Elephant's Breath

I read this passage in Viv Albertine's "Clothes3. Music3. Boys3":

Each morning I start again with the questions, easy stuff, like colour – I’ve always been drawn to colour. Mum made colour interesting for me, when I was little; she would say, ‘See the colour of that woman’s skirt? That’s called elephant’s breath.’ Or, ‘See that ribbon? It’s mint green...

I had never heard of "elephant's breath" before. It's a paint color from the British manufacturer
Farrow and Ball. This site says that the RGB values for Elephant's Breath are 204, 191, 179. ChatGPT says that the RGB values are 187, 173, 160.


ChatGPT draws it as:



2023 Reading List

1The CyberiadStanislaw Lem
2Circus WorldBarry B. Longyear
3A Wizard of EarthseaUrsula K. Le Guin
4The Tombs of AtuanUrsula K. Le Guin
5The Farthest ShoreUrsula K. Le Guin
6Power FailureMimi Swartz & Sherron Watkins
7A Boisterously Reformed Polemic Against Limited AtonementAustin Brown
8The Smartest Guys in the RoomBethany McLean & Peter Elkins
9TehanuUrsula K. Le Guin
10Tales From EarthseaUrsula K. Le Guin
11The Theology of the Reformed ConfessionsKarl Barth
12The Best of Cordwainer SmithCordwainer Smith
13The Other WindUrsula K. Le Guin
14The Daughter of OdrenUrsula K. Le Guin
15Planet of the DamnedHarry Harrison
16Vital GraceTom Wood
17OriginalsAdam Grant
18The Diary of a Young GirlAnne Frank
19The Great DivorceC. S. Lewis
20Collective IllusionsTodd Rose
21Apologetics Beyond ReasonJames W. Sire
22The Wiersbe Bible Study Series: JohnWarren W. Wiersbe
23The Day the Revolution BeganN. T. Wright
24Love Ain't Nothing But Sex MisspelledHarlan Ellison
25Being God's ImageCarmen Joy Ames
26Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the BibleMichael F. Bird

A Review of "Vital Grace"

When Dr. Wood told me that he had another book out, I replied that I would be interested in reading it when it was available as an e-book. This conversation continued for several months until, finally, he gave me printed copy. Both Tom and I think that the content of the messages coming from most pulpits in America is a far cry from what the Bible actually says about the authentic Christian life. Vital Grace is his attempt to introduce a course change. He faces an almost impossible task, because the authentic Christian life is ineffable, counter-intuitive, and unexpected. How does one express the ineffable? Even Jesus would only say, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Tom gets many things right. I told him on Sunday that I think that our church should make a class available with this book as the text. Having said that, now I'm going to "knife the baby" (not really. It's more of a deep exfoliation). Knowing me as he does, he expects no less because the purpose of a critical review is to make the next edition of the book even better.

A Diplomatic Review of "A Boisterous Polemic"

[Updated 5/8/2023, see footnote 3]

For whom did Christ die? A "5-point" Calvinist will answer, "for the elect only". A "4-point" or "moderate" Calvinist will answer "for everyone, but especially for the elect." "
A Boisterously Reformed Polemic Against Limited Atonement", by Austin C. Brown, looks at the evidence for each answer and comes down on the side of the moderate Calvinist.

For the sake of brevity, I will use "5P" and "4P" to refer to the respective five point and four point positions.

My first observation, which should not be controversial, is that there is a typo in the Kindle version on page 190/191: "This happened to me twice. Once during the examination process
to be become a deacon in the RPCNA and during my examination...". My remaining observations, save the penultimate, will be in areas where I think Brown could present a stronger argument. The next to last observation will be in the way of personal application.


Critiquing Calvinism

On the strength of David Allen's book "The Atonement", I bought a copy of "Calvinism". The book beings with a critique of the five points of Calvinism, usually known by the acronym "TULIP". Allen wrote the chapter on the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" and I found his work here to be as well done as in his other book. He "steelmanned" his analysis, that is, he looked at the doctrine of Limited Atonement as it is actually presented by Calvinists, instead of assessing a caricature, and did a competent job stating the case against it. In fact, I'm only aware of one additional argument for limited atonement that he did not address1. However, the chapters on Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace aren't as well done. They are target rich environments that, were they to accurately depict Calvinism, would deter me from being a moderate Calvinist. Yet, instead of a lengthy rebuttal, in the remainder of this post I want to address one, and only one, part of the response to "Irresistible Grace" in chapter 4 by editor Steve Lemke. He writes:
... the Remonstrants were concerned about the teaching that God forces his grace on sinners irresistibly. [emphasis mine]
Bending the will of a fallible being by an omnipotent Being powerfully and unfailingly is not merely sweet persuasion. It is forcing one to change one’s mind against one’s will.
God changing our will invincibly in irresistible grace brings to mind phenomena such as hypnotism or brainwashing.
Note the striking contradiction—God will “overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible,” and yet “irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will.” No attempt is made in the article to reconcile these apparently contradictory assertions.

I will try to reconcile these allegedly contradictory assertions. The idea that God forces the spiritually dead to awaken to life in Christ is common in Arminian arguments. But it simply isn't what God does. "Aha!" moments, "Eureka!" moments rise from the recesses of our minds and present to us a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, and that new thing is so obvious that we wonder why we never encountered it before. Of course we embrace it. Why would we not? It has positively transformed a part of our life.

Lemke asks:

Why would there be a need to persuade someone who had already been regenerated by irresistible enabling grace?

God works through His word: written, oral, or otherwise. He gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf (Ex. 4:11). He gives transforming inspiration. Regeneration and persuasion go hand in hand. He regenerates through persuasion and persuades through regeneration.

I am reminded of the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy opens the door of her house and sees Oz in color. Before then, everything was in black and white. The external change of location which brought color into her life is a parallel to the internal change that brings new sight to the Christian. What Dorothy saw on the outside the Christian sees on the inside.


[1] The "marriage" argument. It is argued that Christ died for His bride, the Church, to "sanctify it, having cleansed it." [Eph 5:25-27].

There is an inseparable unity between Christ's death for the church and his sanctifying and cleansing it. Those from whom he died he also sanctifies and cleanses. Since the world is not sanctified and cleansed, then it is obvious that Christ did not die for it.
    – Edwin H. Palmer, "The Five Points of Calvinism".

I don't think this argument survives Isaiah 54:5:

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; ...
    – NRSV

Which makes 1 Cor 7:15 all the more interesting.


2022 Reading List

1Space ChantyR. A. Lafferty
2The Witches of KarresJames H. Schmitz
3The Wizard of KarresM. Lackey, E. Flint, D. Freer
4The Sorceress of KarresE. Flint, D. Freer
5The Shaman of KarresE. Flint, D. Freer
6The Idea of Israel in Second Temple JudaismJason Staples
7Do Android's Dream of Electric SheepPhilip K. Dick
8Miami BluesCharles Willeford
9New Hope for the DeadCharles Willeford
10SideswipeCharles Willeford
11The Way We Die NowCharles Willeford
12The HobbitJ. R. R. Tolkien
13The Burnt Orange HeresyCharles Willeford
14A Canticle for LeibowitzWalter M. Miller, Jr.
15Gospel CoachScott Thomas & Tom Wood
16SolarisStanislaw Lem
17Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are LostTraci Rhoades
18The Mountain of SilenceKyriacos C. Markides
19He Is There And He Is Not SilentFrancis A. Schaeffer
20The Region BetweenHarlan Ellison
21True SpiritualityFrancis A. Schaeffer
22The Orville: Sympathy for the DevilSeth MacFarlane
23The Word for World is ForestUrsula K. Le Guin
24Believing PhilosophyDolores G. Morris
25The Epic of EdenSandra L. Richter
26Five Ways to ForgivenessUrsula K. Le Guin
26The Westminster AssemblyRobert Letham
27Old Testament Theology in a Canonical ContextBrevard S. Childs
28The Year's Best Science Fiction, First Annual CollectionGardner Dozois
29The Martian ChroniclesRay Bradbury
30What Did The Cross Accomplish?S. Gathercole, R. B. Stewart, N. T. Wright
31Howard Who?Howard Waldrop


2021 Reading List

1The Warlock In Spite Of HimselfChristopher Stasheff
2Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceRobert M. Pirsig
3The Genius in Your WoundAllan Dayhoff
4The Best of R. A. LaffertyR. A. Lafferty
5Revelations of a Spirit MediumA Medium
6LoserthinkScott Adams
7World Without StarsPoul Anderson
8Breakfast With SocratesRobert Rowland Smith
9Science and the GoodJames Hunter and Paul Nedelisky
10Hinds Feet On High PlacesHannah Hurnard
11The Sirens of TitanKurt Vonnegut
12Through Two Doors At OnceAnil Ananthaswamy
13Okla HannaliR. A. Lafferty
14The AccidentsCaleb Hannan
15The Great DivorceC. S. Lewis
16Puritanism and Natural TheologyWallace W. Marshall
17The Space TrilogyC. S. Lewis
18Stories of Your Life and OthersTed Chiang
19Seven and a Half Lessons About the BrainLisa Feldman Barrett
20The Reefs of EarthR. A. Lafferty
21Podkayne of MarksRobert A. Heinlein
22The Restless ClockJessica Riskin
23R.U.R.Karel ńĆapek
24The Cuckoo's EggClifford Stoll
25High Crimes (Audiobook)Michael Kodas
26Murder on the Orient ExpressAgatha Christie
27Brightness Falls from the AirJames Tiptree, Jr.
28The Extent of the AtonementDavid L. Allen
29Simply TrinityIsaac Asimov
30FoundationIsaac Asimov
31Foundation and EmpireIsaac Asimov
32Second FoundationIsaac Asimov
33What Is A Girl WorthRachael Denhollander
34Foundation's EdgeIsaac Asimov
35Foundation and EarthIsaac Asimov
36Postmodernism For BeginnersJim Powell
37What Do We Really Know?Simon Blackburn
38Gödel's ProofErnest Nagel & James R. Newman
39When Did Eve Sin? Jeffrey J. Niehaus
40DominionTom Holland
41ExhalationTed Chiang
42Rendezvous with RamaArthur C. Clarke


2020 Reading List

1The Parables of GraceRobert Farrar Capon
2The Puppet MastersRobert A. Heinlein
3Christianity and LiberalismJ. Gresham Machen
4The Witches of KarresJames H. Schmitz
5The Twelfth VictimLinda M. Battisti & John Stevens Berry, Sr.
6Street Level RomansMichael Baer
7Creation Myths: Revised EditionMarie-Louise Von Franz
8Breakfast At Tiffany'sTruman Capote
9The Teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church Geerhardus Vos
10The Dispossessed Ursula K. Le Guin
11The God Delusion Debate (Transcript) Richard Dawkins & John Lennox
12The Computer and the BrainJohn Von Neumann
13Divine MisfortuneA. Lee. Martinez
14The UnknowableGregory J. Chaitin
15Warren-Flew Debate On The Existence of GodThomas B. Warren & Antony G. Flew
16Agile ConversationsSquirrel & Fredrick
17The Divine DanceRichard Rohr & Mike Morrell
18The Letter to the RomansWilliam Barclay
19Natural TheologyJean Rioux
20Jesus and the Forces of DeathMatthew Thiessen
21Paul: A New Covenant JewPitre, Barber, Kincaid
22The Prodigal GodTimothy Keller
23The Emperor's New MindRoger Penrose
24Worlds of Exile and IllusionUrsula K. Le Guin
25Recovering from Biblical Manhood and WomanhoodAimee Byrd
26The Parasitic MindGad Saad
27Uniform DecisionsJohn Caprarelli
28But What If We're WrongChuck Klosterman
29The R. A. Lafferty Fantastic MegaPackR. A. Lafferty
30The Golden ApplesEudora Welty
31StardanceSpider & Jeanne Robinson


The Prodigal God

My pastor recommend Keller's "The Prodigal God", which is a study of the parable in Luke 26:11-32, commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son. Keller is supposedly somewhat of a "rockstar" in Presbyterian circles. I have a couple of his books on my laptop. I see that I read "Generous Justice" in 2012, but I don't remember anything from it. Whether that's due to the contents of the book or my advancing drecepitude I leave open. In any case, given the enthusiasm of the recommendation I had high hopes for this book.

It's not a bad book. It provides some interesting insight into the story of the two sons and how the two sons are really us. I consider it an interesting companion to Capon's
Kingdom, Grace, Judgement.

But, given my high expectations, and the five star rating currently on Amazon, the book was almost completely ruined by this one passage:

...the prerequisite for receiving the grace of God is to know you need it.

There is no more wrong statement than this. There is no prerequisite for receiving God's grace, because it is God's grace that opens your eyes to your need in the first place. Presbyterians are funny creatures. They hold to the tenets of Calvinism that says that God's grace is irresistible and that there is nothing man can do to merit grace, then say things like this.

A lesser peeve is that Keller wants to redefine what "sin" means. He writes,

... sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge...

This fails to make this case, since the very first rule (at least as given to Moses) is "You shall have no other gods before me," and the behavior described by Keller breaks this rule.

Finally, Keller agrees with those who hear Jesus' cry from the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?", and conclude that in that moment of pain and darkness that His Father turned His back on His Son and abandoned Him:

He was expelled from the presence of the Father, he was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation...

I am forever grateful to my mentor, Mike Baer, who once related the wise words of a nun who said, "I'm willing to be the second person God ever forsook." Because God never forsakes His people -- most of all the One who dwells in the "bosom of the Father" (John 1:18). Jesus couldn't say, "go read Psalm 22". The text didn't have those divisions then. By saying the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus was pointing to the end of the Psalm, which tells of rescue and victory.

Am I being too hard on Keller? Possibly. But with his stature comes greater responsibility.

2019 Reading List

1The Grand Fenwick Book SeriesLeonard Wibberley
2On Being PresbyterianSean Michael Lucas
3Five English ReformersJ. C. Ryle
4Dangerous VisionsHarlan Ellison
5Witch WorldAndre Norton
6CeremonyLeslie Marmon Silko
7A Clockwork OrangeAnthony Burgess
8Hallelujah DaveDavid Valdez
9ModeranDavid R. Bunch
10The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyDouglas Adams
11Philosophy in MinutesMarcus Weeks
12The Epistle to the EphesiansKarl Barth
13Chance and the Sovereignty of GodVern S. Poythress
14Holiness by GraceBryan Chapell
15Lost in the CosmosPercy Walker
16Breaking Down the Sacred-Secular DivideMichael R. Baer
17So Say We AllEdward Gross & Mark A. Altman
18A Journey Through EphesusDavid Gwartney
19Business as MissionMichael R. Baer
20On The Existence of GodsDominic Saltarelli & Vox Day
21Why Call Them Back From HeavenClifford Simak
22TacticsGregory Koukl
23One, Two, ThreeDavid Berlinski
24Nature and ScriptureCornelius van Til
25Sailing To ByzantiumRobert Silverberg
26Past MasterR. A. Lafferty
27Deception in Gospel PresentationLarry Adams
28Just MercyBryan Stevenson
29Functional Programming Through Lambda CalculusGreg Michaelson
30Twisted Fairy Tales AnthologyAlternate Ending Publications
31AD 70 and the End of the WorldPaul Ellis
32The Parables of JudgementRobert Farrar Capon
33Free Will: The BasicsMeghan Griffith
34The Parables of The KingdomRobert Farrar Capon


Why Call Them Back From Heaven

"For no one could stand against the force and strength of a structure that, in effect, was owner of the world and that, furthermore, held out the promise of eternal life." (pg. 132)

This was said about a corporation that promised immortality in the future for people cryogenically stored. However, the people had to prepare for their awakening by investing for tomorrow. They lived in poverty that they might have riches later. In addition, where to put billions upon billions of people was an unsolved problem that admitted no good solution.

If this was meant to pose a problem of Christianity then, while interesting, ignored the new heaven and earth, which will not be like anything we are familiar with.

2018 Reading List

1On Wings of SongThomas M. Disch
2The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le Guin
3Humanity PrimeBruce McAllister
4Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
5Till We Have FacesC. S. Lewis
6Seeking Allah, Finding JesusNabeel Qureshi
7Nicaea and it’s LegacyLewis Ayres
8After Things Fell ApartRon Goulart
9The Truth About Uri GellerJames Randi
10Flim-FlamJames Randi
11Ship of FoolsC. R. Hallpike
12The Future of the People of GodAndrew Perriman
13The Last Days According to JesusR. C. Sproul

Still reading: Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko; Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy; The Female Man, by Joanna Russ; Common Lisp Recipes, by Edi Weitz; The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, by Douglas Moo; Infinity and the Mind, by Rudy Rucker.

The Trinity by Dale Tuggy : A Critique

[updated 8/22/19 to correct spelling of "Mermin"]

A Unitarian friend of mine loaned me this book as part of our ongoing debate about the nature of God. The Introduction isn't bad, but it contains the seeds of two problems that the author will have to address when discussing the alleged shortcomings of the doctrine of the Trinity. The first is the actual Biblical evidence. Anti-Trinitarians, in my experience, tend to focus on the writings of Church Fathers, creedal statements and their origins, political infighting, and so on. Indeed, the introduction beings with:


2016 Reading List

1Gentleman Jole and the Red QueenLois McMaster Bujold
2Coffee, Tea, or Me?Donald Bain
3A Wild Sheep ChaseHaruki Murakami
4On the Existence of GodsSaltarelli & Day
5DuneFrank Herbert
6DisruptedDan Lyons
7The History of the ChurchEusebius of Caesarea
8Logicomix: An Epic Search For TruthDoxiadis & Papadimitriou
9Dialogs Concerning Natural ReligionDavid Hume
10The Princess DiaristCarrie Fisher
11MASHRichard Hooker

Just a horrible year for books. I started too many books that I just couldn't finish, mostly because they were badly written. The worst of the bunch was "Jesus Outside the Lines". An utter waste of time and money.

"Stirring the emerald green"

[Updated 05/10/2024]

In surprise, but as slowly as in regret, she stopped stirring the emerald green. She got up from where she had been squatting in the middle of the floor and stepped over the dishes which were set up on the matting rug. She went quietly to her south window, where she lifted a curtain, spotting it with her wet fingers.

For some reason, I was entranced by the phrase "stirring the emerald green." It's a beautiful combination of words. But what could it possibly mean? There was nothing in the text up to that point that hinted at what she might have been doing.

She banged her hands on her hipbones, enough to hurt, flung around, and went back to her own business. On one bare foot with the other crossed over it, she stood gazing down at the pots and dishes in which she had enough color stirred up to make a sunburst design. She was shut up in here to tie-and-die a scarf.   [pg. 34, 36]

Now it all makes sense!

I found this book at
Riverby Books in Fredericksburg, VA and bought it on a whim because Welty lived near Belhaven University, where my daughter went to school. Welty's style is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury and Bradbury notes her influence on his writing.

2015 Reading List

1All You ZombiesRobert Heinlein
2The Puppet MastersRobert Heinlein
3Revolt in 2100Robert Heinlein
4Stand on ZanzibarJohn Brunner
5Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepPhilip K. Dick
6Neutron StarLarry Niven
7Strange StonesPeter Hessler
8The Nominated Short WorksJohn C. Wright
9The City on the Edge of ForeverHarlan Ellison
10Vic and BloodHarlan Ellison
11Dangerous VisionsHarlan Ellison
12Mention My Name In AtlantisJohn Jakes
13Tokyo ViceJake Adelstein
14The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway
15Primates of Park AvenueWednesday Martin
16Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck
17The Best Laid SchemesLarry Eisenberg
18And Then There Were NoneAgatha Christie
19SJWs Always LieVox Day
20QED: The Strange Theory of Light and MatterRichard Feynman
21The Meaning Of It AllRichard Feynman
22The Shape of Inner SpaceShing-Tung Yau
23Does God Control Everything?R. C. Sproul
24The Space TrilogyC. S. Lewis
25Natural TheologyEmil Brunner & Karl Barth

Additionally, I've started, but not completed, these books:

1The History of the ChurchEusebius of Caesarea
2Philosophy of MindEdward Feser
3Beyond Good and EvilFrederich Nietzsche
4Systematic TheologyLouis Berhkof
5SomewitherJohn C. Wright
6Riding the Red HorseTom Kratman
7Freedom of the WillJonathan Edwards
8Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical DoctrineWayne Grudem
9Paul's Letter to the RomansColin G. Kruse
10How to Read SlowlyJames W. Sire
11Javascript and JQueryJon Duckett


2014 Reading List

1The Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionMar-Apr 2014
2That Hideous StrengthC. S. Lewis
3ThemJon Ronson
4Tower of GlassRobert Silverberg
5Awake in the Night LandsJohn C. Wright
6FrankensteinMary W. Shelley
7Surely You're Joking, Mr. FeynmanRichard P. Feynman
8A History of HeresyDavid Christie-Murray
9The Decline and Fall of IBMRobert X. Cringely
10Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle ...Joseph Earl Dabney
11Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou GehrigJonathan Eig
12Art Theory: A Very Short IntroductionCynthia Freeland
13Almost PerfectW. E. Pete Peterson
14One Bright Star to Guide ThemJohn C. Wright
15FridayRobert Heinlein
16The Falling WomanPat Murphy
17FlatlandEdwin A. Abbott
18The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan HoagRobert Heinlein
19Farnham's FreeholdRobert Heinlein

Slightly better than 2013, but still nowhere near where I should be.


This is not the cover that I prefer for Heinlein's "Friday" — too much cheesecake — but it's the cover of the edition that I first read. The only reason that I can think of for the exposed breast (other than "sex sells") is that her right breast was sawed off during a particularly nasty bit of torture.

But don't judge the book by its cover. Friday is a very special woman. One who is gifted far beyond most people and yet so incredibly naive. Almost childlike: trusting people she has no reason to trust and being driven by people and events beyond her control. She is horribly abused early the book (cf. the "nasty bit of torture"), but this is only an extreme example of her life to date. This is the story of what it means to be human, of coming of age, and especially the search to find a place where one belongs. Home.

Some passages that particularly stood out this time around:

Tower Of Glass

I first read Tower of Glass as a teenager and remembered very little about it. There is a dim recollection of reading it in the car while on a family trip. On a whim I bought an eBook version and had a hard time putting it down.

A message has been received from interstellar space. Simeon Krug, having made a vast fortune by creating and commercializing androids, uses android labor to construct a vast tower in the Canadian tundra -- a tower that will house a tachyon transmitter to send a reply.

The tower is but a framing device -- a re-imagined tower of Babel -- to explore what it means to be human. I now appreciate why it was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards.


2013 Reading List

1An Introduction to Information TheoryJohn R. Pierce
2Dandelion WineRay Bradbury
3The Martian ChroniclesRay Bradbury
4Defending JacobWilliam Landay
5SolarisStanislaw Lem
6The Monster of FlorencePreston & Spezi
7Stranger In A Strange LandRobert A. Heinlein
8The Mathematical UniverseWilliam Dunham
9The World of Null-AA. E. Van Vogt
10Triple TapFred Reed
11Killer KinkFred Reed
12Tau ZeroPoul Anderson
13Quantum Computing Since DemocritusScott Aaronson
14The CollectorJohn Fowles

Marginally better than 2012, but still nowhere near what I ought to be doing. And this year is even worse. It's almost the end of April and I've only finished two books even though I've started reading five or six.

Gems from John R. Pierce

"I have read a good deal more about information theory and psychology that I can or care to remember. Much of it was a mere association of new terms with old and vague ideas. Presumably the hope was that a stirring in of new terms would clarify the old ideas by a sort of sympathetic magic." [pg. 229]

"Mathematically, white Gaussian noise, which contains all frequencies equally, is the epitome of the various and unexpected. It is the least predictable, the most original of sounds. To a human being, however, all white Gaussian noise sounds alike. It's subtleties are hidden from him, and he says that it is dull and monotonous. If a human being finds monotonous that which is mathematically most various and unpredictable, what does he find fresh and interesting? To be able to call a thing new, he must be able to distinguish it from that which is old. To be distinguishable, sounds must be to a degree familiar. … We can be surprised repeatedly only by contrast with that which is familiar, not by chaos." [pg. 251, 267]


2012 Reading List

1The Best of Gene WolfeGene Wolfe
2The Last Hurrah Of The Golden HordeNorman Spinrad
3The Einstein IntersectionSamuel R. Delany
4Rabbit, RunJohn Updike
5The Consequences of IdeasR. C. Sproul
6Dandelion WineRay Bradbury
7The Man Who Knew Too MuchG. K. Chesterton
8I'll Go Home Then; It's Warm and Has ChairsDavid Thorne
9The Case for the Real JesusLee Strobel
10The Midnight DancersGerard F. Conway
11The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our LivesLeonard Mlodinowre-read
12Captain Vorpatril's AllianceLois McMaster Bujold
13Generous JusticeTimothy Keller

Quite a difference from last year, when I read fifty-one books. Work has been all consuming. There's a problem when, while I'm supposedly on vacation, a co-worker writes in an e-mail, "… color me impressed, you remain one of the most productive on the team, and this all while on PTO!" (Paid Time Off).

[Updated 1/3/13 to include "The Midnight Dancers", which was inadvertently omitted.]

2011 Reading List

These are the books I read in 2011. Last Christmas I picked up the hardback copy of Bujold's Cyroburn, which came with a CD-ROM containing all of the Miles Vorkosigan stories, except Memory, in electronic form. This lead to my re-reading all of those stories. At the end of 2011 I re-read all of Asprin's Myth series.

1A Confederacy of DuncesJohn Kennedy Toole
2The Evolution of CooperationRobert Axelrod
3Bug Jack BarronNorman Spinrad
4CryroburnLois McMaster Bujold
5Cordelia’s HonorLois McMaster Bujold
6Young MilesLois McMaster Bujold
7Miles, Mystery and MayhemLois McMaster Bujold
8Miles ErrantLois McMaster Bujold
9Miles in LoveLois McMaster Bujold
10Miles, Mutants and MicrobesLois McMaster Bujold
11How To Teach Physics To Your DogChad Orzel
12Old Testament ParallelsVictor H. Matthews & Don C. Benjamin
13Information: A Very Short IntroductionLuciano Floridi
14The Left Hand Of DarknessUrsula K. Le Guin
15To Say Nothing Of The DogConnie Willis
16The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our LivesLeonard Mlodinow
17Orphans of ChaosJohn C. Wright
18It Came From SchenectadyBarry B. Longyear
19The Turing OmnimbusA. K. Dewdney
20The Soul of a New MachineTracy Kidder
21The Moon Is A Harsh MistressRobert A. Heinlein
22I Will Fear No EvilRobert A. Heinlein
23The Door Into SummerRobert A. Heinlein
24Brightness Falls From The AirJames Tiptree, Jr.
25The Science Fiction MegapackAnthology
26Gödel, Escher, BachDouglas Hofstadter
27The Mote In God's EyeLarry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
28The Gripping HandLarry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
29Fritz Leiber: Selected StoriesFritz Leiber
30Storm Over WarlockAndre Norton
31Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on GanymedeBradley Denton
32Another Fine MythRobert Asprin
33Myth ConceptionsRobert Asprin
34Myth DirectionsRobert Asprin
35Hit Or MythRobert Asprin
36Mtyh-ing PersonsRobert Asprin
37Little Myth MarkerRobert Asprin
38M.Y.T.H. Inc. LinkRobert Asprin
39Myth-Nomers and Im-PervectionsRobert Asprin
40M.Y.T.H. Inc. In ActionRobert Asprin
41Sweet Myth-tery of LifeRobert Asprin
42Myth-Ion ImprobableRobert Asprin
43Something M.Y.T.H. Inc.Robert Asprin
44Myth-told TalesRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
45/td>Myth AlliancesRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
46Myth-taken IdentityRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
47Class Dis-MythedRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
48Myth-Gotten GainsRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
49Myth-ChiefRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
50Myth-FortunesRobert Asprin with Jody Lynn Nye
51Cubism (Movements in Modern Art)David Cottington

I'm also in the middle of reading a number of books:

1Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceRobert M. Pirsig
2An Introduction to Information TheoryJohn R. Pierce
3The Consequences of IdeasR. C. Sproul
4The Best of Gene WolfeGene Wolfe
5AnathemNeal Stephenson
6Why Men Hate Going To ChurchDavid Murrow
7Mere ChristianityC. S. Lewis

I really like Zen, but it's on hold until I finish a post on one of the topics therein. Maybe this weekend. I've started working on my book with the working title "From Electrons to Morality" so reading and blogging is going to be as time permits. It doesn't help that I've decided to re-watch all of Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica. That's a wonderful time drain.


I just finished reading Cubism (Movements in Modern Art) by David Cottington. The book was one son's college textbook from a class at Georgia Tech. I understood maybe one fifth of the book, partly because of my unfamiliarity with French history and culture, and partly because the Cubists reflected each other's work. To understand what one artist was trying to convey often required knowing what his peers, or even the artist himself, were doing. Adding to my difficulty was the author's writing style which tried to do with words what the Cubists did with paint and other materials. If I understand it correctly, there were at least two themes to Cubist art. One was to attempt to transfer meaning through iconic representation by abstracting essential elements and displaying then in non-traditional forms. I get that. I've been using a Macintosh for over twenty years. Another was to evoke meaning in the mind of the viewer instead of overtly trying to communicate meaning from the artist to the viewer. I understand that, too. I am reminded of the first time I heard Palestrina's "Missa O Scrum Convivium". On the one hand, not knowing Latin, I had to make my own meaning. Yet it resonated with my spirit and I communed with God. It was not unlike listening in tongues. But the examples of Cubism in the book did not have the same effect, even though I don't speak the Cubist language well, if at all. Unlike Palestrina's work, I found Cubism to be lonely. We were made to interact with others.

The book's cover is Robert Delaunay's "Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)" which is part of a series of experimentations by the artist. To understand this picture, familiarity with the other paintings would be helpful. Cottington writes:
Dispensing with the screen of neo-Impressionist brushstrokes - perhaps recognizing its superfluity, given the constructive potential of the device of a colour grid - Delaunay orchestrates a range of spectral colors around the spatial recession from the foreground orange curtains to the background blue sky and the green profile of the tower. As in the hermetic paintings of Picasso and Braque, the representational legibility of the image is secured by the vestigial iconic character of these motifs. But unlike their exploration and celebration of the linguistic magic of painting for its own sake - or perhaps for its suggestion of a reality beyond appearance - Delaunay's bracketing of his complex and fragmented representation of the cityscape between the external limit of the picture frame/window and the internal limit of the distant tower posits an equivalence between the experience of deciphering the painting and the active, constructive nature of visual perception that life in a modern city entails. [pg 61].

"Vestigial iconic character?" The pointed green triangle-like object is the Eiffel Tower? The blue is the sky? The yellow-orange represents curtains? There's a cityscape in there somewhere? Obviously I am a barbarian, unlearned in the vocabulary of Cubism. Nevertheless, some Cubist art is strikingly beautiful. Even if I don't necessarily know what it means.

Morality in a Fantasy Novel

I have been re-reading the Myth Adventures series by Robert Asprin. In Myth Alliances, on page 165, I was delighted to find the hero of the novel make this observation:

There wasn't a thinking being alive who deep down didn't feel fundamentally flawed.

This, of course, is one way McCarthy's third design requirement can manifest itself.

Something M.Y.T.H. Inc., on page 27, another character explains morality in terms of the iterated prisoner's dilemma, even though he likely never took a course in game theory:

"What I mean is, when you're a soldier, you don't have to worry much about how popular you are with the enemy, 'cause mostly you're tryin' to make him dead and you don't expect him to like it. It's different doin' collection work, whether it's protection money or taxes, which is of course just another kind of protection racket. Ya gotta be more diplomatic 'cause you're gonna have to deal with the same people over and over again."

For another example of art revealing life, see the post
The Telling.

The Telling

The Telling, by Ursula K. LeGuin is the story of an earth woman, Sutty, who is sent as an observer to the world Aka by the galactic council called the Ekumen. Aka is world where a materialistic, atheistic, hierarchical culture has taken over and brutally suppressed the former “spiritual” communal culture. The bulk of the story deals with Sutty’s attempts to discover and, perhaps, help preserve that second culture.

I found the following passage interesting, as it expresses poetically what I have attempted to describe using concepts from artificial intelligence about the difference between animals and men; that animals are fixed goal creatures while man, having no fixed goal, creates his own goals. LeGuin writes:

"As they struggled to understand each other, Uming Ottiar showed a bitterness, almost the first Sutty had met with among these soft-voiced teachers. Despite his impediment he was a fluent talker, and he got going, mildly enough at first: “Animals have no language. They have their nature. You see? They know the way, they know where to go and how to go, following their nature. But we’re animals with no nature. Eh? Animals with no nature! That’s strange! We’re so strange! We have to talk about how to go and what to do, think about it, study it, learn it. Eh? We’re born to be reasonable, so we’re born ignorant. You see? If nobody teaches us the words, the thoughts, we stay ignorant. If nobody shows a little child, two, three years old, how to look for the way, the signs of the path, the landmarks, then it gets lost on the mountain, doesn’t it? And dies in the night, in the cold. So. So.” He rocked his body a little." (pg. 143-144).

I have to assign this book to second tier status; while it was a moderately enjoyable read, it isn’t “
The Left Hand of Darkness” or “A Wizard of Earthsea”.


Operation Chaos

Operation Chaos, by Poul Anderson, is a novelization of his stories: “Operation Afreet”, “Operation Salamander”, “Operation Incubus”, and “Operation Changeling”. The artwork is from the serialization of “Operation Changeling” in the May-June 1969 issues of F&SF. The redhead is Virginia Matuchek, witch wife of the werewolf and former Army captain Steve Matuchek. The cat is Svartalf; Virginia’s familiar. In “Operation Changeling”, the three invade hell to recover their kidnapped daughter. While re-reading the novel this weekend, I came across this line which I found highly appropriate as it will fit in with a future blog post on reading Scripture:

...Heaven is not as narrowly literal-minded as hell.

Whatever else one might say about Anderson’s theological musings, this observation is profoundly true.

Rite of Passage

The book begins with Mia Havero, a 19 year old woman, wife, and resident of a star faring craft, recounting the formative events of her life starting when she was twelve. "Rite of Passage" is a coming of age story in a society which must, by necessity, carefully control its birthrate since a starship has limited resources against which population must be carefully balanced. In her culture, when children are 14 they must undergo "Trial" where they are placed alone on a planet for thirty days to test their survival skills. If they come back, they are fully accepted as adults.

Undergoing a physical ordeal is only one aspect of her transformation from child to woman; she must also undergo a moral transformation and ends up opposing her father on an issue that effects a world.

As part of her attempts to grapple with morality, she has to prepare a paper for school on the subject. She wrote:

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with conduct, questions of good and evil, right and wrong--and there are a great many of them, because even people who supposedly belong to the same school don't agree a good share of the time and have to be considered separately--can be looked at as a description and as a prescription. Is this what people actually do? Is this what they should do?

What I find interesting is that she uses the "is-ought" definition for morality. I first read this book in high school, yet I didn't remember this part (cf. here).

She goes on to critique several ethical systems. First, utilitarianism:

Skipping the development and history of utilitarianism, the most popular expression of the doctrine is "the greatest good for the greatest number," which makes it sound like its relative, the economic philosophy communism which, in a sense, is what we live with in the Ship. The common expression of utilitarian good is "the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain."

Speaking descriptively, utilitarianism doesn't hold true, though the utilitarian claims that it does. People do act self-destrucively at times--they know the pleasureful and chose the painful instead. The only way that what people do and what utilitarianism says they do can be matched is by distorting the ordinary meanings of the words "pleasure" and "pain." Besides, notions of what is pleasurable are subject to training and manipulation. The standard is too shifting to be a good one.

I don't like utilitarianism as a prescription, either. Treating pleasure and pain as quantities by which good can be measured seems very mechanical, and people become just another factor to adjust in the equation. Pragmatically, it makes sense to say One hundred lives saved at the cost of one?--go ahead! The utilitarian would say it every time--he would have to say it. But who gave him the right to say it? What if the one doesn't have any choice in the matter, but is blindly sacrificed for, say, one hundred Mudeaters whose very existence he is unaware of? Say the choice was between Daddy or Jimmy and a hundred Mudeaters. I wouldn't make a utilitarian choice and I don't think I could be easily convinced that the answer should be made by the use of the number of pounds of human flesh. People are not objects.

Next, she questions the philosophy of "might makes right."

In effect, the philosophy of power says that you should do anything you can get away with. If you don't get away with it, you were wrong.

You can't really argue with this, you know. It is a self-contained system, logically consistent. It makes no appeal to outside authority and it doesn't stumble over its own definitions.

But I don't like it. For one thing, it isn't a very discriminating standard. There doesn't seem to be any difference between "ethically good" and "ethically better." More important, however, stoics strap themselves in ethically so that their actions have as few results as possible. The adherents of the philosophy of power simply say that the results of their actions have no importance--the philosophy of a two year old throwing a tantrum.

She summarizes:

My paper was a direct discussion and comparison of half-a-dozen ethical systems, concentrating on what seemed to me to be their flaws. I finished by saying that it struck me that all the ethical systems I was discussing were after the fact. That is, that people act as they are disposed to, but they like to feel afterwards that they were right and so they invent systems that approve of their dispositions. This was to say that while I found things like "So act as to treat humanity, whether in your person or in that of another, in every case as an end and not as a means merely," quite attractive principles, I hadn't run into any system that exactly fitted my disposition.

Of course, she would need to examine whether or not an ethical system should fit one's disposition. When should one cede one's moral authority, if ever? Why?

Mirror To The Sky

Mirror To The Sky, by Mark S. Geston, is another book that I read years ago and couldn't remember much about. At one level, it's the story of mankind's first encounter with aliens; the disruptions caused by the appearance of a highly advanced race and how both man and alien are changed. At another level, it's about how vision drives a people. The aliens, known only as "the Gods", are driven through space by a vision in a tryptich. Painted by their artist named "Blake", the work evokes a dark terror in most of the Gods who view it, as well as some humans. A terror of an "invincible threat" that they want to meet "as far away from home as possible" drives them farther and farther out into space. Every mother ship that leaves their world carries a copy of the tryptich to remind them of the reason for their journey.

Earth, unlike the aliens, has no comprehensive vision of their destiny. There is nothing to strive for, other than one's daily needs; nothing to drive a people to something greater than themselves. Until the alien artist "Rane" paints an even more powerful work than Blake's masterpiece.

Geston explores several interesting ideas. First, that art can be a source of truth. An idea that is increasingly seen as archaic in a scientific, technological, naturalistic age. Whether art reveals existing truth, or provides the impetus to create the truth, is left open. Second, are the various reactions to truth. Some are immediately struck by it. Others cannot see it at all. Some embrace it wholeheartedly and want to spread the word. Others are afraid and want to hide it.

The book leaves us with the notion that, in the end, the truth is inevitable. And the alien artist Blake was right. It is terrifying.

A conclusion that only solidified in my mind while writing this review. Some of us are slow to grasp the truth. But better late than never.


Pity About Earth

"Pity About Earth" was one side of an Ace Double, the other being "Space Chanty" by R. A. Lafferty. I bought the book because I was familiar with Lafferty and enjoyed his work. The book is copyright 1968, but I suspect I bought it used although I don't remember when. My only memory about "Pity About Earth" was that it was the worst story I had ever read.

Having finished my current backlog of new books and looking for a mindless diversion, I decided to give this story another chance. On the surface, it's about a newspaper advertising manager, Shale; his assistant, the alien Phrix from the planet Far-Groil; and Marylin, a human-ape hybrid. Set in the far future, long after Earth had been destroyed, Shale travels the galaxy looking for advertisers for the one major intergalactic newspaper, the
Lemos Galactic Monitor. His adventures take him to the planet Asgard, home of the fabled, but never seen, Publisher, who sits atop the hierarchy and directs all.

Shale lives in a galaxy where the sole purpose of people is to consume. Newspapers print ads to drive people to buy advertisers products. If there is any news, it's written as a part of the ad. Shale maximizes his desires with no thought to other people. He is a cold-hearted, brutal, thoroughly self-centered hedonist who expects everyone else to be like him. Following the principle of "the survival of the fittest", he has climbed his way to near the top of the publishing world. He is rumored to have killed his mother when he was 14. Before meeting Marylin, he witnesses gruesome experiments done on caged humans in a laboratory engaged in the unfettered pursuit of science. Marylin, a human-ape hybrid produced by the lab, displays an empathy that Shale does not have. As the story progresses, Shale slowly begins to understand her point of view although he never abandons his ways. Phrix simply wants to be left alone to enjoy a contemplative life. He abhors violence and prefers to outwit his opponents. The common man, as epitomized by a police inspector, declaims:

What's good? Good's what sticks to rules and bad's what doesn't. I didn't make the rules, no more than you. ... People, thank Asgard, are conservative. They like things the way they've always known them. That's custom too and don't tell me what's custom isn't always right or I'll go straight back to Gromworld. I'm a policeman and I hope I know right from wrong.

When they reach Asgard, Shale and Marilyn find that there is no Publisher. Phrix,
through circumstances not of his own making, finds himself in a position of power through control of the printing presses. He has an opportunity to remake the galaxy, but how should it be changed?

The story is a morality play. Shale represents uncontrolled selfishness. Marylin wants to live by love. Phrix is the mystic. The police officer represents the unreflective masses who think that what is customary is good. God does not exist. In the end, the author asks the question, "absent God, how should man live?" The book leaves that up to the reader.

"PIty About Earth" is a mostly unknown and forgotten book. The web has very little mention of it. One other review is
here. I no longer think it's the worst story I've ever read. Perhaps Heinlein's "Beyond This Horizon" will take those honors. But maybe I need to read that book again, too.

Good and Evil, Part 1b

In my article, Good and Evil, Part I, I set forth reasons for defining good and evil as the “distance” between what is and what ought to be. In Naming the Elephant: Worldview As A Concept, Sire writes:

The close connection between ontology and epistemology is easy to see: one can know only what is. But there is an equally close connection between ontology and ethics. Ethics deals with the good. But the good must exist in order to be dealt with. So what is the good? Is it what one or more people say it is? Is it an inherent characteristic of external reality? Is it what God is? Is it what he says it is? Whatever it is, it is something.

I suggest that in worldview terms the concept of good is a universal pretheoretical given, that it is a part of everyone’s innate, initial constitution as a human being. As social philosopher James Q. Wilson says, everyone has a moral sense: “Virtually everyone, beginning at a very young age, makes moral judgements that, though they may vary greatly in complexity, sophistication, and wisdom, distinguish between actions on the grounds that some are right and others wrong.”

Two questions then arise. First, what accounts for this universal sense of right and wrong? Second, why do people’s notions of right and wrong vary so widely? Wilson attempts to account for the universality of the moral sense by showing how it could have arisen through the long and totally natural evolutionary process of the survival of the fittest. But even if this could account for the development of this sense, it cannot account for the reality behind the sense. The moral sense demands that there really be a difference between right and wrong, not just that one senses a difference.

For there to be a difference in reality, there must be a difference between what is and what ought to be. With naturalism--the notion that everything that exists is only matter in motion--there is only what is. Matter in motion is not a moral category. One cannot derive the moral (ought) from the from the non-moral (the totally natural is). The fact that the moral sense is universal is what Peter Berger would call a “signal of transcendence,” a sign that there is something more to the world than matter in motion. --pg 132.

On the one hand, I’m delighted to have found independent confirmation that ethics relates to
ought and is, and the acknowledgement of Hume’s guillotine. On the other hand, I’m worried because of the association between this definition and the potentially erroneous step from “there is something more to the world than matter in motion” to a “signal of transcendence.” Has the possible leaven of this conclusion leavened even the definition of good?

We know that there is something more than just “matter in motion.” As Russell wrote:

Having now seen that there must be such entities as universals, the next point to be proved is that their being is not merely mental. By this is meant that whatever being belongs to them is independent their being thought of or in any way apprehended by minds. --The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 97.

Russell has to say this, since he denies the existence of Mind, that is, God. The theist can argue that universals exist first and foremost in the mind of God; the naturalist cannot. So what did Berger mean by transcendence? If there is no god, then our thoughts are solely the product of complex biochemical processes: ”matter in motion” gives rise to intelligence. Intelligence gives rise to morality and imagination. No one should argue that the Starship Enterprise is a sign of transcendence. It is simply a mental state which is the result of matter in motion. If imagination is not a “sign of transcendence” then neither is ethics. Berger is assuming that mental states require something more than biochemical reactions which is an assumption that a naturalist need not grant.


I have just finished reading two books concerning elves. The first is Summa Elvetica (.pdf download) by Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day. This is an adult fantasy set in a world where humans coexist with elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins and other creatures. The protagonist must not only decide whether or not his future lies with the Church or elsewhere, but whether or not elves have souls. The answer to the latter question will help shape a future filled with peace -- or war. I am not generally a fan of the fantasy genre, Lewis and Tolkien excepted, yet my one complaint about this story was that it ended all too soon.

The second is a children’s book, the
Adventures of Piffles the Elf, written by David Babulski. David’s wife attends our church so I had the opportunity to talk with him about the book before it was published. A young elf ventures into the world of humans. Was this the rash action of an idealistic youth or the fulfillment of ancient prophecy? Will the consequences wreck destruction upon the elves or will there be a new era of peace between the two races? This is the first book in a planned series of three; the second should be out in 2009 or 2010. While Summa Elvetica is set within a Christian worldview, Piffles has more of a new age flavor. I found it interesting to see how these different worldviews influenced the motivations of the characters.