also, there's a couple things he's overlooking in his argument: one, this is not technically a war (not at least, in the traditional sense). These are not enemy soldiers that we are attacking and then, when overrun, offered parlay or surrender or vice versa, there's no surrendering to them. These are terrorists who have declared their own war on the West, freedom, and democracy (I'll not go into the idea of whether or not it was provoked, suffice to say that we did at least somewhat provoke them). Terrorist "soldiers" are brainwashed (not to say that ours aren't somewhat too), poor, confused, and sometimes even intimidated people that don't attack the enemy fortifications or supply lines (most of the time). They strap on (sometimes under threat of force) explosive vests and walk into markets and blow up themselves and anyone/anything around them. I'm not saying the ends justifies the means; I'm saying that this is a different type of engagement, targets are hidden among the populace. In addition to the fact that these are hidden, elusive targets that must be taken out with precise means; Mr. Hussain isn't taking into account that these targets CAN surrender at any time. There are any number of police and coalition checkpoints and bases spread out all over Afghanistan or the military/government in Pakistan. Any terrorist, at any time, could turn himself or herself in to the police or the NATO forces.

The very next issue on the rebuttal blog is "No ID." In a few instances there's a possibility that after the fact we cannot confirm or deny the efficacy of the strike. However, our intelligence professionals spend days, or weeks sometimes, finding and verifying targets, ensuring that they're not innocent bystanders in this conflict. Then after a target has been verified as a terrorist the process starts all over again with a more narrow focus. Then only AFTER all these verifications have been made and the target approved, is it taken out. Sometimes there is proof e.g. the target is never seen again, or some other intelligence source says the target is dead.  Sometimes there isn't and that's not really an issue.

In this conflict, I don't feel that the US should consider ALL military age males in the combat area targets, however, it's clear that they don't and never have. Of course, there are different types of engagements, planned and unplanned. Planned is as I've described, unplanned is generally when a group of coalition forces is attacked and they call in a strike. In those types of situations the rules are different and rightfully so. When self-defense is the issue this is war and making sure our soldiers come home is of paramount importance. Just like in previous wars/conflicts, calling in the drone/bomb (though more often than not, this type of scenario it's a manned asset that is called) is basically the same as calling in the artillery except MUCH more accurate. Artillery shells destroy large areas, precision guided missiles kill targets, and manned assets can use guns, they don't wantonly drop bombs. They only use the amount of force needed to stop the attack and permit the coalition/US forces to get to safety.

I could go on all night, but I'm going to have to stop here on the drone issue. I only have one more thing to say about the war in general. As a general concept, I think the idea of a "war on terror(ism)" is impossible at best, rife with conspiracy at worst. Should the US be attempting to fight fear (look up the word terror fear is in the number one definition) with guns, bullets, bombs, and soldier's lives? I don't think so.  How does one "fight fear"?  Especially with weapons!? I am an American Airman and I will do my duty and obey my orders. In fact, I think I'm better suited for the job because I bring a perspective to the war that we should be as careful as possible to only kill those that would kill any of us if they were given the chance.