This is nerdy and obscure, but I have to share my excitement: I'm experimenting with Neural Machine Translation in Python, and as of late last night I successfully figured out how to configure my GPU to run machine learning algorithms. Basically, a GPU is a highly specialized calculation device which is usually used to render graphics on a computer, but you can hack them to run multiple machine learning training sessions at a much faster rate than the standard computer processor is capable of.
For those who code, you know how frustrating it can be to fail miserably for weeks, months, or years on a project before seeing any results. Coding is very much a discipline of trial and error, sometimes spectacularly so.
This afternoon, I was reminiscing about the 'good old days' of Star Trek. I used to love nothing more than coming home from school in the afternoons as an elementary school kid and watching it with my dad. TNG was on syndicated reruns by '94, but DS9 and Voyager were still going strong when I graduated to middle school. I decided to watch "Far Beyond the Stars" this afternoon, and I came to an epiphany.
The episode takes place as a dream sequence where Captain Sisko, a black Starfleet Captain, is transported back to 1953. There, he's a struggling science fiction writer who dreams up a world where a man of color can be in charge of a space station. The stark portrayal of racism that he encounters on a daily basis is something that sadly makes the episode extremely relevant even twenty years after it aired.
One thing that I liked a lot, which sadly probably wouldn't be done if it aired today, is that they ended the episode with a quote from the Bible:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
In context, it was meant to encourage the audience that racial justice is a struggle without end, but one that ultimately must be continued regardless.
Yesterday was a historic anniversary, and sadly one that was marked by remembrance of more victims of violence. Though the BLM movement does have a tendency to (dare I use the term?) whitewash the crimes of some recent victims, ultimately the movement is much larger than the simple and controversial slogan "defund the police." What it's really about is putting an end to the normality of people of color getting killed in police encounters, whereas white suspects tend to survive. It shouldn't be controversial to say, "let's stop killing black people," but sadly the state of division in our nation is such that that statement requires clarification.
It is wrong to violently resist a peace officer. I do not deny that some of these suspects were engaged in criminal behavior at the time of their deaths. That being said, conservative America's thirst for violence is such that I actually have to convince Bible-believing Christians that killing shouldn't be their first instinct in any given conflict. There is violence on the other side as well, and nobody denies that. Nevertheless, there is also a profound and undeniable difference between the way black and white offenders are treated.
I will include here the words of a black man, since they themselves ought to be given much more license to speak on this subject than those of us who merely speculate about racism.
The struggle continues for the family of Breonna Taylor and many, many others like her who simply had the misfortune of being suspected of a crime. While I can't offer any meaningful solutions at this juncture (nor do I believe it is in my purview to do so), I will say that the struggle must continue. Until justice rolls like a river, the struggle of this life is ever forward.
My first two posts were all about struggle. At the time, I was going through what I thought was the most difficult season of my life. My current self would laugh at that person in retrospect. Each season of life brings new and worse challenges than the last, because that's the nature of living in a fallen world.
My encouragement to you today, regardless of your politics or the color of your skin, is to keep going. Be humble, be compassionate, but don't you ever give up. As long as you trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, we know that ultimately you are more than a conqueror, and your eternal rest will more than make up for a life of struggle.
Since I was 12 or 13, I've known how to properly handle a gun. Joining the family business at 19 and serving in the US Navy for ten years also afforded me many exciting training opportunities. I have previously written several times about the necessity of violence, despite my personal hope to avoid it at all costs. I'm extremely grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to arm myself against any would-be oppressor. That being said, I must also include some important caveats...
Since I keep in touch with the gun-loving community on YouTube and elsewhere, it has become readily apparent to me in recent years, and even more so as the election approaches, that most people who lean conservative believe that a full-on civil war is inevitable. Their language is that of a person with no other recourse. They speak as if freedom-loving Americans and followers of the Christian religion are a besieged minority on the verge of being systematically eradicated.
I have heard this kind of language used in two other places, neither of which are good omens:
First, it is the language of the literally thousands of hours of jihadist propaganda that I've been forced to watch over my military and defense contractor career. Extremist organizations are experts at painting themselves as helpless victims defending themselves against the evils of a monolithic oppressor. While there are indeed cases around the world of Muslims suffering religious persecution (The Uyghur and Rohingya peoples are two prominent examples), the jihadist organizations of the world are experts at making the worldwide plight of Islam seem dangerously precarious, when in fact it isn't. Though some Western nations are in fact implementing overtly anti-Muslim policies, this is not, in fact, a global conspiracy against Islam. Rather, it's a highly xenophobic response to societal change within various countries.
That brings me to my second group who consistently uses the language of the oppressed to justify violence: white supremacists. For my class on Forensic Linguistics, my group decided that our final project would focus on studying the language of mass shooters who published manifestos prior to committing senseless acts of murder. We studied four mass shooters, whose names I refuse to repeat, so that we could try to develop some sort of linguistic methodology to determine if a person might be a future threat. Though they all had strange and ultimately erratic justifications for their acts of unspeakable evil, several common themes did emerge:
1. They all claimed to be acting defensively and as a means of last resort. After a litany of historical "crimes" which they enumerated against the white race, they then proceeded to paint themselves as a "besieged" (their word, not mine) group on the verge of being replaced by "invaders" (another frequent word) who sought to fundamentally transform their country and way of life. This was particularly true of the Christchurch mosque shooter. The language in each of their cases was highly militaristic.
2. They all had a pet enemy that they saw as the single greatest threat to "our way of life." Whether it was Islam, Communist/Socialist ideology, or people of color, each person who committed an evil act went to great lengths to paint their chosen group as the source of all evil in the world, hence further justifying their "defensive" actions.
The point I wish to make, at the end of this lengthy preamble, is that it's extremely easy to justify violence when you've already set your mind to it.
Now to pivot...
Whether we're talking about the Pro-2A community on YouTube, the extreme elements of Antifa and far-left movements that espouse violent revolution (or anarchy) as a primary vehicle for change, or any other form of violent ideology, the key is to sound as if you're just a reasonable person pushed too far.
Has the United States moved in a secular direction in the last 30ish years? Undoubtedly so.
I would point out, however, that unlike Islam, Christianity was not designed to be spread primarily by means of jihad *(See footnote for more)*. We tried Crusades, we tried Inquisitions, and ultimately we concluded (rightly so) that this is neither a lasting nor effective method of bringing about the Kingdom of God. Although Jesus did make some provisions for arming oneself, he also sharply rebuked Peter for attempting to do by flesh what Jesus came to do by his perfect obedience.
The minute you, as a follower of Christ, decide that killing people is your moral right, you are on deeply theologically-suspect terrain. I will grant that the Bible does in fact advocate for capital punishment, and that Augustine did make a solid case for just war theory, but other than cases of mass shooters and other perpetrators of notorious evil, I would argue that your justification for killing needs to be very, very robust before arbitrarily picking up a weapon. Ideally the person in question needs to be thoroughly proven in a court of law to have committed the crime, or you should be acting in defense of your nation against an attacking military force.
The point I wish to make here is not about disarmament. I am not a pacifist, in fact my family lineage includes a famous pacifist-turned-war-hero. C.S. Lewis also wrote an excellent argument entitled "Why I am not a pacifist."
Rather, my goal is to advocate that, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we carefully examine our hearts and options before embarking on a path that could lead to violence. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for his role in the assassination plot against Hitler. He embarked on this course only after YEARS of soul searching, and exhausting all his other options, to include running a smuggling ring to exfiltrate Jews and chairing an underground seminary school that taught sound Christian doctrine when the church was infiltrated by Nazism.
If you've ever found yourself musing idly with like-minded individuals about the coming conflict in our country, I would encourage you to steer those discussions in a direction that seeks to avoid bloodshed. Regardless of your politics, I guarantee there is someone on the other side of the spectrum who is equally, if not more prepared, to do violence than you are. Conservatives think they have a monopoly on firearms, but that is empirically false.
My desperate plea to Americans everywhere is to think twice before reaching for a weapon. We tried that solution between 1861 and 1865, and it ended horribly for the side that was most excited about the conflict at its outset. Breaching the dam of blood will again lead to an outpouring that none of us is prepared for.
*Footnote* Some will rightly point out that the vast majority of Islam's practitioners reject violent jihad as a modern imperative. Although this is encouraging to hear, there is no denying the fact that the Quraan does in fact have some commands to that effect (2:191, specifically). Christianity, by contrast, is a call to follow in the steps of a Savior whose mission was to die so that others might live. If you'd like to discuss that difference more, I'd be happy to hear from you via the email button at top of page.
Further addendum: I understand that, just because there is no global conspiracy against Islam, doesn't mean that there is no global conspiracy against Christianity, and I fully acknowledge that the World will make a concerted effort to persecute the Church. My contention is simply that our warlike Savior hasn't returned yet, and when he does he will do by his Word what we cannot do (and shouldn't try to) by our flesh. I will always and forever be against an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to politics.
Well the seeds I planted are doing well:
Hard to believe how different my life looks even just two months removed from that last post. God truly is doing something amazing in my life, which I may be forced (gladly) to share with everyone in the near future.
Pretty remarkable that seeds can take nothing but dirt, sunlight, and water, and convert them into food and beautiful flowers. God sure made some incredible inventions.
I talk about politics frequently because I live in the nation's capitol, where almost everyone is connected politically. Things that seem remote and distant to the vast majority of Americans spread over thousands of miles are backyard drama for those of us who live in the beltway area. Though I love to wax politic with anyone who will listen, I think it's very important to remember that Jesus ultimately didn't come to overthrow the Romans, he came to save people from their sins.
I have frequently stated that politics will not save our country. I stand by the assertion that any man-made attempt to implement a theocracy on this earth is at best misguided, and at worst downright legalism. The only theocracy that should ever exist is the one Jesus Christ will implement upon his return.
Since this COVID situation first took hold, I've done my best to remain focused on the Gospel proper, and not its political implications. I'm forced to remember again today that God's plans are brilliant in their own disruptive way.
In a now-famous experiment on human cognition and attention, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris demonstrated that the human mind can easily be fooled by its inability to effectively multitask and/or see the larger picture when directing its attention. I believe there is deep spiritual significance in this experiment. While we are all intently focused on our day-to-day lives, and the doom and gloom of the news headlines, it can be extremely easy to miss the fact that God is sovereign, and the Holy Spirit is moving in the midst of all these weird and wacky events to bring about God's sovereign plan for our good and his glory.
Don't miss the gorilla.
Even if there is a plague outbreak, even if there are mass protests and a deeply contentious election scheduled this year. Don't lose sight of what God is doing to bring history closer to its culmination. History concludes with a wedding between Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as his beautiful bride. Everything that happens before that is just prologue.
For starters, please read Isaiah 35. Done?
I dug out some supplies today which I've been hoarding for several years:
I have written in the past about the need to materially prepare for hardship. I also state in My 25 Theses that material preparation should be a part of every Christian's anticipation of events which will likely precede the return of Jesus Christ. Though 'end times' prophecy and doomsday prepping are a laughable stereotype among right-wing nutjob evangelicals, I don't think it's an entirely unwise practice, considering how unpredictable life can be in general.
Matthew 25 follows immediately on the heels of Jesus telling his disciples what the signs of the end times would look like. The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins gives as an important admonition to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, meaning in my opinion that material preparations leave us more well-situated to await the return of the Groom with joy.
Some advice I once received from a very skilled counselor about my continual desire to do what's best for others:
"When you're traveling on an airplane, what do they tell you during the safety brief?"
"I dunno." I replied.
"They tell you to fix your own oxygen mask before helping others."
We live at a level of privilege and comfort that most of the world can only dream of. In times of crisis, those of us who are still able to sit comfortably shouldn't marvel in superiority at the misery of others. Rather, we should leverage our material blessings (as with the parable of the bags of gold) in order to gain friends for yourselves that will last forever. The parable of the wise virgins, however, does illustrate that there should also be a limit to your generosity.
This post is my best attempt to persuade you all to stock up. Many economic experts agree that we haven't fully comprehended the extent of the damage yet, and the DOW Jones is in no way reflective of the actual health of the economy anymore. Billionaires will profit regardless of economic conditions, sometimes they even leverage a crisis to make money. If you're not looking after your own survival interests, you may be sorely disappointed when the supply chain woes ruin your trip to the grocery store.
As I wish to convey by the title, this is not a message of doom and gloom.
Isaiah 35 is a chapter filled with hope and promise, amid an entire book that prophesies death and destruction for the nation of Israel. Even though they were guilty of abandoning God, and would soon face invasion and exile by the Assyrians in the North and the Babylonians in the South, yet God took a moment amidst all the harsh words to remind them that his love was everlasting (Jer. 31:3).
If it feels strangely like you're being buried and drowned, maybe God is planting you like a seed for a period of later growth and flourishing.
Bloom where you're planted. Don't wait for a more optimal season; start planting seeds today for the life you hope to live in the future, and trust God to make your plans successful. You're blessed to be a blessing to others.
Today we're all a little Sheldon-y.
My roommate came home yesterday with a small cough, and I decided to skip work today out of an abundance of caution. Though this disease has serious ramifications for the elderly, I think it's important to remember to keep a light heart in spite of whatever life throws at us. I'm strangely at peace while the world seems to be going a little crazy.
This is due in no small part to the fact that I believe in Jesus Christ, and the Gospel tells us that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7). There are many passages of Scripture that speak of safety in the midst of madness, one of my favorites being Psalm 91. Isaiah 26:3 also says "You will keep [them] in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you."
I have once again been a loud critic of the ponderous and minimizing response of the Executive Branch to this crisis. Nevertheless, I am grateful that as of today, there does appear to be a response. My only hope as things likely get worse in the coming weeks is that the suffering and death will be minimal, and that this pandemic will lead to a change in people's attitudes.
What matters more than universal healthcare or a coordinated government response is the fact that Christ was a great advocate for healing. He didn't even judge people by their "worthiness" to receive care. It's time to acknowledge, as I've said many times before, that the Bible is not a manifesto for ruthless capitalism.
It's time to revitalize the lost art of compassion. Though I am often guilty of painting with broad brushstrokes and categorically condemning supporters of Trump, I have to acknowledge that many of the people I love and respect are still in support of his agenda. I wish and pray every day that their eyes will be opened to the apolitical and transcendent nature of the Gospel, which espouses both Democratic and Republican ideals at various points. He's a God who cares for the orphan, the foreigner, and the widow.
If we as a nation can afford $1.5 Trillion in stimulus benefits for Wall Street, it's no stretch at all to say that we can afford universal healthcare and free testing for the Coronavirus. Taxes and government subsidies are a fact of modern life, and for those who call Jesus their Lord and Savior, it shouldn't strike them as controversial that the people of our nation need care in times of crisis. One thing that was always true, but now is readily apparent, is that the health of our poorest neighbor has always been our concern.
I don't want to sound like an evangelist for liberal ideals. What I really am is a proponent of intellectual honesty. If you truly read the Book with a mind not polluted by party rhetoric, you will see that compassion is the supreme law.
I don't have a concise point here, other than the fact that we're all in this together. One principle that I'm very grateful for in my years of military experience is that we succeed or fail as a team. Individual accomplishments are meant to be lauded, but leaving your weakest teammates behind will always be met with scorn and harsh discipline in a military training environment.
I've spent the last three or so years on this blog trying to convince everyone who will listen that Donald Trump is not someone who Bible-believing Christians should be defending, let alone cheering for. Whereas most of my arguments are Biblical in nature, and based largely on judgments of his actions and character, I now also appeal to law and linguistics.
The following is a quote from my textbook used in the Forensic Linguistics class I took last semester (Solan, L. M. & Tiersma, P. M. (2005). Speaking of Crime: the Language of Criminal Justice. Chicago University Press, p.181.):
Trump is unequivocally guilty of a crime.
Whereas his likely tax fraud and his near-certain collusion with Russia remain hidden due to his relentless obstruction of justice (a prosecutable offense in itself), his crime of solicitation is now a matter of public record (WSJ, BBC, Fox News). Using one's office to launch a very dubious investigation into one's political opponent in an upcoming election is downright corruption, not to mention a huge conflict of interest.
His continued bullying of witnesses on Capitol Hill is also a matter of public record (BBC, Reuters), as well as his ambiguous allusion to "handling spies" such as the whistleblower. This is almost certainly witness tampering. I now present another quote from Solan & Tiersma (p. 204):
Indirect and Ambiguous Threats
The text goes on to prove at length that a speech act "counts" as a threat if it was intended to intimidate the victim, and that victim's perceptions are relevant. To quote the above article from Reuters: "Representative Adam Schiff, who is chairing the hearing in the House Intelligence Committee, asked Yovanovitch for her reaction to the tweet. She said it was 'very intimidating.' ”
Regardless of your politics, the highest office in the land is, and rightfully ought to be, accountable to the law. Whether the Senate Republicans abide by their constitutional oath or not remains to be seen, but even if they don't, the man is absolutely guilty.
There is no rational defense.
A reader of this blog recently prodded me to write something again, which was a good reminder to me that I occasionally should do something that isn't work. I'm putting in 40-50 hours plus taking two real classes (and a fake one that's one unit) at Georgetown, so my life these days has precious little down time. I'm taking Language Testing, a fascinating class on the theory and practice that underlies assessing people's language capabilities. It has more or less led me to the conclusion that the DLPT is an awful test. According to good testing practice, a multiple choice question should have exactly one correct answer, not "choose the most correct" with three semi-right ones and a flagrant distractor. At any rate, maybe in 30 or so years I'll set out to change everything the DoD is doing as far as language assessment, for now I largely find myself in survival mode.
Being busy is a wonderful change of pace from where I was during the first half of the year. When I was told by my current employer that the contract would almost definitely be finalized in January, I naturally assumed I shouldn't take a full course load. When contract issues arose between the government and my employer, I was left hanging for six. full. months. without gainful employment or a significant amount of schoolwork. One would think I could have written a great deal during that time, but I was trying my best to study Python for an upcoming class and for possible work applications. Mostly though, I spent time at the gym and sitting around at home.
Boredom is extremely unhealthy. Though I think I did a decent job of filling my time productively, in retrospect I'm amazed at myself for how little I truly accomplished. Now that virtually all of my minutes from sunup to midnight are accounted for, I wish I had the kind of time to do random projects like I could earlier in the year. I guess the moral there is to appreciate what you have, even if it doesn't seem like much.
On that note, I recently made a Facebook post proclaiming myself to be thoroughly content with my life. While I do feel like I'm constantly running around, at least there is a profound sense of satisfaction in reminding myself that I'm simultaneously getting paid and working towards a valuable education. I may not see my friends as much as I like these days, but hopefully they'll understand.
Life tends to move in cycles. One season you're essentially stuck in a waiting room, staring at bland walls and outdated magazines. The next season, you suddenly find yourself running a rat race as fast as you possibly can, with no time for second thoughts about life, the universe, and the deeper meaning of it all. The transition period can often be jarring.
I'm also occasionally finding time to be a dad. Seeing Margaret last month was by far the biggest highlight of my Fall. Though the time with her is always painfully short, and the goodbyes are emotionally exhausting for me, nevertheless I'm extremely grateful for every moment I get to see her adorable smile and hear her cute babble. Someday I sincerely hope I'll get the chance to be the dad she deserves. Until then, the grind continues...
In times of established order, when the law rules supreme and the transgressor of the law is disgraced and ostracized, it is in relation to the tax collector and the prostitute that the Gospel of Jesus Christ discloses itself most clearly to people. "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you" (Matt. 21:31). In times which are out of joint, in times when lawlessness and wickedness triumph in complete unrestraint, it is rather in relation to the few remaining just, truthful, and humane people that the Gospel will make itself known.
I've incorporated lengthy references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer into my blog posts before, this time I've tried to keep it brief. This man's work has always spoken to me very deeply, precisely because he refused to stop talking about Jesus, no matter how seemingly hopeless the situation in Germany got.
Bonhoeffer fought for human decency at a time when the world around him was descending into vicious partisanship and xenophobia. When the anti-Jewish rhetoric in Germany reached a fever pitch, he undertook efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country. Since his brother-in-law was Jewish, the issue was very personal to him.
What you do when the world around you goes crazy says a lot about your character, not to mention your situational awareness. Personally, I constantly ask myself how I would respond if I were in a country like 1930s Germany, where you felt palpably that something awful was brewing in the air. Would I flee? Would I do something local? Something national?
The passage in Matthew cited by Bonhoeffer in the quote above contains two parables about how "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matt. 21:43). I believe that a time is fast approaching, if it hasn't already whooshed past, when God may take his favor away from us as a nation for failing to produce fruit.
I took a class this past weekend put on by a non-partisan group called Veterans Campaign, designed to prepare veterans for a "second service" to their country as public servants. We were taught from the very beginning that your goal is NOT to become a politician, nor to get famous. Your goal is to represent the people as a humble public servant. This was quite an adjustment for me, since I have previously stated that politics will not save our country. Nevertheless, as I see things worsening by the day in this country, with partisan and foolhardy rhetoric proliferating on both sides of the aisle, I feel I have a moral obligation to do something.
Bonhoeffer talks about the Gospel revealing itself to "the few remaining just, truthful, and humane people." I believe the just people are the ones currently fighting to have children reunited with their parents at the border, and to stop children from dying in US custody. I believe the last remaining truthful thing to do is admit that Donald Trump is a liar and a self-aggrandizing maniac. I believe the last remaining humane thing to do is reinstate healthcare coverage for the millions who were recently kicked off.
In short, I hope in the future to announce my candidacy as a Democrat for a public office. I don't yet know where or when. All I know is that the polices of the current administration have strayed so far beyond the pale of compassion and human decency that they must be fought by all legal means.
Romans 12:9-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
I'm currently involved in a Linguistics research project analyzing manifestos written by recent mass-killers. My Forensic Linguistics classmates and I have identified three manifestos written by racist scumbags (I have no more polite way to describe them, and may less-polite ways) which we will be studying for linguistic clues about imminent violence, in the hope of finding commonalities which might be useful in analyzing future examples of hate speech to separate the idle racists from the true lone wolves. It's a difficult task, made more difficult by the fact that it requires close analysis of the addled writings of some deeply hateful people.
Since I've spent the last few days analyzing hate, I thought it would be important to get on here and talk about the importance of true fasting again, but in a slightly different sense from before.
You see, as I've become more acquainted with hateful rhetoric, and even bothered to learn how to recognize covert symbols of hate, I've realized that we as followers of Christ are probably not doing enough in our everyday lives to live up to the command of "hate what is evil." It should never be said that the Bible commands us to hate other people, however in this one case it is very clear: we must take an unequivocal stand against evil. We see in this passage a dual responsibility, both to embrace good AND to resist evil. It is not enough for a gardener to love flowers; they must also hate weeds.
After what just happened in New Zealand, we need to make a bolder proclamation than ever that we as Christ followers are against violence towards outsiders. This shouldn't be a controversial statement, but for some reason the American church has been deafeningly silent on the issue of the human dignity of non-Americans. I blame Trump for this. While conservative America has always had some sort of excuse for why foreigners aren't "real" people, I don't think it's any stretch to say that a self-avowed nationalist who has consistently denigrated Muslims is responsible for the recent increase in xenophobia within this country.
The above passage of scripture calls us to love and be kind to others. You do not get to choose whom you will or will not include in that mandate, with the exception of "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." I would never have joined the military if I were a true pacifist, since some people will always have a mind bent on evil. In my opinion, we have a moral obligation to meet such people head on.
For those who abjure violence, I would remind you in the words of George Orwell that, "those who abjure violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." Rather than outsource your violence to police officers, military personnel, or others who could potentially abuse you as easily as the could protect you, why not take it upon yourself, as a person of strong moral conviction, to prepare yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually for the possibility that you may be called upon to resist evil in a morally responsible manner?
I'm J.R., a US Navy veteran and Linguist. This blog is devoted to insights and experiences I've gained over the years.