Liar Liar White House on Fire

I’ve noticed over the years that people lie.  I’ve seen children do it, little Billy who ate the cookie on the counter and told his dad he didn’t.  I’ve seen married people do it, no honey, that outfit looks great on you.  Some lies are bold and blatant.  Some are tiny, little bitty white lies…if even such a thing exists.  Sometimes lies can come by omittance.  Regardless, we don’t much like lies when they are told to us; we expect honesty.  Honesty is a virtue.  It is a character trait and a value that is up-right and good, and it’s something we should all strive for.

There are also certain professions that we hold to a higher level of integrity.  For example, we all expect pastors to be honest.  I find it funny and sad at the same time, but when I was studying to be a pastor, I recall one specific test that was particularly difficult.  I sat in the back of the class because it was easier to get out the door when the bell rang, and the future pastor sitting next to me asked if he could look at my answers.  We expect our doctors to be honest.  We want an accurate account of the status of our health, and I definitely don’t want a doctor that cheated on his tests to be operating on me.

We also want our public leaders to be truthful with us, and especially the high office of president.  I do understand the scrutiny that leaders go through today, and especially those on the world stage.  Every thing a leader says is recorded, watched, re-watched, and then criticized by millions of viewers.  It’s easy to misspeak.  I don’t really want to say that lies coming from public leaders hurt us more, because there’s nothing quite like being lied to by someone close to us, but I will say that lies coming from a public office seem to degrade society more.  I’ve put together a few of the public lies from my generation….check them out:

Here’s a clip from George H. W. Bush giving a promise on the campaign trail. Nobody likes taxes, but I’ve got to admit, how in the world can you expect anybody in public office to keep a promise like this.  It’s not good to promise things you cant keep.

 

Here’s probably one of the most famous lies of my generation.  President Bill Clinton lied about a relationship that he had with a White House intern.  This was a very blatant lie.  The president new exactly what he was saying was wrong, but to be honest, many people seemed to ignore it.  Several that I talked to said that it was a private matter, and did not affect his role as president.

 

The following lie has been brought to public attention in the past few weeks.  It is also different from the two former lies (a stupid promise, and a personal issue).  This was a sneaky lie.  It was an intentional deception and twisting of facts to get a specific piece of legislation passed.  President Obama was a community organizer, a lawyer, and a Harvard constitutional law professor; this wasn’t just jumbled words….PERIOD.

 

Richard Nixon was the president in office when I was born.  While I don’t remember this lie personally, I do remember hearing about it when I was young.  President Nixon lied about the watergate scandal and almost became famous for being the first president that was impeached, but he resigned before it could be done.

 

I had to throw this guy in just for good measure.  Here’s Rod Blagojevich a governor from my home state of Illinois.  It would seem that the governor’s seat in Illinois is notorious for producing felons.  Four of the last seven were convicted and imprisoned.  After watching this scandal a few years ago, I just shook my head.  Governor Blagojevich really seemed clueless.

 

Why I Believe

believe

I try and take a balanced view of life.  I think every person whether Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, or someone of any other belief system needs these three things…. reason, emotion, and faith.

Reason is important and without it we could not live.  We need it to get up in the morning, to drive to work; to live our daily lives, to build things, to invent things, but our reason can fail.  A few years ago, I was driving to a nearby city and I heard my brakes dragging a little.  Once I got to my destination, I decided to get out of the car and reach my finger in and touch the brake pads…what was I thinking?  Well, I wasn’t!  They were hot and it burnt me—I wasn’t using much reason at that time.

How much knowledge does the human society have? Do we know 50% of everything there is to know? 20%?  Of everything in the entire universe I bet we know less than .0001% of all knowledge that exists, and maybe even a lot less than that.  It is not probable that our society will ever know all there is to know.

If we take a look at black holes, the mathematics that describe them breaks down at the singularity.  How can something become infinitely dense?  Some would say they don’t, but we won’t go there. General relativity does not work well with quantum mechanics.  And just how many dimensions are in our universe?  Three?  Four?  Eleven? We just don’t understand how things work.  Again, I’m not saying we will never understand these things, we are making strides in formulating a theory of everything, but I am saying that logic alone is not enough for a human to live.

Let’s say you’re in a room full of people.  Some of them old, some young, but the only other person you know is your spouse.   Then someone lights a bomb and you only have a second to save one person, who would that be?  Logic say’s you should pick one of the younger ones.  You should pick someone with a longer life span because they have the most to loose, but your emotions say it should be your spouse.  Logic without emotion is a bit empty.

The second thing I think we need is emotion.  As mentioned above, a life without emotion means nothing.   Our emotions can help us make good decisions, and there’s nothing quite like a good intuition.  But emotions can fail you.  I remember watching a TV series the other day about phobias.  There was a stronger macho-looking guy that was really fearful of dogs.  It was really sad, but he had a hard time even touching a dog or being in the same room with the dog.  His emotions were leading him in the wrong direction.  He needed to use more logic and less emotion, and he knew it—it was just difficult for him to do.

The third thing we all need is faith.  You may say that atheists need no faith, but I would disagree.  There are things in life that we do not understand that we have to accept by faith.

There are things that we don’t understand that others do, and we accept them by faith.  For example, some people may not know how electricity works.  You turn the switch on the wall and the light turns on.  That’s all they need to know.  They have faith that someone else has it figured out, and they can just use it.  Maybe for you that might be the process of nuclear fusion, or how a combustion engine works, or what code makes a web browser work … the point being we take those things by faith they will work.  We just understand that someone else understands.

There are also other things in life that have no proof that we take by faith.  I’m going to use for an example the topic of our beginnings.  When it comes to beginnings, we can narrow it down to two possibilities.  It was created or it just happened.  When it comes to the science of beginnings it is all speculation, and has little or nothing to do with the scientific method.  The scientific method requires a hypothesis to be formed and then tested.  We cannot create a universe nor can we create life in a test-tube.  We can form all the hypotheses we want, but without the test it’s not science.

What is the probability that life began on its own?  I don’t want to get into all the math involved, which is probably impossible to calculate anyway, but it would be astronomically high.  One author said 1X10 to the power of 40,000.  There are only 1X10 to the power of 80 atoms in the universe.  Is this really the probablility—I’m not sure, but regardless, the probability that life began on its own is an impossibly high number.  In any other field of science we would say it’s an impossibility.  In the science of beginnings we just increase the age of the universe until it works.

It takes faith to say life began on its own because it cannot be proven.  It also takes faith to say there was a creator because it cannot be proven.  In my life, I try to employ a lot of logic, some emotion, and a little faith.  For me it’s easier to believe that a creator made what we see than it is to believe it just happened.

So why do I believe the Bible?

Literary Consistency and Longevity.  The Bible is an incredible document.  It contains 66 books written by 40 different authors over a time span of 1600 years and in three different languages.  Despite all of these differences it holds an astounding unity within its pages.  You can pick any book of the bible and after doing a solid investigation you get a feel for what it’s about. Its basic message is that God created man, man is imperfect and needs the help of a creator who has willingly offered help.  There is no other book that has been read as much as the Bible, or has had as many copies over the years as the bible.  With the number of original works we can be assured that what we read today is very close to the original version.  Even despite the attempts of many down through the ages to destroy it, the Bible has lasted.

Its claims.  The bible makes bold claims that it is the only inspired Word of God.   2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is inspired by God.”  Jesus quoted the Old Testament, and approved of the writers of the New Testament.  Jesus claimed to be the one and only way to God.  John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Historically accurate document.  The bible has never been proven wrong through archaeology.  They’ve discovered a number of things mentioned in the bible: Jericho and its walls that were actually fallen.  The five cities of the plain mentioned in Genesis were thought to have been nonexistent, but they were recently found.  We also see the histories of the bible matching up with other historians comments and historical documents.  The first century historian Josephus speaks about Jesus in some of his writings.

Prophetically accurate document.  There were many prophecies made in the Old Testament that have already been fulfilled.  Daniel chapter 2 predicts the next three world kingdoms very accurately…the Medo-Persian, the Greek, and the Roman empires.  The prophet Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 44:28 that a king by the name of Cyrus would come and help in the restoration of the Jewish people.  He made this prediction about 150 years before it happened.  700 years before it happened the prophet Micah predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Zechariah predicted about 400 years in advance that the Messiah would be betrayed with 30 pieces of silver.  He also predicted that none of His bones would be broken and He would be pierced in His side.  There are many more prophecies that have been fulfilled.  I challenge you to look them up, but to keep this letter short I’ll stop there.  These Messianic prophesies are not ones that Jesus could have fulfilled by choice.

It works.  My last reason is that I can see that the principles the Bible promote work.  Millions of lives have been changed by the words in this book.  I’ve applied many of the principles to my own life and I’ve never been disappointed.  Can the Bible be proven to be the Word of God or to be absolute truth? No, but for me it is a reasonable option.  It does take faith to believe in God, but it is not blind faith.  It is faith built upon good observations.

The alternative for me seems less probable, and beyond that has little hope.  When I think of a world without God, I find no hope.  There’s none in politics.  All I see there is bickering and fighting, and a group of people just trying to be re-elected.  I’m reminded of the statement that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I find little hope in fame; I see people like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, and think the pressures of fame have done them little good.  I see little hope in money.  A little money is needed, but beyond our basic needs of food and shelter and clothing, money does not give you happiness.  I supposed there’s a little hope in family, friends, and society.  But honestly, society changes.  In Africa, we see the morals of the head-hunter society that are pretty different from ours; in our prisons we see an entirely different set of values, and the values of today are vastly different than they were in the 1920s. I don’t think society is the foundation we can put our hope in.  And in the end, we die and everything we’ve learned, valued, and loved disappears.  Maybe we’ve impacted others in this life and have passed on things of value, but eventually they pass on too and all we’ve done, valued, loved is gone. And maybe we’re one of the very lucky ones who has impacted society in a way that we get our name in some book and it lasts generations.  Eventually that disappears too, and in the end life has passed and nothing we have done remains.

I choose God because it’s a logically plausible choice that I feel with my emotions and believe with my faith.  I do not chose my faith in God because it gives me hope…but I can say there is an amazing hope in my faith in God and the Bible.  I believe there is life after death, and what I do in this life affects the next. I have a hope that in the next life, I will see some of those I knew in this life. I have a hope that by passing on this hope to others that they too will enter the next life.  With my faith in God I feel that I have a purpose.  And that purpose is to help others find this hope.  And that purpose will affect the lives of others for eternity.

The implications of this choice are huge.  Because without God life is all about me and what makes me happy.  Whether that means a life of hedonism seeking all the pleasures possible to man, or a life dedicated to working my way up in society and becoming popular and important–really it’s all about me. But if God is real, then His Word is truth and I should do my best to live by it and up hold it.  Suddenly, my life is no longer about me, but about God.  I am not perfect, nor will I ever be; I’m just trying to do my best.

Many think the Bible is just a book of rules, but really you can narrow it down to just two.  The first says this: Love the Lord God with all your heart, body, mind and soul. And the second says: Love your neighbor as your self.

The Intern

The InternOne of my favorite past times every summer is to float down the Current River.  This past year we had a new intern join us.  This is the story of that trip.

I’m not sure if you remember that place where tiredness meets imagination, but I found it a few nights ago in a tent near Jadwin Missouri. It was a cool evening and coupled with a long day of oaring on the Current River and a world class game of volleyball the day before I fell asleep quicker than a baby with a bottle of Nyquil.

I wasn’t dreaming, just sleeping hard when I was jarred to consciousness by a voice screaming in the night, “NOW!”

I opened my eyes and listened in the darkness, but all fell silent again…well mostly. There was the muffled sound of people talking nearby, Call me maybe playing on the community iPod, and the sound of either a sick duck or injured frog that would not shut up. I closed my eyes again and listened.

“INTERN NOW,” Chris bellowed out again.

I had to chuckle. The poor guy. The intern. Colin had to be tiring of that phrase, but if he was it didn’t show. I thought about what the next day might bring, but the sandman hadn’t traveled far and I was soon asleep again.

The next morning brought with it a few early risers, but most loomed around like extras on the set of The Walking Dead. It wasn’t until Captain Ron broke out the brown sugar and bacon that the rest of the group emerged from their tents. The Intern was one of the last ones to belly-up to the table, but not even he could resist the smells that came from the big black cooker.

There’s a point in everyone’s career where they really begin to connect with others, when you go from being the intern, to being the INTERN, and Colin found that place about half way through the float at the top of a 30 foot cliff.

The chant started slowly with just a couple individuals, “Intern. Intern.”

I can only image the rush of endorphins that ran through his body as he stared down at the little stream below. His heart raced. His time at Dot Foods flashed before his eyes. “Intern. Intern. Intern.” More people joined in on this catchy little phrase.

Was it really worth it, to risk his life for this group of half-cocked IT professionals? The shouts began to roll down through the entire valley. Old men, women, children, Jager the stuffed dog, and even people who didn’t know this guy joined in. “INTERN. INTERN. INTERN. INTERN.”

Colin stepped to the edge and jumped. In a fraction of a second he rolled forward into a full flip as his body hit the water. When he came to the surface, the crowd erupted in shouts and applause.

To the rest of Dot Foods he will be known as Colin the college student, but to those of us who brave the waters of the Current River every summer, he will forever be remembered as THE INTERN.

A bit about writing

Writing is a three-legged-table. The first leg of character develop helps the reader relate to your characters. They can see them grow (or degenerate) as the story moves along. It is critical that the characters have flaws…people relate to human faults.

The second leg of writing is plot. This tells your reader what happened. For example we see Luke Skywalker lead his father back to the good side. In Lord of the Rings we see Frodo’s struggle with the ring and Aragorn’s decision to take his place as king.

The last leg is called World Building. World Building is the act of putting together a setting in which your stories take place, weather that be middle earth or a galaxy far, far away.

As you begin to write, think about these three things, and reveal a little more about each to your writer.

Writing to remember

Communication-SkillsA memory conceived among many senses will not be easily forgotten (Tweet That!).  The goal of communication is to deliver a message to a recipient in a way that it can be received and comprehended, but I think communication should go beyond that.  We should communicate to be remembered.  If it’s worth saying, it’s worth remembering.

Memories are more than words and concepts, they are life experiences.  Try thinking of an emotional event in your, life like an argument with a close friend. You probably remember it more in terms of how you felt than the words that were said.

Have you ever gotten sick while eating a certain food?  Once, when I was a teenager, I got extremely intoxicated.  I was so out of control that my mother gave me a bath and I didn’t know it. That’s probably a good thing. I still have no memory of what happened to me that night, but I remember how I felt.  For years the smell of any alcohol would make me sick.  The reason I remember it so well is because the event is tied to several senses – smell, taste, touch, etc.

I’ve had many opportunities throughout my life to speak before various groups. I’ve spoke at churches, community settings, in front of children and adults.  I enjoy speaking and writing, and helping others understand things.  When I speak to a group, I try to employ methods that will touch as many senses as possible.  I was speaking some years back on the topic of sharing and half-way through my speech I had a pizza delivered to the podium.  I stopped for a moment, paid for the pizza, picked up a slice, took a few bites, and began speaking again.  Seven years later someone approached me and said, “Hey I remember that time you spoke, and gave me a slice of pizza”.  Why did they remember?  Because they heard, they saw, they touched, they tasted, and they could smell what I was saying (Tweet That!).

This same principle applies to us as authors. You may not be there when the reader picks up your piece, but you can trigger memories they’ve stored away.  Don’t just tell them what happened; drop your reader smack dab in the middle of a scene (Tweet That!).  Let them experience your writing through their memories.

Worldbuilding

Lunar_baseIf you’re unfamiliar with the term “World Building” you might get a mental image of huge machines covering the surface of a dead planet carving rivers, planting forests, and pumping oxygen into the atmosphere.  Truth is—that’s not far from reality.  World building is the art of bringing to life an imagined world through descriptions, back-story, maps, drawings, and other creative means, and is one of the greatest tools a science fiction writer has for adding depth to a story.

World building is a huge topic, and there have been many books and classes discussing it, but in this article I plan to give you just a few brief thoughts on the subject.

First and foremost, let your world building be an enjoyable process…it should be fun.  Much of the writing you do will have several reads and rewrites.  The kind of stuff that you review, review, hand it to a friend to look over, and then review again, but your world building document can contain raw ideas.  You don’t have to worry about getting everything perfect; if you have some dangling modifiers, misused semicolons or run-on sentences it’s ok.  This document is yours, and nobody will ever see it, so give your eraser a break and let your ideas flow.

With that said, don’t go crazy.  You need to give your world building ideas some organization so you can find the information you need when you need it.  I like to keep my ideas in a three ring binder with tabs for subjects like: places, species, and organizations.  On some pages I have hand-drawn maps and diagrams, on others I have typed notes, and still on others I have tables full of terms and definitions.  This also allows you to shuffle your pages around, and add or remove them if needed.

Keep informed on scientific facts.  One thing that ruins science fiction quicker than anything else is incorrect or inconsistent information about the world your story takes place in.  For example, it’s probably not the best idea for your story to take place on a planet that orbits a pulsar; it would be difficult for life to exist in such a hazardous place.  Your readers will pick up on mistakes like this, and your story will lose credibility.

Make sure your facts are consistent.  If your planet orbits a yellow star at the beginning of your story, make sure that you don’t call it a brown dwarf later on.  Inconsistency will cause your story to fall apart, and the reader won’t be able to paint a coherent picture of your world.

Brainstorming often follows writing.  Sometimes as I put my ideas to paper, or the binary ones and zeroes of my computer’s storage system, I’ll have an idea for some new aspect of the world I’m writing about.  I’ll immediately jot that idea down along with all its associated facts to keep things consistent throughout the entire story.  Later on when I write of that idea again, I can review my summary and keep things straight.  It would be bad to have a species described with five legs in one place and four in another, or a character with no siblings at the start of a story, and an older brother half-way through.

Finally, be complete…think about things like culture, history, geography, languages, and why the world is the way it is.  The more content you put into the brainstorming document, the easier it will be writing the stories that happen there.  If you’re writing about a species that has three sexes, then describe the family unit.  What roles do they have?  Do all three work to support the family?  If two of the parents are allowed to work, how would that affect their income?

When creating your world-building document consider the butterfly effect.  If a butterfly flaps its wings on earth, does it cause a hurricane on Mars?  Things are deeply connected, and one tiny action may have large repercussions in other systems…so think it through completely.

If you’re interested in creating unique places and things check out rabiki.com and see worldbuilding in action.  Come be a part of a community of creative individuals and build your world.

Death of Science Fiction

sf1My fascination with science fiction started when I was six—I’ll never forget the excitement I felt as I watched X-wings and TIE fighters scream across the screen, followed by the roar of engines and blaster bolts exploding against metal.  I wish I still had my Luke Skywalker and Momaw Nadon action figures.  They would probably be worth a lot today, but I think they gave me my money’s worth.

I’ve noticed a trend away from science fiction over the past 20 years, and a decline in quality movies for the genre.  I’ve been disappointed far too many times by poor quality stories.

On one occasion as I walked through the sci-fi isle of my local video store, a new movie cover caught my attention.  It had an image of an earth-like planet completely enveloped with jungle vines, and it was titled Savage Planet.  Sounds pretty cool huh?  I was excited.  I rented the movie, made some popcorn, put my feet up, and got ready for a nice movie.  You’ve heard it said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well I say, you can’t judge a movie by its cover either.

This was one of the cheesiest movies I’ve ever seen.  It was about a group of people who discovered a way to transport to another earth-like planet.  When they arrived, they were all systematically hunted and killed by gigantic mutated bears.  Yes, you heard me right…bears.

I’m not sure what was worse, the horrible storyline or the cheaply filmed video.  With movies like that it’s no wonder some don’t enjoy sci-fi.

Science fiction is hard to define.  It has several sub-genres, and it covers a variety of topics like time travel, space exploration, cybernetics, alternate histories, etc.  I’ve heard it said that sci-fi is like pornography, it’s hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it.  My simple and broad definition of science fiction is this:  The stories built on or around undiscovered advanced technologies.  .

Good science fiction will always be based on good stories.  The Star Wars saga is not about light sabers, star destroyers, aliens, or the Death Star.  It’s a story about one man’s fall and his son’s struggle to save him.  Don’t mistake the setting as the story.  World-building is an important part of writing—create a separate document describing the world your story takes place in, and fill it with all kinds of detail.  Be specific.  I like to use a three ring binder with tabs for different topics like species, planets, history, cities, characters, etc.  This document is for you, and it’s not your story.  Use it to set the scene, but make sure the story never gets lost in the details.  Reveal only enough to make it believable, and let your story do the rest.

Another factor that makes writing sci-fi difficult is the rate of scientific discovery.  What we grok about our world has grown exponentially over the last hundred years.  There is only one constant…things will change.

Isaac Asimov, one of the twentieth century’s greatest contributors to the genre, was not exempt from this problem.  Several of the short stories in his book Robot Dreams are built around a super intelligent computer called multivac that filled an entire room, and used punch cards.  It was state of the art at one time, but who knew in 50 years a computer that powerful would fit on your wrist.  Things are changing much faster today, which makes it more difficult to predict the technologies of the future.

No…this is not the death of a genre…sci-fi will not disappear.  As long as we have children fly their imaginary rockets to the stars, as long as we have creative individuals willing to share their imaginations, and as long as we have people who can dream the impossible, science fiction will flourish. I love this genre and challenge you to be creative.  The possibilities are endless, and a canvas as broad as the night-sky awaits the aspiring galactic calligrapher.

Protect yourself

I’ve just spent the last few days at work fighting a nasty virus…several days and some long hours.  I thought I throw this post out there to help anyone who might be listening.  So what exactly is a virus?  Well that term is often used loosly to describe several different types of computer threats.

A virus is a computer program that attaches its self to another program or file allowing it to spread from computer to computer causing varying degrees of damage.  They ususally sit dormant until activated by someone.

A worm is similar to a virus, but can travel without your help….there’s no need to double click it to get it going…it goes all by itsself.  Some worms have been known to replicate themselves by contacting everyone in the users address book…and sending a copy of itsself.

A Trojan Horse is just like it sounds….its a program that caims to do one thing, but does something else.  I have seen some programs that claim to be virus removal software, but are actually programs that just open your system to more attacks from other nasties.

Spyware is software that usually does no harm to your system, but just tracks your actions…and sends that info to others.  This is where we get a lot of those anoying pop-ups, and this usually makes our computers run slower.

So how do you protect yourself?  It’s impossible to be 100% protected from everything that comes along, but there are a few steps you can take to eliminate a vast majority of existing threats.

1.  Don’t open attachments.  Never open an attachment unless you know what it is ahead of time.  Even emails from your friends can contain malware, and no you will not die if you don’t forward it to 10 others.

2.  Keep your operating system up to date.  If you’re a windows user, you can do this through Internet Explorer.  Those who create viruses look for vunerabilities in operating systems, and when found write harmful programs that take advantage of those loopholes.

3.  Keep your anti-virus up to date.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me which anti-virus is the best.  Honestly,  I think there all pretty good.  Trend Micro, Symantec, McAfee and AVG do a nice job of keeping computers clean.  To be quite honest….if you don’t want to use an anti-virus, then why spend your money on a computer?  It’s like driving your car without insurance….actually a bit worse.  If you don’t use an antivirus, and you connect your computer to the internet, you will become infected……