Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's A Knockout!

In graphic design circles, a "knockout" is a photographic or artistic image in which an object is digitally separated from its background so that it can be placed against white, black or any solid color, or against any other background image, such as a gradient, a texture, a pattern, or even a separate photo or artistic image.

When such an image is placed in a desktop publishing program such as Adobe InDesign, one has the option of stipulating that text placed adjacent to the image will wrap around the irregular contours of the image, rather than wrapping around a square or rectangle which encloses the image. This is known as a "runaround". So if you want to create a "runaround" (which you most certainly will want to do if you love Dion DiMucci's old song "Runaround Sue"), you'll either need a vector image (such as one might create in CorelDRAW! or Adobe Illustrator or Freehand), or you'll need to create a photo with its own "clipping path" (also known as a "knockout") in Photoshop or another program capable of creating such clipping paths.

All runarounds require the creation of knockouts (except for those involving vector drawings), but not all knockouts are suitable for the creation of clipping paths. A clipping path is essentially a vector shape which delineates the boundaries of the object. But vector shapes, by definition, can't have soft edges (although one can simulate the look of such edges by creating gradients from within vector objects). A knockout, on the other hand, is any separation of the object from its background.

In Photoshop, there are multiple ways to create "knockouts". One way is to create a selection around an object, using one of the many selection tools, including painting tools which can be used in QuickMask mode or on Layer Masks (either of which which can later be saved as Alpha Channels, so that they can be applied during future editing sessions even after objects have temporarily been deselected, and so that they can also be applied to other Photoshop files). Now, those painting tools include soft-edged tools such as the Airbrush tool.

The thing is, you can convert such selections to vector objects (known as "paths" in Photoshop), and you can use those paths in order to create exportable clipping paths which can be used in programs such as InDesign for text runarounds, but they won't retain their soft edges.

One can adjust the fidelity of such conversions from selections to paths, in order to increase or reduce the total number of Bezier control points in the path. The more control points there are, the more likely it is that the resulting vector paths will faithfully replicate even the most intricate details in the original selections. That may or may not be a good thing. If you have a somewhat shaky hand when you're drawing, then creating a vector shape with a reduced number of control points can be one way to create smoother lines and curves. You may have to edit the control points slightly afterwards, though, in order to cause them to conform to the original shape as much as possible. The fewer control points there are, the greater the likelihood that the resulting shape won't precisely follow the original shape.

You should also know that vector graphics and raster graphics are different in terms of how their contents affect file sizes.

All digital photos and scanned images are considered to be "raster" graphics. The files contain detailed information about the specific pixels in the image. The file size of raster graphics is determined by the resolution and bit depth of the file, and also by whether or not compression is used, and by the type of compression and the settings used when compressing the file.

With vector graphics, such as paths, the actual number of pixels is continuously variable and infinitely scalable, since the digital file doesn't actually store information about actual pixels. Instead, it stores instructions pertaining to shapes, and the contents of those shapes, and then the actual number of pixels is determined by the settings used for displaying or printing the image and by the specific characteristics of the display device or the printing device.

Generally, vector graphics are far more efficient than raster graphics in terms of data storage, because it takes far less data to describe a shape and its contents than it takes to describe every individual pixel of which that shape is comprised. But whereas the file size of raster graphics is determined by the factors I've previously mentioned, the file size of vector graphics is determined, in part, by the number of control points. So simple vector shapes take up less data space than complex vector shapes. It is possible, using some sophisticated raster-to-vector conversion programs, to create vector illustrations which will almost (but not quite) fool you into thinking that you're looking at a photo or raster illustration. But it should go without saying that such images feature far more control points than simpler vector illustrations. They still retain certain advantages over their raster counterparts, in terms of infinite scalability, but their advantage in terms of file sizes is likely to be somewhat diminished.

It's also possible, in some cases, to produce vector illustrations which are so complex that their code causes output devices or computers to crash when attempting to perform the vector-to-raster conversions which are necessary for printing purposes. It's important to be sure that one's RIP workstation has sufficient memory for such purposes when printing such illustrations. Obviously, that isn't nearly as much of an issue as it used to be, since it isn't uncommon to see computers with several gigabytes of RAM, but it's still something to be aware of.

If you're a musician (as I am), you may compare raster graphics to digital audio files (where the digital code represents and then recreates the actual sounds), and you may compare vector graphics to MIDI files (where the code merely stores instructions which are then interpreted by the output device, such as a digital keyboard, or a MIDI sound module such as a sampler, or a "virtual instrument" which streams from a computer's hard drive during playback).

Now, the most typical use of "knockouts" may be for commercial applications, where products being offered for sale via catalogs or flyers or e-commerce websites are separated from their original backgrounds and then placed against solid white backgrounds or other similarly simple backgrounds which make it much easier to focus on the products themselves without being distracted by superfluous details.

Vector paths are particularly well-suited when it comes to creating such knockouts, because many products such as electronic devices, cars and so forth lack the soft edges which might be seen in portraiture and other images of that type. But there are exceptions. Teddy bears, for instance, are soft and fuzzy. It's unlikely that a vector selection around a soft and fuzzy teddy bear would look as good as a raster-based selection, if one were to closely inspect the edges of the image. But even in such cases, the requirements of commerce aren't usually as demanding as the requirements of fine art, so it's possible to use paths for such purposes and still get an acceptable result.

If you're accustomed to creating vector graphics and working with Bezier curves and control points on a regular basis, then creating paths in Photoshop ought to be easy. But others, such as myself, tend to prefer raster based tools because they feel more like traditional media such as paintbrushes and pencils. If one only works with vector objects occasionally, creating the appropriate paths is possible, but it can be time consuming.

That's why it's good to know about, run by a company which does virtually nothing other than to create vector paths for raster objects in Photoshop. Personally, if I were asked to create a large catalog or e-commerce website which required a lot of knockouts, I might be tempted to use their services so that I could focus on other aspects of production.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alesis Products for the iPod

Here's a link to an announcement pertaining to the new Alesis ProTrack, which looks like a very cool product for people who want to record professional sound using an Apple iPod (including the iPod nano). Alesis also makes a number of other, physically larger products for that purpose, including the Multiport, the iMultiMix 8 USB, and the iMultiMix 16 USB. But the ProTrack is the first unit to essentially turn the iPod into a highly capable digital field recorder which can easily be transported to the recording site by virtually anyone.

The one thing that the ProTrack seems to lack is separate transport controls. There is a button labeled "Recording Mode", so I'm guessing that the use of that button does at least speed up access to the iPod menu items which control the "transport". But the MultiPort seems to be the smallest unit which actually features physical transport controls for the iPod. Both iMultiMix units also feature such controls. I can't seem to find the physical dimensions for the Multiport on the Alesis website (not even in the PDF brochure for the product), but it's obvious from looking at a photo of the unit that it's very, very compact.

If I were to record a music practice session using the ProTrack and an iPod, I'd get an iPod with very high capacity, engage the Record command, and then just let the thing run, rather than starting and stopping the machine with every separate take. That would minimize the hassles associated with the lack of dedicated transport controls. Since an 8GB iPod nano could record an extremely long audio recording, it would be a simple matter to record an entire session (much longer than any musician could easily endure) onto the machine. Then I'd import the recording into audio editing software (such as Sony SoundForge Audio Studio, or Audacity), review the session, and use digital editing capabilities to extract the best recordings from the overall recording in order to create new, much smaller files consisting of individual tunes.

Now, with the exception of the Zoom H4, hardly any of the compact digital field recorders which are currently available support low impedance studio condenser microphones which require phantom power, so it's great to see that the ProTrack supports such microphones. I no longer have my Rode NT4 Stereo Mic, which I had to sell in a time of financial need in order to raise funds, but it was a very nice microphone, so it's nice to know that it would work with the ProTrack if I wanted to buy another NT4 mic in the future. Rode also makes the NT5, which is a set of microphones which are specifically designed for stereo recording. That might be even better in some respects, because it would offer more flexibility in terms of positioning the microphones, which might be very beneficial when recording piano, since one could position one piano over the bass strings and another over the treble strings, close to the soundboard so as to minimize feedback and ambient room noise.

Of course, the ultimate piano mic may well be the Earthworks PianoMic system. Of course, that assessment is based on what I've read about the product, not on personal experience, since I can't afford the hefty $3,595.97 price of the product! Sweetwater Sound sells the product via this web page. Maybe someday I'll be able to afford such a system. And while I'm dreaming, I might as well dream of getting my own Fazioli grand piano as well. (It's an awesome instrument!)

The ProTrack would also be very useful for recording any digital keyboard with standard professional 1/4" instrument outputs, such as the very nice Yamaha CP300 digital stage piano (which would be my current choice, if I could afford it).

In the past, I had the idea of creating a service to be known as Mini Mobile Music. It would offer recording options to people who didn't want to pay high prices for access to gear they didn't need, but who instead simply wanted high-quality stereo digital recordings of practice sessions, recitals, and performances where on-site multitracking wasn't needed. (Naturally, one could import such recordings into DAW software programs in order to overdub additional instruments later on.)

The ProTrack would also be great for recording audiobooks, speeches and lectures, interviews, podcasts, sound effects (known as Foley effects in the movie business), ambient environmental sounds, and a wide variety of other types of audio recordings. An 8GB iPod would have the ability to record many hours worth of continuous CD-quality audio (limited only by the battery life of the iPod and the ProTrack). And of course, one also has the option of using an iPod with a hard drive instead of flash memory. But flash memory tends to be a bit more stable and rugged (if not completely indestructible), so I'm inclined to think that a nano might be better for many purposes. Also, the nano is more compact, which is always a benefit where mobile audio recording is concerned.

This particular blog post has focused on recording products, but Alesis also makes some other cool iPod products for live music playback, DJ applications, and more.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Free Form Database Software

For four years, I was the Management Information Systems Specialist (a/k/a Database Specialist) for YMCA Child Welfare. I used Microsoft Access, and I grew to love that program's powerful capabilities in terms of queries, reports and other tools which enabled me to manage all kinds of information. But Access databases required a certain amount of setup and planning. One couldn't just start entering information and expect to be able to easily organize and find what you wanted later on.

Tornado Notes (long since defunct) was a free form database program introduced in the 90's. It was later updated and given a new name, Info Select. That program is still being sold today, by a company known as MicroLogic.

Another free form database program which has been around for a very long time is known as AskSam.

Where these programs excel is in enabling one to manage information contained in word processed documents, text files, HTML web pages, PDF files and many other types of files. I don't think that such programs will ever replace traditional relational databases such as Access, but I personally would want to have both types of programs on my own computer, since I'm a bit of an "information junkie". (I also store tons of information on 3x5-inch index cards I carry just about everywhere. I guess some folks would say that was anachronistic, but paper still has its place. For one thing, battery power isn't an issue when one's primary method of recording information is not electronic!)

WWJD About Attending Gay Weddings?

I get an e-mail newsletter from, and the most recent mailing contained a link to this thought-provoking article, in which the author essentially argues that Jesus would have him to demonstrate the love of God to his gay friends by attending their wedding, even though he clearly disapproves of such weddings. (I don't think he'd even be asking the question about what Jesus would do if he approved of such weddings.)

His argument is an interesting one, but I think that the answer he has arrived at is the wrong answer. Consider the following hypothetical arguments:


Jesus would have me to love my neighbor. My neighbor happens to derive great pleasure from attending dog fights which often result in the death of one or more pit bulls. I don't approve of dog fighting, but I don't want to alienate my neighbor, and he's invited me to attend the dog fight scheduled for next weekend. So I've decided to go and watch as the two dogs viciously attack each other, while grown men bet on the winners and losers, in order to show my love for my neighbor and hopefully win him over to Christ.

Jesus would have me to love my neighbor. My neighbor happens to derive great pleasure from sexual orgies involving numerous people, and occasionally children and even animals. I don't approve of such sexual relationships, but I don't want to alienate my neighbor, and he's invited me to attend the orgy scheduled for next weekend. So I've decided to go and watch as the twenty or more people engage in all kinds of sexual acts with one another, in order to show my love for my neighbor and hopefully win him over to Christ.

Jesus would have me to love my neighbor. My neighbor just informed me that she will be visiting the local abortion clinic next weekend in order to abort her unborn child. I don't approve of abortion, but I don't want to alienate my neighbor. So I've decided to go and stand by her side in the operating room as she murders her unborn child, in order to show my love for my neighbor and hopefully win her over to Christ.

Jesus would have me to love my neighbor. My neighbor isn't a Christian, she's a Wiccan. Every now and then, she and her coven spend the weekend at the lake, where they like to shed all of their clothes and sing praises to their deities. I don't want to alienate my neighbor. So I've decided to go and watch as she and her friends worship the Horned God and the Great Mother goddess in the nude, in order to show my love for my neighbor and hopefully win her over to Christ.


By now, I think it ought to be clear about where I stand on the question of whether or not one should attend a gay wedding. Yes, we should show the love of Christ to all people, even to unbelievers who regularly participate in evil or sinful activities. But we need to be careful, lest our naive attempts to show the love of Christ should be interpreted as condonation. To attend a gay wedding would be to implicitly endorse such a wedding. I personally could not and would not do such a thing, any more than I would attend a cruel dog fight or a sexual orgy or an abortion or a pagan worship service. If the only way to stay friends with the types of people who engage in such activities is to implicitly endorse their activities, then our choice ought to be clear.

James 4:4 states that friendship with the world is enmity towards God. I don't think that that means that we can't have friendly conversations with unbelievers who are caught up in sin. Jesus' willingness to associate with heathens and tax collectors ought to demonstrate the fallacy of such an interpretation. But I do believe that there is a clear line in the sand, which we as Christians dare not cross. Even unbelievers have a greater tendency to respect Christians when Christians demonstrate integrity by acting in accordance with our convictions.

It is possible to be friends with an unbeliever, but when we compromise our moral values in the name of showing the love of Christ, we also become friends with the world and with the "god of this world" (Satan). That is clearly unacceptable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Call Them McMorons

I thought that you might find the following e-mail exchange to be enlightening.
The first letter was sent to the McDonald's Corporation by myself, in response to an e-mail message I had received that same day. The second letter was sent by McDonald's to me, in response to my letter.

Here's my letter to McDonald's:
I received an e-mail from Tony Perkins, who regularly sends me his e-mail newsletter. The following quote from the newsletter greatly disturbed me."'Haters.' That's how Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman, describes customers who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds."

Hmmm. I guess that makes me a "hater," then, because I find the gay agenda to be dispicable, particularly in relation to the social ramifications of the absurdly irresponsible idea that gay people aren't responsible for their thoughts or actions, when sexuality is concerned, because those thoughts are allegedly the result of genetic programming. I find it pathetic that grown adults refuse to take personal responsibility for their lifestyle choices.

Do I endorse acts of violence against gays? No, of course not. I don't hate gays, any more than I hate people who are held captive by sinful lifestyles involving heterosexual adultery or other acts which are equally sinful. But I do hate it when people who claim to respect civil liberties demonstrate the insincerity of that alleged respect by disrespecting the rights of people to think for themselves with regard to matters of morality, rather than automatically swallowing whatever the PC Police decide to serve up on the menu.

Stick to making burgers, McDonald's. When it comes to intelligent commentary about social and moral issues, you're in way over your heads.
And here's the response I got from McDonald's today.

Hello Mark:

Thank you for contacting McDonald's. We appreciate this opportunity to share information regarding our commitment to our employees as well as the communities that we serve.

First, it's important to note that McDonald's respects and values people. Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives and integral components of McDonald's culture. We believe that by embracing our differences we are better enabled to value and respect other people as well as understand differing points of view.

We have a long and proud history of leadership in these areas. We continually strive to maintain an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted. We encourage employees to recognize and appreciate the contributions that all diverse groups and individuals bring to the McDonald's system.

Thank you for sharing your personal point of view on this topic with us.

McDonald's Customer Response Center
O.K., first of all, it ought to be clear to anyone reading Kayla's reply that it's a canned (boilerplate) response. While it's obvious that she did read my letter, she doesn't make any effort whatsoever to address any of the specific points I made in the letter or to acknowledge the inherent contradiction between McDonald's alleged desire to "understand differing points of view" and its inflammatory use of inaccurate and needlessly pejorative language when describing conservative Christians who disagree with the idea that homosexuality is a genetically inherited trait, and who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds. Apparently, attempting to understand conservative Christians such as myself is not on the McDonald's menu of options.

Kayla writes, "We continually strive to maintain an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted." Everyone, that is, except for conservative Christians. Apparently, it's perfectly O.K., in the view of the McDonald's Corporation, to describe such people with offensive terms such as "haters". (If there was any doubt in my mind as to the accuracy of the information I received from Tony Perkins, Kayla's reply erased that doubt. If Bill Whitman had not described people such as myself as "haters," then I'm sure that Kayla would have hastened to correct the error. She did not.)

Paradoxically, the result is that McDonald's attempt to be tolerant of everyone is that they have displayed extreme intolerance towards conservative Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful.

I could understand a phrase such as "embracing our differences" if we were talking about differences over which people have little or no choice, such as ethnicity or gender. But people do have a choice over what they think (including sexual desires) and how they act (including sexual activities). There is no way to "embrace" such differences without tacitly endorsing them to some extent. And in spite of the language which seems to suggest that McDonald's Corporation wants to maintain a position of neutrality on issues such as the morality of homosexuality, they contradict that language when they use pejorative language to describe conservative Christians. There is nothing even remotely neutral about describing such people as "haters".

It's typical of the doublespeak I have come to expect from liberals throughout the land. Nat Hentoff described the phenomenon with great accuracy in his book "Free Speech For Thee But Not For Thee". Now, Hentoff writes for a very liberal publication (The Village Voice), and his book does include an indictment of conservatives who are intolerant of free speech. But that isn't the main focus of the book. What is striking about the book and the many examples which he provides is the wide chasm between the rhetoric often seen in the speeches and writings of liberals who claim to value civil liberties and the incredibly intolerant manner in which many of those same people typically deal with the views of those with whom they disagree (particularly on most secular college campuses, where liberalism reigns supreme). As one review states, "I've always thought it ironic that the left portrays itself as having a lock on being open-minded, yet it is all too happy to restrict speech that presents a contrary point of view."

When one's opposition to homosexuality makes one a target for people who would respond to such opposition by describing one as a "hater," the effect of such a characterization is to inhibit (or attempt to inhibit) one's right to express one's own opinions. Opposition to homosexuality is not invariably tantamount to hatred for homosexuals, and the promotion of the idea that the two things are invariably synonymous is tantamount to slander, just as it would be slanderous to argue or imply that all homosexuals were child molesters.

I wouldn't expect for McDonald's to risk offending its gay customers by making public statements repudiating homosexuality and calling it sinful. But neither would I have thought they would be so stupid as to risk alienating the sizable number of conservatives on the other side of that social issue. It seems clear to me that the corporate culture in Oak Brook is increasingly dominated by liberals with a very clear political agenda which is utterly unrelated to the best business interests of the McDonald's Corporation.

It's tempting, on one level, for me to boycott McDonald's in response to their hateful description of conservative Christians such as myself as "haters," but I doubt seriously that it would do any good. I lack the resources to mobilize a huge force of fellow boycotters, and even if I had those resources, it's likely that a boycott would have very little effect on McDonald's. Why do I say that? Because a boycott is ultimately an attempt to appeal to people on the basis of reason. It assumes that they can be persuaded to adopt a different course of action by making them aware that they are hurting themselves in terms of their ability to continue to make a profit and achieve their business goals. But McDonald's Corporation is such a massive entity that thinking about that corporation reminds me of the old joke: "Where does a huge gorilla sit? Anywhere it wants to sit." They're so massive and so successful that they can afford to alienate a select segment of the population (conservative Christians) and to lose our business. Maybe that wouldn't be true if there were more conservative Christians with real backbone, but my own perception is that that isn't the case. It's sad, but true, that far too many Christians have capitulated to the gay agenda, having bought into the erroneous idea that loving people the way Christ wants us to love people means refraining from speaking out against depravity.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a news item which is relevant to this blog post.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Digital Camera Resolutions Just Keep Growing

According to this article at (probably the most useful news source on the Web insofar as digital cameras are concerned), Hasselblad has just announced a new camera (the H3DII-50) which will offer resolution of 50 megapixels (with an 8176 x 6132 pixel array). It will use the new Kodak KAF-50100 Image Sensor, which measures 36mm x 48mm (roughly twice the size of a sensor with the same 24mm x 36mm measurements of a 35mm film frame). To give an idea of what 50 megapixel resolution means, the article about that sensor says the following:
At 50 million pixels, or megapixels, the sensor captures digital images with unprecedented resolution and detail. For instance, with a 50 megapixel camera, in an aerial photo of a field 1.5 miles across, you could detect an object about the size of a small notebook computer (1 foot by 1 foot).

Considering that it's possible to get a fairly high quality photo print at a printing resolution of 200 pixels per inch, that would mean that uninterpolated digital files from the new Hasselblad could be enlarged to sizes as large as 40.88 inches by 30.66 at that 200 ppi resolution. The key word here, of course, is "uninterpolated". With any number of excellent digital enlargement programs, considerably larger prints should be quite feasible.

Of course, the Hasselblad camera won't be inexpensive, by a long shot. (Somehow, that phrase "long shot" seems particularly appropriate in light of the preceding quotation.) But prices on groundbreaking digital cameras invariably go down dramatically as time goes by. (I'm old enough to remember when Kodak DSLR cameras with a mere 6 megapixels of resolution were priced at something approaching $20,000! My, how times have changed.) In any event, the days when people could say that digital photography was incapable of approaching the quality of film photography have obviously passed into the mists of history.

50 megapixels is still low resolution in comparison with the resolution of the BetterLight digital camera backs used by professional service companies specializing in giclee reproductions of art. But BetterLight backs are digital scanning backs, designed to be used with large format view cameras and tethered to computers (usually in a studio environment, although they can also be used outdoors in order to take landscape or architectural photos with incredible detail). The BetterLight backs can't be used for photojournalism or sports photography, the way that Hasselblad cameras can, since they can't take photos of sports scenes or other fast-moving subjects. So the Hasselblad is clearly yet another breakthrough. (Previously, their highest resolution was around 39 megapixels.)

The Kodak sensor used in the new Hasselblad is designed to have a wide dynamic range, but its sensitivity range of 50 to 400 is lower than the range of some other digital cameras, so it isn't necessarily the best choice for photos in extremely low light. But improvements are sure to follow as time goes by.

UPDATE: As of the beginning of September 2008, I just read about a new digital camera back, made by Phase One, with a resolution of 60 megapixels ("with 8984 x 6732 active pixels achieving 180 MB, 8 bit RGB files")! It's the P 65+. Needless to say, it's extremely expensive. Here's a link to the official web page pertaining to the product.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Step In The Right Direction

This link will take you to a story about a recent court decision which ought to warm the heart of any committed pro-lifer such as myself.

I particularly like the line, in the sixth paragraph, which refers to a "willful act of ideological blindness". That's exactly what it takes for a person to deny the incontestable scientific facts pertaining to fetal development. It is not a matter of religious dogma to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child.

Sooner or later, the people of this nation are going to wake up to the manner in which liberals and Democrats have repeatedly practiced the art of obfuscation when discussing the issue of abortion. The bottom line is that the unborn child is a human being, and an innocent human being at that. It is a cold, heartless and unprincipled nation which denies the fundamental right to life to a large number of innocent human beings living within its borders and then rationalizes that denial using the flimsiest of excuses.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Barack Obama On Religion And Government

Recently, when expressing his views about the role religion ought to play in relation to the governance of this nation, Barack Obama stated that he believed that it was wrong to assert that moral values and religious convictions had no place in the public square. Up to that point, I strongly agreed with him. But then he went on to discuss his reasons for believing that abortion should remain legal. In my view, those reasons were unpersuasive.

He said, "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason."

It might surprise Barack Obama, if he knew about my passionate commitment to the pro-life cause, to learn that I agree with that statement. Obama's error (which is strongly implied, but not clearly stated) is his belief that the pro-life agenda constitutes a "religion-specific value" (comparable, say, to a belief in the Holy Trinity or baptism by immersion), and that it is not "subject to argument, and amenable to reason".

If I honestly believed that his characterization of the pro-life position was an accurate characterization, and that the imposition of laws prohibiting abortion would amount to state endorsement of one sectarian religious belief in a manner which would come perilously close to establishing a theocracy or a state religion, then I would very likely be "pro-choice" myself, because I do believe that freedom of religion ought to be protected in this nation. But I think that the argument Barack is making against such laws is refutable nonsense. I've heard too many excellent arguments against abortion which were derived from reason --- not from scripture or any other type of religious revelation --- to buy into the idea which Obama is trying to sell us. Without in any way disavowing my own strong belief in Christ, I want to say that it is not necessary to believe in Christ, or even in God, in order to believe on the basis of rational arguments and scientific evidence that unborn children are human beings who possess the same fundamental and nonnegotiable rights as those which are possessed by all other human beings.

A good example, it seems to me, can be found in the story of the former abortionist known as Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Some people might think that's a bad example, because Nathanson is now a committed Catholic. But that wasn't always the case. He still identified himself as a Jewish atheist when he wrote his groundbreaking pro-life book Aborting America. As he was faced with more and more evidence which contradicted the beliefs he'd promoted during his early years as one of the founders of the pro-choice movement in America, he eventually concluded that he'd been actively involved in an egregious assault against human life and dignity. As he clearly stated in the book, it was reason (and scientific evidence from new sources such as ultrasound technology), not religious dogma, which persuaded him that he had erred in choosing to promote and practice abortion.

One of my criticisms of the pro-life movement pertains to the strategically unwise decisions, on the part of some pro-life leaders, which have helped to feed the myth that abortion is primarily a religious issue. I could go into greater detail, but suffice it to say that even if there is a legitimate time and place for saying the rosary (and I, being a non-Catholic, am inclined to think that there is not), a pro-life rally designed to change the minds of unbelievers in such a way that they will support anti-abortion legislation is not that time or place.

Belief in the right to life from conception until natural death is no more a matter of "religion-specific values" than belief in the right to freedom from slavery for all human beings. For easily explained reasons, religious leaders (such as Dr. Martin Luther King) have always been at the forefront of movements to expand the definition of who is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. That fact does not make such movements "religious" movements.

In some ways, Barack Obama is a very perceptive man. If he ever manages to get past his misconceptions about issues such as abortion, he might eventually have the makings of a great leader. For the time being, though, my vote will be given to McCain.

My Kind of Weather

With the exception of the weather yesterday, which got too hot and uncomfortable for my tastes, the weather has been great here in Chicago lately. Not too chilly to prevent one from going outdoors wearing little more than a pair of pants and a short sleeved shirt. Not so hot that one can't lie down in bed at night (in a room with no air conditioning) without waking up with a sweaty neck and a drenched pillow. says that it's currently 66 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 60% and a "dew point" of 52 degrees Fahrenheit. It says that the 66 degrees actually feels like 66 degrees. Like I said, my kind of weather.

Does God know what weather makes people the most comfortable, and what weather makes people the most uncomfortable? Of course he does. He's omniscient, which means that he knows everything. So why isn't the weather here on earth perfectly tailored for us all of the time? I think that the answer has something to do with the Fall, which not only tainted the hearts of men and women, but also had a negative impact on all aspects of God's creation.

I suspect that the weather in heaven will be perfect all the time. Nevertheless, just in case God needs a hint or two in order to properly prepare things for us, I like to drop a request in the divine suggestion box now and then. I'll say things (under my breath, of course) like, "Lord, this weather is really, really nice today. I hope you'll remember that this is the kind of weather that I like, when I get to heaven."

Of course, there are those who can anticipate weather, in the afterlife, which will make the hottest weather we've ever experienced seem refreshing in comparison.

I would like to think that I'll never have to experience the fiery torments of hell, but I know in all honesty that if I do get a heavenly reward, it will be on account of God's mercy, not on account of my own good works.

UPDATE: The really amazing part about this blog post is that the weather recorded in the blog post wasn't just a fluke. It's now August 18, 2008 as I type this update, and the weather outside is marvelous! In fact, it's been marvelous almost every day this summer, in terms of the temperature. There have been a few thunderstorms, but otherwise, it's been extremely comfortable.

But ignore what your senses tell you, ignore the readings of the thermometer, and pay attention to the "global warming" doomsayers instead. In case you can't tell, that last sentence was meant to be extremely sarcastic.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Those Disingenuous Democrats

Last year around this time, Time magazine published an article about how the Democratic party had finally begun to reach out to people who were passionate about their faith in Christ. A woman named Amy Sullivan wrote an entire book, entitled The Party Faithful, about that shift in strategies among leaders of the Democratic Party. And a recent article in Christianity Today suggests that Barack Obama, whatever his other flaws might be, understands that dismissing such voters or denigrating them for their beliefs is no longer a viable political option.

These might all be signs for rejoicing, if it were not for the fact that the fundamental platform of the Democratic party with regard to issues such as abortion and gay rights is based on the absurd notion that the illegalization of practices which happen to be condemned in disproportionate numbers by devout Christians is a violation of the First Amendment solely on account of that fact.

Opposition to homosexuality and the gay agenda is not an intrinsically religious position, although it certainly is true that the majority of those who oppose those things happen to be stalwart believers in Christ. The promotion of the homosexual agenda ought to disturb anyone, Christian or otherwise, who understands the full societal implications of accepting the premise that people are genetically programmed to think and act the way they do. Acceptance of that premise opens a Pandora's box which has the potential to undermine the fundamental idea (which is essential for a well ordered society) that it is legitimate to hold people accountable for their actions.

But even though I am disturbed by the promotion of the gay agenda, the gravity of that issue pales in comparison with the issue of abortion. Gay marriage, as offensive as it might be to those of us who understand the extent to which it undermines biblical definitions of marriage and family, does not involve the deliberate killing of more than a million people every year. Abortion does.

For many years, the liberals who have ruled the Democratic party have vehemently denied that faithful Christians deserved an equal voice with regard to matters of life and death, such as the issue of abortion. Anyone who dared to suggest that unborn children deserved legal protection from those who would deprive them of their right to life was assumed to be a fanatical zealot bent on returning America to the days of the Inquisition, even in the absence of evidence which would support such an assumption.

If indeed the Democratic party has finally realized how incredibly offensive and undemocratic that claim is and always was, that's great. The question is this: Will it eventually dawn on Democrats that their (allegedly) revised attitude about religion and religious people also requires a revision of attitudes about matters directly impacted by their longstanding hostility towards religion and towards people of faith? Or will they continue to parrot the same tired old arguments, which have long since been disproven, to the effect that the enactment of pro-life legislation would undermine the separation of church and state? That, to me, is the real issue.

No matter how "friendly" Barack Obama may seem towards religion and religious people, the bottom line, for me, is that his radical pro-abortion political views are contrary to everything that I believe good government ought to be. Protecting the most vulnerable members of our society from exploitation and abuse and the deprivation of their God-given rights is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of any legitimate government, whether one is talking about the elimination of slavery during the 19th century or the elimination of abortion during the 21st century. I have seen no persuasive evidence to suggest that there is any justification for the denial of such legal protections insofar as unborn children are concerned. It is not a matter of religious dogma, nor was it ever a matter of such dogma. One can make a strong case against legalized abortion without ever uttering a single argument which relies for its veracity upon religious premises (unless one is talking about the premise, which is explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence, to the effect that human rights are inalienable for the precise reason that their origin is divine).

Barack Obama and others within the Democratic party would like you to believe that their party has turned over a new leaf. They would like you to believe that they are no longer hostile to Christians or to Christian values. But actions speak louder than words. When Democrats begin to demonstrate a newfound respect for the innate right to life of all human beings, from conception until the time of natural death, then their claims will begin to have some credibility. Until then, my advice is that you should view their claims with a great deal of skepticism. When it comes to electing the person who will lead the United States for the next four years, we would do well to worry less about the person's level of church attendance and the amount of religious rhetoric typically uttered by the person when making speeches, and to worry more about how that person's faith translates into policies which treat all human beings in a manner which is consistent with the faith which that person claims to possess. Neither party does this perfectly, to be sure, but it's my opinion that the party which condones the legal killing of more than one million unborn children every year has the worst record when it comes to respect for human rights, notwithstanding their claims to the contrary.