Friday, December 23, 2005


What if I made a short post for once?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas?

First of all, I know its been a really long time since I posted anything. I don't feel that its inexcusable, however, since I do this in my free time for fun. At least I have a blog(J. Morgan).

So, there is this whole controversy about saying "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" going on right now. In fact, its so important that polls are being taken and headlines written. This, of course, begs the question "who cares?" And the obvious answer is given: the average American. But why? If I say "Merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas, should they be offended? I celebrate Christmas, but if I have a friend who is Jewish should I say "Merry Christmas" to him because I celebrate Christmas, or "Happy Hanukkah" because he celebrates Hanukkah? And what does he say in return? Either way someone is saying something about something they don't celebrate. Quite a dilemma if this sort of thing bothers you. I don't think most of us really care, though.

I think the real problem is that the media has made it an issue. If the media had no coverage at all and my store said "happy holidays!" I doubt the community would be upset. Conversely, if I said "Merry Christmas" some people might get upset, but not enough to warrant headlines. Its my store, I'll say what I want.

But here is the bottom line: sales clerks can't know what holiday each person celebrates. My solution would be just to say "have a nice day" and avoid the whole problem. But apparently that's not an option. So, they can give a generic "happy holidays" to cover everything. That was good last year, but this year its making people mad. Many evangelical groups are labeling this an "attack on Christmas," which is dumb. Its not an attack on anything, its trying not to tell people to enjoy a holiday they don't celebrate.

On the other hand, the majority of Americans celebrate Christmas. I know this because I celebrate Christmas and I'm normal. Its a valid statistical method ;) Christmas is the traditional holiday at this time of the year, as far as American culture goes. So if you want to maximize your chances of actually saying the right thing you should go with Christmas. If you start saying "Happy Kwanzaa" odds are you're going to be off with most people. And I guess this would upset them.

What is really interesting, in my opinion, is that "Happy Holidays" seems to be the preferred term of people who favor secularization of our culture. Yes, its neutral between every celebration, but it also seems to appease atheists who don't celebrate anything at this time of the year. This is strange to me because, as I'm sure everyone knows, holidays are supposed to be holy days. Atheists don't have any holy days. So telling them to have happy holidays should be just as offensive as telling me to enjoy Ramadan. Which I usually do, even though I don't celebrate anything. Its just a nice time of the year, you know?

Anyway, I think this shows that the whole debate is dumb. Its stupid that its making headlines and probably tells us something about our culture. The purpose of this post is just to put something up on my blog, though, so I'm not going to try to figure out what it tells us now, if ever. So, I hope you enjoy all the holy and non-holy days in between now and when you die. Until then, keep getting mad about stupid things so I can have something to write about on my blog when I don't have any real ideas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Government Crutches

Redhurt led beautifully into my next point from the last post. I began by saying that I think that money is the basic unit of liberty in our country today. Barnabas and Jackscolon convinced me that perhaps money does not equal liberty, but I still believe that taking away money equates to taking away liberty, since money is the means by which we can exercise the liberties granted to us. This leads us to the problem of welfare -- is the Robin Hood policy an ethical one? Is it right for the government to take away some of my liberty to give it to others? Is it good or right to force everyone to move towards a more level playing field (note I do not believe we're any where close to level, but things like welfare move us in that direction)? Redhurt made the comment, "it is our responsibility as members of a society that affirms the necessity of liberty for all people to help provide it for those who momentarily are in need." I agree completely with this sentiment. But it leads us into a further avenue of discussion about the government and society in general.

Should the government enforce ethics? I believe that it is morally wrong to have an excess and not share with others that have a need. But is it really the place of the government to force me to be ethical? Furthermore, is a society worth preserving if the majority of its members are immoral and have to forced into morality by a higher power?

I believe there have been societies in which the majority of the people were interested in being responsible for the success of the society. People willingly contributed to society because they cared. I think the US right after the Revolution is an example of such a country. I think Iraq now is another example. When 80-90% of eligible voters actually vote it shows that people are interested in the country. They want their society to flourish and function well. They are willing to work and make personal sacrifices to that end. I believe that if poverty and unemployment were pressing problems in these societies that individuals will take it upon themselves to solve them without massive government intervention. When people are willing to sacrifice to make their societies work the government doesn't have to force morality.

When, on the other hand, you have to coerce people with sayings like "vote or die" and hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising and you still only get 40-50% voter turnout, the majority of the people in your country don't care. They lack a personal interest or investment in the country's function. Is this a society that should be supported and perpetuated? Is it good for the government to pick up the slack when the people fail? I don't think so. My personal belief is that we should work against this type of society and either it should change from within, which I favor, or it will be crushed from the outside. Eventually the majority of people won't voluntarily be responsible for any of the things we should as members of this society. Either the minority who care about the country will end up forcing the people around them to be moral or the minority with power will take over, since the average citizen is too disinterested to stop them. Right now, I believe, we are living in the fat transition time between a healthy society and societal downfall. We are an example of why, in my opinion, great countries that collapse usually do so relatively soon after the height of their material prosperity. People get comfortable and then they stop caring. Once a majority of the country is living well enough that they don't strive to improve their condition and are far enough removed from those who are suffering, the country as a whole becomes apathetic. Then society rots from within until someone pushes it over. We still have time to work to make our society healthy again before that happens -- we can rebuild from within instead of waiting for someone from outside to topple us.

In order to solve this problem we have to identify some of its causes. I already mentioned above that comfort often causes people to become apathetic. However, I don't think a good or ethical solution is to deprive everyone of comfort. That will just cause a cycle of working towards comfort, becoming apathetic, and needing to have comfort taken away again. So that's not a good solution. Instead we should focus on the other half of my above statement -- allowing people to be removed from other's suffering. I contend that many of the government programs currently in place actually aggravate the current situation. Here is my rationale:
I believe that most Americans are generally good people. They don't want others to have to live in poverty and they are even willing to make some sacrifices to help others. But they don't want to give away everything they have, they want to contribute some percentage -- they're not socialists. So they are picky about what they give their time and money to. And when it comes to domestic issues I think that we often say, "I already pay for welfare and other government programs through my taxes. I'm going to give where there is more need, the government will take care of these issues." I don't know about you, but I do this. I give money to foreign relief often, but I almost never give to any domestic foundation. Because the government has programs like welfare we become removed from the situation. We don't understand what needs there are, or the extent of the need. But more importantly, we no longer take responsibility and ownership for these issues. We let the problem fall onto the "government," and eventually we do this so much that we no longer feel any sort of ownership over our own society. In fact, it leads to resentment and frustration. We no longer see the needy as people, but instead they are leeches sucking away our tax money. We feel bitter about the fact that we are forced to pay for certain programs and so we stop contributing at all. We draw in on ourselves and away from the society in general. If we gave voluntarily, on the other hand, then we would take interest in the situation, we would take ownership over the problem, and we would care about being a healthy part of our society. People take interest in what they invest in. I think the problem goes back to FDR and the Depression. Before that time the country had gotten by -- not necessarily as well as it should have -- with voluntary support for the poor. At least for the most part. But the Depression was an extraordinary historical circumstance in which the majority of the people didn't have the means to help anyone else. And in that case we needed the government to step in. I don't know if any of FDR's programs really helped the problem that much, I tend to think WWII had a lot more to do with breaking the recession, but that's irrelevant. The programs in question were necessary for a time but should have been dropped when the extraordinary circumstance was past. And supposedly that was FDR's plan, and I hope he would have stuck to it if he had lived. However, these programs continued and grew to the monsters they are today. Over 50 years our society has let the government separate us more and more from the needs in the country and we have given ownership for the society largely to the government, rather than the people. That's why we have so many people today wanting the government to regulate morality. And it is. And if people don't start taking responsibility for their own actions and taking ownership over our society, the government is going to keep growing until it bursts. And that will either be a complete dissolution of the US, like Rome after 410, or subjugation to an oppressive government. And either way its a bad thing.

So this leaves us with a great deal of questions to discuss. Maybe too many for one post, but here they are, in summary:
1. Is it ever right for the government to regulate ethics?
2. Is a society in which the majority is irresponsible worth maintaining? Is it right and/or good to have the government grow to fill the void of personal responsibility?
3. What causes this lack of responsibility? Can things ever really be different?
4. Is the current state of our society really a problem? If so, how serious of a problem is it?
5. What can we do to change things?

My final synopsis is this: Is it good for us to help out the needy? Yes. Should we be forced to do so by the government? No. If the average person doesn't want to help, what should we do? I don't know. Do people, in general want to help? I think so. Why don't they? Because the last 50 years have driven us so far inward that we have given responsibility to the government. If the government wasn't helping would people start? I hope so. Should the government just drop these programs right now? No, our society needs to heal over time. Dropping everything now would be disastrous. But we need to start working now towards a time when these government programs aren't needed. We need to start teaching people to take responsibility. And the government needs to gradually give our society back to us.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Liberty in America

I've been thinking about it, and I guess I am Libertarian in some core ways, but I think the party is stupid. In the course of thinking about politics and ideology I've come to this conclusion: money is the basic unit of liberty in the US today. Maybe that's more obvious to everyone else than it was to me at the time, but I think its definitely true. Money is what gives you freedom. Its with money that you have the power to create, build, buy, grow, eat, work, contribute to society, etc. There are other ways for all of these things to happen, but they are all precluded by money. Money is the basis by which we can accomplish anything on our own in America today. I know that people have been talking about the "almighty dollar" and things like that for a long time. But this isn't about what motivates us, its about freedom, liberty. Many people find it distasteful to say that money is the basic unit of liberty. They feel like there should be something more ephemeral, something more ideological. But it seems to me that in our capitalist society there is no more basic form of liberty. Some would say that our votes are our most basic form of liberty. But again, I disagree. Our votes let us shape the way that our liberty will be infringed or expanded upon. Take away my vote but give me money (in our society) and I can still accomplish things on my own. Take away my money but give me my vote and I can't do anything but vote. Similarly, some people would say that privacy and personal choice are the basic form of liberty. Again, take away my privacy but leave me money and I can do things. Take away my money and give me privacy and personal choice and I can't accomplish anything. In fact, without money I quickly lose privacy and probably personal choice. Money is the means by which all the liberties we prize are afforded us. And therefore money is the basic form of liberty.

This has given me a somewhat different perspective on things like taxes and welfare. Taxes are the government taking away some of my liberty in order to provide me with services. In return the government protects my liberty from being taken in a greater degree by others. Its a trade off, but obviously its something I'm willing to pay for (otherwise I'd leave. Since I have money I have the liberty to do so). Welfare, on the other hand, is the government taking away some of my liberty so someone else can have their own. This is incredibly altruistic and idealistic. But is it right? Is it the government's place to see that everyone has some degree of liberty, even at the cost of infringing upon another citizen's liberty? My initial response is no, that government programs like welfare are unethical. My money is my liberty. My money affords me the opportunity to give liberty to others by sharing with them. If I am a good and ethical person I should give from my excess to those in need so that we can all enjoy liberty. However, I should not be forced to, nor should I be told how much of my own liberty I must give away.

On further thought, however, I find a line hard to draw. If I should be able to choose whether I give up my liberty for social equality, why can't I choose whether to give up my liberty for the government's protection (taxes). The logical conclusion from my previous line of thinking is that taxes should be voluntary and everyone should buy, whether from the government or elsewhere, whatever protection, social justice, and anything else that they feel is beneficial. Social equality is certainly beneficial. Is it as beneficial as the government's protection of my liberty? If so then I should not mind paying for it. If not then why not? And at what point do we draw the line? I am forced to concede to the tyranny of the majority. The only logical and ethical way to decide what is important enough to be required of people and what should be voluntary is to have everyone vote and go with the majority opinion. I can't think of another way which is viable in practice and not oppressive to the majority by a minority, which seems worse than the opposite. So now we decide by voting what liberty we, as a society, are willing to give up. This gives more power to the vote, which in turn gives even more power to money. Now money has become not only my liberty, but if I can use my money to influence the way others vote (which I obviously can) then my money has become a means by which I affect the liberty of everyone in the country. My money can buy me even more power when applied to the vote.

In summary, money is the basic unit of liberty in America today because it is the means by which we can accomplish anything and the basis for all other liberties. The government's forced taking of my money through taxes is a sacrifice of my liberty to gain some other end. Whether this end is worth the price paid cannot be left to the individual because it is impossible in practice and unfair to let each individual decide what government programs they will pay for. So we bow to the majority's interpretation of cost and benefit. And this gives my money even more power, including the power to manipulates others' liberty. In America today, money is the means whereby liberty is granted.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I just took a whole bunch of online political quizzes -- just for fun. Every time I came out as centrist or slightly Libertarian. In one test I was equated to Colin Powell. In another I was in the group with John Kerry and Gandhi. However, in most discussions I am considered a fairly conservative person. So I was surprised by the results. Why the dichotomy? One interesting point is that many of the tests were run/designed by Libertarian websites. Are Libertarians trying to convince people that they are Libertarian to bolster their ranks? Or maybe these quizzes are dumb. Or maybe we just talk about the wrong issues so I always seem conservative. Not that I'm considering a party switch at this point, but what do you think? Am I a Libertarian at heart?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Veiled Threats

People are mourning a sparrow in the Netherlands today after it was shot for knocking over dominoes during a world-record bid. I am all for the reasonable protection and moral treatment of animals, therefore I can agree with the spokesman for the Dutch animal protection agency, Niels Dorland, when he makes this criticism:

"'Under Dutch law, you need a permit to kill this kind of bird, and a permit can only be granted when there's a danger to public health or a crop... That was not the case. I might add, is it really necessary to kill a bird that knocked over a few dominoes for a game?'"

I agree. Killing the bird was probably a bit excessive in any circumstance. Given the fact that the bird is on the national endangered list it is even more ridiculous, and I would expect that the perpetrators will be fined, as they would for breaking any environmental protection law. I would not expect jail time for this type of crime considering the circumstances -- they were not intentionally hunting an endangered animal -- especially for a first-time offender. Some of the Dutch, however, do not seem to have my sense of proportion. The Endermol production company, which organized the event, "is considering some kind of memorial or mention for the dead bird during the television broadcast Friday," although they defended their actions. That seems a little bit over the top to me. A memorial for a sparrow? I don't know, maybe that's okay, maybe we should value even an animals life more highly than we do. But that's not where it ends. Dorland starts to get a little crazy:
"'I think they were awfully fast to pull out a rifle,' he said. 'If a person started knocking over a few dominoes they wouldn't shoot him would they?'" Apparently Dorland values the life of a sparrow as highly as that of a human. I think that's ridiculous. If you hit and kill a stray dog in your car should you be treated the same as if you hit and killed a person? If you go hunting should you be considered the same as a murderer? Even if you're a hardcore anti-hunting person, is it really the same as killing another human? In addition to Dorland's outrage, "A Dutch website called Geenstijl offered a $1,200 reward for anybody who knocks over the dominoes ahead of time to avenge the bird." I can't imagine living in a world where this would make sense: We need to avenge that sparrow, that poor bird -- you shan't have died in vain, oh sparrow! By Grabthar's hammer... by the Suns of Morvan... you shall be avenged!

But seriously, how can we justify taking animal rights to such an extent? Or rather, how can we justify taking animal rights to such an extent for only certain animals? A bird, apparently, is enough of a lifeform for its death to cause an uproar. But what about a lizard? Can I kill lizards if I want to? What about insects? Can I kill spiders in my house? Mosquitoes? Apparently there are lines somewhere for these people. But how do they determine what's right and what's wrong? What are the criteria along which we draw these lines? And why stop at animals? What about plants? Plants are every bit as alive as animals. You might argue that they can't feel pain and so it's okay to kill them. I bet that sparrow didn't feel any pain when it was shot. I don't know if birds are even capable of feeling pain. You might also argue that plants have no consciousness. What defines consciousness? Plants react to their environments and the outside stimuli that they can interpret. They lack the organs necessary to react to certain stimuli that animals generally can, but they still react to what they can detect. Do we limit our protection of life only to lifeforms that perceive existence in a way similar to ours (assuming that animals can really perceive existence)? And if so, why? Why do we feel like we can draw the line there?

That is, in my opinion, is what is so disingenuous about animal's rights movements -- they draw arbitrary lines about what is right and wrong. They give no criteria -- they don't even tell you the rules. But if you do something they think is wrong they are up in arms. They want you to follow their rules just because they think they are right. In fact, these animal's rights group's beliefs seem to mirror religious beliefs: they have a set of morals taught by teachers to "disciples" and they seek to live according to these morals based on their faith in the system or their teachers. There is not science or even solid logic backing their claims. And now they're trying to force their religious beliefs on everyone else and calling for vengeance against those who don't see the world the same way they do. They are intolerant and want to use the governments of the world to enforce their personal moral beliefs on everyone else. This is ridiculous, and if it were Islam or Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism then everyone in favor of freedom would be speaking out against them. They are, at the core, no different. They want what's best for the world -- as we all do. But rather than trying to teach others to appreciate and understand their morals, as those of us who value freedom and personal choice do, they seek to force their beliefs on others through anger, vengeance, and non-secular legislation. What many animal's rights groups are doing is tantamount to imposing religious laws and they should be opposed accordingly. I'm not saying that all of their views should be opposed (though I obviously believe that their rationalization needs questioning). I am not saying that animals should not be treated well. I am not against trying to get people to value all life as well as our environment more. I think that, especially in the US, we all need to value life more. But these are moral values and personal beliefs. They are battles that must be fought in the civil realm through civil discourse. Forcing other people to have your morals, even if they are truly better, is wrong. These group's desire to use the law and revenge to impose moral rule is heinous, and it is a threat to freedom and needs to be stopped. We cannot allow even one group to use these means or we will lose the ability to stop anyone from using them.

Friday, November 11, 2005

We're Not Israel

Clairification: In case it isn't obvious that I believe such: I think that if Pat Robertson is a decent human being and a Christian that he should retract his ridiculous statement about God abandoning people because of the way they vote and he should apologize. However, I have no illusion that he will do so since saying outrageous, slanderous things about God seems to be his hallmark. God's hallmark, on the other hand, is faithfulness and He will not abandon people who love Him no matter how they vote. God's not so petty -- if He were then I know without a doubt that Pat Robertson would be dead by now (along with the rest of us, I'm sure).

Pat Robertson is saying that God is going to cause disaster to befall people who voted a school board out of office after they advocated teaching "intelligent design." Actually what he said is that by voting against the intelligent design people they "rejected [God] from [their] city" and that if there is a disaster, God will not help them. The idea that God will cause the disaster seems to be only implied. First of all, lets make this clear: Pat Robertson is an idiot. He is an idiot who knows how to inflame idiots and annoy the rest of us. He is an idiot who has a very poor grasp of Biblical theology -- anyone who would advocate assassinating a political leader because he advocates something you hate has missed the whole point of the Biblical story. I think the biggest problem is that Pat Robertson has only read the Old Testament of the Bible. I don't know this for a fact, but I say it because if you take the Old Testament alone and take chunks of it out of context you end up with the kind of theology he espouses. In the Old Testament, God causes calamity to fall on His people when they start following other gods. He smites people who try to oppress His people and stand against Him. There is a constant theme of Deuteronomistic theology -- the idea that when you follow God good things happen and when you go against Him bad things happen. There is one glaring problem with Robertson's interpolation of this theology to America today (all hyper-conservative Evangelicals take note): America is not Israel. God does not have a covenant relationship with America the way He does with Israel. God did not make promises about America to its founders, and He never said that we were His people. He said all of those things about the nation of Israel. The book of Job shows that Deuteronomistic theology does not apply to individuals -- Job had bad things happen to him even though he was a good person and obeyed God. Instead we see that this kind of theology only applies to the nation of Israel, which we are not. So it makes no sense to believe that God is going to make bad things happen to punish us for not voting the way He would want us to.

All this is irrelevant in this case, however, because Intelligent Design is dumb. I don't believe that God wants anyone to teach ID. If God wanted us to teach creation in school He would want us to teach Creation, not some stupid theory backed by made-up science that refuses to name Him as the Designer. In fact, ID is just as bad as evolution when it comes to taking the role of creation away from God, because ID could point to any god or force. So if God thought it was important that public schools teach that He created everything then ID is just as off as evolution. In fact, neither one excludes or includes God. Neither one is more right about God than the other because both are scientific theories, not theologies. Neither says anything at all about God. And so Pat Robertson is now an idiot twice over: once for saying that God would punish people for how they vote and again for saying that God supports ID over evolution.

Let me take this opportunity to point out that hardcore evolution supporters are also idiots (I know, there are a lot of idiots around these days). This whole altercation was begun when some parents and the ACLU sued the Dover school board because "The board ordered schools to read students a short statement in biology classes informing them that the theory of evolution is not established fact and that gaps exist in it. The statement mentioned intelligent design as an alternate theory and recommended students read a book that explained the theory further." I've already said how stupid I think ID is, so I won't go into that. But it is ridiculous to sue the school board over this. The truth is that evolution is an incomplete theory. It does have holes in it. There are a lot of things still unexplained. That doesn't necessarily mean that evolution is wrong, but it does mean that there is still work to be done. And current high school students are going to be some of the people to do that work, so they should be told about the need for dedicated and interested researchers. Teaching that evolution has holes, since it does, will lead to greater development in the research of human origins because it will spark interest in high school students. Teaching that it is a flawless theory is at least as bad as teaching ID. So in this case there are idiots all around. My suggestion: move out of Dover.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sony Exploits Users

UPDATE: You can go here to tell Sony what you think about their unethical and intrusive behavior (thanks, RedHurt).

Sony has taken a page out of the hacker's book and created semi-intrusive software that only affects Windows machines. The hackers, apparently, are happy to let Sony do the hard part for them and are having a hay-day with the access to root directories of Windows installations that Sony's software is affording them. The fact that hackers, and now Sony, target Windows is mostly because it's the most widely used OS -- or at least that's a big part of it. It also has way more security holes (the latest Linux kernel only has 10 security related bugs -- 10! That's crazy. Why aren't we all using Linux? CORRECTION: 10 percent of the bugs in the current kernel are security related. That comes out to about 98.5 bugs -- which is still really good, but not as amazing as 10) and hackers usually have a personal dislike of Microsoft. However, the bottom line is that many of them will target whatever yields the best results, so this is not really Microsoft's fault.

In fact, in this case nothing is Microsoft's fault. This is all Sony's fault. This has to be some violation of privacy, not to mention private property. Sony has basically started packaging a virus with all of their music CDs. This virus gets on to your computer and uses a rootkit (even if they asked for permission this is pretty intrusive) and installs software that won't allow you to play their music on anything other than a Sony player. And it does all this without telling you that its doing anything. Apparently Sony underestimates the average computer user's dislike of authority and exploitation. To protect yourself from this virus there are a few avenues you can take:
1. Burn all the tracks from the Sony CD to a burnable CD on a Mac or some public computer that you don't care about. Don't copy the entire CD, just the music tracks.
2. Disable the autoplay function on your Windows OS. You can Google that to find exact instructions. Alternately you can hold down the "shift" key every time you put in the CD to stop it from autoplaying.
3. Don't use Windows. The virus only installs itself on Windows...

Sophos claims that they will have a tool to remove the virus soon, if you're already infected. I think that Sony has way over stepped the bounds of ethical business operation here. Its a very underhanded, Microsoftesque thing to do, and I don't think that we should stand by and let them do this, otherwise it will become standard practice. If it weren't completely illegal I would say that we should do everything we can to propagate Sony music over peer-to-peer networks so that they can't make any profit ;) (that's a wink, as in wink-wink nudge-nudge). However, there are legal alternatives. First, if you've been infected by Sony's virus and live in California you can join a class action suit against Sony. Furthermore, we can boycott buying Sony music. However, if you must have some you can buy it from iTunes or Napster. The tracks themselves are not infected, just the CDs. Finally you can take one of the steps above to at least make sure that you don't get the virus. It is ridiculous and unethical for companies to install software onto personal computers without the user's permission or understanding. It is also unethical to not provide a removal tool for such software, even if the user agrees to the installation. It is slimy and underhanded -- although easy to get around -- to make people use your player for music they already paid you for. Sony should be punished for their unethical behavior and has lost my business due to their underhanded tactics. I hope that they are not allowed to get away with this intrusive behavior and laws are made to specifically protect us from corporate-sponsored viruses and spyware -- especially if they are installed without our knowledge.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Shifting Markets

I just read this article that says about a million people switched from Windows to Macs because of the iPod this year. My first response was, "People are really dumb and sheep-like in their consumer trends." But when I started writing my angry, cynical tirade of a post I came up with... almost nothing. My point was going to be that you can't do everything you need to on Macs unless you don't do anything real or are an A/V person, and that smart consumers should take the good parts from every company (you can use iTunes and an iPod in Windows, for example). But then I looked at the desktop of my trusty laptop and asked, "what do I do on a regular basis that I can't do on a Mac? What would a Mac keep me -- arguably in the computer elite as I work on my Master's in computer science -- from doing that I want to do?" And the answer I came up with is : nothing. Right now I'm using Firefox, iTunes, Google Desktop, Google Talk, and internet explorer (for school email). I can use all of those things on a Mac. Later in the day I will probably use JBuilder to work on some Java code, and I often use an SSH client to connect to my school's Linux servers to work on my other programs. I also have an X-11 emulator so I can use emacs ;). Basically I'm a big geek, and still I could do everything I want on a Mac. Furthermore, Macs are prettier, easier to use, and more stable than a Windows environment. The only software that Microsoft has to offer for which Apple has no comparable alternative are the Microsoft Office applications (Mac has some similar things, but they aren't as nice. Probably because Apple hasn't made it one of their main money-making avenues over the last 10-12 years like Microsoft has). But Microsoft makes a Mac version of office, so, using my logic from before, the smart consumer would take the best from every company and get a Mac and buy Microsoft Office. There are still drawbacks to Macs -- they're nearly impossible to upgrade or fix on a hardware level, they're really expensive, you have to work a little to get used to the environment, etc. Of course the sensible alternative to all of this is just to use Linux, but that might be asking too much from the average user.

So what has caused this shift in the market? What could make a computer geek like me say that it actually makes sense to switch to a Mac (other than ingrained hatred for Microsoft found in most of us "computer elites")? One thing -- highspeed Internet access. If you notice, almost every application I use on a daily basis is tied to the web. My Google applications, obviously. Email, blogging, news. I would never use iTunes or JBuilder if they weren't freely and easily available over the web. And of course connecting to Linux servers at school uses the Internet. The rise of the internet and fast access, allowing for quick product dispersal, has shifted the average user away from standalone proprietary applications that they buy and use in an isolated environment to web-based applications that they expect to work no matter where they go and they expect them to work in conjunction with other users no matter what platform they are on. As it stands, the only significant application for Windows that no other platform can offer is gaming. And with the advent of the XBox 360 and PS3 that claim to out perform most computer gaming capabilities (personally I don't think you'll ever make a console FPS as good as one where you can use a mouse and keyboard, but maybe Nintendo's new controller will change that), Windows may be losing it market dominance quickly. Additionally, Microsoft only markets software, not hardware. More and more OSs are becoming freely available due to the open source movement (all Linux distros, Sun's new OS that is supposed to come out soon, etc.). Even if they have to give their OS away for free, Apple will continue to survive because they make cool hardware and gadgets, like the iPod, that no one else can. Microsoft, on the other hand, will see their profits plummet if there is no longer a market for expensive OSs. We may very well be on the verge of a new era in the computing industry where Bill Gates sits his uncreative, non-innovative butt back in a lazy boy and enjoys his billions while the rest of the world moves on to bigger and better things that don't cost $200 a license and aren't full of security holes that bored teenagers can exploit to ruin my life for fun. I might not ever buy a Mac, but I may never buy a Microsoft OS again, either.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Saving the Best for Last

This is the last paragraph of the sermon Kyle Lake would have preached last Sunday morning. It is likely the last thing he wrote, and definitely one of the best things he ever wrote. Given the fact that he probably wrote this at most a week before he died, its statments about life mean even more than they could otherwise. It couldn't be more perfectly addressed to us who he left behind. No one could have written something better for us to read right now -- and that's really cool and really creepy. We don't have to wonder "what would Kyle want?" because it's right here, and it's beautiful. Anyway, that's already too much from me, this speaks for itself.
Live. And Live Well.
BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now.
On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.
If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE.
Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.
If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well.
Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed.
If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own.
If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well.
At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


On Sunday, October 30th 2005, at age 33 with three children under 6 and a wife, Rev. Jeffrey Kyle Lake was killed in an accident while performing a baptism during the church service at University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Kyle has been my pastor for as long as I've been in Waco (working on my 4th year now) and had become a central part of my life here. He was a figure in my existence. Something I thought was fixed, some one who was here when I arrived and I thought would remain after I left. Kyle and I were not extremely close, but I considered him a friend and a leader in my life, and I know that he cared about me -- I know that he cared about everyone at that church, even if he only knew their face and not their name. I learned a lot from Kyle over the years. He echoed my desire for authenticity. He is the first pastor I knew to lead a church in the authentic, honest way that I feel is so necessary. He was a person of passion and love, and he changed my life.

A few years ago I would have believed that God some how "let" this happen because for some reason unknown to me its better this way. But I don't believe that any more. I do not believe that the world is better off without Kyle. I no longer believe that God makes or lets tragedy happen, and Kyle helped me come to what I believe is a more accurate understanding of God and our world through his sermons, our conversations, and his books.

First of all, it is important to believe that this world is not where God wanted us to live. This is not the world that He created for us. In the world He created there would be no tragedy, just as the world He will later create will know no sorrow. If you do not believe that God intended for us to live in a better place then I think that your belief deviates sharply from a central point of the Christian faith in that regard.

God does not "let" bad things happen to us in the way that we usually mean when we say that. The only sense in which you can say God "lets" something happen is to say that He did not actively step in with a miracle to stop it. God did not "let" Kyle get killed any more than He "lets" my pencil fall when I drop it. I just dropped my pencil three times and each time it fell to the ground. I could say that God "let" that happen because He certainly is capable of making my pencil float in the air. That is the only way that we can say that God "let" Kyle die. Kyle was waist deep in water and somehow an electric current was in the water. When that electric current went through his body it caused something to happen that made him die. There is nothing different between that and my dropping the pencil, except how it impacts our lives. Years ago I would have believed that God had some plan for letting Kyle die and that something that would come from it was His plan all along. If someone tried to tell me today that God let Kyle die so that some other good could come I would probably punch them in the face. So don't tell me that unless you want to get punched.

Yes, God could step in and save us from every situation in which we could get hurt. Which would basically be putting us back into the world He originally created. But we would always ruin that world and introduce pain, and He would always have to step in and miraculously save us from ourselves by changing what we intend to do or the reasonable effects of those actions. And that would basically take away free will, I think. Whatever the reason, God doesn't step in to miraculously change the course of events very often.

Originally, God's work in the world was creative. He made the universe and man. And He made them the way He wanted them to be. But then some how man ruined what God had intended (whether the account in Genesis is factual or allegorical the bottom line is that man corrupted what God had made perfect). I believe that the Bible teaches that all of creation was corrupted by man at that point, I don't know if its a debatable point, but its somewhat tangential to my main point, so I'll just pass over it.

Since the world was corrupted, God's work has shifted from creative to redemptive. His major work in the world today is to save us from it. We live in a world that is dominated by pain, anger, greed and hatred. God steps in and redeems the situations in our lives so that they are not all destructive. He redeems us daily by sanctification. When creation helps point us to God rather than ourselves it is redeemed. When a work of art is created or experienced as worship to God rather than man the art is redeemed. God is active in the world to redeem our lives and His creation. He is not, usually, active in preventing us from experiencing pain. Not because it is better for us, but because that is the world that we, by our nature if not our will, have chosen to live in. There may be good things that come from tragedy, but that is because God redeems the tragic situation. God takes something wholly worthless and makes something good out of it. There are good things coming out of the tragedy my church experienced this week -- our community is coming together as a family in a way we haven't in awhile if ever, the church community in Waco is coming together to support us, people who haven't talked in years are rekindling friendships, etc -- but these things are happening because God is redeeming the tragic situation we are in. He did not create the tragic situation so that these things would happen.

I think the reason that our "God let it happen" theology came about is that we are scared to admit that we live in a world where things God doesn't want happen. We want to believe that God is in control of every situation and causes everything. It is true that God is capable of taking control of every situation. It is true that God can save us from disaster and sometimes does. Paul was saved from death at the hands of man and nature on may occasions. However, in the end Paul was beheaded. God saved him miraculously some times and another time He didn't. But none of those times did God make the situation that He saved Paul from. Furthermore, just because God allowed Paul to go through certain things because He could use those situations for good does not mean that every experience that everyone has is because God planned it. God can bring good out of even the most tragic situation, but that does not mean that God causes tragic situations so He can bring about the good. That is the same reasoning that some early Christians used when they said "we should sin more so that God can show more grace." Its ridiculous and illogical. God can make good come from good -- He doesn't need the bad to make good. But when God brings good out of bad we really notice because it is in the bad that we become desperate. I believe that is why it appears that "Pain is God's megaphone to a deaf world" (C.S. Lewis -- maybe paraphrased). Not because God actually causes pain so that He can get our attention, but because in pain God is no longer drowned out by the world around us. In pain God is the only thing offering hope, the only one bringing about good. So in pain God's voice is magnified in our lives, but not because it was never there to begin with, just because we don't listen as well when we're not in pain. Its our fault, not God's, that we only hear Him when we're in pain.

We could sit back and say, "If God is who He claims to be then He could reach me even during good times." I don't know whether or not that's true. Some would say that no matter what God does you will not hear Him in it if you are not focused on doing so. Either way, God is always available if we look and listen for His work around us, even if it takes some work and time sometimes before we can discern Him among what we experience around us. So we cannot fault God for our failure to look for Him, that is only our fault. If we allow God's voice to reach us, if we allow Him to redeem even our good times by letting Him direct them towards Him rather than ourselves, then we will have "life more abundant." God's work in these days is to redeem this fallen world and draw it closer to the creation that He intended. And the more we let that happen the better our lives and our world become. God is at work in our lives and the world around us to redeem us. To save us from despair. To remake something beautiful out of so much garbage. He redeems us over and over again, day by day, situation by situation. There was the great act of Redemption in His sacrifice on the cross, but His redemptive work continues today and is active among us. That is the God I know, that is the God who loves me, that is the God that saves me and brings me to life even though I live in so much death.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Not Reason Alone

On this post at RedhurtMachine, Drifter made the following comment:
One other thing that gets me doubting is the whole book of Acts and the other "signs" that the apostles speak of. If these kinds of things were possible by believers...why don't these things happen anymore? Why have I never seen or felt the holy spirit come upon the way it is described as coming onto the converts of the early church? Did they mean what they said more than I do? Why doesn't anyone honestly expierence these things anymore? Why don't we ever hear about people being healed miraculously by other people? Why don't we see people coming back to life? If the things that were true then are supposed to be true today...why are things so different?
My response is this:
First of all, I think we need to escape from the Modern mindset that reason defines reality. Reason is a facutly of man, and as such God is not subject to it. Therefore we can never reasonably draw the conclusion that something God is supposed to have done must be untrue soley because it is unreasonable. Ironic, huh? Instead we have to approach all things about God and His nature with the mindset put forth in Isaiah 55:8-9 :

8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

It is the height of human arrogance to believe that we can understand why God does what He does, or presume to say that He should act a different way than He does.

Furthermore, I don't think that the apparent lack of miracles, assuming that it really is universal and not just in my life and yours, is not unbiblical. Look at the old testament. It is full of people preforming miracles, but they are all years apart. What happened between Elisha and the other major Prophets? What happened between Hosea and Jesus? I'm sure the people then were also saying "Where are all these miracles people are always talking about? How come no one is doing miracles now?" It may be that God only preforms such miracles through people at certain times -- specifically times when they will achieve some end that we cannot understand. It may well be that a time may come again when there are many miracles happening often.

Finally, there are people today that claim that such miracles do still happen. As I'm sure you are, I am always skeptical of these claims. Especially by certain groups. However, it may be that such miracles occur where they are appropriate, according to the mind of God. It may simply be that your life and mine have never intersected those times. There were plenty of people in Israel, as small a country as it is, who never saw one of Jesus' miracles. Yet that doesn't mean they didn't happen. Now we're talking about a global scale. Just because neither you nor I ever comes in contact with a miracle or even someone who has seen one (although, as I said before, I have heard a few first-hand accounts, at least one that is mostly credible) does not imply that they are not happening. That would be a wholly unreasonable conclusion to come to. It is notable to mention that there isn't really a sense in Acts that every Christian was able to preform the miracles, mostly only Apostles. An apostle is, literally, "one who is sent." It is also important to note that The 12 Disciples were not the only apostles. Barnabas and Silas are both specifically called apostles. Apostles are people with the highest "calling" in the church who are specifically sent by God to do some work -- not all who are called to evangelism or missions are necessarily apostles. It would not be unreasonable to believe that only Apostles, as those with the highest calling, are given the gift to preform miracles all over the place. That is just my own conjecture, I have no further reason to believe that than it seems like they account for the majority of the miracles in the new testament and it makes at least a little sense.

All that being said, I think that it is unreasonable to use reason as a measurement of truth when God is involved. God can do things that seem unreasonable, or even are unreasonable. Furthermore, the lack of miracles around you may not be so unreasonable at all. The experience that you and I have had does not warrent the conclusion that the accounts in Acts are false. One final point concerning the fear that the Bible has been significantly altered is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were very close to the current manuscripts we were working with at the time they were found, so any significant changes to the old testament were done before 200BC. I suppose that you could claim that people since then changed the new testament letters and not the old since the old were already canonical, but the fact that they didn't change the old provides at least some hope that they left the new generally in tact -- at least enough that they didn't take the truth out of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Magic Numbers

What is it about the number 2000 that gets people going? Is 2000 deaths in Iraq really more significant than 1999? 1995? I don't think so. I think I have to go along with Dogbert's reasoning for why the world would end in the year 2000, "Its biiiiig, and rooooound" (meaning the number 2000, not the earth). People are generally simple, and therefore like big round numbers to make things easy for us. Of course, 2000 is not that big. We lost more people in one day on D-Day, 2500 to be exact. Now I will grant that D-Day was probably more significant than the Iraq war -- Hitler was definitely a bigger threat than Saddam. But this was on one day. Our casualties in the Iraq war span years. Every time any service man or woman dies we lose a hero and its a tragedy. But losing 2000 people to liberate a country -- and I optimistically think an entire region -- is a small price to pay, historically speaking. I don't want to marginalize our loss or our troops sacrifice, but I do want to impose some sense of proportion. It is my distinct belief that those making the 2000 death mark a big deal would be saying almost identical things if it were the 10000 mark. I believe that they want this to be a big deal, they want a big number, so they are acting like its a huge number even though it is amazingly good considering how long we've been fighting and the resourcefulness of the enemy we're fighting. I agree with Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, this is an artificial "milestone."

In the article linked above Lt. Col. Boylan says this to the media: "I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq... The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."
So what does CNN print as the headline on their front page? Yeah, "Deadly Milestone in Iraq War." Thanks CNN. Thanks a lot guys.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


For anyone doubting Harriet Miers' fitness as a Supreme Court Justice, check out her credentials. Now, I'm not saying that anyone who has published so many papers that the titles alone span several pages is necessarily a genius. I'm also not saying that someone who has been involved in law their whole life and given honors in many of the positions they have held is always a good nominee. However, I would say that Harriet Miers is both of these things. She has tons of law experience as well as a great deal of non-legal, "real-life" experience that other candidates may lack. Additionally, she has had a front row seat to the GWOT (or whatever its called now) and its affects on the government and individuals involved. No other candidate has. I think that alone pushes her near the top, if not right to it, as many of the important decisions in the decades ahead will be related to terrorism and how we ought to fight it. Understanding how we have fought it before, what is necessary to fight it, and effects of fighting it certain ways is important to make a good decision. She is in a unique position to rule on matters relating to terrorism and our responses. Also, I agree that it seems like a SCOTUS nominee ought to have been a Judge at some point, but that is certainly not a consistent precedent.

Does anyone else think its ironic that this year she was honored with the "Sandra Day O’Connor Award" from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism?

On a seperate note, I'm really glad that I wrote that post "Define: Evangelical" about Carman defining the evangelical movement because I get more hits from people searching Google and MSN for "Define Evangelical" or various Carman titles than any other search criteria. Maybe that actually proves my point...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mikey's Back

In case there is anyone who reads this blog and not Michael Yon's:
1. What's your deal? Michael Yon is a must read.
2. He's back in Iraq and now he's writing for The Weekly Standard, which, if I had to choose, would be my favorite magazine. I don't really read it much though and I just let my subscription die. But I had a subscription to it once so that makes it on the top of the list since I've never paid for another magazine in my life.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Things We Know

Wow, I almost set a record for "Longest Time Without a Blog Entry" -- maybe I should have held out a little longer so I could claim the title. Grad school will do that... at least when you're taking a class from Jeff Donahoo.

I was reading this article today and was somewhat shocked by this argument made by a cancer patient supporting assisted suicide: '"We are terminal and we know when we have a few weeks left. We know when we're unconscious. We know when we're at the end."' You probably see right away what caught my attention: "We know when we're unconscious." You do? Doesn't that defy the definition of unconscious? But maybe she meant the larger 'We', meaning people in general. Or maybe We.

I think this does get right at the heart of the argument against assisted suicide -- we really don't know. There are people who doctors give a few days to live and they live for years. We may know with some certainty a few days before hand, but I don't think we really know any further than that. We might know that its coming, but that's true for all of us. If the idea that you know you're going to die is grounds fro assisted suicide then we're all eligible -- unless you're claiming immortality. And there are those of us who believe that every day alive is precious, and that -- without taking time (because I don't have it) to expound the argument -- is why we're against ever ending a life before it is really over.

I have to go to class -- grad school will do that. But I really do think we've hit on the key disagreement of the assisted suicide debate here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricanes Cause a Lack of Proportion

People here in Waco are preparing for the worst as hurricane Rita churns towards Houston. In fact, these people are going to such extremes as stocking many days' supply of food and water as well as hoarding flashlights and batteries, if not evacuating the city altogether. And its all just a big game. In fact, its ridiculous. Originally the path of the hurricane had it projecting Tropical Storm strength winds into Waco -- possibly. Overnight that changed and now we're not expected to get more than heavy rain and thunderstorms. From this I can conclude a few things:

1. Hurricanes cause people to lose all sense of proportion.
2. Pretentious rich people think that disaster and evacuation are fun.
3. Everyone who is not rich and pretetious in Waco (and some who are) either don't have access to the internet or are too ignorant to know how to go to or the National Weather Service.

Their actions are absolutely unfounded. My classes are cancelled tomorrow because of the hurricane. Now, I'm not going to complain about getting out of class, but the hurricane isn't even expected to make landfall until Saturday. Even yesterday they were saying that it would make landfall late Friday night. Given that it is currently moving about 9MPH, projecting Tropical Storm winds about 175 miles from the center, and that Waco is somewhere around 300 miles from where it is supposed to make landfall, we wouldn't expect to feel any noteworthy effects until late Saturday morning (it would take about 13 hours for the strong winds to reach us). Most classes here end before 3pm -- well before the hurricane would even make landfall. But still people are packing up and heading north (and I hope west, otherwise they're moving straight into the path of the hurricane) or stockpiling goods like its Y2K -- with about the same end result, I'll bet: lots of extra food that sits on the shelf until you move out. Anyway, some people are getting pretty crazy here and I think its crazy that they're getting crazy. But it comes back to my previous point, people who aren't actually going to be harmed think that disasters are fun, so they're pretending that we're at risk. Plus I don't think we can rule out the good old Texas desire to not be left out. "What, you had to evacuate your home in Houston? Oh, yeah, well we're all evacuating here, too. What, did you think that just because you're from a city on the coast directly in the path of the hurricane that somehow you're the only ones that are at risk? Us folks hundreds of miles inland well to the west of the projected path of the storm are suffering too." Or something like that. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong and the apocalypse is coming in the form of something named Rita. If that's true I probably won't ever write on this blog again. Otherwise I'll probably keep making fun of Texans -- especially rich pretentious Texans.

On a small tangent, my brother said that he read a meterologist's website claiming that the Russians developed a weather machine and sold it to the Japanese Mafia (is there such a thing?) who are now using it to create not only the hurricanes, but strange clouds in Montana. Those mafia types, they're always sticking it to us! What with those strange clouds and all. They're so spiteful!
It is notable, however, that a good deal of US oil refineries stand to be damaged by these storms (Katrina and Rita) since they are all in coastal areas of Louisiana and Texas (oil refining is pretty much all that Galveston and Texas City do, and they're two of the first cities that are going to be hit by the hurricane. They also get hit by big hurricanes just about every year -- I can't figure out why people still live there). If there were some rational way that hurricanes could be man-made I wouldn't rule out a conspiracy, although I don't think that the Japanese Mafia would be my primary suspects.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oil Companies Playing Games?

The recent hike in gas prices has confused me a great deal. Its not that the price went up dramatically after Katrina -- that makes sense. We lost oil production infrastructure and therefore supply was lower without demand changing much. So prices went up. What confuses me is that they're going down now. Not that I mind, it just seems odd to me. I suppose its possible that the production we lost has been regained, but that seems unlikely since there hasn't been enough time for any large-scale repairs and many of the areas ravaged by Katrina are still on watch if not evacuated because of hurricane Rita. So why are prices going down now? It seems to me that there are only three options:
1. The oil companies raised prices based on public perception rather than reality, and there was not much damage done to production infrastructure. Prices went up because the average person believed that production had been hurt so they were willing to pay more.
2. Oil companies are basing prices on predictions of future production, making it more like the stock market than an actual product. They thought there was going to be a shortage in production so they raised prices. The shortage didn't happen and so prices are going back down.
3. The damage was small and in areas that are not threatened by Rita so production did go down significantly but its already been fixed. This seems like the most reasonable explanation except that right after Katrina hit everyone was talking about the extensive damage done to as much as 16% of our oil production infrastructure. Of course, this is pretty important to our country, so maybe we can get a lot fixed in three weeks. I'm really not sure.

So, are the oil companies playing games with prices, or was the damage real but already fixed because we put so much into it because its vital to us? Someone with more information than me, please explain how this all makes sense.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Impotence of the Modern God

"God has no hands but our hands" -- I'll get to read those words every day for the next week or so when I drive past St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waco. The sentiment, however, is hardly confined to this one church. In fact, I would contend that many if not most "Evangelical" churches across the country would agree with the above statement. And I don't think that such arrogant and short-sighted theology can be separated from the typical evangelical mindset. This belief that somehow God needs us, that God can't do what he wants to without us, is appealing, but wholly wrong and mislead.

Its not difficult to understand where such a sentiment might originate. Paul, on many occasions, talks about the members of the Church being members of Christ's body. Furthermore, Jesus says that His disciples are like workers that God sends out into the fields to do His work. There are numerous examples of members of the church being exonerated to do work for God -- even the over-used and often misrepresented "great commission." The New Testament especially, although not solely, is full of commands that each of God's followers needs to do God's work. So it is understandable that they believe that we are to be like "God's hands" in the world. Martin Luther says that each Christian is to be like a "little Christ" to everyone he comes in contact with. It is a necessary and obvious conclusion that we, as Christians, are called to do in this world what God is doing.

However, the jump from that to the idea that God can do nothing without us is both illogical and unfounded. Personally, I believe that it is better to have hands than not, especially if there is some work that needs to be done with them -- that it is better to be able to do your work than to need someone else to do it for you. Therefore when Jesus says "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him," it implies that God can do His own work, because He is greater than us. And therefore, in terms of this analogy, He has "hands" of His own.

Even apart from such inductive reasoning, any study of the Bible will show that God has more than enough means to do His own work. This is the same being who spoke into nothing and thereby created everything. This is a God who caused plagues and natural disasters to fall on any who stood against Him, when He saw fit. He also caused the walls of Jericho to fall, the Flood, and a number of other miracles -- not to mention the immaculate conception.

Some might argue that these were all pre-Jesus's death/Pentecost miracles and since then God has decided not to work in the world but to use us instead. This seems like a wholly stupid and unfounded conclusion to come to on its own, but there are more examples of God working apart from people in the later books of the New Testament. For example, there is the conversion of Paul, the very thing that we claim God needs us most for -- evangelism/conversion -- He does all on His own when He wants to. Furthermore, there is the death of Ananias and his wife -- which I bet is rather embarrassing to the same groups of Christians who believe that God has no hands, because they also tend to believe that God is big and cuddly and doesn't do things like strike people dead anymore. Obviously God still acts on His own behalf, even after Pentecost.

So, now that it has been established that their position is wholly without grounds in the Christian faith, I am interested in the causes and effects of such impotent theology in the modern church. It seems obvious that such theology gives a great degree of power to the individual. God cannot accomplish His desired goals without you. God needs you. I can see how this is appealing -- power is always appealing. However, an especially troubling conclusion is that God doesn't possess the power to affect the changes He desires in the world. That implies that God cannot help you in any way other than spiritual benefits. Furthermore, it means that much of what happens around us is out of His control. God no longer weaves us together in our mother's womb, He no longer causes the sun to rise and set and doesn't keep the cosmos in balance. We live in a system that was set up long ago and now runs out of control. That means that hurricane Katrina was an accident -- God watched in horror as it moved and destroyed lives, powerless to stop it without His hands. The world is out of control, and God can't help us. This theology is right in line with the Diests', believing that miracles are not true and God does not interact with the world in any tangible way. Indeed, in this way of thinking God is no longer omnipotent, but rather impotent. I think that this theology has shaped the way modern Christians think, and it has contributed greatly to their arrogance and their "white man's burden" approach to the world. It also explains their need to separate 'sacred' from 'secular' because the only way to keep yourself safe from the world is to stay away from it. Jesus promise that, "surely [He is] with you always, to the very end of the age" doesn't really offer a lot of comfort.

All that said, are there any more ideas on the causes and effects of such theology? I think that it is so commonly accepted today that we fail to question or examine it often, and I think we will all benefit form understanding where these Christians are coming from and where they are going if nothing changes.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lazy Journalism

I hate it when Journalists are too lazy to do fact checking. I hate it even more when they use incorrect assumptions they hold because of laziness to make the main point of their articles. I hate it even more when they state their assumptions as fact and make ignorant readers even more ignorant. This is one such article.

The first sentence begins the ignorance: "John Roberts faces the unsettling task of reigning in strong-willed and experienced colleagues, including two men he beat out for the job of chief justice, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas." The idea that he "beat out" the sitting associate Justices is what really gets me. Later she states, "If confirmed, Roberts would become the junior member of the court, where the average age is 70. In a twist, he would be its administrative captain." And shortly after this, "But he has never attended a conference where the justices debate cases. The weekly meetings are open only to the nine justices. Roberts would run the sessions, and that requires keeping long-winded justices in line." Basically she is making the case that Roberts has a particularly hard job because he is going to be Chief Justice without ever having been an associate. She also tries to make the case that Thomas and Scalia may be upset about not getting the seat themselves. That might be true, but I hardly think it reasonable to say that "Bush picked the 50-year-old appeals court judge on Monday to succeed William H. Rehnquist, passing over conservative Supreme Court justices the president has praised in the past: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas " -- passing over implies that it was at least in some way expected that they would be nominated for elevation. And even more absurd is the idea that, "In turning to Roberts, Bush avoided a nasty and lengthy confirmation fight but he may have miffed the sitting justices." Again, to be "miffed" these Justices would have to have thought they were in line for the job.

And now for the facts that make this article so absurd. I obtained these facts in less than 30 minutes searching the web using Google. In the history of the Supreme Court there have only been 16 Chief Justices. Of those 16 only 5 have ever been associate Justices (you can search through all the chief Justices at this link). One of those was John Rutledge who only served 4 months on a recess appointment before being rejected by the Senate. Additionally, he and Charles E. Hughes were not members of the court when they were appointed chief Justice (Rutledge retired in 1791 and was appointed chief in 1795. Hughes retired in 1916 and was appointed chief in 1930). That leaves only three men who were elevated from sitting associate Justice to chief Justice: Edward D. White (appointed chief in December, 1910), Harlan Fiske Stone (appointed chief in July, 1941), and William H. Rehnquist (appointed chief in September, 1986). Therefore it would be completely unreasonable to believe that president Bush would choose a sitting Justice to become chief. In fact, it would be more remarkable and out of synch with history if he did. The sitting Justices mentioned may indeed feel "miffed," but they have no right to feel such, because there is no history to show that they have been "passed over," but rather Bush has followed suit with most of history by leaving them associates. Further, it would be almost as historically similar to promote a retired associate than a sitting associated. So by that logic every previous associate Justice who is still alive (now I'm being lazy, because I don't know if there are any) should feel just as "passed over" as Thomas and Scalia.

Gina Holland is right -- Roberts does have a difficult task ahead. She is also right that Rehnquist's shoes are going to be tough to fill -- for anyone. However, she has absolutely no reason to insinuate that Roberts is going to have any harder a job than the 11 other chief Justices that were never associate Justices. And by stating such as though it were a fact she is causing already ignorant readers to become even more so. I don't know if Ms Holland is aware of the facts that I have presented, but her article makes absolutely no reference to them. And that is irresponsible journalism. In this case the inaccurate representation/lazy reporting is going to have little or no fallout. However, if this kind of thing is going on with these articles there is no reason to believe that the same practice is not being used for articles with far weightier implications and consequences (like the Time piece about Koran flushing that cost lives). Publications ought to strive to make their journalists produce works that are factually sound and give an accurate picture of the story. Otherwise they are going to quickly be replaced by blogs -- if you can't produce something better than some idiot with internet access why do I care about your article? Why on earth would I pay for it? If they don't have something unique and valuable to offer they will be replaced.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Watch: Reality Slip Away

"Watch: Death and despair in New Orleans" That quote appears exactly on right now. Some would probably classify me as a cynic, but I think that pretty much sums up our culture right there: "Sit back and watch disturbing images of other people suffering. Then go get some McDonald's and watch WWF or Nascar for the rest of the night." Okay, maybe I'm going overboard a little bit. I just saw that line on CNN and I couldn't help my disgust. Its just so insensitive, unfeeling, and inhuman. And we do it all the time. We replace entertainment with real suffering of real people. Maybe we have the decency to shake our heads and say "man, that sucks." But we continue to consume and consume, allowing the media to capitalize on tragedy time after time. The news sites right now are full of pictures of dead people -- as though we need a visual of a body to believe the story. To me its infuriating that the dead are shown so little respect and are used so casually. I don't know where I'm going with this except to say that it disgusts me, and I can't believe that CNN actually let something like that appear on their website.

I just read another video headline -- "'People are dying in front of us'" I couldn't repress the tagline: "And now they can die in front of you, too! Just click this link!" Seriously, though, we're looking at these people like specimen in a glass box. Look, theres some death and destruction. Ooh, and theres some angry and hungry people (also a video on CNN). And people dying in front of me over there. And finally a little dose of despair! This is great! Meanwhile on the other end are not actors or computer programs or dolls, but real people really suffering. While we watch and news crews film. Wonderful.

I might have more to say about this later.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rational Disconnect

I just read this comic, Candorville -- which is one that I read most days (I read comics when I'm bored at work) -- in which the author makes the claim through one of the characters that affirmative action "ensur[es] qualified blacks and latinos from bad schools have access to college." That is one of the most bigoted and stupid statements I've ever heard. First of all, I cannot say whether or not this author's views accurately reflect those of all pro-affirmative action parties. Also, I realize that many of the rational left do not advocate affirmative action and realize that it is not a solution at all. Thank you for not drinking the party kool-aid, so to speak.

This author's statement is one of the most racist, bigoted, and ignorant remarks I have ever seen in print other than satire. The obvious question then is, why blacks and latinos? What about the Asians or white kids who live in poor conditions and go to bad schools? Do blacks and latinos have a monopoly on poverty in the United States? I'm not even sure they have a majority. But regardless, there are plenty of poor people in bad schools who are not black or Latino. So do they not matter any more? How racist. Or perhaps its the 'qualified' part that singles out blacks and latinos. Perhaps he feels that other poor kids must not be qualified for college. Again, how racist. And this brings up perhaps the most relevant point: What makes someone 'qualified' for college? Obviously not education, because he's talking about kids from 'bad schools' -- presumably schools that don't educate properly. Not standardized testing either, because we wouldn't "need" affirmative action if the SAT/ACT scores were leveling the playing field. So what, then, other than race, makes one kid more qualified than another to go to school if not education or skill as measured by standard tests? And how in the heck does affirmative action support that, since it only looks at race? And of course, that's the ridiculousness of it all. Affirmative action does not solve any problems except making rich white people not feel bad and appeasing powerful pro-minority groups like the ACLU.

The poverty cycle is a real problem. Its true that poor kids that go to bad schools never have the same opportunity as richer kids because they are denied the education that others can get because of things that are out of their control. The problem is no longer a racial problem, though. Affirmative action was meant to stop schools from only taking white students. That's not a serious problem most places anymore, and even if it is affirmative action still doesn't help the poor kids, it just helps the well-off minorities secure positions at prestigious schools -- the schools are all going to fill their quotas with minorities who went to good schools, not those who went to bad schools. So this thought that affirmative action is helping break the poverty cycle is simply ignorant. Unless you take the stance that all blacks and latinos are poor and go to bad schools (which is also ignorant), you can't seriously believe that universities are choosing the kids from bad schools and helping them escape poverty. As far as I can tell there are three real solutions to this dilemma, and affirmative action is not one of them:
1. Improve public education so that there are no 'bad' schools
2. Increase access to state universities so that any student who attended public school in the state can attend. This necessitates that 1 be applied to said universities for it to mean anything.
3. Require universities to fill quotas from socioeconomic classes rather than races. Its like affirmative action except it looks at wealth rather than race. I don't think this will ever fly.

I hope Darrin Bell reads this post, and maybe he can even enlighten me as to how his reasoning makes any sense at all. But I doubt he will, given his past comics that dismiss bloggers as ignorant hacks that don't deserve to be taken seriously. Mr Bell, if you do read this post I want to thank you for your comic strip, I enjoy reading it. However, I think that your opinion about affirmative action is short sighted and ignores the reality of the situation. In lieu of any response from him, since I am doubting that it will really come, I'm interested in hearing anyone's ideas about the poverty problem and any rational ways to fight or solve it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Stem Cell Research out of the Grey Area

Normally I detest the Washington Post for a variety of reasons, but their coverage of the latest advance in stem cell research is extremely interesting. Apparently a Harvard research team has discovered a way to convert ordinary skin cells into stem cells. The implications of this development speak for themselves. Notably, the new method is actually an improvement over previous work with stem cells because the stem cells are now an exact genetic match for the donor -- which is of supreme importance when we're talking about growing replacement organs and such. Before, making an exact genetic match involved turning one's cells into an embryo and then harvesting the cells -- essentially starting to grow a clone and then harvesting its stem cells. This is both very complicated (and therefore expensive) and morally grey, if not reprehensible.

Furthermore, this advancement is a huge victory for science because it takes stem cell research out of the moral ambiguity realm and therefore out of politics -- for the most part. Senator Frist, you really screwed yourself this time. Frist made the mistake of deviating from the President's stand on stem cell research about a month or two ago. If he would have just waited he could have been pro-stem cell research without pissing off the majority of the hard right wing -- pretty much all the "religious right". Anyway, recent polls have shown that Frist doesn't have much of a chance for his presidential ambitions, and I can't say that I mind. The really important thing here though is that stem cell research can now move forward unimpeded and we no longer have to worry about sacrificing innocent lives to work on cures for other at-most-as-innocent-if-not-less lives. And I think that is a very good thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Small Update

I haven't written anything in awhile because I just drove back to Waco for school last week. I've been busy this week getting things in order here and whatnot. Today isn't much of a post, but its something ;)

Michael Yon writes about his frustration with the military's seemingly random classification or release of information. He also states that no matter how classified the military says information is it usually ends up in the hands of the MSM before they give him the go ahead to write about it. And he goes on to explain why this usually leads to the marginalization of stories that should be huge -- especially US successes. He insinuates that its not necessarily the MSM's fault, that they are not intentionally messing up stories. Rather they simply do not have the context to correctly cover the story because they do not have any reporter or journalist involved with the military operations in question in any way. If this is true then the military is, excuse the figure of speech, shooting itself in the foot when it comes to popular support. Yon seems to say that if sources like himself were to disseminate this information first rather than the uninformed MSM then the public would get more of a sense of success from Iraq. That would obviously increase support for the war and military at home, possibly curbing the sharp downward trend in recruitment numbers. So, why is the military doing this? Is it a classic example of ridiculous rules by generals that do more harm than good? Or do they hold out hope every time that someone won't leak this story to the MSM before they're ready for them to? Whatever the reason, I hope that they realize their mistakes quickly. These men aren't stupid -- its hard to get promoted that high and still be stupid. They have to have some reasoning that at least makes senset to them. Whatever it is its not correct, though, and I hope something opens their eyes to that at last. I don't believe that the war is completely going our way all the time. But I do believe that the American people hear a lot about failures and almost never about victories. I used to blame the MSM alone for this -- and in a way its still partially their fault for not having or interviewing anyone who is actually involved. But if the higher ups in the military could change their policies and let more positive information get out to the public I cannot imagine why they won't. Everyone who is actually in Iraq who I have seen quoted says that we are winning this war, but that they enemy is still strong and learning. Thats not at all the impression I get from the MSM. They seem to say that we are getting no where in Iraq fighting some guerillas who are schooling us like those in Vietnam. I hope that the stories from these two sources fall more into agreement in the coming days.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Getting Serious

Iran has dismissed the IAEA ruling that they should cease uranium enrichment. The current president, not the psycho who was just elected, said that the ruling was "cruel" and the foreign ministry spokesman said "It comes from American pressure... It lacks any legal or logical basis and is unacceptable." Haven't we heard all this before from another crazy dictatorship in the region? And didn't it lead to France and the UN saying we shouldn't act on the resolution past? Can anyone deny that Iran's current defiant stance is not at least in some way related to the failure of the UN to act on its words with regards to Iraq? Our actions and inactions have far reaching consequences.

Furthermore, apparently we have proof that Iranian weapons are being smuggled into Iraq. Whether this is with the aid of the government of Iran or due to a lack of security at its arsenals it is very concerning and unacceptable. I know that Iran is supposed to be 10 years away from producing a viable nuclear weapon. However, it doesn't take that much development to pack a mortar round or artillery shell full of enriched uranium and put it in an IED (I learned from Michael Yon that those are mostly made of motor rounds and artillery shells). It won't cause a nuclear explosion, but it will be a very effective "dirty bomb" spreading deadly radiation for miles. That counts as a WMD, I'm pretty sure. This is not a casual threat, but a very real danger for our people in Iraq and the Iraqis themselves. Furthermore, it wouldn't take much more effort to smuggle this uranium into the US and set off a dirty bomb here. In a population center like NYC this would be catastrophic. The damage to the economy would be far worse than 9/11 because we couldn't resume normal operations in that city for quite some time, even if there was relatively little destruction. When we talk about Iran enriching uranium there are other threats besides a nuclear explosion that take far less time to develop. And they're already arming our enemies and training suicide bombers. We have to remember things like that when we consider how to deal with Iran in the coming days and months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

First Hand

I highly recommend that everyone read this post -- and every other -- at Michael Yon's blog. He is a journalist with US soldiers in Mosul, Iraq. He regularly goes on missions with these soldiers and writes about his experiences -- good and bad -- on his blog. This is first hand information that you can't get anywhere else. Here are some interesting quotes from today's post, but please read the whole thing at his site:

"During the first phase of this war, many of our troops were riding in unarmored Humvees and other vehicles. Soon they were being torn to pieces. Once the vehicles were up-armored, the enemy was unable to defeat much of that defense. For a time. But today—although armored Humvees are great and can defeat many threats—the latest generations of IEDs can effortlessly swat them away, spreading their parts over city blocks. The enemy has destroyed our most powerful armored tanks with underground bombs that leave craters in the roads large enough to make swimming pools... The attack last week that killed 15 people, including 14 Marines, catapulted this topic to the front pages. A massive explosion completely destroyed their 28-ton armored personnel carrier. Traveling almost as fast as that news was speculation that our armor is insufficient. But the news that never flashed is that no amount of armor can completely protect us. Armor is extremely important, but given time, the enemy will defeat it."

"Flash burns from bombs are deadly. I’ve seen it many times: anything exposed is fried in an instant. Skin and flesh just peel-off. The super-hot flashes also melt contact lenses to eyeballs before people can blink. Years ago, when I was a jumpmaster, I remember sticking my face outside the aircraft to check surroundings, and my eyelids slapped and flopped in the torrent. That was only about hurricane force winds. The blast in an explosion opens the eyelids, fusing the melted contacts to the eyeballs. Smart soldiers don’t wear contacts in combat, but others often do."

"A couple minutes later, we leave the base and begin the drive downtown; passing spots where so many car bombs and IEDs have exploded. Within a few blocks, we are 15 seconds from rolling over a large bomb buried under the road... One of the terrorists does a double take at the lead Stryker, blowing his cover. The call instantly goes out to 'Block left! Lock 'em down! Two pax!'"

"The Bionic Terrorist seems mentally disturbed. He's poxied with panic, his face contorted by abject terror. Clearly, he is deranged, possibly explaining his prodigious running ability. The enemy is known to use and discard mentally-challenged persons. The poor guy probably doesn't even know what language we speak."

"But that wasn't the whole story. In the Yarmuk neighborhood, only terrorists openly carry AK-47s. The lawyers call this Hostile Intent. The soldiers call this Dead Man Walking.

Deuce Four is an overwhelmingly aggressive and effective unit, and they believe the best defense is a dead enemy. They are constantly thinking up innovative, unique, and effective ways to kill or capture the enemy; proactive not reactive. They planned an operation with snipers, making it appear that an ISF vehicle had been attacked, complete with explosives and flash-bang grenades to simulate the IED. The simulated casualty evacuation of sand dummies completed the ruse.

The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the "casualties," "abandoning" the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That's when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down."

"For a moment, I nearly ran back out to drag the terrorist behind the Stryker, but then I thought, Nope, he’s a terrorist! If Kurilla gets shot, I’m definitely going to get him. But the terrorist can get shot to pieces and I don't care.

Instead of doing something useful—and I feel marginally guilty about this, but not too much—I start snapping photos as the Commander drags the guy by the collar to get him to the cover of the Stryker. I can't believe Kurilla is still alive after nearly a year of doing this."

"That’s three strikes. Time for the EOD[Army Explosives Ordinance Disposal] guys to pull out and leave. This irritates and angers the soldiers immensely, but I’ve run with EOD guys before, and their work is exceptionally dangerous. The enemy specifically tries to kill them, making it important that EOD be used only when absolutely needed. This EOD team said that if we find the bomb, please call. They drove home."

"She smiled the whole time, as if to say, That’s my boy! The translator heard her say to her son, “Don’t worry. You will be released soon.” She smiled at me.

The most serious terrorists do not fear prison here. Captain Jeff VanAntwerp, who commands Alpha Company, recently told me that Iraqis joke among themselves that they would pay 5,000 Dinar per night to stay at Abu Ghraib prison. It's air conditioned, the showers are good, the food is good, and the water is good. The mother seemed to know this and it curled in contempt behind her smile."

"During lunch, the Chief persisted in his entreaties to LTC Kurilla, saying his police would find all the bombs, break the cell, and give the prisoner back tomorrow at the latest. And they could. The Iraqi Police could break the cell because they can break the man.

Terrorists often target Iraqi police--especially this station--so the Chief was becoming frustrated, and he continued to angle for the opportunity to interrogate the prisoner, suggesting creative ways to circumvent the inconvenient rules, like, "Let him go and we will catch him again." But LTC Kurilla kept reiterating, 'You know I can’t give him to you. I might not agree with all the rules, but I must enforce them.'

'Give him to me, just for the night,' the Chief said. 'You can have him back tomorrow.'

'That I cannot do,' Kurilla replied firmly. 'If your police had been with us when we captured him, you could have him. But these are the rules.'"

"I walked back through the dark and did the radio interview by cell phone. During such interviews, I get the impression that people at home are losing faith in the effort, though we are winning. But at home they cannot see it, and when I said goodbye that time, I sat in the dark."

"It happens that the explosion was an accidental detonation of the large bomb we suspected had been left under the road by Yarmuk Traffic Circle. Apparently the terrorists had gone back to hook it up, but it had detonated, scattering some car parts, but no human parts were found. Our hunch left a crater eight feet in diameter, and took out an entire lane. Three artillery rounds also had been blown from the hole and lay unexploded nearby. Had Kurilla not spotted that nervous double-take seconds before the stripe-shirted terrorist could hit the #7 key, that bomb might have hit us."

"That night, there was an important memorial for Nils Thompson, the soldier who had been killed by a sniper. Soldiers had labored for days, and into the nights, to make a fitting ceremony for young Nils Thompson. Top officers, a General among them, came to the ceremony. Though he'd just turned 19, Thompson already had earned respect from officers and men in the unit. Many quiet tears marked the true pain of the loss. A few soldiers wondered, Do people at home even care?"

"Captain V is one of the most respected officers here. When things go wrong, soldiers love to hear his voice on other end of the radio. They know that things are getting better fast when Captian V is on the way. A couple months ago, I rolled out with his section, and soon we were sleeking on foot down the darkened streets and warrens of Mosul, far away from the Strykers. We got into contact and there was some minor shooting drama, and I ended up separated with only two soldiers. We were alone in Mosul. Guns were hot. There was a sergeant and a young soldier, and the sergeant's radio could not reach out. 'Let's stay here and Captain V will find us,' I suggested. But the sergeant was having none of that sit-tight stuff. He wanted to keep moving, and so we did.

Before long, a Stryker came creeping down a dark road and stopped in front of our latest position in a dark alcove. The ramp dropped and Captain V walked out. 'Hey, guys,' he said. 'How's it going?' Much better, I thought. We re-grouped and continued the mission."

"After midnight, the ramps dropped and we slipped silently into the dark spaces of Mosul. Creeping through stinking alleys, we took cover in darkness, sometimes illuminating briefly under shop lights, then disappearing back into the shadows.

No sound, no sight, just soldiers prowling through the murk of war, bringing worry to men who should be worried. The soldiers found the right house, and silently slipped inside."