Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What a man

Another interesting aspect of looking at the book of Judges is the people it centers on, especially those that God used to rescue the Israelites from their enemies. Of all the people God uses throughout the book, I find Samsom to be one of the most interesting.

Samson is a man who embodies nearly everything we find distasteful. He's brash, he's rude, he's lead by his passions and hungers, he has a blinding temper, he listens to God when it suits his purposes. We probably would not have liked Samson if we'd met him; yet the very problem is that we see too much of himself in ourselves.

I suppose it is easy to come down on Samson; after all, what would my own life look like if it were condensed into a few pages of scripture? Would people see a man who sought to do the will of God and struggled to attain holiness, or would they see a lazy sinner who followed God when it was convenient and easy?

But the absolutely amazing thing is that despite all of Samson's flaws, God used him. In fact, God often took advantage of those very flaws! What an amazing concept! How often do we convince ourselves that we are of no use to God because we have some sin bogging down our lives, that we're just not holy enough? Samson should be proof that God is willing to use his followers at all levels of maturity and holiness in order to accomplish his purposes. True enough, God doesn't want to leave us immature and unsanctified, but he certainly won't forgo letting us serve him just because we haven't reached perfection yet.

Judge This

If you've been reading my blog for any period of time now, you probably realize that I'll talk about pretty much whatever is interesting me at the moment. Sometimes, I go on spiels about politics. Sometimes, I'll talk about tech stuff, some cultural/media phenomenon, or what have you. Sometimes, I like to talk about philosophy and religion. Right now, it's the latter. And it might remain that way for some time for a while. I have many ideas popping up lately.

In my own study of scripture lately, I've been reading Judges. A lot of people tend to talk badly about the first several books after Genesis and before Ruth, but I really enjoy the history and, more importantly, the picture of God that comes from it. What surprises me is that people don't connect more with the book of Judges.

In Judges, we have a very close, uncomfortably close picture of Israel in all of its foibles. God helps Israel; Israel experiences a time of peace and blessing; Israel goes on their merry way, sinning and worshipping idols; God sends the enemies of Israel to punish them for their sins; Israel cries out to God for help; God sends help to Israel . . . and repeat. It goes on and on and on and on that way for so very long. Part of us thinks, "God, why did you put up with those people? What was wrong with them?" But think of how often our lives are filled with the same patter: Complacency, sin, repentence, repeat. I think it's a good idea for us to remember that God isn't in the business of just casting out his people when their lives are filled with sin. No, God wants to redeem them, to make them holy. He doesn't say, "Well, you had your chance, tough luck, see you in Hell (from Heaven)." No, God wants them to learn to be his . . . even if the lesson takes countless centuries to learn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Site Meter scares me

Sometimes, analysis is not a good thing.

I like to look at my Site Meter statistics every so often, see what is bringing people to my site. It's not always good.

A great number of the "references" to my site come from people searching on Yahoo for things such as Japanese vaginas or having sex with your cousin. Those are pretty common. It's rather scary that my sight pops up so high on the list of search results in Yahoo and Google for those things.

I mean, I suppose I should relish the opportunity to present the Gospel to people seeking such . . . material. Still, discovering the internet habits of strangers is disturbing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Listening to God in prayer

If you've ever talked with me, or have read enough of my past writings about theology, then you know that this issue is of high interest to me. Ever since I read Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God last year, I have been exploring the issue. Mostly, I am convinced, due in no small part to Friesen's book, that it is an unbiblical concept, probably invented by modern pop-Christianity. However, I struggle where I can to find scriptural support as given by proponents of this doctrine. Scriptural support is rare, but I try to analyze it when I can find it. This post will examine several verses I was given as support for it during camp.

First, a quick definition. What does it mean to "hear God" during prayer? Basically, God "talks" to you, but not in an audible voice. He is heard through the spirit, the voice of the Holy Spirit living within the believer.

The first verse comes from John 10:27.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

This verse comes from a section in which Jesus, several times, uses a metaphor of sheep and shepherd to refer to himself and his believers. Read the entire chapter for context. Jesus is saying during the chapter that he is not only the Messiah and the Son of God, but God himself. In context with what he says during the chapter, it would seem that Jesus is saying that the faithful will recognize Jesus for who he is. The Jews came to him and asked him to say, yes or no, if he was the Messiah. It seems right to say that Jesus' answer is rightly, "Look, if you really had faith, you'd know who I was. If you followed God, you'd know to follow me. I am God."

This would rule out a direct interpretation as saying, "You can hear the 'voice' of the Holy Spirit." Indirectly, could that be what Jesus is saying? Only if it was supporting verses that more strongly taught the idea.

The next verse comes from Luke 7:37-47.
There was a woman who was a notorious sinner in that city. When she learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's home, she took an alabaster jar of perfume (38) and knelt at his feet behind him. She was crying and began to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she kissed his feet over and over again, anointing them constantly with the perfume. (39) Now the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who is touching him and what kind of woman she is. She's a sinner!" (40) Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "say it." (41) "Two men were in debt to a moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, and the other fifty. (42) When they couldn't pay it back, he generously canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him the most?" (43) Simon answered, "I suppose the one who had the larger debt canceled." Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly." (44) Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You didn't give me any water for my feet, but
this woman has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. (45)
You didn't give me a kiss, but this woman, from the moment I came in, has not stopped kissing my feet. (46) You didn't anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with perfume. (47) So I'm telling you that her sins, as many as they are, have been forgiven, and that's why she has shown such great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little."

Well, to be honest . . . I have no idea how these verses apply to the idea of "hearing God." They were cited to me in a list during a seminar, and I really have no idea how it applies. The story seems to have nothing to do with hearing from God, prayer, or anything. Moving on . . .

The next verses are from later in Luke, 10:38-42.

Now as they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. (39) She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the Lord's feet and kept listening to what he was saying. (40) But Martha was worrying about all the things she had to do, so she came to him and asked, "Lord, you do care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself, don't you? Then tell her to help me." (41) The Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. (42) But there's only one thing you need. Mary has chosen what is better, and it is not to be taken away from her."

The way these verses were cited, it was taken as a "sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him is so very important" kind of thing. The problem is that this woman literally sat at the feet of Jesus. Something comparable now would be anything related to Christian life . . . reading of scripture, church, etc. But it really doesn't say anything about the hearing portion of this. Value of this book for the doctrine? Not really useful at all.

The final verses are Acts 16:6-10.

Then they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the word in Asia. (7) They went as far as Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not let them. (8) So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. (9) During the night Paul had a vision. A man from Macedonia was standing there and pleading with him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (10) As soon as he had seen the vision, we immediately looked for a way to go to Macedonia, for we were convinced that God had called us to tell them the good news.

The idea usually presented here is that the Holy Spirit, speaking through prayer, told Paul and Silas that they weren't to enter these regions, but then called them to go to Macedonia. The problem, however, is that the verses never say how the Holy Spirit prevented Paul and company from entering these areas. Is it the author's way of attributing God's purpose to the circumstances they encountered? Maybe. The meaning of the verses isn't clear. And the "Macedonian Call" is an entirely different situation. This wasn't Paul "hearing" an inaudible voice in his mind and soul from God. Paul saw a vision. This was a very direct thing. Paul's had many visions, and from how he describes them, they are nothing like what people talk about when they say they "hear" from God. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about being caught up to the "third heaven." This is a very different thing.

So, what have I concluded from all of this? Nothing new. These verses are completely unconvincing as evidence for this doctrine. None of the verses are specific enough to really define the doctrine scripturally. Defining a doctrine, basing it in scripture, requires much more specific information from the verses than I have seen so far. But I'll analyze any set of verses in pursuit of the truths of God. Scripture must speak for itself, and not suffer from man reading his preconceived doctrines into the verses.

Back to normalcy

Whatever that means.

Ah, it's good to be back. Camp is always fun, but it's an isolating experience. No net connection, no newspapers, no television . . . I really have little idea what's been happening in the news lately. I've read a bit about the recent SCOTUS decision that's had everyone in an uproar, but I can't tell you anything that other conservative commenters could. "Whoever produces the most taxes has priority on land, owned or unowned" is how I interpret things.

Anyhow, with that in mind, most of what I have to write about in the next few posts will be about my experience at camp over the last week. Mainly, my writings will be about teaching, preaching, theology, etc.

As a general note, I enjoy helping out for these sorts of things. It's always good to help out with youth, teaching and guiding them. I'd like to think I have a lot to offer, and I'm close enough to their age that I might be more easily accessible to them than one of their fathers. The unfortunate side to that is that they often don't respect the authority of one they regard as so similar to themselves. *Sigh*. Nothing in life is ever easy.

Anyhow . . . welcome back, readers.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Downing Street Fakes?

Follow the link above. Captain Ed has a great news analysis piece about this.

For a while now, the liberals have been hawking up these "Downing Street Memos" which supposedly show that Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq. Why? Because of one line in the memos which states something to the effect of "Facts are being fixed around the policy." Something like that.

Not that such is conclusive, or proof of anything. It's one staffer's interpretation of statements from a high-ranking British intelligence officer. And even then, a Congressional investigation found that there is no evidence that there was any intel-fixing or anything of the sort.

But that hasn't stopped the liberals from using the Downing Street Memos as proof of Bush's "crimes."

As it turns out, though, the documents might be fraudulent. Or, at least, we may have no way of knowing if they are or not (Gee, does this feel like Rathergate all over again?).

The British journalist who originally broke this story only had copies of the documents, destroyed the originals, and passed them by an anonymous "British official" who said that the content "seemed authentic." The problem is, you can't authenticate a copy, no matter what you think of the content. Bad move on the journalist's part. As Captain Ed succinctly puts it:
This, in fact, could very well be another case of "fake but accurate", where documents get created after the fact to support preconceived notions about what happened in the past. One fact certainly stands out -- Michael Smith cannot authenticate the copies. And absent that authentication, they lose their value as evidence of anything . . .

Even if these memos could be authenticated, they're still meaningless. They could only excite the kind of idiots that would hold mock impeachment hearings with four witnesses and no authority whatsoever.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Deuling atheists? Let's watch!

How does Al Mohler do it? Two blogs? The man's crazy!

In any case, the title link takes you to a brief analysis of Guardian newspaper articles between two atheists:
Dylan Evans and Salman Rushdie offer competing concepts of modern atheism in a recent pair of dueling newspaper articles. Evans was first to strike, writing in The Guardian [London] that atheists should strike a softer pose, acknowledging, in essence, that religions can be beautiful, even if they cannot be true. Rushdie wants nothing to do with this approach, asserting that Evans is proposing something like "Atheism Lite." Rushdie wants his atheism delivered the old fashioned way -- with venom.

Read the whole thing.

A New Exodus

The title link leads to Al Mohler's review of a book titled Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. The review is an interesting read, and he does a good job summarizing the content of the book. He spent too much of the review summarizing the statistics and then telling us the book isn't just about statistics. Nevertheless, here's a good section:
Shiflett's instincts as a reporter led him to see a big story behind the membership decline in liberal denominations. At the same time, Shiflett detected the bigger picture--the decline of liberal churches as compared to growth among the conservatives. Like any good reporter, he knew he was onto a big story.

"Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity," Shiflett asserts. This author is not subtle, and he gets right to the point: "Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public--people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe--go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood."

Taken alone, the statistics tell much of the story. Shiflett takes his reader through some of the most salient statistical trends and wonders aloud why liberal churches and denominations seem steadfastly determined to follow a path that will lead to their own destruction. Shiflett also has a unique eye for comparative statistics, indicating, for example, that "there may now be twice as many lesbians in the United States as Episcopalians."

The whole thing is worth a read.

Interestingly, the statistics quoted say that the United Methodist Church, to which I am a member, has declined 6.7% in the last decade. To be honest, the talk of decline in the Methodist Church has always been rather foreign to me, as my church here is very conservative. From the way I've understood it, the UMC is mainly conservative, but at some point the liberal factions gained enough seats of power in the seminaries, and began training pastors and other church workers who abandoned biblical Christianity. Since then, the conservative majority has been fighting back, but it's not an easy process when the seats of power are occupied by liberals. This can be seen in the multiple battles over homosexual unions and pastors the Church has seen in the last decade; everytime the issue comes up, the conservative and liberal elements of the Church become clear and wage very unfortunate wars. But that's just how these things have been presented to me, in a brief way.

On another note, it often seems that the liberal elements like to win their battles through the media, by rallying their plight for equality and modernity. It seems not just sad, but unbiblical, that rather than going through the church and through Christ's teachings, these people would bring their cases before the world allow "public opinion" to weigh in on the issues.

News and Updates

Yeah, posting has been light lately. Life has been busy. It's summer and I have very few obligations, so I have much better things to do than sit in front of a computer all day.

Case in point: Last week, I helped lead small groups at my church's Area Wide Conference for college students and young adults. Turn-out was disappointing, but that's the modern church for you. We like to talk about doing stuff, but very little actual doing.

Case in point (2): Next week, I'll be in deep Southern Illinois as a counselor at a summer church camp for high school students. It'll be lots of fun (always is), and I'm sure I'll be back with plenty to write about. Last year, the speaker had me all riled up about things such as being "filled with the Spirit" and "God's calling." I don't mind if people are controversial preachers, but it sure would be nice if they'd back it up with scripture. I emailed the speaker/pastor several times asking for scriptural backing for the things he was preaching about, and he gave the run-around several times before I realized that I'd never get it (at least not from him). Some people.

Anyhow, that's the schedule. Keep reading, and enjoy the great weather!

Yet another voice for the loonies

This might become a regular feature here. Partly because there just isn't much happening in the news lately (no, I will not talk about Michael Jackson!), and partly because I just love showing the loonies for who they are.

So, once again, some crazy people have written editorial letters in the Belleville News-Democrat (www.bellevillenewsdemocrat.com). One person writes:
Let's see, 59 million loudmouthed, blithering idiots voted this president to another four-year term, yet military recruiting is historically low. The arithmetic doesn't add up. Where is the great conservative patriotism and grass roots values? Why aren't people rushing to Iraq to promote liberty, democracy and protect the integrity of letter writer *Name Omitted*'s country?

Ah, one of the famous democratic red herrings: You can't support Bush/military action unless you sign up for military service. I'm not quite sure I understand the logic behind such a call, but the biggest reason that would be wrong is that the outcome of such a policy would leave all military policy and decisions in the hands of the military, when one of the hallmarks of the US Constituion is the civilian control of the military.

Besides that, low recuitment numbers mean little. Do we have a shortage of troops? I've heard no one actually claim that. There's a big difference. The writer continues:
Instead of people routinely shooting their mouths off, they need to try to back it up with action. They need to put down the banjo and pick up that M-16 and head to the Middle East. Show the evil liberals, Democratic machine and media their great resolve.

Ouch. Bush supporters (all 59 million of us) are country yokels. Gotcha. (By the way, what's wrong with the banjo? My friend Ryan plays banjo like nobody's business, and I'd call it a remarkable talent.)
Instead, the spinless, nauseating cowards can stay safe over here. They let the poor and the young go do their dirty work. That's OK. The government has a plan to implement the draft and raise the acceptable age limit to 39.

So, wait a sec . . . is it poor yokels who vote for Bush, or who join the military? Or both? This guy seems confused. Does he want 65 year old voters over in Iraq? Yet he decries a raising of the draft age. Odd. And this plan to implement the draft . . . that wouldn't be the one that Democrats keep bringing up as a scare tactic, would it?
I believe the Afghanistan war is justified because of the 9/11 Osama bin Laden connection. The Iraqi people should have overthrown the Saddam regime.

Instead, President Bush has spread our troops too thin. Regardless, if drafted, I will go and do my duty, even though I don't believe in the Iraq war. I will die, not for G. Dubya and the conservative nincompoops, but for the middle working class and the people who keep this country going.

Just don't forget, if you're drafted, it'll be because of the Democrats, not the Republicans. All the bills to bring back the draft are their ideas. And just so you know, 53% of those who voted in November voted for Bush, so before you start ridiculing anybody, remember that a majority of your fellow American 'nincompoops' voted for Bush.

Another writer, on an issue much dearer to me (as a science issue):

Members of the House of Representatives recently voted 238-194 to extend federal support of embryonic stem cell research beyond limits set by President Bush. The bill allows scientists to use frozen embryos that fertility clinics otherwise would discard.

President Bush has promised his right-wing coalition that he will veto the stem cell research bill if it passes the Senate. This veto will be the first since Bush took office in 2000.

As a cancer survivor, I have strong feelings when it comes to stem cell research. I am saddened beyond words, that four regional members of Congress, John Shimkus, R-Ill., Jerry Costello, D-Ill., Todd Akin, R-Mo., and Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., voted against this bill. Following Ron Reagan's speech in support of stem cell research during the Democratic Convention of 2004 and his mother, Nancy Reagan's outspoken support, many Americans who formerly did not support stem cell research swung over to the other side of the debate.

I will admit, I do not pretend to understand all the details surrounding stem cell research and how it can lead to a myriad of cures. But I believe if the research can move forward, cures will be close at hand. I am also convinced that religious zealots are hijacking the opportunity of our scientific community to discover cures that effect [sic] nearly every American.


The ignorance I often find on this subject really does amaze me. First, government funding is not the make/break of an issue. Nobody is talking about banning embryonic stem cell research. What the administration doesn't want to do is offer federal funding for an area of science that a large number of Americans finds inhumane.

Imagine if someone wanted to do lethal scientific experiments on death row inmates. They'll be killed anyway, right? They're in prison to be punished anyhow, right? Shouldn't they be useful to society in one last way before they receive their punishment? No, most Americans would denounce such a plan, and the ACLU would have conniptions. Why, then, are unborn children treated with such candor? To many people, there is no moral difference between the life of an adult and the life of an unborn child.

I know a lot of people want to think that an influx of federal money will bring instant cures, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The research that has been taking place has been slow, bringing little progess (at least as far as embryonic stem cells are concerned). It's impossible to even talk about "potential cures" because even if they figure out how to perfectly manipulate embryonic stem cells, there's no guarantee that they can utilize them for any sort of cure or therapy to the diseases that are trotted out on this issue.

Is it a worthy price to kill thousands and thousands of unborn children because we might be able to find cures for diseases? Millions of people say no. And I think, when you really put the ethics of this in proper perspective, that it's not "religious zealots" that are hijacking scientific progress, but scientific/political "progess at any cost" zealots who are hijacking the science and ethics that should guard our research and development.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

KOTOR II Review, Part II

Okay, so I actually beat KOTOR II a few days ago. I've been busy with other matters to mention it so far. Upon finishing the game, I've developed a few more thoughts on the game:

1) The game relies on a randomizing system for items. This means that when playing the game, you'll never get the same items twice when visiting a certain area; quests, enemies, and containers will have items, weapons, armor, and accessories randomly chosen from a certain list.

Now, while this might seem like it would increase the replay value of the game, it's not that much fun to play with. Some items seem to have higher likelihood of being found, while much more useful items are less likely to be found. The story immersion is also broken, at times, when enemies are found carrying items that simply make no sense in their hands. Example: Some soldiers can be found carrying Jedi robes. Why would a soldier have a Jedi robe? This makes no sense (well, in the game it makes no sense, at least). Plus, towards the end of the game, you'll have more mines, stims, medpacs, and grenades than you can shake a stick at (and you can shake one heckuva stick for all the crap you'll accumulate, too!).

That makes for a strong problem, too. Most of the enemies in the beginning of the game drop items rarely, and when they do, they're mostly useless (medpacs, components, credits, etc.). The frequency really ratchets up at the end of the game. You don't start seeing any of the interesting, powerful items until then, and they're all dropped by enemies. You spend most of the game going with a small selection of useful armor and weapons, until the very end when you get a glut of the good stuff that you can't use anyhow. It was not a well thought out system.

2) While the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel (the first one didn't, oddly enough), it is awful.

To demonstrate the awfulness, I quote an episode of The Critic:
Jay: Now what did you think of my script?

Gary: It was excrement.

Jay: Did you say it was excellent?

Gary: It was crummy.

Jay: Did you say it was yummy?

Gary: It was an awful piece of junk that made me want to puke all night.

Jay: Did you say it was an awesome piece of spunk that you want to shoot tonight?

Gary: It was a billious piece of dirt that made me cry out in pain.

Jay: Did you say it was a brilliant piece of work, and you'll fly me out to Spain? Where we'll meet King Juan Carlos and drink sangria all night?

*Spoiler Alert*

How does the game end? You beat the bad guy . . . then, you talk with the bad guy in the same dialogue-tree style the rest of the game utilizes. The bad guy explains the motives, and predicts the future for you. The bad guy dies/passes out, you leave, and there's a super-short clip of you flying off in your ship. Roll credits.

Seriously, I spent ~25 hours to get that?! Agh! That is ridiculous. Video game players are very frustrated by the growing trend of games with unexplainably short endings. The end of the game is supposed to be the payoff, the denouement, the resolution! We don't spend 10-40 hours (depending on the game) to get 30 seconds of ending clips and the credits. When will publishers realize this?

Overall: Great game; some systems need improvement; lousy ending.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A joke too far?

Let's have some context first: Normally, I'm a big fan of Family Guy. I've enjoyed the new episodes, more or less, and I've generally thought Seth MacFarlane is a stitch. That being said . . .

On tonight's episode of Family Guy, Meg, a teenage daughter, has sex with Jimmy Fallon on SNL. Unless MacFarlane has changed the characters without telling us, Meg is 16. That would make her sex with Fallon statutory rape.

Like I said, I've been a fan of MacFarlane's work, and I don't so much mind off-color humor. But the episode made no reference to how wrong statutory rape is, nor did they indicate any consequences for Fallon's fictional behavior. Not to be a crank, but I really feel like Family Guy stepped over the line this time.

I'm considering a letter to Fox over this. I like Family Guy, and I'd hate to see it go off the air again, but MacFarlane needs to stop making jokes like this. Raping children isn't funny.

Another voice for the loonies

Ah, the Editorial page. No matter crazy of uninformed an opinion might be, you can always find someone expressing it there. Once again, I answer the loonie-lefties who write in to the Belleville News-Democrat.

One writer opines:

The vast majority of Americans abhor war and the inevitable killing. So, why is it that when wars occur, Americans are there at the forefront? All too often, we claim to fight for other people's freedom, but they scorn our efforts. We moved to rid one country of its leader because he killed his own people. If this is a yardstick by which to gauge, Abe Lincoln was worse than all others. In our Civil War, thousands of Americans in the South were killed.

In Iraq, we build buildings one day then blow them up a short time later. This doesn't make sense to civilized people. With more than 1500 of our military dead, now is the time to strategically withdraw, with or without honor. Honor is an admirable trait, but it is not worth the sacrifice of our young people's lives. Failure to withdraw will result in more of our sons and daughters dying in vain in a conflict we initiated.

The writer here misses out on several parts. Yes, Americans abhor war, but would much rather go to war rather than simply stand by and watch horrible atrocities take place in the world. Evil only succeeds when good men do nothing. And who is scorning our efforts? Only those who scorn the things we have accomplished; those who do not want to see democracy and freedom in the Middle East, those who want to see radical Islam rooted in power. Additionally, his tangent about Abe Lincoln is not only another issue, but it is completly unrelated. The American Civil War was a war between two organized armies. Where we go to war, we remove brutal dictatorships whose targets are unarmed civilians. Difference = Extreme.

I'd love to see an example of the US military building a structure in Iraq, only to blow it up a short time later. That would be a new one on me. And withdrawal at this point would only come with dishonor, particularly since the democratically elected government of Iraq has requested that the US military presence remain for a while, at least until they are able to handle security in their country alone. People already complain about how the world dislikes us so; leaving Iraq in dishonor would not help that. I don't applaud the deaths of our military personnel over there, but these people knew the risks when they signed on for military service. Besides, there are worse things that could happen than the deaths of several thousand US servicemen and women; for example, the subjugation of a country of millions of people.

Another person writes:

Yes or no:

Do you seriously think we can change the Muslims' way of life to a democracy?
Did you imagine this war would last as long as it has?
Did you think there would be this many causualties?
Did you have any idea the terrorists could use our system against us as they have been doing?
Did you ever feel we would be so reliant on other countries?
Did you ever think of the possibility of losing benefits, assistance, aid, insurance,
and pensions at the rate this is occurring?
Do you think our economy will turn around soon?
Can you honestly blame the government for all our problems?
Do you feel more secure today?
Are we as smart as we thought we were?
Answers: All no.

Hm . . . my own answers:

1) This is a common refrain, that the people of the Middle East are either "incapable" of democracy, or just "undeserving." The real truth is that there are millions over there who want to be in charge of their own destinies and desire a liberal democracy; the tides of history have simply put the power in the hands of a minority of religious radicals.

2) Yes, actually. We had no illusions that troops would be in and out of Iraq in 6 months. We knew that rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq would be a long process. It hasn't been perfect, but it certainly could have been worse.

3) Okay, you know what? Many groups were estimating thousands of American dead during the major fighting over there. The fact that only about 1500 are dead this far in, and the insurgency suffering death throes, should be counted as a miraculous blessing.

4) "Use our own systems against us?" I have no idea what he's talking about.

5) Unless he's referring to oil and economics, I have no idea what he's talking about. If it is economics, he's just ignorant of how the economy has changed in the last 100+ years.

6) Not that I enjoy such things, but I think the companies responsible for rolling back such things are more at fault than the government. But that's about the best answer I can give; I'll never make any claim to being especially knowledgable about economic issues.

7) Turn around soon? Buddy, the indications are that the economy is doing quite well. You don't hear about that too often because the media prefers to hype news about the economy's decline, while tucking positive info off in unnoticeable corners of their publications.

8) Well, no, I can't. I'm not sure what this has to do with anything.

9) Yes and no. There's much ground to make in terms of national security, but I'm happier that the government is actually attempting to fight the radical Islamic elements that are the threat to our safety, as compared to waiting for it to commit crimes (pre-9/11 policies).

10) Again, no idea what he's referring to. This is why I call them liberal loonies.

So, there you have it. There's no letting bad ideas go unanswered.

On aches and pains

On a more personal note, I made my first attempt this weekend at water skiing.

And also my second, third, fourth, and fifth attempts. Note the use of the word "attempt."

Incidentally, my lower back aches today with the fire of a thousand suns. I'm not sure what inspired me to actually attempt said feats yesterday, but I think they mandate medication for it in several states.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

When Violence Comes to Campus

There's a lot to be said in conservative circles lately about the pitfalls of the college experience. I'll admit to feeling like an alien in the land of the university sometimes. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a certain stigma about being Christian (not just professing, but living) and/or conservative in the culture generally, and in certain humanities departments particularly.

However, it's really not as bad as it could be.

Time's most recent issue (June 6) had an article (see link) about recent incidents at Baghdad University, in which, essentially, the student body has descended to sectarian violence. A student tried to have a party to celebrate the gains of Shi'a in the new government and was killed by a group of Sunnis, setting off a cascade reaction.

What has been happening in the larger culture is happening in the campus now, too. The students (at least, according to the article) seem to be splitting into sectarian groups; violence, or the threat thereof, is on the rise; security is rising dramatically in order to protect the students. And it's not limited to students. Professors have become a popular target for violence or even kidnappings. It's an atmosphere that makes learning difficult.

I'm not saying that the marginalization of conservative voices on American campuses is acceptable, and I certainly decry the animosity (or sometimes apathy) of the American college culture to religion in general (and Christianity in specific), but we should not take for granted what we have. The alternative could be a lot worse.

KOTOR II Review

So, last week I bought Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, for my computer, and it has swallowed my time completely. I simply can't believe how compulsively I've been playing this game.

Yeah, I'm just a little behind. So the game has been out for a few months now . . . so what?

The story begins with you, the supposed last of the Jedi, waking up on a mining station in an asteroid field, and you can't remember how you got there (stop me if you've heard this one). Okay, not an entirely original beginning, but the plot is absolutely fantastic. I'm not even that well versed in Star Wars lore, and I enjoy the story. It's a very gripping tale of good vs. evil (or evil vs. more evil, depending on how you choose to play).

The game isn't remarkably different from its predecessor. Graphically, little has changed. The interface is pretty much identical. Play mechanics are about the same, as are the game rules. The items behave somewhat differently, and some things have become easier or harder to get. For example, in the first game I swam in computer spikes, but the sequel has left me treasuring every one I find.

One of the biggest differences is in the way you interact with your compatriots. You gain "influence" with them by taking their side in arguments or reacting favorably to their words/views. As I've discovered too late, gaining influence with one person can cause your influence with another to dip. By even showing a hint of compassion to another character, one of my team members has sworn her utmost hatred for me.

Why is influence important? The characters will open up to you more with higher influence, but their alignment will more closely match your own if you have higher influence. I'm left in the odd position of having a Sith assassin on my team with a pure light side alignment.

My only major complaint is the difficulty of the game. Don't get me wrong; I like games that offer a challenge. In KOTOR, one strategy for maximizing the potential leveling of your character was to hold off on building their levels until after their class change. That's not possible in KOTOR II. When I was in the place just before the class change, I had to continue leveling up my character in order to gain multi-opponent attacks. I just couldn't survive a certain portion otherwise. The level cap is higher in this game, but the difficulty leaves less room for strategic planning of your character.

Which brings me to my other complaint: The manual. It is shoddily insufficient. There are new force powers, new character classes, and new feats. Does the manual give anything besides the most basic description of these? No. Terrible.

Overall: Great game. Great story. It's more of the same, but I liked the first game, so that's okay. But if you're unsatisfied with the manual, head online and look for some of that info.