Friday, December 18, 2009

Grass Pharisees

No, not that kind, the green stuff all over the ground, what you always meant by "grass" before the 1960s. Now, I don't really mind grass, I don't dislike it or anything like that. It 's just that sometimes we move and find out our new neighbors have some kind of fixation on grass. Some people think their yard has to look as good as any golf course, and a few of them seem to measure it regularly to see if it needs to be mowed again.

Now I am not bothered that much by people like that; if they get pleasure out of their yard, that's okay by me. But too many of these "grass freaks" get all religious about it; they want ME to take care of my lawn the way they take care of theirs. And that is where I get bothered.

I guess when you come right down to it, I just don't care that much about having a perfect lawn. It does not excite me that much, certainly not enough to put in all that work to get it. I'll do other things, mainly on the house itself. Give me two-by-fours, drywall, paint, wire, pipe and a bunch of tools, and I'm a happy man. But grass? As long as it is reasonably green, and not too tall, that's good enough for me. (No, I don't water my lawn much; it costs money, and I'd just have to mow it that much sooner. Astroturf? If I had that much money, I've got better things to spend it on, like tools.) So what if there's dandelions? They're kind of pretty in their own way, and it's fun to see the fluff blow away. Raking leaves? Whatever for? better to let them go back to the soil where they are, rather than deplete the soil nutrients by bagging them up and throwing it all away! No, I do not get excited about cutting grass, or fertilizing it, or weeding it, or any of that stuff. I'll cut it eventually; I've never let it get so long that I found a car when I mowed the yard. But I don't do it enough to please those grass Pharisees.

We did make one of them happy this past year. We moved away from him and sold the house to somebody else. I don't know if his new neighbor is a grass Pharisee; I know he isn't a fixer-upper like me, because he bought a very fixed-up house from us. That house was in rough shape when we bought it, and the buyer got a very nice house when we left. That's what my wife and I do with houses: buy them run-down and cheap, and clean them up and make them nicer than we found them. We just don't do any more than we have to with the doggone yard!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I have written a few times about writings of Francis Schaeffer and the things he foresaw in our culture. But I want to take a little space this time to point out some things he did not see coming. I was re-reading portions of his 1979 book "How Should We Then Live" in which he saw a bleak future coming for our society. Some of his concerns are problems for us still, but others have changed in unexpected ways or been replaced by other problems, and a couple have possibly given new hope that he did not see.

One major change since 1979 that he did not foresee was the collapse of the Soviet Union, the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and even the secession of some of the Soviet "republics" like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Russia today is still an authoritarian country, and possibly always will be; it would take generations for a people without a history of self-government to develop it from scratch. Likewise, the change of China to an authoritarian but somewhat capitalist state might have surprised him.We still have threats of war and terror, but now it comes from Islamic terrorists, not from Communists. It is still not comfortable, but there is a difference.

He also wrote about the use of "high-speed computers" by authoritarian states (Communist and our own) as a tool of oppression. But about the time of his death in 1984, the computer began to change from a tool for government, big business and academia to a tool for many ordinary people, with the arrival of the personal computer and the Internet. I saw some statements years ago that the copy machine helped bring down the Soviet Union; I once saw another that technology had allowed to KGB to tape so many phone conversations that they lacked the manpower to listen to and evaluate them all, and their system went down anyway.

Now, the further development of computers in the last twenty years has become a way for people to communicate across the country and around the world. And while governments may try to restrict the freedom of the Internet, their success may be limited. Recent events in Iran raise the possibility that regime may yet be brought down, in part, by the Internet and Twitter!
My last post was about "Climategate", and I heard a statement on a local radio show referring to Al Gore's claim years ago to have invented the Internet, which has now been used to cut the ground from under his Global Warming crusade.

The Internet has done something else as well. One of Schaeffer's concerns was the power of a biased press and media in our culture, especially to spin the news and even determine what gets reported as news. But that power has taken severe hits in the last few years. Talk radio and Internet news sources have eaten into their monopoly. In a number of cases in the last few years bloggers have broken major stories before the press did, and sometimes in spite of the press's attempts to ignore them. Climategate is only the most recent example; the Acorn videos gives another. When Dan Rather was pushing the letters reflecting poorly on George Bush's military service, it was bloggers who noticed, and published, that those letters must be forgeries because certain details in the print were possible on word processors and computers, but not on typewriters--and word processors and desktop computers did not exist at the time the letters were supposedly written. Bloggers are still around, but Rather is off the air. The power of the "mainstream media" has been severely reduced and may yet be broken.

And to add injury to insult, the Internet has been a major factor in the "legacy media" going broke. Newspapers are shutting down all over the country; the New York Times has borrowed millions and laid off many of its workers. The threat to them is two-pronged: competition from other sources of news on one hand, and loss of advertising revenue on the other (my wife and I have not bought anything from a newspaper classified ad in years, but we have bought several items, including our vehicles, from Craigslist). The downward spiral seems likely to go on for a while longer, and shows signs of taking down many magazines as well as newspapers.

So, some of the clouds Schaeffer saw thirty years ago have turned out to have silver linings. We still have causes for concern, some of them the same and some different; but we also have cause for hope. I certainly have enjoyed the friendships I have found online; some have been across the country, and some did lead to local face-to-face relationships. We will face the remaining problems as we have to.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


One of the hot topics of the last week or so has been what's called "Climategate" or "Climaquiddick" after past scandals. People are arguing over the significance of the leaked material, but a cursory reading of the emails certainly does look like certain scientists have played fast and loose with both the data and with the historic ethics of modern science. And quite frankly, I was not all that surprised by the revelations now coming to light.

Those who have read a lot of my blogging, and people who have known me well over the years, are aware that I have had two favorite Christian authors for many years: C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. I have often said that I read Lewis for his understanding and expression of Christianity and Schaeffer for his understanding and expression of our culture. (In the last couple of years, as I acquired Schaeffer's "Complete Works" set and read the books I had not been able to access before I increased my appreciation of his more specifically Christian material, but that has cropped up in other posts and may again.)

If Schaeffer were still alive (he died in 1984) he would not be surprised by these recent events either. While he had serious criticisms about the way the environment had been treated by our society, and even by those who were supposed to be Christians, he was also one of the first to notice that the "environmental movement" had been taken over by leftists as a tool to gain influence in society and government. And if you look at the actions being promoted to combat "global warming" many of them are top-down, coercive, government-imposed answers that will increase the control of a few over many.

The second thing I was reminded of was Schaeffer's discussion of the likely direction of science, in his book "How Should We Then Live" from 1979. He brought up the writings of Alfred North Whitehead(1861-1947), who had written that modern science had arisen because of the teaching of Christianity that God was rational and created an orderly universe. This belief made it possible for the early scientists to work out the things that became the basis of modern science. And Whitehead was not a Christian writer; he was a mathematician and philosopher but not even known to be a Christian at all. Yet he admitted that modern science grew out of the Christian view of the world.

But later in the book Schaeffer made a prediction. He declared that as science got farther and farther from the Christian worldview that made it possible, it would decline and tend toward two things: a high level of technology, and sociological manipulation. We certainly have the high level of technology; the computer I am writing this on and the Internet that carries it to whoever may read it are proof of that. But there are more and more signs that we have the efforts to use science to manipulate society as well.

And that is what is at the root of "Climategate": an effort to make the "science" give the desired answer rather than searching the data and seeing what the data actually means. These emails talk about "tricks" and adjusting data to reflect the desired outcome, and about refusing to share the original data so that someone else can verify your results (one of the basic traditions of the hard sciences), and even trying to discredit and silence any critics or skeptics. And one of the latest revelations is that the original, unaltered "raw" data was thrown out and all that remains is the fudged "data", which was doctored to match the theory, where a real scientist would doctor the theory to match the data! These are not real scientists; they are political hacks.

This one "Climategate" incident is bad enough. But there have been plenty of lesser scandals in recent years. A few years ago someone was claiming to have achieved nuclear fusion-"cold fusion" in his lab; it was later label a hoax, because no one else could duplicate the experiment successfully. A South Korean researcher claimed to have cloned multiple animals; he is now facing fraud charges, from what I heard a couple of weeks ago. The continuing emphasis and grant money for embryonic stem cell research, in spite of the failures in that area and the successes in adult stem cell research, are another case of ideology controlling science.

This last point is my own thinking. I am not a scientist, but I went through a pretty decent science program in my schooling many years ago. There was one assumption that underpinned all the scientific advances, all the work of the last few hundred years: trust. Scientists must be able to trust each other to work objectively and honestly. That is the real basis for duplicating experiments and peer-reviews of results, to make sure no one violates the trust of his co-workers. (Those early scientists who started the whole enterprise had grown up with the Christian view that people are flawed and may not be totally trustworthy at all times, so they went for, in Ronald Reagan's words, "Trust, but verify.") And that "Trust" component is exactly what is at stake here. The "Climategate" emails seem to indicate that these " scientists" have doctored data to fit their theory, ignored data that did not fit, thrown away the original data so no one else can check their work, and abused the peer-review process to silence anyone who might call them to account. This is no longer a scientific problem; it is a morals problem.