Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Sunday, September 28, 2008

for better, for worse: 5 ways blogging has changed my life

Keith McIlWain has tagged me from a meme created by L.L. Barkat. Here are the rules should you decide to keep them:

1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

2. Link back to the person who tagged you.

3. Link back to the parent post (L.L. Barkat is not so much interested in generating links, but rather in tracking the meme so she can perhaps do a summary post later on that looks at patterns and interesting discoveries.)

4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all

5. Post these rules — or just have fun breaking them

How blogging has changed me:

1. I've always had trouble articulating my thoughts. When I try to speak, the words all swirl together and I can't put them in the right order. But by putting them in writing, organizing them on the screen, and revising — and returing to the same themes later from a different angle — I'm finding it easier to organize them in my head when I want to say something. If blogging did nothing else for me, this one thing would make it all worthwhile.

2. I've met a lot of interesting people who have interesting things to say. I have more than 100 blogs I enjoy reading: some who express things in a way I'd like to be able to; some who provoke me to think again about things I thought I understood; some who give good advice about zombies.

3. As a result of keeping tabs on so many blogs, I don't have as much time for my other interests as before. At times I will cut back, skim most blogs, and rarely update my own, but I've found that the benefits of blogging outweigh the negatives.

4. In the past I've enjoyed traveling, having visited about half the U.S. states and nine foreign countries. Because of my current family situation, I can't travel right now; however, by reading blogs from people around the world, I get to experience a little bit of what's happening out there.

5. I can't think of any other ways at the moment, so I'll break the rules and stop at four.

I'm going to tag the following people, some of who may not participate in memes. That's OK. And if your name isn't here and you'd like to participate anyway, feel free to join in:

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 26, 2008


This song is "40":

and as of 12:06 this morning, so am I.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

toward a political philosophy

In this election season, my thoughts are turning more to politics than usual. Right now I'm thinking through something I've never been able to formally put into words: my political philosophy, and how it relates to my faith (if the two are related at all).

I've never been comfortable with the politics of the religious right. In fact, I believe the reputation of the Christian faith has been badly damaged by this group. So now that the "religious left" seems to be on the ascendency, I should be overjoyed. Right?

The truth is, the religious left makes me just as nervous as the religious right. Even though I agree with many of the causes that religious liberals are championing -- stewardship of the environment and a social safety net for the most vulnerable citizens, to name a couple examples -- I'm not convinced that these problems have purely political solutions. Or, to be more precise, I don't think the available political solutions are specificially Christian.

The United States is not, and has never been, a Christian nation. Nor has any other nation. Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party was founded on Christian principles, and neither party today espouses Christian principles in its party platform. There are issues, to be sure, where each party's philosophy coincides with Christian values, but that does not mean that either party is seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Nor should they. Our political leaders ought to be concerned with ensuring that the nation's citizens have freedom and opportunity in this life, and leave the preaching to the churches.)

Still, I think governments can and should play a role in alleviating the problems their citizens inflict on themselves and others. The libertarian notion that government inaction will lead to a better life for all of us is simply too naive to be successfully put into practice. Human beings are inherently selfish, and in any political climate there will be ruthless people who will use any means available to them -- government power, corporate power, military power, sexual power, even religious power -- to oppress others.

So just what is the government's role? I must confess, my concept of the proper role for government has always been a little nebulous. If I had to state it succinctly, I'd probably have to describe my political philosophy as generally utilitarian. The government should act in such a way as to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people -- or as the United States Constitution puts it, "to promote the general welfare."

But what does that mean? How does that principle translate into policy? As the Wikipedia article linked above states, utilitarianism has been adopted even by Marxists and libertarians as a basis of their political theory.

So to say my political views are utilitarian is not really to say anything at all. It's a great starting point, but it could lead to any number of conclusions.

I'll have more to say in a later post.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

lazy blogging

Geez I just noticed I have not updated this since you last visited... You would not believe how insane my life has become. Apologies to my regular readers! Even the little blue ones!

I am not going to post now with any regularity, personal projects, just generally being a pain to the bodyguards of the blogger I am stalking, my day is passing in a blur from lunchtime to whenever. I am not complaining though. life happens.

I swear on the bones of my ancestors I will write something that makes sense soon. No, really! What do you mean you don't believe me?

Generated by The Lazy Bloggers [sic] Post Generator. Hat tip: John the Methodist

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 07, 2008

spiritual type

According to this quiz, my spiritual type is mystic. I think that's about right.

You are a Mystic, known for your imaginative, intuitive spirituality. You value peace, harmony, and inner silence. Mystics are nurtured by walking alone in the woods or sitting quietly with a trusted friend. You may also enjoy poetry, meditation, wordless prayer, candles, art, books, and anything else that helps you connect with God.

Mystics experience God best through rich images and symbols. You are contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world as real to you as the exterior one. Hearing from God is more important to you than speaking to God. Others may attribute human characteristics to God, but you see God as ineffable, unnamable, and more vast than any known category. You are intrigued by God's mystery.

Some famous mystics, according to the site:

Thomas Merton | Enya | John (the Gospel writer)
Brother Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God)
Desert mothers and fathers | Charlie Brown
Sister Wendy | Phoebe Buffay | Julian of Norwich
Luke | Anthony de Mello | The Who

Take the quiz from the Upper Room. Hat tip to Daniel McLain Hixon.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 31, 2008

a little shameless self-promotion

Take a look at Taken for a Ride, the story of my adventures in trying to get a taxi in Homer, Alaska in the spring of 2002, published today at Assocated Content.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 29, 2008

still here

I haven't been abducted by aliens, and I didn't give up blogging for Lent. My home PC is about eight years old and is on its last legs (if you'd like to buy me a new one, email me!) and I have limited access to the Internet at work. Even though I've not been online much, I've still been writing. I'll try to get something posted soon.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

ten years on the web

On December 22, 1997, I uploaded my first personal web page to Southwind Internet. Back in those days, most web pages were pretty simple. E-commerce really hadn't taken off yet. Not only was "google" not yet a verb, did not yet exist. Nor did Wikipedia. Most sites were personal experiments, little more than a few paragraphs of random text with a too-busy background image and an "under construction" icon. My own site read like a personal ad.

The Wayback Machine discovered my site on February 14, 1998, and here's how it looked then. Here's my "awards" page -- a list of comments from visitors -- as it was archived on October 8, 1999. The comments get more, um, interesting toward the bottom of the list. My links page, also first archived on October 8, 1999, links mostly to sites that are no longer active. Most of my friends who had websites back then have since moved to other states. I hope it's not because of me.

My website featured a "joke of the week," that I updated manually every week until I got tired of it. It would be nearly six years before I added scripts to my site to automate updates.

I was hampered in my site development by the fact that I was still using an old 386-based machine running at 33MHz, that I had bought back in 1993. It had Windows 3.1 installed, but the processor was too slow and the memory too small to run it, so I was stuck using MS-DOS and the text-based Lynx browser. I had no idea what my site looked like, and in fact went through maybe a dozen background images that looked cool in my paint program but clashed with the text of my web site. After getting complaints about every single background I tried, I settled on the dull beige background seen in the Wayback Machine archive. If I had known how ugly it was, I would have picked a different color.

As an homage to my text-based eary days, I still keep the "Lynx friendly" logo on my site, though it's not as Lynx friendly as it could be.

A lot has changed in ten years. I wonder: In December 2017 will this blog seem as archaic as my original home page looks now?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

simplifying christmas

It seems Christmas season comes earlier every year. It's not even Thanksgiving, and I've already heard the first Christmas song blaring over the speakers at the grocery store.

As a Christian, I love Christmas and everything it means -- God became flesh, became one of us, entered our world to save us from ourselves and enable us to enter God's kingdom.

And yet, every year I dislike the Christmas season and everything it has become in the United States. I'm reaching the point where I want to just go away at the first sign of the "holiday season" and not return until the middle of January.

Christmas ought to be a sacred time, a time to step back from the bustle of the modern world and focus on that silent night two millennia ago.

As a parent I want my son to know why we celebrate Christmas. I don't want him to get the idea that this is the time of year to satisfy all his material wants.

In the past, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to see that -- at least in our home -- Christ is the focus of Christmas. One of my memories from childhood was lighting an advent wreath each week with my family. My wife did not grow up with that tradition, but had heard of it and wanted to make it a part of her family tradition even before we met.

We put up a nativitiy set every year and use it as a prop for telling our son the story of that first Christmas.

We've decided to tell our son the truth about Santa from the beginning. Last year, age three, he was able to grasp effortlessly that gifts from "Santa" were really from his parents or grandparents, and that we do this in honor of a person who lived long ago who really was named "Santa" (essentially). But he also knows that the one we really celebrate at this time of the year is Jesus, who also was born long ago and is both God and human.

We've been stymied somewhat by the grandparents on both sides, who love to give gifts and love to have everyone at their homes (in different towns) for the holidays. I do appreciate them, but honestly I don't think I can stand one more Christmas sitting in a living room full of wrapping paper, wondering whether we really need half of the presents we received and how we are going to fit them in the trunk for the trip home.

I'd rather spend Christmas with my wife and son, lighting the Christ candle on the advent wreath, enacting a nativity set drama, remembering why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

But the grandparents -- both my parents and Nicki's -- are very persuasive, and they are getting older. Who knows how many more Christmases we will have with them? And they are not going to change. For more than a decade I've been making suggestions to my parents that maybe we could do without so many presents, or have the gift exchange on a different day, to no avail. Nicki's parents insisted last year that we drive into their city some weeks before Christmas to get our son's picture taken with Santa, even though we've told them how we are handling Santa.

Has anyone out there faced this dilemma? What do you do to celebrate Christmas rather than consumermas? What's the secret to letting relatives understand that we want to keep Christmas sacred?

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 19, 2007

if you were blind, you would have no sin, part 2: a strategic retreat

I have split this post due to its length. Click here for the beginning.

Later, in the comments, Carter said this:

I've always thought atheism was mostly psychological rather than epistemological. This potential correlation only strengthens that opinion, which is why I think it is worth exploring.

Carter has it backwards. First, he is almost certainly wrong about atheism being "psychological rather than epistemological," as even a simple conversation with an atheist should reveal. But if he were right, it would weaken the correlation, not strengthen it. I have trouble with verbal communication because my brain gathers and processes information differently. The difference between the autistic brain and the neurotypical one is epistemological, not psychological. Autism is not a neurosis that can be treated with drugs or therapy.

One thing that was clear from Carter's post is that he had no understanding of autism. Not a clue. Apparently he was more interested in running with the implications of Vox Day's quote, than in doing the necessary research to write an informed post. That's unfortunate, as his bio indicates that he is a staff member of a national Christian ministry. When a prominent Christian is dishonest, it reflects poorly on all Christians.

So I emailed Joe Carter, letting him know my concerns about both the post's tone toward autistic people, and its misinformation about autism, and asking him to prayerfully consider writing a followup post to offer a public apology to people with autism.

Carter wrote a followup post, but it wasn't an apology. He called it a "clarification," although it looked more like a strategic retreat. He offered a technical redefinition of the word "correlation," using so many x's, y's, and z's that he forgot which letter represented what.

To simplify the matter, let's assign the key terms variables: x (atheism), y (autistic tendencies), z (Asperger's syndrome). Obviously, there is a strong correlation between y and z. People with AS, by definition, tend to have autistic tendencies. We could say, for the sake of argument, that for y and z, r = 1. My post implied, however, that there might be a correlation between x (atheism) and z (AS). Again, that was not my intention. The question I wanted to address was whether there was a correlation between x and y. Also, while the variables y and z are correlated, they are not interchangeable.

Got that? So atheism is related to autism but not to AS. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this may have been a clumsy attempt to suggest that atheism should be seen as a new form of autism. I could be wrong about that.

The crux of Carter's new argument, though, is:

Just as some autistic people could be "mind-blind" (as BruceA describes it), I believe it is possible for some atheists to be "God-blind."

Now to my mind, the relationship described there is a "parallel." A "correlation" is when the two phenomena are observed together, in the same individual -- as Carter suggested in his first post.

However, Carter's redefinition of "correlation" appears to be merely a face-saving maneuver, as he backpedals furiously from everything else in his original claim:

My opinion is that if this hypothesis is true (which I consider possible, though not necessarily probable) then people who are wired to be mind-blind (some autistics) and others who are wired to be "God-blind" (some atheists) may share certain tendencies that are commonly associated with or labeled as being on the "autistic spectrum." This does not mean--and I want to strongly emphasize this point--that atheists are autistic or that people with autism are more inclined to be atheists. The only thing the two groups (atheists and autistics) may possibly have in common is certain behavioral characteristics.

What are these behavioral characteristics? Carter never says, beyond suggesting that they are autistic in nature.

But here's the great irony of the matter. The reason Carter brings up the subject at all is to pose these questions:

If this is true and there is a correlation between autism and atheism, what would be the implications? Would it change the apologetic approach that Christians take in dealing with such unbelievers? Should it affect how we respond, knowing that the anti-social behavior is connected with their atheism?

And yet, even a cursory look at the comments on Carter's blog indicate that many of the atheists were turned off, not only by the allegations Carter made, but by the tone of the post, and by the leaps of logic Carter took in trying to tie atheism to autism.

And although Carter expects atheists to be offended by his post, he can't imagine why they should be:

No doubt many atheists will be offended by the suggestion that a psychological dysfunction may be correlated with their belief system. Why I don’t know, since if their belief is true, it is likely that they have no free will (being the product of purely naturalistic forces) and so can't really help it.

If Carter really thinks atheists will respond positively to that, he suffers from a greater mind-blindness than I do. If, on the other hand, he is sincere about reaching out to nonbelievers, then he does need to change his apologetic approach. One good place to start would be to stop looking for ways to blame and belittle atheists for thinking differently.

Labels: , ,

if you were blind, you would have no sin, part 1: on autism, atheism, and mind-blindness

At his Evangelical Outpost blog, Joe Carter this week asked the question, "Are atheists autistic?" (hat tip: Henry Neufeld)

In the ensuing discussion, more than one commenter noted how demeaning the post was toward people with autism. Rather than giving an intelligent description of the characteristics associated with autism, Carter offered stereotypes and distortions.

Carter began his post by quoting one Vox Day, who said this about the condition known as Asperger Syndrome (AS):

Those with the disorder tend to be intelligent, socially awkward and difficult to converse with. They are also likely to be male.

The key phrase here, for Vox Day, is "difficult to converse with." He goes on to note:

Based on Wired Magazine's observation that atheists tend to be quarrelsome, socially challenged men, to say nothing of the unpleasant personalities of leading public atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michel Onfray, one could reasonably hypothesize that there is likely to be a strong correlation between Asperger's and atheism.

The comparison struck a nerve in me, because, although I haven't sought a formal diagnosis, I almost certainly have Asperger Syndrome. And while the description of AS is correct to an extent, the comparison is very misleading.

Key to the alleged correlation is the phrase "difficult to converse with." Vox Day reinterprets this to mean "quarrelsome." Now it should be clear to most people that if you are saying that there is a correlation between AS and autism, and you are alleging that atheists are quarrelsome, you are also saying that autistic people are quarrelsome.

But let's consider that phrase, "difficult to converse with." The word difficult could mean quarrelsome, but in the context of Asperger Syndrome, can only refer to the difficulty the person with AS has in carrying on a two-way conversation.

Personally, I am unable to start an informal conversation. At work I can talk about work-related issues, at home I can talk about family issues. But when it comes to talking about my hobbies and interests, I am at a loss for words unless someone asks me a direct question.

Some people with AS are at opposite extreme. They can talk about their hobbies and interests for hours -- literally -- even when the listener has no interest in the subject.

A second difficulty I have in informal conversation is that I think in pictures, and have trouble translating them into words quick enough to uphold my end of a conversation. If you met me in real life, and started a conversation with me, it would probably go something like this:

You: (says something intelligent)
Me: Yeah.
You: (another brilliant remark)
Me: Uh huh.
You: (something very witty)
Me: (smiles and nods)
You: Well, talk to you later.

The only thing I've found that can partially overcome this is to anticipate what the conversation might be about, and prepare my replies ahead of time. When I am able to do this with people over an extended time, I reach a point where I begin to know them well enough to start anticipating conversations on the fly, and can communicate almost in real time, although I still stutter some.

Am I difficult to talk with? Certainly. Does this mean I am quarrelsome? Absolutely not. And therein lies the stake in the heart of Day's comparison. His alleged correlation between atheism and autism is grounded in a play on the word difficult.

Of course, as many people noted, both in the comments to Carter's post and elsewhere, the assertion that atheists are "quarrelsome, socially challenged men," has its own problems, but that is another issue for another time and place.

Despite the inadequecies of Day's alleged correlation, Carter plunges ahead:

There is a theory that individuals with autism or Asperger’s syndrome are unable to theorize about other minds. Some researchers claim that the majority of individuals with autism are "mind-blind", that they (especially as children) are unable to "attribute mental states, such as dreaming, hoping, thinking, believing and wanting in others or in oneself."

Again, this is true as far as it goes. Children with autism develop a theory of mind at a later age than neurotypical children. But virtually all people with AS have a theory of mind before reaching adulthood.

Additionally, many people with AS do have a level of "mind-blindness" -- which has little or nothing to do with a theory of mind. To draw the obvious analogy, a blind person could have an idea of, say, what an elephant might look like (even if is an erroneous idea) but would still not be able to physically see one. The relationship between physical blindness and the ability to imagine objects is the same relationship between mind-blindness and theory of mind.

Mind-blindness refers to the inability to discern what another person is thinking. Most people with autism have trouble reading others' body language and facial expressions. This makes it harder to guess what other people are thinking.

But -- and this is critical to understanding the phenomenon -- everybody experiences mind-blindness to an extent. In some cases this is good. Most of us could never imagine what goes on in the mind of a sociopath, and we wouldn't want to. More generally, to the extent that any person is enough different from us that we don't understand what makes them tick, we experience mind-blindness.

Joe Carter fails to recognize the universal pervasiveness of mind-blindness, and instead attributes it solely to people with autism:

If the belief in other minds is analogous to belief in God, then individuals who have a propensity to "mind-blindness" would likely be "God-blind" as well. With effort, high functioning autistics may be able to overcome their inability to attribute mental states to other physical beings. But while they may be able to learn to accept the rationality of other minds, they may find it more difficult to develop a belief in a Being who is both non-physical.

Carter coins the term "God-blind," and suggests that autistic people may have a propensity to it. It is important to note that Carter specifically states that the people likely to be "God-blind" are "high functioning autistics".

Now I don't know Carter's theology, but to me this sounds an awful lot like the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement, in which some people are created as "objects of wrath" beyond Christ's ability to forgive. I could be wrong in drawing this inference, but I would be surprised if I'm the only one who made that connection.

(continued in part 2)

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 29, 2007

we met at work

One of the local media outlets is running a "How Did You Meet Your Sweetheart?" feature on their website. My wife, Nicki, submitted our story, and they have published it.


Friday, November 17, 2006


Yes, it's been nearly two weeks since my last post. No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I'm in the process of moving after getting a new job in a new town. I hope to resume blogging shortly after Thanksgiving.


Monday, July 24, 2006

happy blogiversary to me

I got home late last night from a vacation with my parents and the whole extended family. It was my parents' 40th anniversary, and they wanted to take the grandkids and everybody to Disney World. I thought I'd have time to meet Orlando-area bloggers John the Methodist and Brian Russell, but as events unfolded it became impossible to get away. I don't want to give too many details, but I'd like to ask for prayers for my wife's health.

And one more thing: Amid festivities, Disney, and trips to the emergency room, I missed my blog's anniversary. As of last Saturday, I've been blogging for a year. With everything else that's going on, it's not really a big deal to me.