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WORDsearch 11 Product Evaluation Posted

Posted: Monday, March 21, 2016 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


I published tonight what I imagine will be the last iteration of my WORDsearch Bible Study software product evaluation page.

It’s a more detailed assessment of the various aspects of the program than I’d probably intended to write, especially given my limited use of it these days, but it’s out there. I still get a fairly steady stream of hits on the site for the WORDsearch page, so I felt somewhat duty-bound to update it. But I’d be surprised if I upgraded when version 12 comes out, so this is probably the end of the line for me as a critic of that product. It feels funny to write that – I’ve been pulling this software apart for 12 years – and that’s just the CROSS-based versions.

With this iteration of the WORDsearch page, the custom hacks …errr… tools I’ve had posted as downloads on that page since WORDsearch 8 have been suppressed.

It was great, and I still miss the Discussion Groups.

Over and out.

A Letter to My Teen Daughters, Concerning Racism

Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


It can be difficult for me to get a handle on what I want to say about something, especially on-the-spot. But I wanted to follow up on tonight’s brief post-dinner discussion of something I consider profoundly important in the world today, which is the role the idea of racism plays in the on-going cultural drama of the propagation of modern society’s religious dogmas. I hope you will all find the time to do me the courtesy of reading this through. I have tried to be brief, but that’s a challenge, too…

Some information gleaned from reputable-looking sites on the WWW regarding the KKK: 1

“At its peak in the 1920s, Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide.”

{and then, over the course of a single lifetime—70 years…}

“In the early 1990s, the Klan was estimated to have between 6,000 and 10,000 active members, mostly in the Deep South.”

{and, finally, after having seen its membership drop 99.75% by the last decade of the century…}

“[The KKK] is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.”

These last numbers are from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is basically a left-wing agitprop organization which would be happy to find as many KKK members as they could, in order to prop up the relentless political narrative that “White” culture is awash in “racism”.

On the other hand, while the KKK was busy losing 20% of what little was left of its vanishing membership…: 2

“The American Religious Identification Survey gives Wicca an average annual growth of 143% for the period 1990 to 2001 (from 8,000 to 134,000)”

{so, 25 years ago, there were about as many KKK members as there were Wiccans (~8,000), and then…}

“According to Wikipedia, Wicca “is a modern pagan, witchcraft religion”.  It has been estimated that the number of Americans that are Wiccans is doubling every 30 months, and at this point there are more than 200,000 registered witches and approximately 8 million unregistered practitioners of Wicca.  And it is important to remember that Wicca is just one form of witchcraft.  There are many other “darker” forms of witchcraft that are also experiencing tremendous growth.”

So, the KKK, at 0.0025% or less of the population and declining steadily, continues to be held up as a despised symbol of a rampant moral and spiritual problem that no one can ever really find anymore, except in the hurt feelings of recompense-seeking victims, the self-righteous scoldings of crisis-seeking newsbarkers, celebrity-seeking entertainers, and status-seeking educators, or the mob manipulations of power-seeking politicians.

And yet, there are 1,000 times more Wiccans than Klansmen, at 2.5% of the population and growing rapidly, and nobody seems overly concerned about a crisis of paganism in America – or even one of witchcraft. Indeed, the very entertainers and newsbarkers who inveigh with holy wrath against the scourge of every under-pigmented Oscar nomination slate are quite at home embracing and propagating the cultural “sophistication” of paganism, and in celebrating its bloody sacrifices.

A final, important note on “racism”:

Racism is a word invented in the 1930s to describe Adolf Hitler’s anthropological views, and their political expression. These views were called neo-pagan, because he combined romantic elements of German/Norse paganism with modern, “scientific” ideas, including evolutionism. Evolutionism was a requisite component of his view that Jews in particular (but also others to lesser degrees), were of an inferior race. Hitler did not invent this idea of sub-human species belonging to a different “race”, but he brought it into the heart of Europe from the former colonial lands, and directed it primarily toward the Jews. And he sold it to a willing populace using an egotistically romantic notion of a master race.

You need to posit multiple races in order to have “racism”. On every level, this idea is deeply absurd, and offensive to the truth. The denial of genuine common humanity (never mind superiority/inferiority views, which are actually a distraction from the real evil being sold) is completely at odds with the fundamental Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and hence would render Christianity absurd – the salvational claim of Christianity being that God, in Christ, became one of us (i.e. a member of the one human race) in order that we could become like Him (i.e. divine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity” – prayer at the preparation of the gifts).

The common current public spectacle of calling political and cultural opponents of Liberalism “racists” is absurd, obscene, and despicable – as is the quarrying of “racism” under every phony fig leaf.

But that’s not because the pagan idea of a sub-human species undeserving of the respect due human dignity has disappeared with the Nazis and the last gasps of American race slaving. Far from it. It has simply migrated from the plantations and encomiendas of America, and from the death camps of central Europe, into the abortion mills of what remains of Western civilization.

So it’s not that I actually think “racism” doesn’t exist, it’s just that I think most people are dead wrong about where it lives on today. And it’s a lot easier to thump your chest about the imagined sins of “those” real or imagined people, than to confront your own. Don’t be deceived by these fools.

 

1. The first two quotes regarding the KKK are taken from www.history.com, the third from the Wikipedia entry for the KKK.

2. The two quotes regarding Wicca are taken from thetruthwins.com

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 3 (NoteStacks)

Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2015 (2:02 pm), by John W Gillis


The final element of my evaluation of Lifeway’s version 11 release of their WORDsearch electronic Bible Study platform concerns the only really new feature introduced in this version, which is a brand new knowledge management tool known in various contexts as NoteStack, NoteStacks, Note Stacks, and Card Stacks. This tool seems similar to the Sermons & Illustrations tool that appeared in the prior version, but is geared more toward topically or logically organizing content from library resources. More fundamentally, this is a vastly improved mechanism for annotating non-Bible books in the library, and should replace the use of the “Personal Notes” window available within non-Bibles, which stores annotations in HTML files which are only accessible within the Desktop they were created in, and which not infrequently become unusable after their associated book resource gets updated. For that purpose alone, this tool is a giant step forward. NoteStack notes can be created freehand, but that will not establish links between the Note and the content’s originating resource. However, if you create the NoteStack Note by right-clicking selected text within the original resource, 2-way links are established, and that is how to replace the “Personal Notes” function.

Whereas the created content within the Sermons & Illustrations tool would likely be fairly long-form entries of user-generated writing which may include quotes from library resources, NoteStacks consist of what are essentially electronic index cards (as big or small as you need them to be) which would primarily contain quoted material from library resources, along with associated user notes, reference and/or cross-reference information, and a space to track usage history. These cards are assigned Categories, which serve a very similar purpose to the Tags entries in the Sermons tool. One difference between the tools is that the cards or notes can be bundled together into independent grouping units called stacks, which allows for easy temporary filtering of cards, as for example: identifying a set of cards to group (stack) together as “for next week” without having to create a Category “for next week” and then go and assign (and later un-assign) that Category to each card.

This is a very useful looking tool, which could be employed in a number of different ways. Like pretty much every window in the WORDsearch app, it lacks the polish necessary to really bring the design idea to its full potential, but it is serviceable as-is, and could prove valuable over time to those who use it regularly to annotate and/or tag passages from their non-Bible books.

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 2 (Look & Feel)

Posted: Saturday, October 17, 2015 (2:49 pm), by John W Gillis


The WORDsearch website identifies “Look & Feel” as a new feature, so I will address it as a whole, though the “feature” aspect is really just the new, tabbed user interface as a means of program presentation.

The first thing I noticed upon initial start-up is how grey the interface is now. Anyone who uses the 2013/365 versions of Microsoft Office will find this look familiar. I expect it to be a fad that will pass as soon as Apple releases some new gizmo interface using bright, polished colors. It’s not important either way, and I suppose the overwhelming grey makes those things that are in color stand out all the more in contrast, and is otherwise perhaps less distracting. Of course, some grey color scheme was always an option before, when color schemes were selectable. But now you get grey.

The toolbar icons are supposedly modified to make them easier to find, but they’re mostly not actually very different, except that they are all now basic grey with smatterings of orange, brown, and/or dark blue. The goofy bullhorn icon for the Sermons tool has been replaced by a pulpit figure, so I guess that’s an improvement. However, mostly these buttons were just modified to fit the new color scheme better, and don’t constitute any enhancement. Giving the user the ability to customize the icon locations would be a better means of helping folks find what they’re looking for. Then again, not hiding the NoteStacks icon behind the Sermons icon would be another useful way of helping users find what they’re looking for on the toolbar.

Minor changes to the icons on the book windows themselves seem to better reflect the button function (e.g. the Carousel and Change Book buttons), though the changes to the Sync indicator button, with the new teeny-tiny “D” in the middle of the arrows on “Driver” windows, makes it quite a bit tougher, according to my eyes, to see that status.

The big change in terms of Look & Feel is the three tabs across the top, just below the menu bar. These tabs are now used to display three distinct areas of the application interface: Home, Study, and Library.

The Home tab is a replacement for the EasyStart Screen which used to present itself at program startup. Essentially, it’s a page for ads. It also has some links to external sites, and is not user-editable. There has long been an option in Settings to select a startup screen other than the EasyStart, but EasyStart would ignore that preference setting and impose itself at startup, presumably only if there was new “news” (=new ads) to display in EasyStart, though I never took the time to analyze exactly when/how the preference failed to take. Unfortunately, it looks like the Home tab acts the same way. I was really hoping to be able to permanently hide it. When I’m starting up the application, it’s to get work done, not to read ads. I know where to go if I want to see “what’s new”.

The Study tab displays the primary work environment, which is almost unchanged from what, perhaps confusingly, used to be called the library view. I say “almost” because the row of three tabs under the menu bar actually reduces the vertical space available for your resource windows by about two lines of normal text, and also because the Resource Panel is now gone from the left-hand side, increasing the horizontal space available by either about a two-character width (if you did not keep your Resource Panel “pinned”), or by whatever width you kept your Resource Panel at.

The real significant change here is the replacement for the Resource Panel, which is the Library tab.

The new Library view provides a lot more real estate and an eye-pleasing “covers” view of your books (they call it Grid view), without the logistical challenges of the old Resources pane – which would push your book windows back and forth off the right-hand edge of the display when opening or closing in pinned mode, or hover in a tenuous display over the top of the left-hand windows when set in unpinned mode. However, there is surprisingly little functionality: the text filter remains, but there are no sort options, no visible information beyond book title, and the ability to change/customize the resource Category appears to be gone (this used to be a right-click option on the book).

Right-clicking also used to get you a method to add a resource to Favorites; it is also gone. In viewing the Library (i.e. books) subsection on the Library tab, there is a selectable star for setting and indicating Favorites status, but there is nothing comparable for Verse Lists or Documents. In either available View option (List or Grid), the contents of the main (right-hand) pane is an alphabetical listing of the resources which are contained within the category selected in a small pane to the left. Resources in sub-categories are not displayed when the parent category is selected, nor are the sub-categories themselves displayed, as these are only visible via a manual expanding of the category listing on the left panel. This leads to the odd experience of seeing zero resources available in the selection pane when selecting the Literature category, under which my library currently has 138 resources cataloged in sub-categories.

List view is a single column of titles only, in a large text format, which seems to waste a lot of screen real estate which could now be used for other useful information about each resource (e.g. author, publisher, publishing date, or even user-supplied tags, if the Library function could be made to support them). Multi-select is not available in either view mode.

The user-created resources that have also moved into this screen from the old Resource Panel (Verse Lists, Documents, User Books) have only a List View available, again with no information displayed except titles. While User Books can still belong to Categories, the category info is not visible in the Library tab – it is simply an alphabetical list of all User Book titles. Nor is there any kind of visual cue as to what kind of User Book each item is (in the WS10 Resource Panel, there were different icons for the three types: verse-based (commentaries); word-based (dictionaries); and date-based (journals). The category is shown in the Properties dialog when opened from the button on a User Book’s ribbon in the Study pane, but at least as of this build, the Properties dialog for these resources is completely empty in the Library tab.

Similarly, the List view for Documents no longer provides icon indicators to distinguish between PDFs and HTML files. Document folder locations appear as prefixes to document titles, so I suppose the information displayed is not exactly title only for them, but rather is the filename as a path relative to the WORDsearch “My Documents” folder, minus the filename extension. Gone also are the right-click methods to move documents to another folder, or to add to Favorites, which have taken a significant step backwards in functionality.

Favorites, within the context of the Library tab, has been demoted from a major display category of resources, capable of advertising multiple kinds of resources (e.g. books, documents, verse lists, bookmarks, web links), to a filtering tool within the books resource type. The other resource types are no longer visible within Favorites, although the internal browser continues to display saved web links within its own Favorites listing on the browser’s otherwise uneditable Home Page, which was a secondary way of accessing them before, beyond the Resource Panel’s comprehensive Favorites section.

Unlike documents and verse lists, which can no longer be added to Favorites, favorites in the form of bookmarks can still be created within books, but there is currently no way to view them or access them. The WORDsearch Help page claims that all these are managed within Favorites on the Library tab, so perhaps there is a plan to rehabilitate the classic, multi-purpose Favorites concept (which was quite useful in prior versions), but it is clearly not in place as of version 11.0.3.15.

Finally, there appears to be no connection between the Library tab and Collections, which is not any kind of departure from former design, but which seems to be a missed opportunity to use all the screen real estate now available for managing the library.

All-in-all, as much as I like browsing the cover thumbnails, the new Library tab is functionally inferior to what it replaced, and the inability to see the workspace simultaneously as you browse and open books effectively makes this pane act like the intrusive “pinned” mode of the old Resource Panel only worse – it pushes all books completely out of sight!

Coupled with the fact that it eats up some valuable vertical screen space unnecessarily, I think the development team at WORDsearch might want to re-think this tabbed interface. The “Home” tab is almost completely useless, and could just as well be reverted to a selection item on the View menu, leaving only two real views to consider: Study and Library.

The Library “tab” functionality would be better exposed as a button on the far left of the toolbar (where the F9 Open Book dialog box was just placed), which could be opened up as a resizable window – with at least all its old functionalities restored, please! – and would be a perfect candidate for a window capable of being displayed in the new second workspace.

There’s definitely something to work with here, but the eye candy just doesn’t get any work done by itself.

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 1

Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 (1:21 am), by John W Gillis


Having addressed the installation and setup of the WORDsearch 11 upgrade last week, I have been evaluating the new release, with a particular interest in identifying and assessing what has changed in the upgrade.

The WORDsearch website identifies the following features as new:

  • New! New Look & Feel
    New! LESSONmaker Integration
    New! Cloud Backup/Restore
    New! Second Monitor Support
    New! NoteStack Window
    New! Customizable Toolbar
    New! Topic Explorer and Cross-Reference Explorer Speedup
    New! "Open Book" button on the Toolbar
    The New INFO Panel

Some of these changes are more substantive than others. The reference to “The New INFO Panel” is notable in how it differs in presentation from the other “New!” inducements in the product feature listing. It is also notable in that the Info panel is not new at all, and does not appear to have changed since version 10.

The “Open Book” toolbar button is indeed a new button, which brings up the very handy “F9” library filtering/selection dialog box, but that feature has been available via keystroke for several versions now, and since you need to type into the resulting dialog box to use it, I’m not sure how much help it will be to be able to invoke it with a toolbar mouse-click before typing into it, instead of just hitting F9 and then continuing to type. No harm in having it there, of course, and I can always hide it if I want to, because of the new “Customizable Toolbar” feature…

What that feature consists of is a list within Program Settings of the names of each toolbar button, and an option to select/deselect each. That option allowed me to hide another new button which was a hotlink to smallgroup.com – apparently a commercial partner offering a premium service to WS users. However, what I really would have liked to be able to do with the new “Open Book” button is to move it from its position at the far left end of the toolbar – next to the search-related buttons – down to the area near the middle with the other buttons that are used to open books. That level of customization is not available.

I also feel I should call attention to a strange anomaly on the new toolbar’s configuration: the button for the new NoteStack tool occupies the exact same location as the button for the Sermons & Illustrations tool, and a drop-down arrow is provided to allow the user to set which button is visible. I don’t quite know what to say about that.

The “Speedup” for the Topic Explorer and Cross-Reference Explorer tools appears to be real, based on some side-by-side testing I did of lookups using both WS11 and WS10 on the same PC, but on my machine, that meant the searches went from taking about less than a second to something even faster. That’s great, I guess. For someone with a significantly slower computer, this improvement could deliver more benefit, but it’s an improvement of an already very good performance attribute. For reference, the computer I used is a two and a half year-old HP Envy laptop, running 64-bit Windows 10 Pro on a single Quad-Core i7-4700MQ CPU @ 2.4Ghz, with a 5400-rpm hybrid hard drive, and 16GB RAM (note: the WORDsearch program is 32-bit, so it executes in a 4GB memory space). That’s not exactly cutting edge today, but it is more computer than some WORDsearch users may have available. As they say, your mileage may vary.

There’s not much to say about the new cloud-based option for Backup/Restore, except that it works. It’s a nice option to have, and could be a useful way to keep multiple computers in sync in terms of personal data. I’m a little surprised WS is still backing up Unlock Information, since that is effectively handled now within the cloud by the users’ WORDsearch/LifeWay ID logons.

LESSONmaker is now an integrated piece of WORDsearch. This tool has been around for many years. I think it was previously integrated into the program at one point, but has also at various times been available as a stand-alone program, either bundled with WORDsearch or sold separately. This program combines canned small-group studies on passages or topics with relevant content from selected library resources to produce handouts for study groups. The related library content generation is essentially the Instant Verse Study function without the option of getting content from personal Bible Notes. It simply appends that generated content to the bottom of a study guide for the passage(s) contained within the study chosen from a list of purchased studies. The few studies I’ve looked at over the years seem to consist mostly of the banal “How do you feel about yourself?” variety of questions, though there may be some good lessons material out there I’m not aware of. Again, your mileage may vary. I don’t use it.

One of the more substantive new features is the option to open a second workspace in a child window on a second display, which is opened by activating a toggle button on the toolbar. This is a long-awaited feature which is nice to finally have, but it has its peculiarities.

The only way to place a window in the secondary workspace is to drag it there using the window’s drag handle. So you can drag all the books you want – Bibles, commentaries, lexicons, even User Books – over to the second window, and arrange and dock them as you want. But because only windows with drag handles can occupy the workspace, there are a lot of tools that cannot be moved to the second window:

  • Documents/Word Processor
  • Verse Lists
  • Topic Explorer
  • Xref Explorer
  • Morphological Explorer
  • Verse Explorer
  • Bible Notes
  • Sermons & Illustrations window
  • Card Stacks (aka NoteStack) window
  • Word Definition window
  • History window
  • web browser window

Nor can you place your Search Results window in the second pane. Nor can you show your Library tab in the second window. These are windows that would be very useful to have placed on a second display, especially since many of them take up a lot of screen real estate, and since they have no drag handles are, by definition, not dockable within the program.

You could invert the logic, putting your primary windows like Bibles, dictionaries and commentaries on the second display, and use the various tool windows on the primary display, but you need to note carefully that if you re-click the 2nd Display toggle button on the toolbar, the Workspace pane will close, closing all the resource windows open within it.

Furthermore, neither the Workspace pane nor the resources within it are saved with the Desktop settings if you Save Window Positions, so when you reopen WORDsearch, they will not be open, and you’ll have to open and re-populate the Workspace pane. Still, despite its limitations, it is a welcome improvement.

I will follow-up with analysis of the other two substantive program changes: NoteStacks and the overall application interface (i.e. “Look & Feel”).

WORDsearch 11, initial thoughts: Setup

Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2015 (1:22 am), by John W Gillis


I purchased and installed the new WS11 upgrade last week. I hadn’t been sure I’d actually do it, but after attending a free training session to get some exposure to the new StackNotes feature, I was impressed enough with the potential of the tool to lay out the $40 upgrade fee and give the new version a try.

I downloaded the installer to a network share and ran it on my Windows 10 laptop, but the installer failed with a non-descriptive error, so I copied the installer file to my local desktop, and it ran through to successful completion.

However, the installer did not find my WS10 personal data to import – a fact I attribute to the installer asking for Administrator account authentication, which account it then apparently ran the entire installation under, thus creating the user-specific links and folders in the Administrator user profile instead of under my own user profile. After completion of the installation, the application launched under the Administrator account (as I figured out later), and I did a little preliminary poking around after going through the Settings Helper wizard. As suspected, not much had changed with the application, though it had a somewhat cleaner but duller look (very grey, like the new MS Office). There were a few new things, but aside from appearance, it seemed to be functionally pretty much the same app as WS10. It was several days before I had the chance to look at it again, during which time my PC updated and rebooted.

Prior to re-opening the app, I wanted to find a way to get my WS10 personal data available in WS11. No migration utility presented itself, so I figured I’d live chat tech support to see if there was any programmatic conversion that needed to take place during migration, or if I could just copy and paste. However, it was evening (after work), and I discovered that tech support is only available during the day. Not wanting to wait, and correctly assuming there’s be no harm in copying the user data over, I used the Support Info (Help|About|Support Info) link to my WORDsearch “UserData” folder to jump to the folder within my Windows user profile, then navigated between the WS11 and WS10 folders there to find and copy the data (Desktops/Templates; Collections; Bible Notes; Illustrations database; Favorites; Carousel configurations).

Upon starting up the app, I was prompted to go through the Settings Helper wizard again – likely because the application was now running under my Windows user logon, not the Administrator user. However, the next time I started up the application, I was prompted to install a program update (to 11.0.3.15), which I did. As with the original install, the installer again asked for administrative credentials to execute, after which it launched the WS11 application under the Administrator user ID. This was obvious to me at this point, because I no longer had my personal data available, and the Desktop that loaded was the one I’d been monkeying around with the first night I installed the app. Checking the UserData path in Support Info confirmed this. I shut it down and restarted, and it came up using my user profile. That condition could be pretty confusing for users who don’t understand the underlying PC technology that will be making it look like user data is disappearing and reappearing after running updates.

Having completed setup with a modest amount of pain, I’ve had a chance to investigate a little deeper some of the new (and newer) tools and features, and I hope to post my observations over the next few days, then get my WORDsearch product eval page updated for the new version.

The alleged rape is real, but it is the rape of sexuality itself

Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2015 (9:13 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, September 12th, 2013:

Pete Jermann, writing on-line last week for Crisis Magazine, anticipates that the new school year will see the resurgence of the phony “college rape crisis” narrative that became de rigeur of late, especially last year. Except that Jermann sees that it is not phony at all, but simply a disordered expression of a genuine response to violation, but a violation that encompasses (and implicates!) the entirety of modern “sexual” culture:

 

The crisis is not in the competing true/false allegations of the parties involved, nor in the inability to define rape, but in the underlying hopelessness of lives denied authentic sexual meaning. The real crisis is the forlorn cry of a generation lost in the wilderness of the Sexual Revolution. The alleged rape is real, but it is the rape of sexuality itself.

An excuse for feminist outrage, the manufactured campus rape crisis is a facade behind which lies a ghostly terrain where not only “man,” and “woman,” but “sex,” and “love” are empty shadows of an earlier time. …

The campus rape movement is an outcry of this emptiness. It is the cry of those trapped in a world without meaning, a world seeking love without knowing love. It is not the oft heralded number of one in five college girls that have been raped. It is an entire generation, both male and female.

The campus rape movement is not a continuation of the Sexual Revolution but an inadvertent counter-revolution. It is inadvertent because its proponents consider themselves part of the revolution they challenge. It is a counter-revolution because it seeks meaning in a revolution that destroys meaning. Without help it will fail because it cannot see itself for what it is, for what all lies are, a mass of contradictions. The demand that women be respected falls flat in a culture that has already condemned respect as patronizing male chauvinism. A generation raised on the love of self, a “love” based on feelings of one’s own goodness, cannot understand a “respect” that begins with the denial of self and the consideration of the other. Nor can it understand what it means to respect a “woman” when there is no concept of woman larger than any particular woman, or, in the new transgendered world, even any particular man. The aggrieved women of the campus rape movement demand a recognition of womanhood they themselves do not acknowledge. They seek love without definition of either love or the object loved.

In such a world, one where love has no meaning and feelings are all-meaning, a woman who awakes with bad feelings, whether the morning after or any morning after, has indeed been raped. With sex reduced to good feelings there is no accounting for bad feelings. …

Rape is the crime of sex forcefully taken. The Sexual Revolution is an act of rape that has taken our sexuality itself.

Jermann is simply spot-on. Read the whole article – it’s only 1,500 words. His comments (final paragraph of article – not quoted above) on the sad Columbia “Mattress Girl” saga from last year struck me as exactly true to my almost-despairing thoughts on the matter at the time: there was no side to take in the conflict, no good actors to be found. There was only a poisonous social context, in which these hapless fools were submerged, in which there is simply no readily available option to do good, in which no one remains with a sense even for what virtue is, never mind what it consists of, or how to embrace and embody it.

When I consider what concerns me most about sending my daughter off to college next year, it is precisely that toxic stew of moral imbecility that I fear: not my daughter’s judgment, and not even so much the judgment of others, but the vacuum created by the relentless lies about what it means to be human.

Rumblings From a Deep Slumber

Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2015 (3:23 pm), by John W Gillis


Rumblings from out of a deep slumber at MaybeToday.org, as I turn the lights back on to note some activity…

WORDsearch

LifeWay this week released WORDsearch 11, which is the first major version release in almost four years. I haven’t run the new version yet, and very well may not, at least for the foreseeable future, as the marketing approach being taken ($50 for an engine-only upgrade, discounted to $40 through September) seems hard to reconcile against new product descriptions that identify a few nice-sounding but hardly game-changing improvements to what appears to be basically the same program as version 10.6. It’s not unusual for Bible Study software vendors to provide their engines for free, making their money on either ad-hoc or bundled sales of licenses for ebooks and other resources. It is a complicated situation, and there’s really no way to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but LifeWay’s still seems like an odd approach, at best. I would have expected at least WS11-based packages to be available alongside the engine-only offering.

QuickVerse

With the release of the WS11 upgrade, QuickVerse appears to have disappeared from the wordsearchbible.com store website. In fact, a search for “quickverse” on the website comes back with no results! I’m assuming this spells the end of the line for QuickVerse as a brand. Subsequently, I’ve decided to archive the software evaluation page I had published on the legacy QuickVerse product back in 2009.

Olive Tree

On the other hand, I have begun using Olive Tree’s Bible Study tools, and published a product assessment last night. the app is limited, but a terrific solution for mobile needs.

Publishing assessments of various electronic Bible Study programs was one of my original goals for this site, but that effort got derailed pretty quickly, getting no further than entries for QuickVerse and WORDsearch. I’m telling myself it is a good time to pick up that torch again, but I’ve told myself that before – we’ll see how it goes. It would be a lot of work both to create and to maintain any even remotely comprehensive set of assessments.

The Fish, Out of Matter: R.I.P.

Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2015 (9:49 pm), by John W Gillis


Yes bassist Chris Squire passed away last night at age 67. I don’t usually pay too much attention to what goes on in the entertainment world, as I don’t have much personal investment in it, and never really have. But there have been some exceptions to that. Chris Squire would be pretty close to the top of that exception list.

csSquire had noted on Facepalm® last month that he had fallen victim to a brutal disease, so today’s news was not entirely surprising, but it was disturbing nonetheless, and I’m feeling as if I lost a friend. That’s a silly sentiment, really, considering I never met the man, and may not have gotten on very well with him if we had met. I haven’t had any interest in the music he’s been involved in for the past decade and a half or so, and even the older Yes music can wear a little thin these days.

Yes, as a band, has become little more than a Yes tribute band after parting ways with Squire’s co-founder Jon Anderson several years ago, and, frankly, they’d exhausted their musical genius decades ago. But, at least at the time, it seemed to be a formidable genius, indeed.

My older brother introduced me to the Yes cult when he gave me the Close to the Edge album for my birthday. That would have been late July 1974, when I turned 14. Thinking that the side with two songs looked somewhat more inviting than the side consisting of a single, 18-minute song, I played the second side of the album first. I was absolutely transformed in my relation to music by the end of that first twenty minutes. After spending a few moments in silence, futilely trying to understand what had just happened to me, I flipped the album over and listened to the title track. My wonder and consternation were magnified. As the saying goes: I was blown away.

As he handed me the record, my brother told me that it would cure me of my interest in Grand Funk Railroad. I took that as one of those annoyingly paternalistic things older brothers say to their little brothers to keep the pecking order establishment clear, but by about the time my next birthday had come around, I’d sold all my Grand Funk, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, and other non-Yes albums to a kid up the street, for $10. I would eventually listen to other artists again, but the terms of my engagement with music had forever changed, and there would be no going back to Alice Cooper. For the first time in my life, I’d experienced music as a form of art, and not just as a come-on, or an entertainment.

Prior to my initiation into Close to the Edge, I’d spent many hours listening both to “hit” radio and to albums from popular rock bands, searching for a personally satisfying connection with the music: convinced that such meaning was available for the mining, and invariably disappointed as the music failed to deliver. A satisfying ditty here, a satisfying ditty there, perhaps, but even at that tender age, I knew experientially that the music I was listening to was shallow and contrived; that the excitements it created were ephemeral and, ultimately, phony. But Yes music was different.

It’s not uncommon to hear Yes music referred to as “spiritual”, as one way of distinguishing it from most other rock. I get what’s meant by that, which is to say that Yes music is not vulgar, and that it is open to and even traffics in a certain level of transcendence. But to grasp the importance of that, it is important to understand that all music is spiritual, for better or worse. If it weren’t, it would only be sound, because “spiritual” is really just a synonym for something having meaning, and music, by definition, is the appropriation of sound, as sound, into meaning, expressed in time.

But meaning in music can range from boring monotony to cheap titillation to transformative profundity. There’s nothing unspiritual about cheesy music, it just wallows in the shallow end, and it often leaves the intellect unengaged – if not disengaged. So, we could call such music spiritually incomplete or even impoverished, but it remains spiritual even when it is so in a trite or even denigrating way. Political slogans function in much the same way. We could draw an analogy and say that most pop music relates to music-as-art similarly to the way sloganeering relates to literature (i.e. writing-as-art). It would not be inapt to relate both depraved forms to propaganda. It is not for nothing that sensitive souls have from time to time been alarmed concerning the presence of the demonic in certain music. Nor should we fail to recognize that sacred music actually exists, even if one can hardly find a modern liturgist who is cognizant of that fact. Not all bad music is debauched.

The sensual nature of music implies that it always approaches us at the level of our passions, but it is a further engagement on the intellectual level that allows music (or language) to engage a person in a fully human way, in a way that is spiritually “complete”, and thus to form a deeply penetrating meaning. Yes was by no means the only or even the first rock band that pushed their music beyond the banalities of pop and into a realm of deeper musical meaning, but they took advantage of the opportunities presented by the times to produce work that stands as paradigmatic of the possibility of intellectually serious commercial rock music. Thematic development, intricately interwoven melodic and rhythmic phrasing, shifting modalities and tonal centers, complex meters and metrical diversity, all coupled with the esoterically ambiguous but aesthetically charged character of Anderson’s lyrics: the Yes experience was a compelling introduction for this young teen – and many others like me – to the pursuit of the spiritual goal of art, which metaphysics calls the third transcendental attribute: beauty.

I became a hard-core Yes fan. I absolutely loved their music. For a time at least, being a Yes fan seemed like an important part of who I was. Modern people attach themselves to musical acts – or sports teams, or TV shows, or any number of products and/or ideas – in ways that are pretty totemistic. We wear their logos, or colors, or names, or other symbols. We say that we idolize them, because, well, we do. We “identify” with them, because they somehow provide meaning to us; they mediate some greater, unreachable reality for us in ways that allow us to feel we have at least some small part in it. None of this is particularly healthy, but some attachments are worse than others. I drew the Yes logo on my jacket. I wrote their lyrics on my t-shirts. I put their album covers on my walls. After high school, I dropped most of the outward pieties, although the devotion lingered for years, until I found a better way to what I was really seeking.

I was very glad, at the time, to be a Yes fan, and I’m still glad that I was. In fact, I was blessed to be a Yes fan, because in showing me how the musical genre which modern consumer culture had basically imposed on me (rock) could be used as a vehicle to strive, with excellence, the path to true beauty – and to the awe and wonder which beauty inspires – Yes also showed me the path which leads to the first and second transcendental attributes: truth and goodness. That is to say, Yes ultimately showed me the path that leads to God.

It is true that I was not only already baptized, but lived in a family that honored virtue, and acknowledged Christ as Lord. It is also true that I would eventually have to unfix my eyes from all my “idols” in order to properly turn them to God. Nonetheless, Yes opened my eyes to His reality – whether anything like that was ever the band’s intent or not. This is no exaggeration. I was as convinced an atheist as a 14-year-old can be: disgusted with the world, utterly alienated, and frighteningly self-destructive. I was one sad-sack kid. I still grieve for that kid, constantly. It is a grief that deeply informs my relationships with my own children. I don’t know what would have happened to me if Yes hadn’t happened to me. Yes music was a ray of light in the dreadful darkness of my adolescent existence that started a revolution in my life, however slow-moving that revolution turned.

Though I’ve moved on in many ways, there are still three albums from Yes that I would grab for my proverbial desert island supply. One is Close to the Edge, another is the brilliant Relayer album from 1974. But the third would be the 1975 solo album from Chris Squire: Fish Out of Water. Less brash than the band albums, it sounds like what I once hoped Yes would come to foowsound like as they matured. It didn’t quite work out that way. The album nodded toward the Yes mode in places – the thematic resolution at the 12:00 mark of “Safe” is a minute and a half of probably my favorite rock bombast ever. And the outro that follows it, closing the album, is as gorgeous as electronic music gets. Squire’s distinctive bass playing combined the driving rhythmic foundation of electric bass with a melodic sensibility that really set him apart from other bassists. I always hoped he’d record a second solo album before he retired. He had forty years, but he never did it.

But I am thankful for what he gave the world in his work. I don’t know anything about his personal life, but I hope he died in peace with himself and his world. I pray that his family and friends may be comforted in their grief. And now that he has died and faced his Maker in judgment, I pray that Chris recognizes Him as his Lord and Savior, and that he might know the peace of his Lord telling him that “you will be/safe with Me”. Cue the outro…

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…it was the halting and reversing of a socio-cultural revolution

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 (10:18 pm), by John W Gillis


The lights have been out at this blog for about a year and a half, but I’ve been targeting to get back to it, and even made a few tweaks and updates over the past week in preparation. And I could hardly find a finer way of turning the lights back on than by sharing this illuminating article at TheWeek.com by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who punctures the absurd conceits of the Progressive movement concerning the “inevitability” of social change, by revisiting the origins of the concept of racialism (race & racism) in early modern and – especially – Enlightenment era “scientific” liberalism:

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it started out as a fringe idea and became mainstream seemingly overnight. The idea of studying and classifying “races” as such appears as mostly a sidebar in scientific inquiry in the mid-part of the 18th century, but by the end of the 18th century it’s all over the place and by the 19th century the idea of races is pretty much received wisdom. In the American Colonies, the first person to be legally recognized as a slave was owned by a free black man. While some colonies had laws banning marriage between free persons and slaves, none of them originally had anti-miscegenation laws. These laws were passed in a sudden wave, in a matter of a generation.

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it draped itself under scientific accoutrements. To many people, theories of evolution seemed to naturally indicate that there were different races and that these races had intrinsic traits. “Scientific racism” was all the rage. While we hear about people like James Henley Thornwell, the Southern white Calvinistic preacher who backed slavery, we hear much less about figures like Louis Agassiz, the Swiss-born deist scientist who built a profitable public speaking career in the South promoting scientific racism.

Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it advanced under the banner of moral progress. Racism is inseparable from colonialism and the “white man’s burden” to colonize the lesser races to teach them civilization (at the barrel of a gun if need be — for their own good, of course). Another form of so-called moral progress, enthusiastically embraced by progressive elites and coevally linked with racism, is eugenicism. Margaret Sanger, the doyenne of the family planning movement and great advocate of eugenicism was, like the Ku Klux Klan, a sworn enemy of both inferior races and the Catholic Church (and in fact, spoke at a KKK event and was well received).

Part of Gobry’s point is that the progressive conceit that there is no turning back from social change once it is committed to is refuted, unawares, by progressives themselves every time they toll their signal bell claiming once-for-all social victory over the dark and “ancient” scourge of racism through the Civil Rights movement: the civil rights movement was nothing but the turning back of earlier but still relatively recent moral and cultural “progress” rooted in liberal (i.e. anti-Catholic) ideology.

To me, this is so obvious as to be pretty much self-evident, and I’ve always been baffled by the success of progressivism’s propaganda accusing its opponents (“conservatives”) of being champions of racism. Christian doctrine is as necessarily opposed to racism as it is to same-sex marriage: not simply because it’s a bad idea or evil result, but because it is an absurdity relying on a bogus premise concerning the nature of the human being, one which ultimately denigrates the race through mockery of just what it means to be a human being, created in the image of a God who is Father of all. But a lie can travel half-way around the world…