Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Extrapolation Principle

 The Extrapolation Principle is the application of the idea that God is aware of everything, including human thoughts.

Consider: if you thought of something, then if it was the case that your idea is totally novel, such that God would not have thought of it, then your thoughts could catch God by surprise. He would be, in some sense, ignorant. We know this can't be true, because He is all-knowing.

This also means that, if you can think of a possible reason for why God might have done something, then, provided your thought process is logically sound and not in contradiction to some known Biblical truth, it is reasonable to believe that that thought would have entered into God's decision-making process, as a supporting reason for making the choices that He did.

That's basically it, for this post. I can't make it clearer with more words. But I figure I'll share an example of what I mean, that happens to be what I was thinking about when I formulated this thought.

~ ~ ~

I was contemplating marriage when I went to bed last night. I decided to explore it from a different aspect than is typical. The common ways of looking at human sexuality and relationship are from a procreative and theologically symbolic standpoint:

Procreative: God made male and female separate, as well as sexual reproduction and sexual desire, in order to establish a balance in the created order and to perpetuate humanity.

Theologically symbolic: God made male and female separate, that they may, when they come together in marriage, be a representation of the relationship that Christ has with His Church -- distinct centers of consciousness, but united in purpose (and as near to unity of essence as is possible), both serving the other.

But I figured, why not look at it from a contingency standpoint.

Premise: God is so great that when we recognize that we cannot have a perfect relationship with Him in this world, we will desire to leave it to be with Him. This means we won't care if we die. We'll be prone to recklessness or at least apathy with regard to protecting our earthly lives, since life with Him is far more to be desired than a lesser life on earth.

So God has the conundrum, of how to motivate the humans not to totally throw away their lives so they can pass through death into eternity. He's got to make some aspect of earthly living have enough of a fixation on the heart of men that they won't be tempted to give it up so easily. He needs to do something to make them individually invested in promoting His kingdom on earth, and not just focused on joining His kingdom in heaven.

What's a God to do?

The delights of heaven far surpass the delights on earth. So God might have thought, "I'll create something so delightful that men will hardly choose to die than miss the experience of it." And He created sexual pleasure.

The intimacy of the loving relationship between Father and Son, and Savior and Saint, far surpasses human relationships on earth. So God might have thought, "I'll create something so intimate, than which nothing else will come closer to resembling My relationship with those whom I love." And He made possible the marital union between man and wife.

And then, to ensure that mankind would not be so singlemindedly devoted to pursuit of this passion (recognizing, after all, that not all would be holy in their motivations) at the expense of all others, He connected human sexual intimacy to the generation of life itself, so that as long as people would desire that intimacy (which He made nearly inevitable), new people would be born and His desire that mankind would fill the earth would never be thwarted. Further, the presence of helpless children would serve as a modulating effect, on sinners and saints alike, making them more responsible and convicting them with a sense of duty, and thus providing a way that mankind would perpetuate itself even if it operated on the basest of human urges.

The fact that I thought this means that God knows that I would think it.
Since God is eternal, that means that He was aware of this thought 'before' He created mankind, before He made them male and female and created sex and sexual reproduction.
The Extrapolation Principle then means that, provided there's nothing ludicrously antiBiblical about this speculation, that it's quite possible that these notions constituted some of the multitudinous considerations that God would have processed in His divine mind when deciding how He was going to create the universe. It doesn't mean it was the primary reason (certainly not, by far), but it implies that He would have been aware of it, and the fact that He did what He did in the way that He did takes all possibilities into consideration.

So my conclusion, then, is that one of the supporting reasons for why God made marriage is so that His children would have something to root them in this world and keep them temporarily content with persisting in a shadow of eternity, until the future consummation. A sea-anchor, if you will.

It can't replace God for us. But it's the closest we have to being face-to-face with Him, our true love, between now and the day we're glorified and perfected in Him. And it's such an example of His kindness to us, that He would allow us to have this 'small slice of heaven', the better to know Him by, by intimately loving and being loved by another person.

Tell me that's not romantic.

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, February 23, 2015

Personal Life Update: A Student


Now that I've received the results for each of my first exams, I'm relieved and a little bit excited to see that I'm safely in the A grade range. Now, I don't have scholarships depending on grades, so I would really only have to get a C or more, which in one of my classes cuts off at 75% (and the A is 93%), in order to get the credit for the course.

Obviously I'm not shooting for the worst allowable performance, but knowing I'm safely far above this removes a lot of the temptation to be stressed out. I have a buffer, and so long as I keep doing well, it'll increase in strength, allowing me to be more and more singularly focused on actually comprehending the material, rather than distracted by concerns about the consequences of missing something important.

I've been in both positions before. In high school, I enjoyed the consistency of the classwork routine; everything stayed fresh in my head and I never fell behind with whatever material I needed to learn. In college, the self-pacing that was necessary was at first difficult to deal with, but toward the end I managed to impose the helpful rigidity on myself, and figured out ways that were effective in mitigating distractions. Now that I'm finished with that degree, my slate of grades is wiped clean, and I can start fresh and be a high achiever once again, both on paper as well as in my inner thought life.

I'm uncertain, but if I'm compared to another student, when it comes to the Uni course I'm gunning for in the Fall, and we have the same standing in terms of our courses, perhaps a better grade in the prerequisites would factor into the computer algorithm and preferentially give me the contested seat in the class.

I feel very content with the trajectory I'm on. I believe the restlessness with my financial and domestic situation will stay with me until I finally attain a 'self-reliant' income and have the freedom to begin making longer-term life plans. I welcome it as a source of continual motivation to not get too relaxed, even when things feel good. There's always work to be done. Whatever I do now is potentially blessing me in the future. No effort is truly wasted. And so I'm seeking to make the best of everything as I keep running this race.

~ Rak Chazak

More for the Movie Wish-List

There's a number of films I haven't yet seen, that I would like to. And they tend to be either documentaries or interview-centric. Some of the best films I've seen have been docu's. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was probably the first one of such, which changed my motivations for watching movies. After it, I saw "Iranium," and "180," but since moving back from college, with limited internet capacity, I have spent very little time on Youtube, or downloading/streaming movies anywhere, for that matter.

I "splurged" with respect to data usage, and watched this trailer:

"Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods," which I came across via Ken Ham's AiG blog where he recommended it after seeing it.

Other movies that have come out that I'd like to see are
Noah and the Last Days
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus
and the film still in the works,

My list of books I'd like for a future library is even longer.

Here's to hoping I get the chance to watch the film sometime soon.

~ Rak Chazak

"Earth is not the Center of the Universe" - Response to Common Bible Attack

Have you heard this comment? I've heard it many times. It's getting pretty tedious. You can almost predict with 100% certainty that if you're in a discussion about Christianity that touches on science, it's only a matter of time before a self-professed "intelligent atheist" tries to lecture the 'ignorant Christians' on how backward their beliefs are. This comment is one of their most favorite ones.

"People used to believe the earth was the center of the universe, but now we have science! and we know that those old Christian superstitions about a God who loves us and makes us the centerpiece of His creation are just old, unscientific stories from a long-lost age of backward ignorance" 

or something like it. Doesn't it sound familiar? Doesn't it sound dumb? Wait, it gets better:

Chronological Snobbery FAIL

The atheist snobbery goes like this:
1. Christians believe God made the universe for them (this is false, by the way)
2. Therefore, Christians used to believe the earth was in the center of the universe, because the center is obviously the most important (importing 21st century assumptions, here)
3. Those idiots thought we were in the center, but SCIENCE has shown that that's not true! har har!
4. Therefore, since SCIENCE leads to truth and Christianity does not, atheism is the rational belief system and Christianity is something to be ashamed of believing.

The problem is, the fundamental premises of the argument are false.

"A common thought in the Middle Ages was that the centre of the universe was the worst place to be. For example, Dante’s Divine Comedy(c. 1310) has nine circles of Hell inside the Earth, getting worse as they approach the center. Satan was right at the centre of a (spherical) earth, at the centre of the universe. In the opposite direction, the nine celestial spheres of heaven increased in virtue and closeness to God as they got further from the center. We certainly do not hold to Dante’s vision, but in this light moving the earth away from the center was a promotion in the eyes of people in the Middle Ages, not a demotion, as 21st century anachronistic skeptics claim.", "Refuting Absolute Geocentrism", bold emphasis added.
In other words, 

1. Christians never assumed that their relationship to God meant that they occupied a special 3-D location inside the universe
2. They therefore never assumed they were at the center.
3. Therefore, the fact that we are not "at the center" is not a scientific contradiction to Christian beliefs, whether theological or historical.
4. Therefore, any atheist or other person who makes this claim is blinded by presumptuous arrogance, and they are the ones who are truly ignorant.


~ Rak Chazak

PS God made the universe for the demonstration and maximization of His glory. If your reason for rejecting Christianity is that you think it's a belief that coddles people's desire to feel important by saying that everything God does is for your sake, then check yourself. You're even less important than you think you are.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"She's An Evil Person" (Christian Commentary on The Bachelor)

It so happens that I nearly never watch ABC. This is mostly because CBS and NBC are two clicks away from each other, and at my house we have old-fashioned broadcast television. No preset channels, and the "back" button only works for two channels at a time.
The picture credits belong to whatever site they came from. I'm not motivated enough to hunt down where I got them. "I don't claim credit." That should be enough. It's ultimately ABC that owns the shots anyway, so whatever.
When there was nothing on television one night, I decided to stop by ABC to see what was on. It just so happened to be The Bachelor. I could never be a fan, but I figured I'd let myself look over the show and hold my relationship philosophy up to it and see whether the broadcast would challenge or confirm my instincts.

I hadn't thought to make a blog comment on the episodes of last week and the week before, but after I had a chance encounter with a 35-50-year old woman in a supermarket checkout, my attention once again returned to a phrase uttered by one of the contestants, and I want to opine about it.

"They were evil"

This was the casual comment the older lady made with reference to the ladies below, who were both 'sent home' from the show on the same day.

"Always Angsty." Photo cred:
"Sob Story." Photo cred:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

AWPATT XVI: February 3-17 (Thoughts 248-262)

Point 248 begins with referencing Thoughts 243 and 247, where I had advised both that you should have a public relationship, and that you shouldn't. The difference is explained below.

248 Bring those two concepts together: you want to involve other people, but you don’t want to involve them. Each is in a different sense. You want other people to be aware of the fact that you and another person are interested, and to be involved in your relationship as it actually is. Don’t push a false view of the depth of your commitment to each other on others. You then put them in the awkward position of trying to correct you and be seen as criticizing and be faced with anger and dismissive resentment, or of playing along with your charade and having to rationalize supporting something they’re not behind 100% -- or else simply ignoring and avoiding you. Foolish decisions spurn good advice, because you show that you’re unwilling to receive it. When your breakup happens, the same people who gave you happy faces and agreed that your relationship was good when you had it will express confusion and try to empathize with your self-delusion. Others will say they saw it coming, but why didn’t they warn you when you were in the midst of the relationship? Oh, because they don’t respect you, of course. They didn’t deem you deserving of truth, and cared more for how you treated them (fearing your wrath if they challenged you) than they cared about your personal health. All of that results from foolishly pretending your relationship is more serious than it is. So don’t. Take people’s help, but don’t you dare try to make them conform to your imaginary fairy tale romance when you don’t even know how to love.

249 [Going through texts]: I’ve been told by several women that I’d be a spectacular husband/romantic for some happy woman…in fact, absent that experience, I’d be far less apt to allow myself to imagine a future scenario where a young lady ‘falls for me’ – I’d be wary of hoping for it as a realistic possibility.

250 But from several closer female acquaintances and friends, whom I’ve showed a sensitive side to, I’ve heard encouraging accolades re: my potential to be a suitable partner. The fact that this comes in the context of me, intentionally or not, having revealed negative qualities is a relieving affirmation.

251 [on the subject of complimenting someone who’s in a relationship by saying something like, ‘if you weren’t already taken, I might have to propose’] – Oh I personally couldn’t bring myself to joke like that. The last thing I would want to do is have a joke that was meant to be a compliment backfire and upset someone’s marriage by making a woman have thoughts of me. I recognize that it’s a certain form of pride to deny that anyone would be tempted by me, just as it would be to assume that everyone would. It’s an attempt to be thoughtful.

252 I could see myself joking with a 20s-30s couple if I was 80….But I happen to be variably viewed as handsome or cute or sexy, at least among a portion of women, so it would be ill advised for me to say “whoah, good thing you’re married, ‘cause I was about to propose!” (though max irony for saying that to a single woman miiiiight work out)

253 I’m pretty sure that from a theological standpoint, the purpose of my having to wait a long time to ‘find true love’ is for all of this time to be spent thinking about how best to serve her, so that by the time I meet her, I’ll have grown a lot in my character and wisdom and be a far better “package deal” then than anything I’ve been up to now. I won’t be thinking about my own satisfaction, because the desire to be together doesn’t go away from dwelling on it; it needs to be turned to a productive end. So I’m not just wasting time, I’m improving our relationship here and now :)

254 “Our love to Him should begin on earth, as it shall be in Heaven, for the bride taketh not by a thousand degrees so much delight in her wedding-garment as she doth in her bridegroom; so we, in the life to come, howbeit clothed with glory as with a robe, shall not be so much affected with the glory that goeth about us, as with the Bridegroom’s joyful face and presence.” ~ Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ

255 When I was in mid-late High School I was invested in trying to influence middle schoolers with positive ideas, and now I’m hopeful that I can encourage or give insight to younger adults, also, especially with regard to life decisions like relationships, college, etc. When they’re women, I think (and hope that) I am able to show them, metaconversationally—that is, not in the words themselves but in my attention and behavior toward them—how an older man can speak kindly to them and show an interest, even to see them as romantically desirable, without being personally involved in romantic overtures toward her; to show her that guys can be respectful of her without being totally ignorant/unaware of her femininity. I think in the sex-charged culture we’re in, that has the potential to speak volumes in itself, and hopefully give them insulation against attention from the wrong guys.

256 So in light of this, I figured I had an opportunity to speak words of encouragement to one of the younger women on crew, because it happened that she’d specifically asked me to share my opinion of her. She’s basically granted me influence, allowing me to say something that may powerfully affect her.
                So I shared that I could see from her on-the-job behavior that she didn’t have a habit of complaining, she had a thankful spirit (I added afterward that she’s verbally appreciative of others), and that she is expressive of her feelings—with words--, which makes her easier to understand and less likely to have a misunderstanding with. All of this I could learn from observing how she does her job.

257 What work also reveals is ongoing habits, such as whether someone holds grudges, and I shared that later. After the first three compliments, she smiled and thanked me. I hope I’ve given her something to think about out of all of that, and that, if she does or doesn’t get similar compliments elsewhere, at least she now has. That’s enough motivation/encouragement for me to do what I do. If I can be an influence on her for good, that’s gratifying and makes me feel like my time in minimum wage employment hasn’t been wasted.

258 I think I’m strongly motivated to take every opportunity to influence young people, and particularly women, because I know what sorts of negative influences there are out there, but have no way of knowing what positive ones they might have encountered. There’s a possibility I’m one of the few if not the only one. I see it as my duty to provide a contrast to the usual narrative. If I withhold potentially helpful or even life-changing information, then I’m essentially guilty of negligence. Not doing the right thing is just as bad as doing the wrong thing. The fact that you know better is what makes it so severe. My knowledge is one of the only things I have that can benefit many people in short order. Keeping it to myself is a reverse arrogance.

259 [commenting on the Bachelor when there was nothing on tv] I think one of the major fatal flaws, an assumption that the contestants don’t think about challenging, is that they kiss. It seems like an expected guarantee, a way they evaluate each other. But the physical intimacy creates an emotional bond that clashes with the reality that there can’t be any real commitment, and the girls break down from mixed feelings of envy and betrayal and loss. While it’d be fascinating to be on the show, if the producers would even let you refuse to kiss, even so the context seems to lend itself to people getting hurt.

260 I remember when I learned jeans had been considered risqué in the past, I didn’t understand why. I thought that it was far easier for kids to be sexually inappropriate with dresses, which “provide easier groping access” and “could hide misbehavior from observers.” Apparently the real reason was that dresses obscure butt-curves and jeans hug them a little more. The emphasis was on being revealing, not in how tight the “goods” were wrapped. But that’s how 8th-grader me thought, based on what he knew of how other boys in that age group behaved, and from a couple of Cosmo “sexcapade” stories I’d sneakily read in the supermarket/bookstore.

261 If jeans were risqué before, then wow, good thing Levi Strauss didn’t use spandex for his material. (Imagine if it was available, and he did; since his target consumer base was men, history could’ve taken a very different turn)

262 I can’t really sympathize with people who’ve been scorned (‘sympathize’ meant as in ‘understand the feeling,’ I’m not implying I think people are ‘getting what’s coming to them’ if they’re hurt). I’ve been spurned, rejected by peers/society, but not scorned, rejected by someone I desperately wanted. I don’t think my approach to love allows for the possibility of unrequited love. If it’s unrequited, it’s not desirable, and so the attraction doesn’t build.

~ Rak Chazak

A Good Story

I want my life to be a good story. Not the most captivating one, by a long shot, but a 'good read.' Something that makes sense, where you can clearly see the bigger picture, and how the formative events at various milestones conspired to produce the outcomes that were realized later on. How a latent, nascent potential, and a long preparation for the activation of the key purpose of this life (when all's said and done) unfolded into something that believers for eternity can say, "that had the hand of God upon it" "that's something only God could do" "what an amazing God we serve that would cause this to happen!"

Even if it's something so simple and ordinary as loving my wife, raising our children well, supporting the Church, and having my reputation with the World ruined for my unashamed witness for Christ.

There have been far more ordinary saints than of the amazing sort. And they still have a role, an important, God-given place in the Master Plan. Pursuit of that is not unambitious or a denial/missing of potential or success. It's just a different form.

~ Rak Chazak

Angst over not Fitting in Among Others

As I'm going through old texts to synthesize AWPATT thoughts out of the mix, I came across an exasperated statement I shared with a friend back in October.

I think it's fitting to share this for honesty as well as to give readers a better understanding of who the person behind these posts are. I'm not just a disembodied commentator, I'm someone who lives in the same world you do and feels a lot of the same things. Maybe I can offer something in the form of a connection -- make you feel like I "get it" -- through the pathos of a lament such as this.

I don't know how to live in this world. I talk too much, or I talk too little. I can't connect with people on either end of the spectrum of my personality, or the middle road either. Flamboyant? An amusement. Quiet? Ignored, mistrusted. Erudite? Disdained and seen as arrogant. Sensitive? Emotional and weak. Disinterested? Hateful. Hard working? Rude. Slow and methodical? Sour, lazy. Casual? Flippant. Serious? Judgmental. Concerned for others? Obnoxious, nosy. Inward oriented? Selfish, unhelpful, unfriendly.

I hate being falsely judged. I have a "but-but" for everything I get criticized for, that if only my explanation were honored, the condemnations would have no foundation. But it's the full scope of people's opinions of me that are misguided. I would have to change who they are 100% to get them to treat me fairly and with respect. In other words, I can never fix it. 

I'm at the mercy of people who choose to dislike me and actually assert that I deserve it for being different from them. And this is right, because I'm in the minority?

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, February 16, 2015

But the Wise Shall Understand

I hadn't sent donations to Christian ministries before this year, simply because I hadn't had access to any significant amount of "spare" money (if you can call it that). Because of that, I hadn't ever gotten any exposure to the special efforts of charitable organizations to interact with those who rise above 'garden-variety consumer' of the goods they produce to sustain themselves. Now I have, and it's been interesting to gain that insight.

As I had mentioned here, I bought three orders of the 100-ct. bulk purchase of The Biggest Question with the intent of making their easy availability to me (I've stowed most in my car) an aid in the event of obvious tracting opportunities--can't give what you don't have, and in the absence of following up a conversation, a tangible message left behind is a way to hopefully leave a stronger impression on someone after a witnessing encounter.

This was apparently a big enough single expense to draw the attention of the team. Trish Ramos, who I can only assume donates her time to Wretched, seems to have had the responsibility of calling to thank donors at the end of 2014. I was surprised to get a voicemail that was very clearly individually sent, since I was addressed by name.

As a follow-up to the thank-you and a "please let us know if you're interested in further supporting the ministry or handing out DVDs," she sent a text with a few links n' things. At the bottom was a verse reference I didn't immediately recognize, so I was compelled to look it up.
Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.Daniel 12:10
It would seem a rather obscure quote, especially when you look at its immediate context. It's in the prophecy to Daniel about the Great Tribulation. So its immediate meaning is that it concerns a distinction between the 'wise' and the 'wicked' as demonstrated (through 'trial') in that time period.

But while that is the focus of the text, that's not the limit of it. There's a cool word called perspicuity, which in Biblical theology refers to the fact that a passage can be understood on many different levels, based on your intellect and background knowledge, without there being contradiction. A child can understand that Genesis 6-8 tells that the whole earth was covered in water by a global flood that destroyed all of humanity but 8 people. Andrew Snelling can understand it, too, he just has a much more in-depth appreciation of some of its significance because of his technical aptitude. The perspicuity of Scripture is the doctrine that says that the plain truth is understandable to everyone.

At the same time, that means that, while Scripture cannot simply be twisted to mean whatever someone wants it to say, it is often the case that one single-sentence statement of truth can mean multiple things simultaneously.

Daniel 12:10 is focused primarily on the difference between the wise and wicked, so that tells me that there is a comparison between the two that is not limited to the Tribulation period but extends throughout history. Simply put, when Biblical truth is concerned, the wicked will not understand it, but the wise will. And who are the wise? Those who are purified. Who are purified? Those who are saved by grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice. Who are those? Truly converted Christians.

While I pondered this, the reason for Trish's inclusion of just that verse began to settle out in my mind. The wicked won't understand what value there is in buying some DVDs to hand out for free to people who are quite happy living their lives without being harassed by annoying Christian fundamentalists. The wise person recognizes that there's nothing on earth more valuable than the message these DVDs contain, so that it's not about the purchase itself, but what the concern says about the wise man's heart: promoting the spread of this Gospel is the most worthwhile endeavor there is to be concerned with, and his preoccupation with pursuing the amplification of that message throughout the world and in his community and in his life shows that he is wise.

The wise shall understand. I understand why Wretched's The Biggest Question project is something worth supporting. Do you have a similar depth of understanding when it comes to why you support, promote, or ignore various community projects, organizations and movements that you witness in your life?

'Something to think about.

~ Rak Chazak

Adultification IV: Student Loan Borrowing Limits

Following my learning process via Adultification II, III and the last Personal Life Update (PLU), the next thing I touched on when I called up the university financial aid office was the question of whether the loans would cover enough of the tuition and fees so that I wouldn't be on the hook for it.

So far, my loans have been all of one sort, the Stafford loan given by the US Department of Education.
When it comes to student loans, loans held by the government are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, in contrast to private loans which are, but also unlike private loans, the terms of repayment tend to be somewhat more forgiving: you won't be required to begin repayment while you are taking courses full-time, and if your loans are subsidized, they won't even accrue interest during that time. Further, if you are too poor to pay back your loans according to the standard repayment plan (like me, with the IBR plan), you can be eligible to have your loans deferred even further based on your income. Beyond this, the government wields influence and leverage in terms of offering incentives--if you go into teaching or other public-sector careers, you can have your loans deferred, decreased, or even 'forgiven' outright. And in the worst case scenario of all, if 25 years from the date repayment was supposed to start, if you haven't paid it back, your debts are cancelled. But who wants to waste 30-some-odd years of their life just waiting for debt cancellation?
There are other federal student loans, such as the Perkins loans, and I suppose there are still others. Each kind of loan has a maximum school-year disbursement amount as well as a maximum loan ceiling. For the Stafford, the loan ceiling is $31,000 for dependent students. That happens to be almost exactly how much my total debt is as of right now.

Conveniently, the FAFSA considers you an independent when you are 24 or above. The loan limit for independents is something like $20,000 more, which would easily cover 2 years of university in-state. So it turns out that having been uncertain about what to do with myself for a little over a year had its perks.

Per-year, the Stafford loans pay out $12,000 as the maximum limit. Most in-state schools where I live don't have more than $9,000/year expenses in terms of tuition and fees. So I'm covered.

After this, the question is: can I also get need-based grants, because of my income status? And will whatever I have saved up by the Fall be enough to cover course textbooks, food, gas and insurance for 2 years while I try to figure out how to live without paying rent I can't afford?

The journey continues.

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Adultification III: Taxes and Deductions

I've figured it out a little more.

Last year, when I filed for the first time (to my understanding I hadn't been required to file previously because I'd been a full time student and made less than some threshold amount of money--though because I didn't think about it, I would essentially have been giving free money away to the government, sadly), I got every cent of income tax back, both from the federal government and my state government.

What that led to was my mistaken understanding that the standard deduction was a maximum value on the amount of money you would automatically get back in taxes from the government. Say you make $10,000 in one year, and your standard deduction is $3,000. State and federal taxes add up to about 30% altogether, so because the deduction is higher than the amount of income tax that was deducted from your W-2, you get all of it back.

That was incorrect, and I learned how it actually works, this time around.

When the online preparation software I was using didn't automatically tabulate my full amount of income tax as the refund I was supposed to be getting, I was confused and concerned that because I'd initially said I wanted to itemize deductions, that I'd messed up the software and it wasn't giving me the right numbers. It was in the process of actually going through the previewable 1040 that the software provided for me, that I understood how it was all being calculated.

Now I know that neither the 'standard deduction' nor the 'student loan interest rate deduction' are gratis cash-back maximum allowances. Instead, they are subtracted from your gross income, and then taxes are calculated based on that new number (the AGI, or Adjusted Gross Income). The difference between these taxes and the taxes you actually paid is refunded to you.
Chances are I'm still somewhat ignorant, but at least there's been progress. :)
So the reason I got all my income tax back last year wasn't because the standard deduction was higher than my income tax -- it was because the standard deduction was higher than my gross income! That meant that my AGI, the taxable income I earned, went to $0, and hence I owed no income tax.

Yeah, I didn't make a lot of money last year. That's mainly because I didn't start working until August, so I accrued a little less than a half year's wages altogether.

So if you have student loan interest to pay, just understand: it's not the case that you get every dollar of it that you pay, back. That was what I mistakenly thought for a while (something seemed off). But it will reduce the amount of your income that gets taxed, leading to a larger refund. So if you can afford to pay your loan interest, go ahead. But it's not free money you're getting back; you are still paying money, net-wise.

Hope this was helpful or entertaining, depending on where you fall on the spectrum of understanding taxes.

~ Rak Chazak

Addendum to the Honey Maid Criticism

It seems I'm certainly not the only one to notice the uptick in advertisements showing hitherto socially abnormal family structures as part of their promotions.

Answers in Genesis' research team brought two similar ads to Ken Ham's attention and he wrote a blog post about it recently:
"Secular companies are increasingly producing ads that promote or attempting to what they call “normalize” homosexual behavior and gay marriage. For example, as a part of its “Put Your Heart to Paper” campaign, Hallmark featured the story of a young lesbian couple. And Nikon featured the story and a gallery of photos of a family of three children with their gay fathers. Now, these companies are secular companies that don’t claim to start their thinking on God’s Word, so of course they will develop their companies based on their own reasoning. But what these ads show is the increasing acceptance in our culture of ideas that are completely contrary to biblical principles. They are a sign of the times we live in—times of disobedience to, and a rejection of, God’s Word!"

My comments on Honey Maid's "#thisiswholesome" campaign, where I actually had more strong* words to say against the promotion of divorce as a way to love children, to be honest, was posted here yesterday.

~ Rak Chazak

* More strong is not grammatically incorrect. "Stronger" would imply that the words themselves were of a different character. But the simple fact is that whereas I characterized both divorce and homosexuality as sins and family arrangements that hurt children in my article, I spent more time = more words on addressing divorce, because I think it's woefully overlooked as a negative force in society, and hence, it's accurate to say "more strong words." This concludes my lay grammar lesson.

Personal Life Update: 100-m Hurdling

It doesn't really seem to stop. I quite like the simplicity of not having multiple, overlapping deadlines that require attention every single day, even just to make sure I'm not falling behind on the process of working to meet them. On the other hand, continuous responsibility to keep track of "adult" stuff feels good, because you have external pressures on you that work against any lazy urges that prompt you to sleep in, or waste time eating, playing video games, wasting time on line, etc. It makes you more productive and helps secure a sense of purpose as opposed to a sense of "what did I even do today?"

I'm over a little bit of a hurdle now. I've finally accomplished a grocery-list of financially-related issues that began to appear on my radar around December-January. These include:
1. Apply to community college
2. Apply to the second bachelor's program I'm interested in
3. Pay for CC
4. Buy books for CC
5. Do taxes
6. Do FAFSA (requires step 5)
7. Check with Financial Aid to make sure I crossed my t's and dotted my i's.

And on top of that, the first round of exams, that overlapped for about a week from last Thursday to today, is now past. So I have a bit of a reprieve, now, a sense of completeness with respect to these deadlines.

The next few steps are more natural: wait for Fin-Aid information to come back to me. Go to my classes and ace the examinations as usual, and keep myself from bleeding out too fast by working double shifts on the weekends (I was fortunate enough to be granted that request; now I have undistracted time between Monday morning and Friday afternoon to focus on schoolwork, and non-stop shift employment from Friday evening through Sunday evening). This is more routine and muscle memory than frantic paper-pushing and double-triple-quadruple-checking that I'm not running late for deadlines.

The things that press on me the most are the objectives for which I'm not certain what the deadlines are. The big obvious one that's on the radar now is the final prerequisite for the course I'm gunning for. One of the classes I'm taking now is the prerequisite for that one, so if you're following along with me, that means I need to find somewhere to take the course over the summer. This is somewhat unusual and I don't know what the availability is. As of last month, no colleges around had set their summer schedules yet, so I wasn't able to make any final decisions on where to zero in, let alone apply and register. But that is something I'm hoping to revisit tomorrow and see if there have been any developments.

There are other things I'm thinking about, too, which I won't necessarily discuss on a blog. And I'm trying not to either be distracted from all this by blogging, nor put it off so much that my blog goes defunct. I had a few false starts in the past and I'm quite pleased with how this one has been shaping up. I'm working on my Dekadius workout, as well as hitting the gym 1-3 times a week so I don't lose the progress I'd been making. I'm learning where my limits are, and the shoulder presses, lunges and calf raises have turned out to be a bit more difficult than I anticipated, whereas the pushups feel almost easy, but that can all change as I keep going through this process. The primary goal is to limber up my body, and the secondary goal is to get enough base strength that I can start seriously using weights to train my underused muscles and get some positive body transformation going.

Looking for and thinking about opportunities to share my faith. It has been partly restlessness with my perceived lack of interpersonal interaction with regard to witnessing that motivates me to write on this blog; that way, even when I am doing nothing in person (I don't exactly have a very public life, for that matter), I still have the potential to have an impact for the Gospel among those who search online for the subject matter I touch on, here.

That gives me encouragement as I go along. To God be the glory!

~ Rak Chazak

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Today and Yesterday's News in Pictures: Washington Post Clippings

Here's what I've taken note of over the last 24 hours. All are in some way politically controversial, because they either confirm or refute hype over some hot-button subject.


Exhibit A: The reason people are going bananas over wheat gluten in numbers far and above those that actually have Celiac disease (and hence, an inflammatory response/intolerance to the protein), could be because they have irritable bowel syndrome or that they are "FODMAP-sensitive," which means that polysaccharides etc draw water into the gut in the process of being digested, causing swelling, bloating and irritation.

The problem is, with both FODMAPs and Gluten, if you don't specifically have inflammatory symptoms from eating wheat, you shouldn't give it up. Avoiding Gluten or FODMAPs is a recommendation for the ease of symptoms, and not a nutritional recommendation for everybody. You can in fact get ill from avoiding these foods too much, because you'll be starving the gut bacteria that are necessary for you to digest other foods, and then you'll just end up with bowel irritation of a different sort.

TL;DR -- don't avoid Gluten or FODMAP-rich foods unless you actually have irritation. If you don't, then you have more to lose than gain from cutting them out of your diet.


Exhibit B: I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. The man was pretending all along. Now I am simply waiting for someone to say that he was pretending to be a Christian all along. Most of us are clued in on it. It's not terribly difficult, however, to fool a populace into thinking you're Christian when most of the voting constituents don't know what a Christian is.

That's a damning indictment.

Did I just make a pun?


Exhibit C: Turns out, cholesterol in food might not be very strongly correlated with cholesterol in the blood. That doesn't mean cholesterol in the blood is good. In fact, that's very bad. But new research indicates that your blood cholesterol levels are not primarily affected by the amount of cholesterol you EAT. Your liver produces cholesterol itself, and the new research suggests that the amount of oils and fats you consume plays a larger role in influencing the amount of 'bad' cholesterol your liver produces. That could mean that a diet high in cholesterol, combined with vigorous exercise, would be better than a diet high in certain types of fats, like cheese products. Stay tuned.


Exhibit D: How vaccines work, real life examples. Here there are three Big Pharma companies working on developing Ebola vaccines. Two of them are illustrated, showing how portions of the Ebola genome have been copied into milder viruses for insertion into infected patients. Because these genetically altered viruses don't contain the whole Ebola genome, but only portions that have to do with surface receptors, it will not cause Ebola disease, and still allow the immune system to organize a response and produce antibodies, so that when Ebola proper were to arrive, the body could fight it off without any symptoms.

All viruses replicate by using a host's cellular machinery to copy its DNA/RNA and then to produce proteins. The adaptive immune response primarily works by the White Blood Cells (WBCs) connecting with a foreign protein sequence via surface receptors. These trigger the WBC to engulf the foreign body and digest it (chop it up in little  pieces) with its lysosomes.

By putting the portion of Ebola's genome that codes for these surface receptors, or other protein sequences that WBCs can recognize, into a patient, the adaptive immune response can have plenty of time to optimize (that's an engineering term) their ability to recognize the sequences and chew them up and spit them out, preventing the disease from progressing.

All vaccines work in essentially the same way. In this case, actual live viruses that aren't life threatening are used as carrier's for pieces of Ebola's genome, so that plenty of antigens can be produced and the body's immune system can be properly exercised. If you don't trigger a strong enough response, the body's immune system is going to go with what works but also costs the least "effort," so it may still be vulnerable to the real thing. That's why live viruses make sense in these trials. Ebola is just too deadly to risk being only partially inoculated against.

For the vaccine skeptics: yes, you can get reactions from a vaccine. But because of the way a vaccine is formulated, you cannot get the actual disease. Since your immune system is being triggered, you might get symptoms resembling a fever, but a fever is never caused directly by disease, it's caused by your body's immune response as it attempts to heat the body so that a virus's proteins are denatured, making it ineffective. That means that your body is working the way it should. You should not be worried that some minor symptoms mean that you're getting infected by the disease.

It's similar to getting food poisoning. You don't get it from the food. You get it from something that has infected the food. Remove the infecting agent, and the food is nutritious and good for you. All viruses have multiple gene sequences: some for replicating itself, others that code for the protective capsid covering, and still others that produce proteins that are directly responsible for disease symptoms. When a vaccine is researched, the disease-causing sequences are cut out of the genome, so that when the genes coding for WBC-recognizable protein sequences are injected into a patient, the patient cannot get the disease, but will still be able to develop immunity without risk of symptoms.

In the utterly rare cases that someone gets minimally ill from a vaccine, it's never a form of the disease but usually an artifact of the immune response, and as such is nearly never life threatening. It is people with weak immune systems that are at risk -- but consequently, they are not able to get vaccinated. That's why kids younger than 1 have been getting Measles--they aren't old enough to get vaccinated yet, which incidentally leaves them at greater risk.

Hopefully this clears the air a bit (that was not an intentional pun. What is with me today?)

~ Rak Chazak

Honey Maid "Wholesome" Commercial: One of These Is Not Like The Other

Perhaps you've seen this new commercial on tv, the one that starts with "I didn't think I'd get divorced, but the way I look at it, there's just more of us to love the kids now."

This clip of it doesn't include the longer intro with that voiceover, but it shows the other two couples:
It's about 20 seconds.

The advertisement seems to be part of a PR attempt to court people on political grounds, practically screaming "look how progressive we are with family values!"

They highlight divorce as "wholesome"
And they highlight two men, implicitly gay and raising an infant together, as "wholesome."

And then there's an "interracial" couple.

For some reason, people have trouble with a black man and white woman, or black woman and white man, being in a relationship. I don't get it. The only thing that stands out to me is that it's unusual, because you don't see it very often--but that's just statistics. There's nothing wrong with it. Now, if you're promoting it because you want to be a rebel against tradition, then perhaps you should reexamine your motives. I personally disdain the word "interracial" as this Answers in Genesis article helps explain.

But yet, a couple of mixed ethnic background is bookended between divorce and homosexuality in an ad that calls all of them "wholesome." And because I don't come from a background of disdaining relationships between "black" and "white" people, I am really left wondering whether the interracial couple in the ad is put in there to legitimize the other two couples, or if the same-sex couple is silently added at the end, feeding a baby with a bottle and walking behind a stroller, to confront pro-SSM advocates about their own personal racial biases by revealing their hypocrisy about who can love whom.

But either way, the commercial is saddening not just because it equates a commitment between one man and one woman, with broken commitment (divorce) and an imitation of the real which falls short (SSM), but because it holds up divorce as wholesome for children.

In all honesty, when it comes to the child aspect of it, divorce is WORSE. Not only are there more divorcees with children than there are same sex couples, thereby making it a bigger issue, I daresay that the harm divorce causes is at least on the same level if not more severe than having two same sex guardians, which is only one un-ideal relationship among many.

One child grows up with two dads, and never sees an intimate example of how a man should treat a woman.
One child grows up with a mom and dad, and sees betrayal of trust, abandonment, broken commitment, emotional withdrawal, selfishness and possibly abuse, adultery, deceit and finds themselves thrown under the bus, a child sacrificed for their parents' childishness.

Which is worse? One grows up having a hard time believing in a God who would say that their two fathers' affection for each other is borne of sin. One grows up having a hard time believing in a God who would say that marriage is a picture of His love for them, when the only marriage they've known has been one in which the father had nothing like a self-sacrificial loving attitude toward their mother, or his children.

Both are hurt. Both are sins. Now, divorce is a sin that has a definite boundary to it. Once you marry someone else, going back to your first spouse would require divorcing your second, which would also be sin; so there is no guaranty that tells you you have to choose one or the other, except that commitments shouldn't be broken. But with homosexuality, the desire itself is the sin, so the continued fleshly intimacy between two people is a continual rebellion against God. In terms of which is worse to do, it would seem that SSM is more dangerous for the actual sinners.

But for those who are sinned against? The children who are wounded by their parents' sins? The greater societal problem today would seem to be divorce, which by virtue of the fact that children's beliefs about God are strongly influenced by their relationships with their father, devastates a person's ability to contemplate the Heavenly Father as a compassionate, loving being.

Neither situation should be diminished; both are serious and both harm children. I find it offensive that both of these are held up next to a perfectly normal relationship between a black woman and a white man, and propounded as being "wholesome." But the thing that offended me the most was the voiceover that said "there are more of us to love the kids," and used that to rationalize backwards that the divorce was a good thing. That shows they don't even know what love is. That's tragic.

Honey Maid does a fine example of showing just how unwholesome it is, and how insulting it is to mixed-ethnicity couples by saying that relationships that deprive children of healthy relationships with both of their biological parents are "just as good as theirs."

They're not. And using children to justify the childish desire to buck the rules and do what you feel like you want to do for yourself is a poignant reminder that we live in a society where selfishness is the norm, and that whereas everyone grows up, not everyone matures.

Should your own sexual lusts take precedence over the well being of a child?

That is the flagrant challenge that the Honey Maid commercial makes. What will you decide?

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, February 2, 2015

AWPATT XV: January 17-February 2 (Thoughts 231-247)

231 It’s got to be a good sign when I can go this long without deferring to saying, “I hope she’ll be friendly.” I’ve perused enough dating profiles from time to time (mainly out of curiosity, wanting to see what’s out there) that I’ve had ample opportunity to be dismayed by the shallowness, not of desire (it’s hardly a lousy character trait to want to be around friendly people) but of the amount of thought put into what people are looking for. My anecdotal survey of sites like these turned out that the vast majority of ‘what I’m looking for’ sections, at least for women, say something like “a guy who can make me laugh,” “a guy with a beard/tattoos,” “a guy my friends will like,” “a guy who doesn’t say ‘your’ when he should say ‘you’re’,” “a guy who’s taller than me,” “a guy who can go out or stay home,” “a guy who can keep up with me.”

If you thought I was superficial when I talked about height in Thoughts #50-52, you should see some of these profiles. I was just analyzing subconscious inclinations in myself, but made no hard statement categorically excluding different heights from “wife potential.” But for many girls on dating sites, it’s serious, or at least one of the only things they put thought into. But what I notice when I see those statements is that there’s next to nothing you can learn about a person’s character based on their meeting those criteria. Some profiles will pretend that there’s more to be worked through once she’s interested already, but that just sets you up for a high rate of frustration, because your filter isn’t tuned well enough.

Yes, I want someone friendly, but in person, that’s the first thing I notice, and ultimately it’s a given, so it almost doesn’t even enter into the consideration of what sort of a woman I’m looking for. I have deeper compatibility concerns in mind than the utmost superficial things imaginable. And I’m looking for someone with a similar depth of forethought in their relationship plans. Statements like the ones I quoted show carelessness and possibly intellectual stupidity, and that’s a turnoff, so I avoid people like that, but without being disrespectful.

232 I don’t believe I mentioned being interested in a studious woman. I’ve talked about intelligence, knowledge, that she’s careful to think about things before making decisions, but not specifically about the pursuit of knowledge in itself. While someone who goes to school for the sake of schooling, and to insulate themselves from reality, is not highly appealing, someone who’s had a certain measure of achievement in terms of education will stand out. Now, pretentious Type-A’s are exhausting to be on the receiving end of, so not every personality type is made more magnetic by the increase of education. For some, it reveals abhorrent ego issues. But perhaps more important is the question of whether you can learn outside of structured academia. Someone who pursues learning on their own time is like someone who exercises regularly. They’re not content to languish with what they already have, but are honing it, to get better and better, for themselves and others. That is the root attitude that will benefit any relationship. Because someone who thinks they can improve is someone who isn’t likely to think that they’ve “already arrived,” and thus is less apt to be arrogant. It’s not a guarantee, as I mentioned, but a woman who is reading and learning on her own time is more interesting to me because of what it implies about her character.

233 Noses! Do you like ‘em big or small? It’s one of those things that I don’t typically notice, like prescription eyeglasses, but when I do, it’s temporarily amazing, as I look around and compare others’ to appreciate the variety. I don’t think I like flattened or broad noses very much, but I’ve been intrigued by noticing that a diversity in relative size can still be attractive to me. I remember reading somewhere, where Song of Solomon was being referenced, that large noses were considered appealing in Hebrew culture (Song makes a big deal out of the Shulamite woman’s nose in one section). It’s funny, considering that from ancient Egyptian images of Hebrews to modern day stereotypes, Jews are characterized as having big noses. This is in the back of my mind every time I notice an attractive woman who has a noticeably larger than average nose. I suppose I don’t mind them if they have an isosceles shape, have no bumps on the ridge, and aren’t over-bulbous or over-pointy. Longer better than shorter. Thinner rather than thicker. It’s not usually that I think about what shape of someone’s nose might be more attractive, but I suppose it’s one of the subconscious impulses in your mind, like head shape, eye spacing, etc, that work together to give you the instant reflex of “that’s good looking,” or “that’s kinda odd,” even if you can’t quite put your finger on what makes that person different from others. Maybe it’s the nose.

234 That thought came from noticing a very friendly woman’s nose in one of my prerequisite courses I’m taking. I’m diverting to talk about light subjects before beginning an excursus on “how to approach dating when dating isn’t the focus/goal/objective.” In each of my classes, there are 5 or less males, making the ratio something like 1:6 or 1:5 men to women in each respective course. This is a little odd. I realize the field might be less interesting to men, but the vast difference could have more to do with a simple, unemphasized detail that I’ve been noticing in trend reports for higher education. There’s less and less men, percentage-wise, in higher ed courses, the higher you go. Amazingly, the focus of grants and government projects is still on getting more women to go to school, but the tables have already turned. It’s something like a 40-60% split in the makeup of men and women who attain baccalaureate degrees in this country (unless perhaps it was Master’s). What are the possible consequences of this? Statistics show that more boys are born than girls, so it’s not explained by population. There is a huge chunk of males missing from classrooms. What are the possible reasons, or consequences? Who knows? No one’s funneling resources to investigate; it’s as if men don’t matter. Oh, I’m not bitter. It’s just as easy to take the alternate view, that “women need the help, men don’t.” But I refuse to take either one. It’s just a fact that no one is obligated to help me, so whether they do or don’t, the responsibility is still on the individual to pursue educational success. But I can’t help but wonder if, given the dramatically high gender disproportion in these classes, it might be within a course or within the field itself that I meet my future wife, just looking at it from a statistical possibility perspective. There’s scarcely anywhere else I could interact personally with so many women close to my age, except for bars/clubs/concerts or church-related youth events. For a middle ground in terms of the chance of meeting a wholesome virtuous lady, the classroom is not a terrible place to be.

235 Addendum to Thoughts #22 & 199. What are the chances that I’ll end up with a younger woman? As recently as a year or two ago, I would defiantly have refused the notion that I wouldn’t marry someone within a half year of my age. But that’s idealism, and the realistic outcome might be different. Should I refuse someone who’s perfect in every other way but happens to be 5 years my junior (if I’m 28 and she’s 23, for example)? The older I get, the more likely this becomes, because the margin of what’s appropriate expands with age. Up to now, if I had entered a relationship with someone 2 years younger, they’d have been 21 or less. But now, 2 years younger is 23, which is not quite so young as to have a high likelihood of being immature or naïve. Since I probably won’t seriously look for a spouse until age 27-28, anticipating a solid career by that time, the idea that I’d get to know someone now who’s 22, and maintain a friendship until then, when she’d be 25, is not very far-fetched.

I think the reason I’m resistant and cautious to contemplating a relationship with someone 5-7 years younger, other than the difference in life experience, is that for most of my life up to now, such an age difference would have been monumental and clearly inappropriate: 18 and 13 year olds? 22 and 15 year olds? Eeugh. But people who are 33 and 25 routinely marry, and the brute age difference is even wider there. But they are in the same age group. Adults. Because people mature irrespective of their biological age, it could be that a marriage to a 23 year old, at age 28, would be wiser than to a 27 year old who is far more foolish. Just letting the thought hit me as actually concerning me, and not just as a distant hypothetical, is a source of amazement to consider.

The really weird thing about it is pondering where such a person would be now. If I married a 23 year old at age 29, then by the time I met her and became engaged, we’d have been 22 and 28, meaning that there’s a possibility that a woman like that would just now be graduating high school, or a freshman or sophomore in college. In other words, I’d have no hope of meeting her now, anyway. Our life trajectories don't intersect at this time. So it may be several years before I’m engaged, not only because I’m waiting to get a career and stable income, and not only because I want to be careful to find the right person, but even because, if the ‘playing field’ is too devoid of suitable candidates my age, my future wife COULD BE, because of our age difference, not even here yet. Not arrived on scene. Somewhere else entirely.

What a mind-boggling thought.

236 Taking those last two thoughts together, there’s a real possibility that I might either meet someone in church or at university, while taking courses to get where I want to get. And they might be significantly younger. Respect for them would demand that I don’t make their life more difficult by ‘jumping the gun,’ and inadvertently pressuring them to commit long before the opportunity for engagement arises. But if they turned out to be fond of me, and for those years did not enter a relationship with another young man, then that would be gratifying. I can see myself like Boaz (paraphrasing), “you’ve shown me more kindness than before, because you could have had any younger man you wanted, but did not.” (Ruth 3:10) It’s equally likely that I can’t find anyone there, either, however, and may nevertheless resort to a dating site later on, but only God knows. I have the opportunity to wonder now, that I may marvel later.

How to Approach Dating when Dating isn’t the Focus, Goal, or Objective