Archive for October, 2005

Too many CS classes

October 30, 2005 1 comment

Looks like the next couple weeks are going to suck, though not as much as midterm week. I have 4 assignments due on the 14th and one on the 8th. Only one is fairly trivial and only one has been started (and is actually almost finished). This whole deluge of programming assignments thing is getting old.

And for some reason I decided I should start reading Mere Christianity, which I’ll probably review on here.

At any rate, I have plenty to do.

Categories: Personal


October 28, 2005 Leave a comment

Morbid Angel – [Covenant #07] Angel of Disease
Darkane – [Rusted Angel #08] The Arcane Darkness
Evergrey – [In Search of Truth #04] State of Paralysis
Opeth – [Still Life #04] Moonlapse Vertigo
Soilwork – [Figure Number Five #11] Downfall 24
Dream Theater – [Images And Words #08] Learning to Live
Darkane – [Expanding Senses #03] Fatal Impact [3:43]
Porcupine Tree – [Stupid Dream #08] Baby Dream in Cellophane
Dark Tranquillity – [The Gallery #05] The Gallery
O.S.I. – [Office of Strategic Influence #02] O.S.I.

Categories: Music

City Commission debate

October 27, 2005 1 comment

Despite the fact that I can’t vote here, I went to the City Commission debate last night.

I know little about city issues or the candidates, so I came in with few biases (other than the fact that MSU College Dems and Gallatin Democrats are pushing Becker). For the people who sort of care and don’t live here (which is probably no one), there’s a list of the candidates here.

Generally, none of them seem like terrible candidates. I think Rupp and Becker came off the best and Smith and Hietela the worst. Jacobson didn’t really stand out and I’m not sure what to think about Henyon. Becker was smacked pretty good by Smith when he asked a question about business vs. individuals. The question probably didn’t help him overall (it made him look anti-business and divisive), but he seemed to bounce back by emphasizing his small business credentials.

If I can be shallow for a moment, Smith and Hietela came off as unlikable. Hietala was quite inarticulate (which is probably not something I, of all people, should dislike a person for) and Smith was just irritating.

Also, I really do hate the saying “outside the box.” And I really hate extensions of it: “I don’t just encourage people to think outside the box, I encourage them to get outside and stand on top of the box and look at things from a completely different perspective.” Shut the hell up.

This really is an excessively negative blog, isn’t it?

Categories: Montana

RFID passports

October 25, 2005 Leave a comment

I thought this was interesting:

Passports to get RFID chip implants

Sweeping new State Department regulations issued Tuesday say that passports issued after that time will have tiny radio frequency ID (RFID) chips that can transmit personal information including the name, nationality, sex, date of birth, place of birth and digitized photograph of the passport holder. Eventually, the government contemplates adding additional digitized data such as “fingerprints or iris scans.”

In regulations published Tuesday, the State Department claims it has addressed privacy concerns. The chipped passports “will not permit ‘tracking’ of individuals,” the department said. “It will only permit governmental authorities to know that an individual has arrived at a port of entry–which governmental authorities already know from presentation of non-electronic passports–with greater assurance that the person who presents the passport is the legitimate holder of the passport.”

To address Americans’ concerns about ID theft, the Bush administration said the new passports will be outfitted with “antiskimming material” in the front cover to “mitigate” the threat of the information being surreptitiously scanned from afar. It’s not clear, though, how well the technique will work against high-powered readers that have been demonstrated to read RFID chips from about 160 feet away.

Safe enough? Later we find out that if the cover’s open, there’s not much protection:

Privacy advocates told CNET that the anti-skimming device was a decent start. But if the cover of the passport happens to be open, all bets are off, said Bill Scannell, a privacy advocate who founded the site “They’ve built little baby radio stations into peoples’ passports and covered it with concrete,” he said, “but when the little hatch is open, you can still hear the music.”

Still, that doesn’t sound like a huge issue. There’s also some, apparently sketchy, encryption:

In addition, the passports will use “Basic Access Control,” a reference to storing a pair of secret cryptographic keys in the chip inside. The concept is simple: The RFID chip disgorges its contents only after a reader successfully authenticates itself as being authorized to receive that information.

Computer scientists, however, have criticized that encryption method as flawed. In a recent paper (PDF here), RSA Laboratories’ Ari Juels, and University of California’s David Molnar and David Wagner, warned that the design of the encryption keys is insufficiently secure. They said that the use of a “single fixed key” for the lifetime of the e-passport creates a vulnerability.

It’s not airtight, but is it good enough anyway? I can’t say that I have the answer, but it doesn’t look like a cause for hysteria.

Categories: Domestic Policy, Tech

It's almost time to register for the Spring

October 24, 2005 1 comment

Since I’m a senior, I get to register on the first day, next Monday. Hooray me!

Then again, my worst fear from last year has come true: Software Engineering II and Compilers conflict. Luckily, you don’t have to take both of them anymore. I hope that applies to me. Otherwise, I’ll have to go beg for them to open the other lab section for Compilers or to have them ignore the 20 minute conflict.

However, not taking one of those classes means I have to take more unecessary classes to get up to 12 credits. Or I could just move, but that’s probably more trouble (and money) than it’s worth.

On the other hand, I can take advantage of those unnecessary classes. Here’s what I could take:

Intro to Logic (actually, I sort of have to take this)
Biblical and Classical Backgrounds to Literature
Western Civ: 1600-present
Problems of Good and Evil
Government of U.S.
Origins of God
Bones, Apes, and Ancestors

Yeah, I’ll be a regular freshman humanities student taking some of those classes.

And my God, what the hell happened to me that there are two English classes I might take by choice?

Categories: Personal

Score one for O'Reilly?

October 24, 2005 Leave a comment

Media Matters’s latest item on Bill O’Reilly looks pretty specious:

On the October 20 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly read a viewer’s email expressing concern that O’Reilly had compared illegal immigrants to “biological weapons.” O’Reilly denied the charge, claiming, “I never said anything like that,” and further condemned “dishonest media and smear merchants,” chastising them for “doing tremendous damage to this country.” This denial, however, is deceptive: While O’Reilly did not say those specific words, he agreed with a caller to his radio show who did make that comparison, and he expanded on the caller’s statement.[my emphasis]

Here’s O’Reilly’s statement:

O’REILLY: Cheryl Anderson, Dallas, “Bill, my fiancĂ© is Hispanic. And what you said is of great concern to me. Do you really believe my fiancĂ© is a ‘biological weapon’?” Now, Cheryl’s letter points out the seriousness of a foolish column in a major newspaper. I never said anything like that. But because an irresponsible Dallas Morning News writer printed all kinds of falsehoods, Cheryl thinks I did. Again, we’ve got to start holding dishonest media and smear merchants responsible. They are doing tremendous damage to this country.[my emphasis]

Now, O’Reilly may actually be correct here. Hispanic certainly doesn’t imply illegal immigrant. It doesn’t really even imply immigrant to me. It looks like O’Reilly is reacting to the idea that he believes Hispanics are “biological weapons,” a despicably racist charge. Illegal immigrants as “biological weapons,” while a fairly loathsome statement, is not nearly as bad. “Biological weapon” is not the real problem in the caller’s question, it’s the conflation of Hispanic and illegal immigrant.

Categories: The media

Does mainline/liberal Christianity make sense?

October 23, 2005 8 comments

That’s today’s question.

It’s hard to actually define the sort of Christianity I want to discuss. There probably isn’t a clear definition. For my purposes I mean the belief that the Bible is not inerrant and that many events described therein are myths (creation, Noah’s Ark, Tower of Babel, etc). However, not all important events are mythological, even if there’s some embellishment. In some form, Jesus was the son of God, was killed, and was resurrected. Generally, I’m discussing Christians who land somewhere in the middle of inerrantists and general mythicism. Mainline, I think, best describes that middle ground. Liberal Christianity would mean belief that the Bible is completely (or nearly so) myth. John Dominic Crossan, for example, is a Christian who doesn’t believe Jesus was literally resurrected. I’ll get to beliefs like that at the end.

You might see what my main point is going to be by now. When people say they believe in evolution, but are still Christian, does that make sense? I only use evolution as an example; I could easily use Noah’s Ark instead.

Generally, creationism is rejected on the basis of scientific evidence. Evolution is seen as better supported, so it is accepted. This is all well and good. It seems to undermine Christianity as whole, however. Let’s take the virgin birth stories. They don’t agree with each other except inbroad outline:

Is nothing at all to be made of the fact that, e.g., while Matthew has Mary and Joseph living in Bethlehem where Jesus is born in their home, and only later relocating in Nazareth to seek shelter from Archelaeus, Luke makes the couple residents of Nazareth who only “happen” to be on their way to Bethlehem for a census registration when Mary’s water breaks? Luke’s manifold historical inaccuracies and narrative absurdities pose no problem at all for the true believer, but McDowell can hardly expect an outsider to be persuaded of Luke’s reliability simply by the sleight-of-hand of ignoring them. A census requiring people to register where their remote ancestors lived a millennium before? A man stupid enough to take his nine-months-pregnant wife on a donkey ride over unpaved hill trails?

And the notorious gaff placing the birth of Jesus both before Herod’s death (4 B.C.) and during the census of Quirinius (6 A.D.) will not go away. Of this last McDowell says, “some now believe that Quirinius served two terms of office, the first of these being 10-7 B.C., which would put his first census at the time, roughly, of Christ’s birth shortly before Herod’s death in 4 B.C.”[6] Some apologists now believe it, but no one else. It is a piece of pure guesswork floated by apologist William Ramsey on the basis of a single ambiguous inscription which noted Quirinius had been rewarded for a great military victory. There is no hint of the nature of this reward, but Ramsey figures it might as well have been another term of office! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Sorry, but that’s ruled out by the fact that we know who the Roman governors were at the time of Herod’s death, namely Quintilius Varus and Sentius Saturninus. And there couldn’t have been a census previous to the one in 6 A.D., since the outrageous novelty of that one (to think: that Romans should exact tribute from Jews!), sparked the bloody uprising of Judas the Galilean. A related problem is that no census Quirinius conducted would have involved residents of Bethlehem, since in Quirinius’ reign, Judea was a technically independent client state allied with Rome, not subject to taxation, unlike Nazareth, part of the Roman province of Syria. Of all this Josh is as ignorant or as heedless as Luke himself.

And of course, Mark doesn’t even mention it. He may even contradict it, depending on the translation of 3:19. Jesus’ baptism in Mark certainly seems odd if you assume Jesus was always the son of God (does he need to be told he’s God’s son (1:11)?).

It certainly seems that reason and critical analysis show that the virgin birth story is a myth. There’s nothing fundamentally different about the methods used here than those used in science. Both are based upon reason. Why would you believe in evolution, presumably due to the scientific evidence, and believe in the virgin birth? Perhaps faith is the answer? The contradiction is still there: you’ve chosen to reject blind faith for one event and accepted it for another. Why?

This problem is encountered constantly. Anything you reject from the Bible creates a new problem: why did you reject that piece, but not another? Don’t think a widow should have to bear a child with her dead husband’s brother, but think it’s good to give to the poor? Why have faith in one and not the other? Obviously, one seems wrong and the other seems right. People didn’t always think that, though.

Surely Christians have heard this argument made by fundamentalists. Oddly enough, it makes sense. Picking and choosing your articles of faith follows no line of reasoning. I prefer it to fundamentalism, but I think fundamentalists are more intellectually responsible in this case.

Before I stop, let’s look at more extreme liberal Christianity. The type that would say the Bible is entirely metaphorical or legendary. They find profound meaning in the tales, so they’re still Christian. This doesn’t make sense to me, either. People can create profoundly meaningful works of art. This is especially true with mythology. Christian myths are not especially unique, either. If you think the profoundness of Christian mythology is evidence for Christianity, it stands to reason that Greek mythology is evidence for Zeus. Then again, I’m unclear on just what sort of concrete beliefs the sort of extreme liberalism I’m talking about entails.

Finally, a problem in writing this post was obtaining a clear idea of the beliefs I’m arguing against. If I’m attacking strawmen, I want to know.

Categories: Religion