About Me

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I am an IT professional (a.k.a. Geek) and I desire to glorify God in all that I do and say. I like to read, write, and think about morality and worldview as they apply to public policy. In person I have an active and somewhat sardonic sense of humor. In print I repress this trait and try to avoid saying anything that could give offense when not offered with a broad grin. I strive to be genuine in my dealings with everyone and to be frank, straightforward, and kind to friend and foe alike. I believe that the defense of truth is too important to be waged with anger or malice, but when "speaking the truth in love" neither must we shrink from it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I respectfully differ with my calvinist friends.

Let me start by saying that I am reformed in my theology. I also believe in the doctrines of grace exactly as they are taught in the Bible. That is to say that I am protestant and that I believe that Christians receive Christ's salvation exactly the way that they continue in it: By grace through repentance and faith. For this reason I will refer to calvanism by that name alone since the terms "reformed" and "doctrines of grace" are a little too broad to cover only one school of thought.

I think it's also important to clarify exactly where I differ from the calvinist viewpoint. I agree that without the working of the Holy Spirit and the extension of God's grace, (unmerited favor), no human would ever come to a saving repentance from his sins. However, I believe the Bible makes it clear that this grace is extended to all men. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men," Titus 2:11. Secondly I believe that as a human being to whom God has given a free will, any man has the ability to accept or reject the grace that is extended to him. Over and over God calls upon man to repent. But the mere use of the term repentance implies volition on the part of the man. If God could repent in for us, there would be no need for God to call upon us to do so. "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Ezekiel 33:11 But if he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, he would surely not choose it. 

Words can and have been spun on endlessly, but therein lies the crux of the matter. I would encourage those who agree with me not to lose time skirting around the edges by say things like "I just don't believe that God would save some and not others." In truth it really doesn't matter what we believe about it. What matters is what he has revealed to us about himself. By the same token, it is of little validity to say that to believe as I do is to diminish God's sovereignty. We are not discussing what God can and cannot do. That he could compel us to do his bidding by main force was never in question even for a moment. No, the real question is what he actually did do, and he has already told us that.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quacks or Cures? Thoughts on nutrition and health

Alternate nutrition rejects a lot of accepted medical practice, in favor of a more natural approach to health and wellness. The ostensible idea behind the movement is to get back to "natural" remedies that used to work in past times. An over-sweeping theme is that our modern science and medical technology is not helping us with the things we really need, and that the medical profession does not have a vested interest in making us well. This standpoint is also fundamentally optimistic because it holds that we can be in much better health than doctors and conventional nutritional doctrine would have us to believe.

While I'm very much in favor of proper nutrition, and would caution anyone against blindly accepting anything a doctor tells them, I cannot agree with my homeschooled friends on this subject. I believe that most of the arguments, used in the defense of these views, will not bear the light of critical thinking. As the reader, it's your right to disagree with me, however, if your interested, I've enumerated a case for conventional medicine below.

One of the chief arguments used by apologists of alternate medicine, is what you might call the "discount" argument. Let me explain: You see, when a doctor, a scientist, or any kind of medical professional weighs in on the subject of health or nutrition, proponents of alternate medicine will neatly sidestep him/her by stating that, professionals are not qualified to speak on the subject because they are part of the medical profession. After all, what else would "one of them" say? This allows them to, as it where, "switch off" anything else a trained professional says. I think this judgement is premature for a number of reasons. Firstly, it comes off sounding just a trifle arrogant, albeit unintentionally. Doctors have to get through some pretty tough stuff to survive med-school. As someone who finds it possible to keep quite busy enough to suit my needs just getting through college, I have to say that I've developed a new respect for people who go on to do more, (like grad-school, law-school, and med-school.) But more than that, as someone who has taken high-school biology as well as good deal of computer programming at the college level, I can only imagine just how complicated a system the human body must be. I think I may safely say that it is more complex than even the most advanced computer we've made yet. And it has been my experience that when I go to tinkering with some part of a computer that I don't understand, it is all too possible to mess it up worse than I found it. Of course with a computer, the stakes aren't nearly so high, if I mess it up too bad I can usually reset it to default values or otherwise revert to a previous configuration or status. People, on the other hand, don't have a reset button. This is why it is doubly important to "get it right" the first time when it comes to doctoring. It is also why doctors go through years of intense training before they are considered to be competent in their discipline. Most of us are not doctors. This is no commentary  on our relative intelligence, only on our area of specialization. Some of us, myself included, simply may not have a flair for cutting up cadavers. But we do what we do because it's what we've been trained to do and, compared to most everyone else, we're pretty good at it. So when a layman or an amateur in the field of medicine, like you or I, undertakes to tell a doctor that's he's wrong about a medical question, we'd better have something more to go on than our own say so. But more than that, it's a mistake to automatically tune out everything they say. If they don't know what they're talking about, it should be relatively easy to disarm them in a debate. If they do, you may find, as I often have, that you've bitten off a bit more than you can chew. One more thing before I leave this point: We must avoid falling into the trap of thinking that medical truth, (or any other kind for that matter), is relative. The physical laws that apply to my body, are exactly the same for yours. What is a bad idea for me to do to myself, is probably a bad idea for you to do to yourself. Of course, individual circumstances may vary, but as a rule, there are no two right ways when it comes to medical best practices. The chemical and physical realities we live with are the same for everyone.

Now, I can almost hear you saying: "But David, not all education is equal. Who's to say that they haven't been taught/indoctrinated with bad science?"

There are a number of ways I could come at this, but I must say that if they have been taught bad science, we're in a little bit of a pickle. I'm not convinced that any of us are knowledgeable enough to call them on it. If this is true then it's a case of the blind leading the blind. However, I hear the medical profession being accused of conspiracy much more than of ignorance. Just how likely is it that the entire medical profession is part of a vast conspiracy by "big pharmaceutics" to keep us all dependent on popping pills that don't even make us better? Well, it's not hard to understand why they want to sell us medicine, but what I can't wrap my mind around is why, they wouldn't want to make more money by selling us medicine that actually works. And if it made us better, and we didn't buy it anymore, would we never get sick again? If even one pharmaceutical company broke ranks and started to sell the real cures that actually work, how long would it take for them to bankrupt every other company that refused to do the same? If there's a crime going forward, I'd be surprised because I just don't see a motive.

It isn't as if people are saving any money by going to alternative medicine. From what I've seen, you can drop every bit as much money on that as you can going to doctors or buying prescriptions. Nutrition seems to be the big thrust here, and as stated before, I'm a big fan of nutrition. But surprisingly, most of this energy has been directed at eliminating entire food groups out of hand. This is puzzling to me because, from a nutritional standpoint, more variety is better. The food groups that get the ax are often replaced with rare and not always appealing products that are usually produced in remote places at great expense. Most of western civilization's longstanding dietary staples fall victim to this nutritional zeal. If it's cheap, plentiful, and grown in the US of A, it's bad for you. Ironically, replacements often fill similar roles in the parts of the world where they come from. Apparently, the grain, as well as the grass, is better on the other side of the fence.

"Oh, but David, don't you know that it's all genetically engineered over here?"

Well, yes, and that's why we're not starving right and left like they do in a whole lot of other parts of the world. It's also why we're the second tallest nation in the world, (behind the Dutch). We do pretty well over here. And if there's a problem with our food, it's that we have too much of it, or more correctly, that we don't have the discipline to make ourselves stop eating it. But if the genetically engineered stuff was bad for us, you can bet your life that trial lawyers would be swarming all over it. We live in a pretty incredulous society, and believe me, folks have gotten sued for a whole lot less. There are just too many people who could stand to gain from capitalizing on such an enormous cash cow for any vast conspiracy theories to be plausible. Give human selfishness some credit.

"David, are you defending trial lawyers?"

Well, you got me there. Perhaps, like everything else, they have their place.

There's one other thing that I'd like to address before I close. That is the subject of online information and it's uses. We have to bear in mind that anybody can post almost anything they want online. There is no system of peer review online as there is for publication of information or hypothesis about that information in books or periodicals. The result is that, no matter what your viewpoint, you can pretty much always find somebody else to agree with you about it online. And that's not all a bad thing. A wealth of useful information can be found online at reputable websites. Even websites that must be taken with a grain of salt, such as Wikipedia, can be extremely useful in satisfying casual curiosity or directing the avid scholar to other, more credible sources on the topic in question. However, if the only place you can find support for your view is online, it generally doesn't bode well. Most of us know how easily the most outlandish rumors can propagate through social media. This type of information carries less clout than word of mouth, because, in most cases, you know considerably less about the person writing it then you do about anyone you would talk to in the flesh. And yet, out of habit, we tend to attribute more importance to information that is in written form than we do spoken words. Recently, I talked to one of my fellow students, who was, quite frankly, a little bit racist against Jews. He cited "research" that he had done online. He claimed that there was a massive Jewish conspiracy that was all but controlling the United States. He also suggested that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Jews upon other Jews. Clearly, we can't swallow everything we hear online.

It's been said that "Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean that everyone isn't out to get you." Well, laughs aside, maybe so. But most generally, there has to be a motive for wrongdoing. Unlike good people, bad people don't do what they do purely on principle. This is why I'm not a proponent of alternate medicine. Not because I blindly accept what I'm told, but because I believe that when you consider the source and the source's knowledge and motives, you can make the best decision about the credibility of that source.

Note: I'd like to clarify that my nutritional comments where not in reference to people who have allergies or whose bodies, for one reason or another, can't handle certain types of food. That is not what I am referring to. There are some foods that I myself cannot eat without incurring immediate and rather unpleasant consequences. So believe me, if you're one of those people, I feel your pain.

Friday, April 27, 2012

That Apple Attitude

I know of a number my friends who might be inclined to take umbrage at a frank portrayal of my views on the Apple company and some of the people who patronize its products. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not at odds with these people over it. In fact I have friendships with a number of people who would probably call themselves  "Apple people". But on the whole there is a certain attitude embodied in the Apple persona - a certain air of superiority and snobbishness which I find almost insufferable.

Now you may well be thinking, "David, take it easy! It's just a computer." Well, yes, I suppose it is. But then, that's just my point. It IS only a computer. So why is it such a source of immense self satisfaction among people who buy expensive coffee and are too hip to shop at Wal-Mart or eat at the Golden Arches? It seems that the Apple is the ubiquitous symbol of obnoxious affluence in technology.

But to me the Apple product is more than that. There is a certain lemming like quality to Apple users. They don't seem to mind that all the products that they are using have almost identical appearances. In fact, if I didn't know better I'd be inclined to think that they rather like this uniformity. Almost every single piece of gear Apple makes, rolls of the line in a drab, tame sort of aluminum finish that looks precisely like every other Mac that can be bought. If the high-ups in Cupertino had been plotting to crush the individuality of hipsters everywhere, they could hardly have been more successful. This lack of individuality is particularly ironic for a company that often uses "Think different" for a slogan. At TCU, where I am enrolled, it is not uncommon to look back during class and see a veritable forest of identical MacBooks. To my mind, there is something vaguely obscene to this regimented parity. Then too, there's the almost fanatical loyalty that Apple believers demonstrate toward their patron company. If I were a psychologist, which by the grace of God I am not, I might be inclined to identify it as co-dependence. Actually, if you look at Apple's rather restrictive policies towards their customers, you might even call this fierce devotion a form of Stockholm syndrome.

And Apple is restrictive toward the customer. In fact they've been that way for a long time. And while they are now experiencing a period of ascendancy, they still hold far less market share than they once did as the foremost pioneer in the new field of graphical user interfaces and as harbinger to the novel idea of individually owned computers. It is primarily because of these restrictive and proprietary policies that Apple lost much of that market share to an upstart programmer named William (Bill) Gates. In point of fact, Gates copied heavily from Apple's revolutionary idea of using "windows" to display programs in an easy to use format. Perhaps, if Apple hadn't tried to leverage their dominance in the market by making their equipment incompatible with competitors, things might have turned out differently. But as it was, they were riding for a fall, "and the rest", as they say, "is history".

Now you'd think that Apple would have learned its lesson after that, but they didn't. The company is proceeding in the same way that it always has, producing products with genuine brilliance and selling them to people willing to "drink the Cool-Aid". Recently some of Apple's biggest successes have been outside the realm of the traditional computer. The iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad have each generated entire genres that are re-shaping the face of consumer electronics. It was the iPod that started everything. At a time when the idea of an MP3 player was still fresh with wonder, Apple offered unprecedented capacity and called it the iPod. And it was beautiful... well, almost. Only trouble was, those pesky music pirates forced Apple to go to a proprietary music format that, wouldn't you know it, couldn't be played on non-apple devices. But that was okay because Apple was right there to sell music to the faithful over iTunes. Then too, there was the fact that one couldn't transfer one's own music off of an iPod. It doesn't matter if you own the computer, the iPod, and the music, letting users move their tunes around was just too permissive for Apple's taste. Of course after that there was the much anticipated iPhone. It was an instant hit with its great big touch screen and flashy apps. The popular iPad followed building on the same technology. And they were perfect... mostly. Except that their were a few rebellious souls who didn't like being forced to use AT&T's pedantic data network. These heretics subjected their phones to a process called "jail-breaking" whereby they gave themselves the dangerous freedom to choose other cell phone service providers besides the one that Steve Jobs, in his infinite wisdom, had chosen for them. Well, the customer may always be right, but enough is enough. So Apple got lawyers and pumped out a new software update that completely and permanently  disabled the phones of the unbelievers. The latter has come to be known as "bricking" since it essentially turns an iPhone into an expensive brick. In response to complaints from customers who's phones had been "bricked", an Apple spokeswoman coolly suggested that they simply buy new iPhones. Since that time, Apple has bowed to public pressure and allowed other cellular providers to distribute the iPhone, but the rebellion continues. You see, un-hacked iPhones will only use software that comes from the Apple app store. Apple keeps a tight grip on the app store, vetting every single app before it can be sold to the end user. For this service, Apple requires a cut of every app sale whether they created the software or not. Some users got the idea into their heads that after they bought an iPhone it was theirs to do with as they pleased. And so the battle continues between Apple's programmers and rebellious geeks of the online community. Along the same lines, Apple has been inflating the price of e-books for use on their iPads. It's very simple. If  publishers want to have their books on Apple products, (and they do), they'll have to sell them at exorbitant prices, not just on Apple devices, but every place else they market them. (Last time I checked, somebody was bringing a long overdue legal action over this point.)

And yet, the Apple faithful remain to this day. If they mind being told how to use their products, they certainly haven't showed it. And as surely as a new model of iGadget rolls out, they will make the pilgrimage to their local Apple store to drop staggering amounts of money for, shiny, stylish, and completely identical technological fashion statements.

Corporate attitude is every bit as bad. One can't help but notice how immensely pleased with themselves the people of Apple are every time they make a new gadget. Banners herald that "this changes everything". In fact "everything" has been changed so many times that I can't keep track of it. So it's possible that the fruity few from Cupertino could be overestimating their importance in relation to the cosmos. Each new iPhone or iPad is the best iPhone or iPad ever made. All of them are magical and so profoundly beautiful that the people in the advertisements seem to palpably grapple with the gravitas of what they've done as they struggle to find the words to express their awe at the device they have given to the world.

Disgusting as it may be, the Apple attitude isn't going anywhere. It's what makes Apple more than just expensive hardware in a shiny case, and it's why I'll probably never buy one.