The Jeffersonian Bible, Microsoft Style

If there’s anything to say about Microsoft, it’s that they’re a team player. The Redman, Washington software giant is teaming up with the communist regime of the People’s Republic of China to offer a blogging service that is safe for commies everywhere:

Chinese bloggers using a new Microsoft service to post messages titled “democracy,” “capitalism,” “liberty” or “human rights” are greeted with a bright yellow warning.

“This message includes forbidden language,” it scolds. “Please delete the prohibited expression.”

Thomas Jefferson, who was uncomfortable with the presence of miracles in the Bible, simply cut them out with a razorblade as if they didn’t exist. The government of the PRC has the same sort of attitude about their people publishing words that are in opposition to a more totalitarian form of government. Microsoft is happy to lend a hand:

Executives with the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant argue that they are only following local laws and any disadvantage is outweighed by benefits users get from the company’s services.

“Even with the filters, we’re helping millions of people communicate, share stories, share photographs and build relationships,” said Adam Sohn, Microsoft’s global sales and marketing director. “For us, that is the key point here.”

Well, at least the poor souls will be able to share photos from this year’s “re-education through labor” camp.

Switches

I haven’t yet switched from Windows to Macintosh (I lack both the cultish desire and the money to re-purchase all my software for a new platform—not to mention a new machine), but I have been doing some switching in the software world.

While I still use it extensively at work, I’ve almost completely moved away from Microsoft Outlook at home thanks to Google’s Gmail and an online app called Backpack.

An Outlook user for years both at home and work, I’ve always lamented the program’s bulkiness (it’s a RAM hog), and missed the ability to retrieve my mail efficiently from remote locations. The surprisingly full-featured Gmail (with the best spam filter I’ve seen yet) took care of the email problem.

Backpack is a simple, useful app that I’ve become quite addicted to after only a week. You can have reminders emailed to you at specific times, make easily editable pages of notes, to-do-lists, etc. The pay version allows you to store files, but the free version is good enough for my needs right now.

These apps can’t replace everything Outlook does, but it does the job for what I need. I’m not ready to completely pull the plug on Outlook yet, but I’m well on my way to weaning myself from it. All my email addresses remain the same—I’m just forwarding them all to Gmail. If you’re one of the few that still doesn’t have Gmail account, let me know and I’ll send you an invite. No invitation is needed for Backpack.

Space for Space

John Derbyshire has a compelling article on the merits of the Space Shuttle program. His basic premise is that the program is the “folly of our age,” accomplishing little in light of the vast governmental expenses involved:

There is no longer much pretense that shuttle flights in particular, or manned space flight in general, has any practical value. You will still occasionally hear people repeating the old NASA lines about the joys of microgravity manufacturing and insights into osteoporesis, but if you repeat these tales to a materials scientist or a physiologist, you will get peals of laughter in return. To seek a cure for osteoporesis by spending $500 million to put seven persons and 2,000 tons of equipment into earth orbit is a bit like… well, it is so extravagantly preposterous that any simile you can come up with falls flat. It is like nothing else in the annals of human folly.

Having no practical justification for squirting so much of the nation’s wealth up into the stratosphere, our politicians — those (let us charitably assume there are some) with no financial or electoral interest in the big contractor corporations who feed off the shuttle — fall back on romantic appeals to Mankind’s Destiny.

I’m inclined to agree with Derbyshire. The space program is no longer as closely connected with national security as it was during the cold war. Is the expense that the American taxpayers have to incur worth the benefits of the Space Shuttle? Velcro, Tang, and freeze-dried ice cream are nice, but how much less money from our paychecks would go to Uncle Sam if the program were scrapped?

This doesn’t mean that space exploration has to end. Recent private ventures have proven that government involvement is not required. Why not let free enterprise lead the way?

I don’t have strong feelings on this one way or the other, so does anyone know of any good arguments for keeping the Space Shuttle program?

Politics and the Prophet

The pregnancy of Britney Spears and the trial of Michael Jackson notwithstanding, the hottest topic in the news today has to do with the intersection between politics and religion. Following the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the topic has become a “we’ve arrived!” bellwether for many people of faith—and a panic button for many secularists.

Evangelicals have gained much influence in the political arena. While the left constantly cries theocracy, evangelical ideas have made modest gains in the public square. With the possibility of high court justices being secured for a long time in favor of evangelical ideas, things are looking up for Christians in America. The way things stand now, a time of great prosperity for American evangelicalism would seem imminent.

Or would it?

Is political superiority the key for the advancement of the people of God? Not always, if Jeremiah 27 is in any way indicative of how God might intervene in the political sphere. It’s a bizarre passage that elicits a much deserved double-take, because when read in light of conventional wisdom, it appears to make little sense.

Ever the unpopular preacher, Jeremiah delivers the news that Yahweh is putting everyone under control of the pagan Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar:

It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

Lest Israel, God’s chosen people, think that they were excepted, Jeremiah informs them that they too—just like all the other nations—are losing their own autonomy:

To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?

The leaders and false prophets must have thought of Jeremiah as an ancient–day Howard Dean, speaking such nonsense. Why should the chosen people of God stand for serving a foreign, pagan leader? Such a notion was appalling to their sensibilities.

The irony, however, was that Israel had been serving foreign gods all along—it was only fitting that they should now serve a foreign king. Now, in an unseeming reversal, Israel would only see prosperity if they relinquished their own political sovereignty. Only after they had endured captivity would their land be restored to them.

In this strange passage, Yahweh showed that he doesn’t need the political structures of his people to verify his sovereignty. He is indeed the Maker, and only his kingdom has ultimate authority.

What relation does this ancient story have to do with our modern political climate? Should evangelical Christians relinquish what little political clout they have gained that they might prosper under a leftist government?

Just as the governance of Israel under the Davidic kingship remained the ideal (ultimately fulfilled in Christ!), evangelicals should continue to be wary of campaigning for the left. What Jeremiah 27 does do is to remind us who is really in charge, and who holds each political administration in his hands—even the bad ones. Evangelicals should continue to influence the political scene for the better, but let us not forget who is really on the throne.

Mysterious, yet strangely sovereign are his ways.

I’ve Converted

After 30 years on the outside, I have finally succumbed. Tonight I walked into the neighborhood coffee shop and bought, for the first time in my life, a cup of coffee. A “tea”–toatler and hot chocolate sipper for years, I never could acquire a taste for the dark bean. I had tried it with all kinds of additives—cream, sugar, milk, salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar, A-1 Sauce—all to no avail (OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little). I hated the bitter taste.

A couple of weeks ago, a stressful day at work and a lack of tea bags conspired to bring me to drink some of the gratis coffee at work, which was not that bad. I found I needed no additives to begin warming up to the taste. Two weeks of steady experimentation with the free stuff from friends and employers, and I was ready to buy my own cup for the first time.

I fear I’ve headed down a dark path…

Around the ‘Sphere

Off we go…

New to blogging, but certainly no stranger to sound thought and practice, is my good friend Tom Hicks. Tom is a Ph.D. student at SBTS whom I’ve told repeatedly that he should be blogging. It seems he’s finally listened. His blog, Foedus Gratiae, aptly begins with a stirring post on joy.

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I’ll have to admit I’m a bit rusty on my Latin, so when I was looking up the Foedus part of Tom’s blog title, I stumbled upon a wonderful new website: The Ancient Library. It’s a collection of online resources on the ancient world, including scans and transcriptions of classical dictionaries and other works. If your course of personal or academic study ever takes you to the ancient world (and it should!), be sure to bookmark this site.

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I’m unsure if he would remember me—I’ve only met him once—but Steve McCoy has a relatively new blog that’s become quite active. Lots of thought-provoking fodder there.

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Finally, the Discoshaman has ended the posting drought at Le Sabot Post-Moderne, and balance has been restored to the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Through a bit of savvy technorati sniffing, I’ve found that another old friend (a friend even though he’s an staunch Auburn fan!) has begun blogging. So, Mr. Slayton, whether you’re ready to public or not, here you go all Scattered and Covered.