Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Jim Gerraghty, while blogging about his experiences as an American living in Ankara, had this little anecdotal gem to offer:
The call to prayer: I wonder if church attendance would be higher if five times a day, a loudspeaker at the top of the steeple blared, “Come to chuuuuuuurch… Come on, you know you ought toooooo…. God’s done a lot for yoooooooou, you can spare an hooooour…”

Heh. Too funny.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Let the carnival begin!

So, there is a "Carnival of Playlists" taking place over at the Slublog. I thought I'd add my share, but it'll probably be a one time submission. Why? Well, unfortunately, I add new music to my collection very rarely, so I tend to listen to the same stuff quite a bit. Also, I listen to music mostly when I'm in the car (all those 3 hour drive to and from Normal). I don't play a lot of music when I'm just chilling at the computer. Shame on me, I know.

With that in mind, here's the music most prominent in "playlists" right now:

  • Five Iron Frenzy - Specifically, songs like "Cannonball" and "Distant Shores" from their final CD.
  • Denver and the Mile High Orchestra - An incredibly talented band, highly underappreciated. Christian big band? Bring it on. Right now, mostly from their latest album, Good to Go, with songs such as "Good to Go," and "Get Down."
  • Anberlin - Just their first album, Blueprint for the Blackmarket, although they apparently have a new one out. Songs include "Ready Fuels," "Love Song," and "Cold War Transmissions."
  • Anathallo - Okay, so they're not exactly on my playlist, since I don't own their album, but I sure as heck listen to their songs whenever I can find them on the radio. Absolutely fantastic new band with an incredibly creative sound. Songs include "I Thought in My Heart" and "Don't Kid Yourself, You Need a Physician."

Well, okay. In the future, I'll probably include some of the classics that pop up in my play lists from time to time, or whatever new stuff I manage to add to the collection. Until then . . .

The mathematics of scantily clad women

So, I had this theory.

At ISU (as well as every campus in America), as soon as the weather turns nice in the spring, people flock to the quad in droves. It has been a guaranteed trend that once the temperatures start hitting the 80s, the girls come out in bikinis to catch sun rays.

In turn, I developed a theory: the first day of the year when the temperature met or exceeded 80ºF, girls in bikinis would appear on the quad.

Like I said, I had this theory.

Turns out I saw three girls on the quad today in bikini tops. Catching sun rays. Today's high: 76ºF.


Well, I've revised my theory slightly, and I think it's fitting. As the daytime high temperature approaches 80ºF, the liklihood of seeing bikini-clad women on the quad approaches one.

If I knew how to do it in blogger, I'd write the mathematical notation for that.

Much ado about nothing, eh? My girlfriend thinks it's cute that, upon seeing scantily clad women, my initial reaction is, "Dang! I gotta revise my theorem!"

Fortunately, I long ago came to accept my total geekdom.

Monday, March 28, 2005

They forgot Eli Weasel!

Okay, so I guess Scott Adams' readers are overwhelmingly self-hating liberal Americans. Why do I guess this?

I just discovered his 2004 Weasel Awards (just now? Man, I'm behind), and the results aren't pretty. You can see it for yourself by following the link, but here are the relevant results:

Weaseliest Politician: George Bush
Weaseliest Country: America
Weaseliest Pundit: Bill O'Reilly
Weaseliest Industy: Oil
Weaseliest Company: Halliburton
Weaseliest Organization: Religious Fanatics

And here I am, not even knowing that religious fanatics are an actual organization. Dang, and to think I could have gotten my membership card a long time ago!

Oi vey.

Google me this, Batman . . .

How cool is this? This blog now appears on Google! Granted, I have nowhere near the hits to be high up on the list (although I'm getting about 50 visits/week . . . cool!), I'm the first response if you actually look for the name of this site.

I'm not sure what number I am if you look for "Halbert" or "Cubicle" singularly. I think it's pretty far down.

A story about me?

Well, not exactly. But it IS a short story about a lowly cubicle drone sharing this blog's namesake. How cute.

Warning: Profanity in the link.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Because the customer is always right

You see, this is why people should leave more comments on my blog; I'm very responsive to them!

So, Ryan asked in a previous post that I expand on the idea of "finding God's will." Not just saying how not to do it, but talking more about how to do it. The first thing you should note is that much of my commentary regarding this topic comes from a book titled "Decision Making and the Will of God" by Garry Friesen. It's not to say that I've taken my opinion lock, stock, and barrel from him, but he has the best scriptural treatment on the topic that I've heard so far. If anyone happens to know of a better treatment by a dissenting opinion, let me know.

The first thing we have to do is to establish what we're talking about when we say, "The Will of God." Traditionally, this has been laid out in three categories:

  • God's sovereign will, whereby God directs the currents and tides of history and all of mankind's activities.
  • God's moral will, where God explains His character through the commands and teachings on how to live a moral, Godly life.
  • God's personal will, whereby God directs the believer in non-moral decisions in order to find the perfect direction for his/her life.

Unfortunately, the third is just not a biblical idea. There are very few times when God does that sort of micromanaging in people's lives in scripture, and it is never commanded to seek out such a "will" for your life.

So, then, what is the biblical model for decision making?

Well, there is not a place in scripture which reads "And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Tell the people of Israel to make all decisions thusly . . .'" It doesn't work like that. But what Friesen derives from scripture is this: The way of the Bible is the way of wisdom.

Making a decision means first running it past the moral will of God. Does it violate clear commands or principles of scripture? If not, then you're on the right track.

The next step is to examine the situation with wisdom. Is it a wise decision? Who should you consult to help determine this? Experts? Someone older, with more experience? Examine your options, and make the decision that seems best. In addition to this step, consider the spiritual expediency of your decision. Some decisions are non-moral, but not all are non-spiritual. Does one of the choices you face stand to help your spiritual growth and service? Does one of them hinder it? Carefully consider this idea. Some people, for example, might see the obvious implication in a spiritual vs. a secular vocation. But just because one is not a missionary/pastor/etc. does not mean that one cannot serve God just as effectively, if not more so, pursuing another vocation.

The final step (I'm not really going step for step out of his book, I'm just remembering what I can) is to decide what it is you want. It is not God's desire for you to choose a decision that will make you miserable. If you hate your job, can't stand your co-workers, and go to work dreading every moment of every day, how can you effectively serve God from there? You can't. Granted, you must make certain the decision which will make you happy falls into the previous three categories, but it's still very important.

So, there you go. Making decisions biblically. To close, I'm going to offer what I consider to be the best example of this. Look at the book of Acts. If anyone should have had a grip on this whole thing, it was Paul. Paul's missionary journies built the foundation of the 1st century church. So when Paul was planning his travels, what did he do? Did he pray with his colleagues, asking God to show them where they should head next? No. Instead, the writer says over and over that Paul and his companions went where they thought it would be best to travel next. Only once does God intervene and tell Paul to do something different, and then He did so in a dream. It was pretty clear what God intended to communicate there. I think this illustration best demonstrates the principles at work in the biblical model of decision making.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

ONE more Terri Schiavo thread

Oh, Annie Spiro . . . God bless her. I may get my panties in a ruffle everytime I read her columns, but at least she writes about substantial things, and not, for example, lessons she has learned from her cats.

For now, I'm leaving just the article up. I have to study for a social psychology test tomorrow. I'll be back later to add my commentary on her article.

Diversity at ISU

So, last week the Daily Vendetta printed an article about interracial student interactions on campus, and how polling indicates that it is becoming lower than ever. ISU, of course, attempts to alleviate these kinds of problems in standard PC way. When freshmen enter the university, they are bombarded by skits, seminars, meetings, and workshops about diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. Yet, I can't help but wonder if they're part of the problem.

Why would I wonder this, you might ask?

The other day I saw a group of prospective students touring around campus. This is not an unusual sight this time of year. What was unusual was that all of the students were black. Now,
I'm not sure how the university arranges visits. Maybe students have a choice of who they would like to tour with. I didn't have one. It can't be random coincidence, as it's not the first time I've seen it.

So then, is ISU fostering the social segregation we find at the university? The only conclusion I can reach is that, at the least, they're not helping.

Guess who's back?

Well, I imagine that the faithful are still here and reading. Thanks for sticking around. The net seems to have stabilized enough over here that I'm willing to attempt a post. And boy, is there a lot to talk about.

Terri Schiavo

Okay, I'll admit that maybe I'm negligent in not posting on this topic already. But honestly, I don't know what else to add that hasn't already been said. And at this point, it almost becomes moot: The rejected appeal by the 11th circuit court is a death sentence to Terri. She has been without food or water since Friday. That she hasn't died already is a miracle.

In any case, I've heard a lot of talk about this. Mainly, the talk is about the repurcussions of how people react to this, because it will set precedents in the future. Most pro-lifers think this is a bad scenario because it will become less and less taboo to "off" the mentally-handicapped in a "quality of life" kind of argument.

Well, that's what I've seen of the argument when discussed in more public, philosophical forums. On the net, I've seen this as all about the legal ramifications. The guys over at Powerline are not too keen on the bill passed by Congress, thinking it sets a bad precedent. Hugh Hewitt and Slublog have been on the other end, arguing that Congress is within its rights to control what goes before the courts, and that Terri's rights have been violated in all of this. Read through their many writings on this, so far. They have much better things to say than I can muster.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about the legal rights and what not. Everything I've heard tells me that something went wrong here. Maybe the husband has ulterior motives in pushing for this. Maybe the judge was following preconceived bias in decided as he has all the way through this. I don't know. The problem is, though I've been reading and hearing about this for years now, with it right in the center of the public consciousness, the "facts" of the case are quickly becoming fuzzier. People become hysterical about this, and information starts floating around which might be a distortion of the truth, or a bald-faced lie. But how the media talks about it in part defines the "truth" of the matter. It doesn't matter what was being reported 2, 3, or 5 years ago. Oy.

All I know is this: There are a lot of people saying that she is better off dead, but I think it's just a horrid reflection of their own fear of mortality and ending up in such a condition. If the parents think she is happy, who are we to question that quality of life? Say what you will about her condition, I think there are just too many questions and unknowns in this case to outright say, "Remove her food, let her die."

School Shootings

Another school shooting took place, this time in Minnesota. A 17-year old teen stole his grandfather's gun, killed him and his grandmother with it, then went to school and killed several classmates and teachers before finally killing himself.

They haven't determined the motivation in it yet. My heart just aches for the families and friends in that town. What drives a young heart to such desperations and despair? What brings such black darkness to his life? I know only this: Only, only the light of Christ can help such people out of such dead ends. Unfortunately, it's too late for that poor soul.

Ironically, if that young man hadn't turned his gun on himself, he'd be in no danger of being executed for his brutal crime.

Well, that's enough commentary for now. Talking about the things happening in the news right now is just depressing. There's just too much bad. I'll be back later, and I know of a few more things that are sad to post on, but hopefully after a while it'll be able to return to something good.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Well, the net connection is technically back. However, due to its sputtering out on me every five minutes, along with the technical issues Blogger itself is facing right now, I'm not going to be posting anything today, most likely. Tomorrow doesn't look good, either, unless all problems are resolved. I'm sorry, dear readers, but I hate spending half an hour typing up a post, only to have the Gods of the internet chew it up and spit it into the void.

And now for something completely different . . . Northwestern was awesome. But I'll have to post more about that when the net is fixed.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Delay . . . delay . . . delay . . .

Hey folks, sorry for the lack of posting lately. Spring break limited my time on the net, and now my home connection (at school) seems to have gone AWOL. Until the problem is resolved, posting may be light or just nonexistent. Be patient, and keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Philosophy Club Happenings

So, I haven't really written about the Philosophy Club since that first pub meet a few weeks ago. On the intervening weeks between pub meets, we have a colloquium, where a professor comes and lectures the group about some special topic or item of interest. Here's the rundown and my thoughts:

Why Vagueness is Interesting - Dr. Machina - 2/21

The first lecture was by Dr. Machina on "Fuzzy logic." He started with an ancient problem. Let's say there is a bald man. Would adding one hair to his head make him not bald? Most would deny this. Would adding a second hair? Again, the answer would typically be no. By corollary, then, you can add hair upon hair, up until he has a full head of hair, and he would still be "bald." Seems like a problem, yes?

According to Dr. Machina, there are three ways of dealing with this problem:
1) The original premise is false. There is a specific dividing line. "Bald" is a precise term. The problem exists because we don't know the boundary.
2) It is neither true nor false that the "grey areas" are bald. (This is apparently a rather bizarre position that Dr. Machina did not deal with)
3) One must use "fuzzy logic," or Degree Theory.

Dr. Machina purported that (1) is just not valid. After all, let's say we're talking about something that is red. Where is the specific dividing line between "red" and "not red?" His explanation of Degree Theory was that if you had a scale with "bald" on the one end and "not bald" on the other, the cases in between could be similar to values between zero and one.

Bald<----------------------------------------------------->Not Bald

Therefore, the sentence "He is bald and he is not bald" could be simply half true. A man with a thin head of hair (think Jason Alexander) we could call bald and that would be half-true. We could also call him not bald and that would also be half-true.

He does, of course, mention that his theory does meet some real problems. If we talk about "degrees" of truth like this, do we have to assign precise degrees of truth? The point of using (3) was to get away from the precise demarcations found in (1), but if (3) is to actually make any kind of statement whatsoever, it seems that it must resort back to (1) in some fashion.

From my own perspective, I find it interesting that he kept using both color and computers as reasoning behind this. After all, he points out, computers already use fuzzy logic, and why should we have to precisely label every different shade of every color? But look at how computers deal with color. Typically, computers think of non-primary colors as a combination of the three primary colors, each on a scale of 0-255. So, color X might be 5 parts blue, 100 parts red, and 200 parts yellow. Isn't a specific demarcation inevitable?

In any case, his point ultimately transformed into being that vagueness is necessary for language to even be possible. If we had to label everything precisely, he argued, we couldn't talk. Reality may be very precise, but we often can't express that preciseness. Jim Gaffigan's take on blindness is appropriate here. I'll often lament, "Oh, I am so blind." But I'd never say this to an actual blind person. "Oh I am so blind . . . not as blind as you. It's all fuzzy to me."

Dr. Machina then used the example of abortion as to how this applies to some controversial topics. Are there borderline cases where the fetus is a life, a human being? Is it more correct to say that the fetus becomes more and more human as it develops? (Of course, I'd say no, but that's a discussion for another day).

Eliminating Evil - Dr. Simon - 3/7

This week's lecture was by Dr. Simon on the removal of evil from our vocabulary. I'll be quite honest: This was one of the most grating, painful experiences of my life. Why? Only the first hour of the lecture actually maintained any semblance of direction, purpose, and having a point. The second hour involved conversation/lecture that was more akin to a drunken sailor stumbling back to his ship (in terms of topic and content, that is). Also, some of the more pretentious members of the club had to inject some sort of invective about Bush (the connection to evil, which was the point in the first place, being made very, very loosely) (very) every ten minutes. It was hard to sit through, because everytime I came up with a comment about something, someone else changed the topic into something completely other to what it was, and Dr. Simon just rolled with it. Yeesh. That said, I'll try to give you some of his content, along with my own opinions and ideas.

Dr. Simon looked for a bit at the etymology of the word. It originated in old english, meaning "uppity." In middle english, it had adopted the rather mundane meaning of "bad." The modern usage transformed it into something more akin to "total wickedness."

(Skipping some content that didn't really seem relevant to the overall topic)

Basically, Dr. Simon argues that "evil" is the wrong word to use, and should be eliminated from the vocaulary. Why? It simply isn't effective. It is reduced to a banality in being used to describe some situations. It ends conversation immediately because of its ability to polarize. It prevents any comparisons, because "comparing evil events degrades their consequences." It prevents us from reaching out to understand by irreparably separating us from others.

Now, I could refute each idea point by point, but I think his entire concept is flawed from the beginning. The abuse of a word or idea does not make that idea itself flawed. Just because people use the word evil in a trite manner, or have Hollywood-generated ideas of what evil looks like, does not mean that evil cannot be an effective word. The word has so much power because we know exactly what it means and what it entails. If I set an infant in front of you and proceed to carve it up into tiny pieces, you will be polarized; if it is even possible to understand why I did it what do you gain from the knowledge? Understanding the motivation does not cease to make that an evil act. You don't have to know why I did it to know it was evil.

Dr. Simon argued that a much better term to replace the word is jus cogens. It is an international law term, meaning a universal prohibition, something that is recognized as being wrong to anyone, anywhere.

But would just replacing the word just be a facade? Wouldn't a rose, by any other name, smell as sweet? And who defines exactly what is jus cogens, anyhow? How many people dissenting eliminates something from our new word for evil? One person? A thousand? A million? Who gets marginalized, and by what criteria?

Dr. Simon began the lecture by asking us five questions. I'll end this by answering those questions.

1) How would you use evil?

I would use evil as either a noun or an adjective. As in, "Killing babies is evil," or "There is evil in his heart."

2) How would others use evil?

I think most other people use evil in the same sense I do. There's two senses it is used in. The first is of something morally repugnant. The other is an extreme case of something "bad," though that still relates to morality, generally.

3) What does evil apply to?

Evil, though often applied to things that aren't in and of themselves evil, mainly applies to actions, ideas, and attitudes. The action of rape, for example, is evil. But the attitude that condones rape is also evil. One can be evil without ever having done evil things.

4) Are there types of evil?

I really am not sure how to answer this. I cannot seem to come up with an answer off the top of my head, but I am reluctant to say that there is only one type of evil.

5) Define evil.

Well, it would be easy to simply say, "Evil is all that God hates, everything that is completely contrary to the person and nature of God." Theologically, I'd call that a very accurate definition, but most philosophers wouldn't find it very useful. It more secular terms, evil is something that is morally repugnant; something that is so repulsive, we reject it outright. It is something that is so malicious in intent, purposeful, and corrupt that it is beyond redemption. That is how I'd describe evil.

I hope you all enjoyed this little foray into philosphy.

Imminent Failure

Hey folks. Sorry for the delays. It's been a busy week.

We have a tradition on campus here at ISU of "chalking the walk." People use chalk to write advertisements for upcoming events, group meetings, or parties on the sidewalks by the dorms and on the quad. The college Democrats and Republicans both have meetings coming up, so they "chalked the walk." It's gotten ugly.

The Republicans did their advertisements last. The most controversial one I could find said, "Oh yeah . . . Bush is still president!" I suppose none of us is above a little gloating (I might not be so forgiving if Kerry were president, but that aside . . .).

The Democrats, on the other hand? "Bush still blows!" And their classic, "Buck Fush in '05." Nice. This is how they draw in members, eh? Nothing promoting their ideas, their activities, their future goals, or anything of the sort . . . just pure, unadulterated hate. Yet more proof that the Democratic party is heading for imminent failure in the next few years if they don't cease this downward spiral.

A lot of people have been ruminating on how the Democrats might draw in more of the average Americans, undecided voters, and middle-of-the-road voters. In the same vein, they lament the end of the part of FDR, Harry Truman, and other Democrats who made the name noble and the party proud. They ask the question, "Will the party take any moments for self-reflection, look within itself, and moderate those voices from the far left that are engulfing them?"

I'd say the answer is a firm "No." There were several good opportunities for this in the choice of party chairman. Several moderate, sane Dems said they wanted the job. Who was voted in? Howard "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for" Dean.

What I see is mainly symptoms, but they lead me to suspect that the sickness is becoming far more virulent and widespread than hoped for by those Democrats wanting to win future elections, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Check in later tonight. I'll be posting about some recent Philosophy Club experiences.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Today at church and other such things

I'd say one of the greatest parts about writing this blog is that I get to write about absolutely anything. Whatever the heck I want. If something in politics is bothering me, I can write about it. If something that happens in one of my classes is weird, I can write about it. If some article about the foibles of society gets my panties in a ruffle, I can rave about it like a lunatic. I'm pretty much free to do what I want here. (Well, unless John McCain has his way)

For this reason, I take great joy in writing a rebuttal to my pastor's sermon this morning at church.

Let me explain.

According to my pastor, finding God's will involves four activities: 1) Studying scripture; 2) Spending time in prayer; 3) Finding Godly wisdom from spiritual authorities; 4) Interpretting circumstances. Now, I disagree with this greatly. I don't find this to be a scriptural manner of discerning "God's will," and I don't find the given concept of "God's will" as used in this case to be scriptural either.

My pastor illustrated this today by preaching out of Acts 1:12-26. Let me set the scene: Jesus has ascended to heaven, and the disciples are eagerly awaiting something in Jersualem, praying fervently in the meantime. Peter raises the question as to what to do about the slot that Judas left empty. He cites a few passages from the Psalms to make the case that they should find a replacement. So they draw lots and end up with Matthias.

He used this passage to illustrate his concept of finding "God's will." First, Peter was studying scripture. How else would he have been able to plug together these two disparate scripture verses to show that they should find a replacement? Second, they were obviously praying. The verse says it explicitly. Third, they sought spiritual authority, as they had enough present (apparently 120) for a synagogue, and they discussed the issue. Fourth, they considered the circumstances that they needed a new person for the job and decided the qualifications for the job.

On his first point, I'd agree that Peter was probably studying scrolls of the scriptures. Peter wouldn't have all that much scripture memorized, most likely. He wasn't a pharisee the way Paul had been, he had been a fisherman. But does the verse say anything about Peter pouring over scripture, trying to find "God's will?" Does it say anything about God somehow pointing out the divine mandate through the scriptures? No. I think it's one thing to assume that Peter had been studying the scriptures, but the rest is reading way too much into the verse.

On the second point, we know that the disciples were praying, but for what? Not for God to somehow command them what to do. They waited for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, just as God promised.

On the third point, I can't say much about his interpretation there. Was this general gathering of the disciples a "spiritual authority?" It's hard to say. Same with the fourth point. Were they reading circumstances to get this? Hard to say. Reading circumstances is a tricky thing anyhow. They can say whatever we want them to.

But I think the most telling thing about this argument is the disciples' reaction. How did they decide on the replacement? They drew lots. They drew lots! That certainly lets "God's will" be known to them. Is that "searching the scriptures?" Did prayer "tell" them who to pick, or even to do this method? Random chance (well, God is in control, so probably not so random) decided this!

I respect my pastor, and I think he's a very wise man, but I get so very, very frustrated when people try to read their own doctrines into the scriptures rather than letting the truth of scripture speak for itself.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Where does the time go?

Okay, a I should probably apologize for my absence the last week or so.

I started recovering quite nicely from my previous sickness Sunday, and after I took care of my Inorganic chem. test Tuesday, my week has not been busy at all.

So where have I been?

Well, addiction has reared its ugly head in two forms. The first of which is Scott Kurtz's fantastic webcomic, PvP, also known as Player vs. Player. It's the quintessential webcomic of all things geeky about a group of people running video game magazine (coincidentally named PvP). I've been reading through the archives the last several days, and I've been laughing my head off. It's great, and incredibly creative.

Incidentally, Scott Kurtz, like my favorite blogger Hugh Hewitt, knows how this "internet" thing works. His website is the primary place to read PvP, but he offers his comic to newspapers and magazines for free. Typically, someone might say, "Free?! How can he possibly make any money doing that?!" But it's not a bad investment for him. He gets so many hits, so much traffic, so many sponsors from his website, he doesn't really need the traditional print publications. They would only help boost traffic to his website, and not the other way around.

What a smart guy.

Anyhow, the second source of my addiction is a somewhat old Gamecube game known as Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It's a fantastic RPG in a similar vein of the Sims. You play a character who has inherited his father's farm and is giving this "country living" thing a try. You raise crops, care for livestock, and woo one of three local ladies in order to marry and produce offspring.

The gameplay is really simple, and yet the addiction never ceases. I don't like to fish, and yet I'll spend ridiculous amounts of time watching a video game character fish. The description sounds boring, and yet it is strangely compelling. I can't explain it.

Anyhow, there you go. It's not political commentary or anything, but it is a plug for two things I find great in the world right now. Probably no more posting today, but I should be back tomorrow with some new posts.