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May 24, 2009

Arguing About the Important Stuff

Over the years, I’ve read a number of Paul Graham’s essays, and I’ve enjoyed them greatly and I think I’ve learned a lot from them. The first one I was introduced to was “Why Nerds are Unpopular”, which is well worth the read. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of them: a year or maybe more. I ran across this one, apparently published in February of this year: “Keep Your Identity Small”. This is the one I want to discuss here.

Paul Graham shares in the dislike of religion and Christian orthodoxy that is common among most geeks on the Internet (in my experience anyway). He certainly doesn’t rank among the worst offenders, and his insights are usually shrewd in spite of what appears to me as his prejudices. At the start of the article, and apparently at the start of his idea, he was wondering why discussions of religion and politics usually are so fruitless: “As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why? Why does this happen with religion and not with Javascript or baking or other topics people talk about on forums?”

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Posted by Leatherwood at 12:07 AM
This post has been classified as “Musings

April 11, 2009

Death and Creation

Last week, a friend from Washington sent me a link to a debate between Peter Singer and Dinesh D’Souza. My friend asked me for my opinion on the debate. Oddly enough (or perhaps not), I’d already been considering related issues in pondering the Bible’s view of creation and death in contrast with the creation myth in JRR Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Tolkien gave me an idea (which is almost certainly not new) that I wanted to share.

Peter Singer almost unquestionably won the debate. He did so pretty much with his first statement, as he argued that the real purpose of their meeting was to argue the existence of God. Considering that the title of their debate (as mentioned in the wiki article on Dinesh D’Souza) was “Can there be morality without God?”, Mr. Singer appears to have changed the subject of the debate, but he did so successfully.

His main argument against the existence of the Christian God was a facet of the classical problem of suffering. He argued that the suffering of innocent animals, who are not fallen, morally responsible beings like man, particularly the evidence that this suffering has been going on as long since before the coming of man, proves that if there is a God, he/she/it cannot be a “good” being worthy of worship.

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Posted by Leatherwood at 03:41 PM
This post has been classified as “Musings

April 02, 2009

Recipe for Making Swords

I believe it was toward the latter half of my second year of college, spring 2003, that I first was introduced to the concept of a “boffer”, or foam sword. I’ve never come up with my own word, and the ones on their wiki entry make sense. I usually call it a play sword, or something like it. My roommate (Daniel Wise) was taking a karate class and they had a few sessions of weapons training. He and some of his friends used a version of a boffer for weapons training.

I sensed their potential immediately. This was the sword of my dreams, what I wished I’d had all my years as a kid. I’ve always been fascinated with swords and dueling: I recall asking my grandmother for a “real sword and shield” for Christmas when I was seven or eight. However, every sword I owned, particuarly the imitation swords one gives to children, disappointed me. They broke far too easily. The cool-looking plastic sword was worthless: one decent swing and it would bend in half. Let alone a full length duel, like the ones my heroes engaged in (think Star Wars and Princess Bride). I later turned to sticks and wood. I had better results: they had more heft and could withstand longer duels, but fighting with them almost inevitably broke them and wound up with me dripping blood from my knuckles. I wish someone had shown me how to make a boffer.

Properly constructed (meaning those constructed by me :)), a boffer has the following virtues:

  1. It usually won’t hurt anyone. See caveats below.
  2. It will almost never break under ordinary conditions. Yes, they are more brittle in cold weather; yes, an adult swinging at full power can crack them; but they’re tougher than they look and can take a very decent amount of beating. If you’re swinging hard enough to break them, you’re swinging way too hard.
  3. They are enormous amounts of fun. They will not teach you true swordfighting, but they will give you a chance to have fun and live out a bit of those dreams derived from Star Wars and Princess Bride. And I believe there’s something precious in those dreams, even if they bear little to no resemblance to real sword fights.

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Posted by Leatherwood at 10:45 PM
This post has been classified as “Public Address

August 17, 2008

Weeks 32 & 33 of 2008

I missed last week’s update, but I have an excellent excuse. My wife came back! Nikki came back from her vacation on Saturday evening. We spent Sunday together in Illinois with her relatives. For that evening, we went to Medieval Times in Schaumburg, Illinois. I’d been to Medieval Times once before in Dallas. I enjoyed it about as much this time; Medieval Times is a lot of fun, though it is rather pricy. But it’s a fun thing to do, especially for an anniversary. This was my and Nikki’s fourth anniversary.

It was marvellous to see her again. I don’t remember longing for anything as much as her return in a very long time ... it was like waiting for Christmas as a kid, when it takes forever but is so much more special when it does arrive. The married life agrees with me, I think.

Other than her coming back, there’s not too much to update you on. I’ve started martial arts training in Genbukan ninpo; it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as much a rank beginner in something. In college, I was taking classes in things I generally had some background and experience in, but this is quite different. It can be frustrating to do so many things wrong ... but I’m sure it’s quite healthy. Right now much of my training is in bowing and scraping properly. :)

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Posted by Leatherwood at 04:32 PM
This post has been classified as “Public Address

Groups As Living Things

A while back, it occurred to me that corporations (indeed, all groups of people) have some interesting qualities when viewed as living things.

In some ways, corporations are living things. The law has recognized this for more than a hundred years, giving coporations legal “personhood”. Most people I discuss this with think this is foolish. Corporations aren’t people. They’re dead inanimate objects.

But it occurs to me that corporations are like living things. They are things that we humans create which take on a life of their own. All human groups are like this, to a greater or lesser extent. When you form a club, that club exists almost as a living thing, albeit a very weak one. All groups depend on their members for their continued existence (much as we humans depend on our bodies for continued existence). Some members are more important than others: the loss of a few key people will be the end of a almost any small group. But the larger a group gets, the more immortal it is. The less it depends on and is shaped by any one individual. Just think: if you were to try to change the nature of Ford Motor Company, how many of its people would you have to change? The CEO would not be sufficient. Neither would all its board. It has a distributed life (though some members are more important than others).

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Posted by Leatherwood at 04:31 PM
This post has been classified as “Musings

August 03, 2008

Musings on Pornography

Picture of a young woman with this caption: 'Sex is part of us. It's a part of our nature. But to show it, it's suddenly ''Dirty Pornography''. Shouldn't a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic?

I ran across the image on the right while browsing the Internet this past week. It interested me. The caption says “Sex is part of us. It’s a part of our nature. But to show it, it’s suddenly ‘Dirty Pornography’. Shoulnd’t a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic?”

It’s not a bad question, though I am doubtful of the Platonic philosophical motives of its source. I will try to answer it.

Sex is indeed beautiful. It is the most intimate thing one human being can do with another. It is both physical and spiritual. In some ways, it is a fulfillment and affirmation of what it means to be human, of God’s intent that love should find its joy, its ecstasy in giving joy and ecstasy to another.

Yet we humans are ashamed of it. Have been ever since the fall. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7, ESV). Seems a strange first action for humans newly emancipated from the tyranny of God. But it rings true.

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Posted by Leatherwood at 04:22 PM
This post has been classified as “Musings

Biblical Tolerance

I came across a couple of passages this week that are worth recalling. The Romans 14 passage in particular is deeply relevant when dealing with the issue of Christian tolerance or lack of it. Some people are surprised to find it’s in the Bible at all.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. ...

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. ...

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 14, ESV, emphasis mine

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Posted by Leatherwood at 04:20 PM
This post has been classified as “Public Address