Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Duel Of Wits Between Unarmed Opponents

The other day, James Taranto linked an exchange about Christians between atheists Christopher Hitchens and Heather Mac Donald. Their failure to understand the nation's dominant religion is rooted in a common fallacy. First, Hitch:

[Rick Warren] is a relentless clerical businessman who raises money on the proposition that certain Americans—non-Christians, the wrong kind of Christians, homosexuals, nonbelievers—are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely flock of redeemed and salvaged and paid-up donors.

Next, Mac Donald, whose argument states, as Taranto interprets, Christians must not really believe all that stuff."

But here's another possibility: Do modern Christians still believe with the same fervor as in the past all those unyielding doctrines of eternal damnation for the unbaptised and unconverted? They sure don't act as if they do. If they really were convinced that their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and in-laws were going to hell because they possessed the wrong or no religious belief, I would think that the knowledge would be unbearable. Christians surely see that most of their wrong-believing personal acquaintances are just as moral and deserving as themselves. How, then, do they live with the knowledge that their friends and loved ones face an eternity of torment? I would expect a frenzy of proselytizing, by word or by sword.

In previous centuries, when religion had the upper hand, religious differences meant more. But ours is a world dominated by the secular values of tolerance and equality. Either believers live with an extraordinary degree of cognitive dissonance between the inclusive values of their society and the dictates of their religion, or they unconsciously mitigate those bloody-minded dictates as atavistic vestiges from a more primitive time.

These writers will never begin to understand Christianity as long as they entertain the false notion that the faith shares the common human assumption that human value is a variable, set by the individual's balance sheet of rights and wrongs. In his actions and teachings, Jesus set human value as a constant - all are equally valuable to God.

If human value is a constant, then what is the variable that determines entrance to Heaven? That would be reconciliation.

The newest of my blog traditions draws a helpful parallel:

Christianity makes a radical claim about the relationship between believers, nonbelievers and God: we're all family. God created the souls of all, thus he is the father of all, believers and nonbelievers alike. All of the children have gone astray - but some have reconciled with him while others have not.

When one is faced with the earthly parallel - being in good standing with Dad while some of the other siblings aren't - one is charged with three tasks: to build and maintain the relationship with Dad, to build and maintain the relationships with the wayward siblings without doing anything that interferes with the paternal relationship, and to act as a bridge between the wayward siblings and Dad. That third task is tricky; there will be occasions to discuss the rift outright, but most of the time it involves nothing more than being a positive influence to that sibling.

Christianity works the same way. Loving God doesn't mean giving up on non-Christian friends.

They oughta do a few lunches with Charles Colson. A guy who ministers to convicted criminals knows a lot about Jesus' take on human value.

Mac Donald asks a useful question: if Christians are so certain that nonbelievers won't get into Heaven, why don't they put out greater effort to address the situation? (The claim that baptism is a heavenly entrance requirement is mistaken, despite some denominations' claim to the contrary.) It's simple - many Christians fear rejection, or fear persecution, or lack the confidence in knowing how to convincingly spread the Gospel. Humans are the products of multiple influences; just because one is a Christian does not mean all other influences are negated. Ask Paul of Tarsus how this manifested itself in Corinth.

This dovetails with another of Mac Donald's remark about spreading the Gospel "by sword." I am uncertain whether she is exhibiting a prejudice regarding the psychological nature of proselytizing faiths - that the mindset necessarily has forceful tendencies - or she believes that Christianity really does allow for forced conversion. If the latter, she has Jesus confused with subsequent followers who took from outside influences ideas anti-Christian ideas called them "Christian." (Hegelians call this intellectual flummery thesis-antithesis-synthesis - which, sadly, Hegelians do not recognize as flummery.) Jesus and his immediate circle preached the church as a peaceful and voluntary association. Force played no role in bringing people into the church - although they could be forced out if they were sufficiently disruptive, as any voluntary organization woudl do.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008


From an actual Chicago furniture retailer ad.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

With Talent On Loan From Percy Bysshe Shelley

In yesterday's Day By Day, Obama addresses himself as "Obameses," a direct reference to the Pharaoh Rameses - who in literary circles is known by a different name. So without any further ado...

I met a traveller on the I-70 interchange
Who said: "Two vast pillars of artificial stone
Stand outside Denver. Within short range,
Half torn, battered posters lie. The glow
And lofty expression of hope for change
Tell that their printer well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The State that mocked and campaign promises fed.
And in the caption these words appear:
'I am Obamandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Republicans, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that abandoned stage prop, boundless and bare,
The snow-capped Rockies stretch far away."

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Reasons For The Season

(Original posted on December 23, 2002)

While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships - and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.

Best of holiday wishes to all my readers.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 1968

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

But it helps to have a guy who infiltrate the Weather Underground to fisk Bill Ayers.

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Blogging the Qur'an: Suras 97-114

Robert Spencer has the installment here. These are the final suras of the Koran.

Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heroes - Burning Down The House

Episode: Dual. Spoilers ahead.)

It's been a busy week of house cleaning and rearranging, and I'm just now getting around to watching the episode.

Four villains bite the big one permanently; Knox gets frozen to death, and the three Primatech inmates are systematically killed by Sylar. Flint will undoubtedly resurface, like Bond villain Jaws, as (unlike his sister) he is impervious to flame. Unless the shard in the back of his head somehow stays in place during the conflagration, Sylar will probably come back, too.

The rescue of Hiro relies on a silly plot device - the gamble that the formula will give Ando exactly the power he needs to pull it off - but it was enjoyable to watch. Perhaps Hiro will eventually get his powers back - either Peter or (more likely) the Ando-Daphne team could go back in time to scoop up a bit of mutant serum from the vat just before Peter dumps it.

Sylar's revenge took one small measure of success. He sought to prove that his captives are monsters "just like" himself. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and cheerleaders...He offered two bits of bait - telling Claire to kill Angela to save Bennett, and Bennett to kill Meredith to save himself - but it was ultimately Claire's murder of Sylar (temporary the effects may be) that proved his point.

Knox and Flint's turnabout should have been predictable - they have more power if they don't have competition, plenty of which the serum would have presented. Mohinder finally gets cured - if a hypo isn't available, spilled serum and open sores will suffice.

So what will Tracy do now that she's fired? She gives Mohinder a lift - will they be teaming up in the future?

And why is Matt seeing a vision of dead Usutu? Is Usutu really dead?

The "Volume Four" scene has Nathan turning into Noah Bennett. He's convinced the President (played by Michael Dorn) to essentially assume Primatech's old mission of imprisoning dangerous mutants - except that Nathan wants all of them behind bulletproof glass. Vive le resistence!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Majel Barrett (1932-2008)

Another of my childhood icons has passed away.

See this video tribute.

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A Suggestion For Rod Blagojevich

Shock everybody and appoint Patrick Fitzgerald to hold Obama's vacant Senate seat.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

105 Years Ago Today

It's the birthday of powered flight.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Limbaugh Takes Colin Powell To Task

The general's moonbattery is thoroughly denounced.

Powell suggests that the GOP should listen less to Rush, but that mission has already been accomplished:

The Republican Party needs to stop listening to me [according to Powell]...The simple fact of the matter is, folks, what makes this funny to me is that the Republican Party's not listened to me in the last two years. And you might even say in matters of policy and so forth, the Republican Party hasn't been listening to me for the last six years. And you might even say that the Republican Party is in the situation it's in precisely because of the people like Colin Powell and John McCain and others who have devised this new definition and identity of the party which is responsible for electing Democrats all over this country.

It's even worse than that. As far as spending policy goes, the GOP hasn't listened to Rush since the end of 1995. That's when Mr. Newt's Congress lost its PR battle with the Clintonites - the point at which Congress stopped trying to reform government spending.

Rush exposes Powell's chutzpah:

John McCain is and was Colin Powell's ideal candidate. All these moderates, Bill Weld, all these moderates that crossed the aisle and voted for Obama, they got their ideal candidate, and they got their ideal campaign in McCain. Once McCain was nominated as the Republican candidate, largely by independents and Democrats voting in Republican primaries, Colin Powell waited 'til the last minute, when it would do the most damage to McCain and the Republicans and endorsed Obama.

And Powell has the nerve to give advice to a party he doesn't believe in.

What's going on here with this Colin Powell thing is that the Washington establishment -- Powell's not a Republican. McCain's not a Republican. These guys are not even mavericks. They are Washingtonians. Washingtonians have their own culture and their own desires, and it is to matter. They don't care who's in power, they just want to be closely associated with whoever is. That's the name of the game and they want press adulation. They want to be loved and adored by the media, they want fawning treatment, they want to be thought of as something special, unique, dignified and so forth, and that's the Washington establishment. These guys are Washingtonians. And what is a Washingtonian? Who are these people? Ladies and gentlemen, they have driven this economy into the toilet. Washingtonians are tone deaf in terms of how you and I actually live and the things that matter and are important to us. Washingtonians are grabbing as much power for themselves right now as possible. Washington does not live in the rest of the country, does not live in the same world we do. What they're doing now is looking for ways to silence opposition. They don't care about the timid ineffective opposition. They like Republicans and conservatives who are ashamed of their views and their fellow citizens. What they want to do is silence people like me because they can't abide debate or opposition or challenges to their status and their authority.

This, I believe, identifies a key root for Sarah Palin's popularity. Most Republican conservatives in Congress have surrendered to the Washingtonians, if they haven't become Washingtonians themselves. We're increasingly looking outside the beltway for hope for Federal reform.

Rush addresses a key criticism:

General Powell says we need to reach out to Hispanic, blacks, and Asians. Well, how do we do that? What kind of message does he suggest? I never hear the "how" to do it. I just hear we need to do it. And in my mind, we already have the blueprint for how to do it. We have done it successfully. We abandoned the blueprint. It's called individual freedom, liberty, and not seeing them as Hispanics and not seeing them as Asians and not seeing them as blacks or minorities, but rather seeing them as Americans, human beings. Liberals look at people and groupify them and then think of them with contempt. I mean are all black people identical thinkers, if we understand what one of them thinks we know how to get to all of them, is that true? Same thing with Asians? Same thing with Hispanics?

Perhaps Joseph Cao (pronounced "gow") could add something to that.

Monday, December 15, 2008

One Word About The Flying Shoes Incident

We don't yet know Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi's complaints against President Bush. They may be similar to those of many Western war critics, or they may not - not everyone who opposes something shares the same reasons for doing so. Someone should report on how the guy reported news about the war and about Bush to offer some context.

Al-Zaidi works for Iraqi-owned al-Baghdadia channel in Cairo - its website (Arabic only) is here.


Blogging the Qur'an: Sura 96, "Clots of Blood"

Robert Spencer has the installment here. The chief subject is Gabriel's first visitation before Mohammed.

The chapter title derives from the first two verses, which proclaim that Allah created man out of a clot of blood. Whose blood it does not say.

Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Separated At Birth - Rod Blagojevich And...

...a Lego figurine.

...a Fischer Price figurine and Cabbage Patch doll.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Ways To Read This

Guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan's, Chris Bodenner reports that Joe the Plumber is not happy with McCain.

Interestingly, the post is titled "Biting the Hand," which prompted me to send this email to Bodenner:

One might interpret the title two ways:

  1. Joe bites the hand that burnished his accidental fame, by dissing McCain.
  2. McCain bites the hand that improved his vote-getting chances with the conservative base, by behaving like a statist.


Advances In Coffee Creamer

I've long wanted someone to introduce a coffee creamer that tastes like the inside of a York Peppermint Patty or Andes chocolate mint. I have dissolved many of the latter in a cup of coffee, but it's a labor-intensive task; chocolates don't stay dissolved in chocolate without repeated stirring. The chocolate also leaves a residue in the mug.

Just the other day I saw that my wish was granted: Nestle Coffee Mate Peppermint Mocha. Sadly, this is classified as a seasonal flavor - which means it's gone after Christmas. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Nestle, you people are going to keep the best-tasting coffee creamer you have ever introduced on the shelves TEMPORARILY? You idiots! I hope those three ghosts leave Scrooge alone this year and visit your executive boardroom.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Heroes - Meet The New Boss...

(Episode: Our Father. Spoilers ahead.)

So, Nathan takes over Pinehurst and its master race scheme. Maybe he should grow a funny mustache.

Normally I get weary of the body count in shows like this and Lost. But the death of Arthur Petrelli is a tremendous relief and to date the most welcome come-uppance in this entire series. He was just too bleeding powerful. Time travel and quasi-omniscience (via his Isaac Mendez-styled clairvoyance) is too nasty and frustrating a combo of abilities to find in a villain. (Or even a hero.)

So, The Haitian's power suppression ability can be resisted - and if he's got to use his entire strength to keep one person's powers suppressed, he can't suppress other people's powers.

Evidently, The Haitian's power suppression ability works in a different and more powerful manner than the power suppression phenomenon associated with the eclipse. Claire came back to life after the eclipse, but presumably Arthur's rapid cell regeneration (stolen from Adam Monroe) will not kick in after The Haitian's attentions are turned elsewhere.

So is the catalyst now gone? Or was it able to go airborne and "land" on someone else? Can the catalyst be recreated?

Matt, Ando, and Daphne efficiently get Isaac's sketchbook, and find that Hiro has been lost in time - hanging on to a spire not quite as precariously as Harold Lloyd dangling from that clock face. But the only known time travelers are either dead or stripped of power. So it's up to the synthetic mutant formula - or a new time traveler. I'll wager that Nathan uses the formula to restore his brother's powers.

Claire intended to stop the transfer of the catalyst to her infant self, but didn't need to, as Hiro managed to acquire it himself. The two need to be teamed up more often - they make a great team, even when they can't speak each other's language.

Sylar goes from Jekyll to Hyde once again, and presumably will use the cell phone record of mutants to find more victims.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Not All Pirates Are Somalis

Steve Breen illustrates the relationship between special interests and government. Unfortunately, it cost him a speaking gig.

Hot Air contributor Ed Morissey nitpicks the cartoon - with good reason:

A little harsh? Perhaps; the state of California hardly got hijacked by the unions against their will, at least not "Sacramento" as representing its government. The Democrats who run the state willingly allied themselves with these powerful unions and stuck it to the taxpayers on their behalf. Rename the ship "California Taxpayers" and that may be more on target.

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Blogging the Qur'an: Suras 87-95

Robert Spencer has the installment here.

Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Day Of Infamy, Day Of Hope

See my annual Pearl Harbor remembrance here.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Samizdata has the political edition. Somehow the Samiz-folks missed one, which I added in comments:

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: The chickennnnnnn was going home to roooooooost.

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Heroes - I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Moon

(Episodes: The Eclipse, Parts 1 and 2)

The notion of a solar eclipse affecting these mutant powers is the third biggest fantasy to appear in this entire series. The second is that a scientist like Mohinder failed to suspect that the effects from a temporary astronomical phenomenon would be equally temporary. The first is that both The Company and Pinehurst have been around for a long time without discovering this effect. (Is it possible that the rare correlation between the eclipse and some other event is the real cause?)

The effects are fascinating. We learn that Daphne has cerebral palsy, which her evolved ability overcomes. We also learn that Claire's ability has prevented the development of a natural immune system. Sylar may not have suffered the infections she did because a) he wasn't as badly wounded, and b) he acquired her ability late in life when his immune system had already developed.

Good thing Nathan was over water and at low altitude when the eclipse effect kicked in. The Petrelli brothers' mission to retrieve The Haitian runs into a snag as they run into his bulletproof brother, Baron Samedi. ("Samedi" is French for "Saturday, BTW.) Nathan is captured and eventually rescued, and The Haitian has removed unspecified memories from his brother. Now Nathan has caught the superhero bug, as Wikipedia explains:

Nathan decides to help Pinehearst, saying that while Arthur's plan may not be perfect, the idea of giving more people powers appeals to him as he discovered how powerless normal people are, especially against someone like Baron Samedi.

Peter and The Haitian are left behind as Nathan flies back to the States.

9th Wonders! is not under new management - Isaac Mendez had left behind some issues posthumously published - and one rumored issue, the one we saw him hand to a bicycle courier in Season One not long before Sylar showed up to kill him.

The comic book store scenes are great. Hiro learns of key parts of his recent past through the 9th Wonders! collection, and his ten-year-old mind is horrified at the violent episodes in that life. He locks himself in the restroom and is eventually talked out by one of the store owners (with Ando translating). The owners are in denial about the 9th Wonders! superhero business being real until Hiro teleports away.

Hiro's trip to the Bennett home is timed just right - he teleports unwanted guests Sylar and Elle to a deserted beach and takes off with Claire. Sylar was there to kill Mr. Bennett, who had earlier tried to kill Sylar and thought he did until he found out the power loss was temporary. He then whisks Claire away to visit the moment in the past when Kaito handed baby Claire to Bennett to raise.

"Don't get too close," Kaito says. Oh, yeah, right.

The last scene with Sylar and Elle offer an interesting cliffhanger: will Sylar go through with killing her, or will his empathy kick in at the beginning of the next episode? The attack confirms something about the hunger that comes with Sylar's power. The attraction is not to gain Elle's power, which he already has - it is to see the power's inner workings in her brain.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Unclear Of The Concept

Who is the moron who decided to send unarmed "guards" to defend a ship against armed pirates?

Somali pirates hijacked a chemical tanker with dozens of Indian crew members Friday and a helicopter rescued three British security guards who had jumped into the sea, officials said...


"We have been informed by coalition military authorities that three of our unarmed security staff were rescued from the water by a coalition helicopter and are currently on board a coalition warship in the Gulf of Aden," the company statement said.

Next time, send Steven Segal.


Blogging The Qur'an: Suras 77-86

Robert Spencer has the installment here.

Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series

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