Tuesday, November 29, 2005
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
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
"'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
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 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
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
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
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.