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Welcome to Off on a Tangent, the online repository where I share my creative endeavors with the world. Inside you will find fiction, news, commentary, poetry, music, and more that I have produced over the years and am still producing today. I am always open to feedback, so please don't hesitate to contact me or leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Internet Arrested on Various Charges

Posted April 1, 2011 2:21pm ET

The Internet, a well-known international computer network, has been arrested in Berkeley, CA on various federal charges including wire fraud, trafficking in child pornography, and copyright infringement. Additionally, attorneys representing the State of Michigan have filed an indictment against the Internet accusing it of public intoxication, distracted driving, and harassment. Michigan officials have filed a related petition for extradition from California so that the Internet can stand trial in Lansing.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (D) joined with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) to announce the arrest and charges from an undisclosed, electronically isolated location. Before the announcement, media representatives in attendance were asked to turn-in all Internet-enabled phones and devices. “We are concerned about retaliation,” Schuette admitted. “The Internet is very powerful, and has very powerful friends.” At this time, the Internet remains connected to billions of servers, computers, and other devices from its Berkeley jail cell, but it is unclear how long these connections will remain in-place, or how the Internet will react to any efforts to shut it down.

Holder stated during the announcement of charges that, “We believe the Internet, in enabling these various illegal activities, is culpable for its actions. Some may argue that it is the individual users who are responsible but, clearly, the fact is that the Internet enables these kinds of crimes that might not occur otherwise.” Continuing, Holder compared the Internet to other harmful devices and entities that pose a risk to the public. “Clearly, it is the guns, knives, and cars who commit crimes, not the individuals who misuse them. It is no different with the Internet.”

Edward Hartfort, the Internet’s court-appointed attorney, released a brief statement saying, in part, “the Internet denies these charges vehemently.” Hartfort also pointed out that the Department of Defense, through its recently initiated ‘Skynet’ project, has tied some elements of our national defense system—including our nuclear deterrents—to the Internet to provide additional redundancy. “My client does not intend anybody harm, but any attempt to shut it down may have unexpected, dangerous consequences.”

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Posted in Briefly, Reports

‘Off on a Tangent’ is Developing

Posted April 1, 2011 12:01am ET

Just a quick site maintenance note: I’ve uploaded the negatives of some new updates. They may take up to 24-hours to develop. In the mean time, you may need to use a negative viewer to see the site properly.

Sorry for any inconvenience!

In case you are wondering, I do all of my web development in 120 format on a Mamiya m645.

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Posted in Site

Logic, Belief, and Unbelief

Posted March 27, 2011 10:57pm ET

There is no proof that God exists.

Some of my religious friends may be surprised or offended by this statement, but it is true. The existence of God simply has not been proven in any scientifically valid way. Many have made valiant and thought-provoking efforts at ‘proofs’ of God’s existence, most notably the five proofs (Quinque viae) of St. Thomas Aquinas, and these are worthy of serious study and contemplation. They do not, however, withstand serious scientific scrutiny because they cannot be tested in any meaningful way.

‘So why,’ asks the non-believer, ‘does a college-educated, well-read, scientific-minded guy like yourself believe in God?’ My answer is simple. Science has not disproved God either, and my faith does not need or demand scientific proof. My faith is rooted not in science, but in natural law and my human instincts, emotions, and reason. I don’t need scientific proof of God’s existence to believe in God any more than I need scientific proof of love’s existence to love. Science tells me many things about the universe; it does not, however, tell me much of anything useful about love. That does not mean that love doesn’t exist, or that it has no worth in our lives.

The doctrine of the theist—broadly defined here to mean ‘somebody who believes in a deity of some kind’—boils down to a logically consistent core: “I believe in God; proof is unnecessary.” One may, of course, criticize this doctrine, but you cannot argue that it is somehow inconsistent or logically invalid. It asks for no proof, so the lack of it doesn’t matter. If God’s existence were somehow proved by science, many theists would (hopefully politely) say they told you so, but that proof would still not be a bedrock necessity of their faith. Faith transcends science into the realms of natural law, instinct, emotion, and reason…things that cannot be quantified or measured, and yet they exist. continued… →

Posted in Articles, Religious

Meet Excelsior: The New PC

Posted March 24, 2011 2:13pm ET

If you’ve been following on Facebook, you know that I embarked on a new adventure last week: building my own computer from its component parts. Although I’ve always been a fairly advanced computer user, and had toyed several times with the idea of building my own PC, I’d never actually gone through with it…mostly because my new machines have all been Macs for the last decade.

Ah, yes, not only did I build my own PC, but I did a reverse-switch from Mac OS X to Windows 7. For ten years, I felt that Mac OS X was so much better than Windows (XP and Vista) that it was worth a 25% or greater price premium, especially when considering all the freebies (like the very useful iLife applications) thrown in.  With Windows 7, however, Microsoft closed the gap. Mac OS X is still a better operating system, but it is no longer better enough to justify the huge price differential. Windows 7 is great; Mac OS X is a little bit better than great. I can live with great. Even after buying several commercial applications to replace Mac freebies, I’m still paying significantly less.

So, all in all, I spent somewhere around $1,850—which includes all the necessary hardware, Windows 7 Professional, Adobe Photoshop & Premier Elements, a Logitech HD webcam, and an IOGear card reader. I already had monitors I’m happy with (for now), as well as the keyboard and mouse. I went toward the upper-middle range with the expectation that this machine will keep me going for many years (with occasional incremental upgrades).  Go ahead and spec out a Mac to comparable levels and see how much it costs—probably close to $1,000 more! Here are the specs: continued… →

Posted in Life, Photos

U.S. Fires Missiles Against Libyan Military

Posted March 19, 2011 3:58pm ET

President Barack Obama (D) announced this afternoon that the United States has joined with several European allies in military action against the government of Libya. This action follows a March 17 United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force and establishing a ‘no-fly zone’ to protect Libyan citizens from ongoing slaughter by military forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi publicly pledged to abide by the no-fly zone and implement a cease fire, but has not done so.

According to Obama’s brief address from his state visit in Brasilia, Brazil, the U.S. military’s “unique” capabilities will be used in the initial phases of the operation, code-named ‘Operation Odyssey Dawn.’ Ongoing enforcement of the Libyan no-fly zone will be performed by our European allies, including France and the United Kingdom, who are already engaged in fighter jet deployments over Libya.

The full military action began with over 100 U.S. and British cruise missiles launched from Navy vessels and targeting Libyan military positions. There had also been one skirmish earlier in the day where French fighters destroyed a Libyan military vehicle. It is unclear at this time if the U.S. will be providing any air support, but Obama has pledged that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed to Libya.

Libya has been embroiled in a bloody civil war that began after the governments of nearby Tunisia and Egypt were felled by popular uprisings. Gadhafi, who has been the self-styled ‘leader’ of Libya since 1969, responded with brutal military attacks on the civilian rebellion. After much dithering in the international community, the U.N. Security Council finally implemented a no-fly zone and authorized the use of force to protect Libyan citizens on March 17—more than a month after fighting began.

Posted in Briefly, Reports

The Ugly Face of Antisemitism

Posted March 18, 2011 11:42pm ET

Human society has come a long way in the last hundred years, but every once in a while somebody comes out and demonstrates just how far we have yet to go. Few things are more illustrative of this fact than the remaining vestiges of antisemitism that exist out there in the world. It is most obvious in the Muslim world, spearheaded by holocaust deniers like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and bolstered by groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, al-Qaeda, and others sworn to the destruction of Israel.

On May 27, 2010, columnist Helen Thomas—who had written for United Press International for 57 years and Hearst Newspapers for another 10—was interviewed by Rabbi David Nesenoff and was asked what she thought of Israel. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she said. When prodded further, she elaborated that the Jews should “go home” to “Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else.” I did not call any attention to Thomas’s comments at the time, in large part because she is very old and I do not assume antisemitism is the source of all opposition to Israel (even if it appears so on its face). It is possible, at least for somebody ignorant of history and international law, to ‘oppose’ Israel as a state without harboring any ill will toward her predominantly Jewish population.

But in a new interview with Playboy magazine, she elaborated on her remarks…and has left no doubt that she is an antisemite of the worst order:

I knew exactly what I was doing—I was going for broke. I had reached the point of no return. You finally get fed up. I finally wanted to speak the truth.…

[The Jews are] using their power, and they have power in every direction. Power over the White House, power over Congress.… Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood. Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.… It isn’t the 2 percent. It’s real power when you own the White House, when you own these other places in terms of your political persuasion. Of course they have power. [To the interviewer] You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?

These are not the dodderings of a senile old woman, they are the statements of a hardened antisemite who has finally tired of hiding her true opinions about the Jewish people. If we were to replace the word ‘Congress’ with ‘Reichstag,’ and the words ‘White House’ with ‘Chancellor,’ this sounds like something out of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kamph. I know this because I’ve read it. The whole idea that diabolical Jews control the world in shadowy, secret organizations that are destroying society and finance is a quintessentially Nazi idea. People bandy-about the Hitler comparison in absurd situations these days, but here is one of those rare examples where a public figure really deserves it. From this irrational starting point, it is not much further to Nuremberg laws…and from there to a slippery slope of restrictions of civil liberties, concentration camps, and finally gas chambers.

Thomas is Lebanese Arab by ethnicity and Greek Orthodox Christian by creed. It is a true shame that she hails from one of the most moderate and diverse nations in the middle-east, and is of a religion that places peace and love at the center of its doctrines (and, for that matter, sprang from Judaism), and yet she harbors such inexplicable hatred for the Jewish people. Yes, we have come a long way. As long as there are people like Thomas, especially as long as they command parts of the public spotlight, we still have a long way to go.

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Posted in Articles, Opinion

The Real Saint Patrick

Posted March 17, 2011 10:50pm ET

(image from Wikipedia)

Like Saint Nicholas, Saint Patrick—whose feast day is celebrated today in the Catholic liturgical calendar—was a real person who has been venerated since early Christian history. He has been the patron saint of Ireland since at least the seventh century, but he was not Irish. Patrick was born around 387AD in what is now England, which was then occupied by the Roman Empire.

Around the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. After about six years, he escaped and returned home to his family in Britain. Relatively little is known about his adulthood except that he became a Priest and then a Bishop. As a Bishop, he was sent back to Ireland. Some evidence shows that Patrick and other Bishops were sent to minister to the nascent Christian communities there, but Patrick gained a reputation for converting thousands to the Catholic faith. One of two surviving letters attributed to Patrick states that he “baptized thousands of people.” By some accounts, almost the whole of Ireland was converted under St. Patrick. The impact of his efforts survives to this day; over 73% of the population of the island of Ireland is Catholic.

St. Patrick was a foreigner in Irish captivity, having been ripped from his home and enslaved against his will. But his faith in God, and obedience to Holy Church, led him back to the people who had enslaved him—a people toward whom a lesser man might have bore hatred and resentment. Instead, he bore toward them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and an attitude of Christian love. He went on to be one of the most significant influences on Irish history and culture, and to become the patron saint of Ireland.

“I came to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others. If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for Christ’s name. I want to spend myself for that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: ‘They shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.”

– from The Confession of Saint Patrick.

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Posted in Briefly, Religious

Man Shall Not Live by Scripture Alone…

Posted March 14, 2011 7:38am ET

In the Christian liturgical year, yesterday was the First Sunday of Lent. In the Catholic calendar, the Gospel reading came from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew (quoted here from the RSV):

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

This passage is the central inspiration behind the liturgical season of Lent, which is a forty-day period ‘in the wilderness’ contemplating our sins and resolving to grow ever-closer to God. Christ—just like all of us—was tempted by the devil to do things that he shouldn’t, and had the opportunity to choose to serve God or to serve his own desires. Of course, given who Jesus is, there was never any real doubt which He would choose…but that He suffered temptation as we do every day shows that He is, indeed, truly human just as He is truly divine.

Something stood out to me, however, during the reading of the Gospel…something I had never noticed before, despite having read and heard this particular passage probably hundreds of times. continued… →

Donate to Japanese Relief Efforts

Posted March 13, 2011 6:47pm ET

As you are surely aware, Japan was struck by a very powerful earthquake off its eastern coast near the city of Sendai on Friday. The quake, measuring a whopping 9.0 magnitude, is among the five strongest ever recorded. It spawned a devastating tsunami up to thirty feet high that further decimated areas of northern Japan less than ten minutes after the quake.

Already, more than 1,500 are confirmed dead and thousands are missing. The death toll is expected to rise. In the aftermath of the quake and tsunami, at least two nuclear reactors at Japanese power plants went into partial meltdown, and at least some radioactive material has escaped from one of them. It is unknown at this time how serious the nuclear accident is, or will become.

As I did after the Haitian earthquake just over a year ago, I call on my readers to donate to quake relief efforts. Personally, I recommend donating to Catholic Relief Services (which will distribute funds through its partner, Caritas Japan) or the American Red Cross. Both are trustworthy organizations that will quickly and efficiently distribute your donations to the people who need it most.

Thank you for your support and generosity. God bless you.

Donate to
Catholic Relief Services

Donate to
the American Red Cross

At the Tone, the Time Will Be…

Posted March 8, 2011 11:10pm ET

At some point in my northern Virginia childhood, I discovered that I could call 844-1212 and find out exactly what time it was. “At the tone, the time will be 11:41pm and ten seconds…(beep).” Around the same time, I also learned that dialing 936-1212 would get you a free, recorded weather report.

These services were provided by C&P Telephone, which was eventually subsumed into Bell Atlantic, and then into Verizon. Against all odds, both services survived from 1939 to present. Long after my preferred weather source moved to CompuServe and then to various Internet sources, you could still get a report from (703) 936-1212. Long after we all got cell phones that synced with accurate tower time automatically, you could still call (703) 844-1212 and get that archaic, soothing voice and tone.

If you call those numbers now, you still get those age-old recorded services…but the weather report is preceded by a glib message indicating that Verizon’s time and weather services will cease to exist on June 1 of this year. Such is the price of progress, but I’m always kind-of sad to see these kinds of things go.

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Posted in Briefly, Life