"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -- George SantayanaLot was told not to look back. His wife did, and became a pillar of salt. Mostly I live in the future: I call it "future perfect" (a grammatical pun), learning from the errors of the past, having the guilt erased by the finished work of Christ on the cross, then with God's help not making those mistakes again.
Today is the last day of my formal employment. I was on a 9-month contract paid over 12, and it ends today. In the no-fault vernacular of today's climate, "There were mistakes made." I could have better disclosed the terms of my loyalty to my employer. Next time -- if there ever is a next time -- I will.
God commands me in Eph.6:5-8 to serve my employer wholeheartedly as if he were God, and subject only to God's higher Law and the law of the land, I try to do that. I believe I pretty much did that. Nobody is perfect, but when I screwed up, I changed my behavior and let my superior know that it would not be repeated. And it was not.
The problem is when my immediate supervisor has a different personal agenda than corporate policy, or when corporate policy differs from its public posture. Both of these happened. Which do I serve? "No man can have two masters."
I would not have expected this at a self-proclaimed "Christ-centered caring academic community," but my experience is that the only difference between the "Christians" and the pagans is that the pagans tend to be more honest about their faults and more forgiving of others. So the full disclosure I should have made, and will make in the future, is this:
I will serve corporate policy to the best of my understanding, so long as and to the extent that it is neither unethical nor unlawful. To lie is unethical, so if corporate policy differs from its public posture, and if I am required to affirm the public posture, I will serve what I affirm at the expense of corporate policy. To the extent that no such affirmation is required of me, I will tacitly serve whatever corporate policy I understand, but still subject to the stated limitations. I will try to make sure my employer understands those places where this discrepancy occurs, and which policy I am serving in those cases. When my immediate supervisor requests me to perform at variance with my understanding of corporate policy, I will document the difference (preferably in advance), and then perform as instructed (again as constrained by law and ethics).I did all that at SBU. It still got me fired, and it made my superiors really unhappy, but I left with a clear conscience. I only wish I could have told them this in advance, so we might could have worked out an accommodation. If they wanted to.
I gave a lot of thought to the problem of supporting a less than virtuous corporate agenda. God alone is perfect, so the problem is not black and white, but how dark the shade of gray. I take instruction from Naaman the Leper, who announced his intention to serve his employer -- including when it required him to bow in his employer's idol-worship -- without staining his own conscience, and was blessed by the prophet [2Kings 5:18]. I will not lie, I will not knowingly disobey any applicable law, but my employer who has bought my labor is responsible for what he does with what he paid for, not I (except and to the extent that I am being paid to make those decisions). OK, there are some businesses I would not want to work for at all -- Naaman did not want to go into the temple of Rimmon at all -- but sometimes you have no choice.
All the employment applications ask why you left each previous employer. It really astounds me how many supposedly Christians effectively tell me to lie about getting fired. I cannot do that. I told SBU about the previous problems, and they thanked me for my "candor." I guess they assumed that they would not encounter the same difficulties. This one is a little more difficult, because there is less wiggle room for future employers to make the same assumption -- but make it they must, or I will never get hired again.
People don't like blame, so maybe I will say something like: "There were misunderstandings. I mistook their public posture for corporate policy, and they mistook my loyalty and integrity for hostility." And then point them at this longer analysis.
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As most people who have read my recent postings know, I spent 20 years devoted to the MacOS. For the first 18 years I recommended it to everybody considering a new computer purchase. It was a truly innovative system, the wave of the future. I still believe that, but the future has suffered a bit of a setback. Apple killed the MacOS and has replaced it with a 40-year-old throwback they call OSX, but everybody else calls "eunuchs". In 1984 there were six compelling reasons for me to choose the MacOS over its competitors; not one of them applies to OSX. Instead, there are three individually compelling reasons to avoid it:
A. Unix is 40-year-old technology, the wave of the past. In the 1960s calling everything a byte-stream file was innovative and useful; in the 21st century systems are event-driven, and data is structured. Microsoft understands this, and their OS is structured. Unix, like Communism and Darwinism, is an idea who time has passed, and only its die-hard followers fail to recognize it. Apple has painted a pretty face on the tombstone, but inside it's still full of dead men's bones.
B. Unix is hard to use. I went to the local Apple dealer last week to buy an ink cartridge for my Mac printer. Anybody still in business with Apple products has to come to terms with the system, and this dealer clearly had done so. He claimed that anybody who just wants to get work done can use the pretty interface and ignore the Unix under the hood. In the mail when I got home was the current copy of the last remaining pro-Apple trade magazines, MacAddict. Its featured cover story was about "50 OSX Bugs," some of which you could get around by buying a third-party add-on, others "because this is unix" could not be fixed, but mostly they explained how to open a command-line window to type in arcane commands to fix the problem. In the same mail was the current copy of InfoWorld, which mentioned a couple more problems with OSX. None of these bugs are a problem in the MacOS. You cannot use Unix effectively without knowing how to type in obscure unix commands. The well-meaning Apple dealer was simply wrong.
C. Apple's version of Unix is particularly weird. You can run most Unix programs in a 19th-century command-line window, but Apple is trying to promote their proprietary "Cocoa" user interface on top of it. Sure, it looks pretty, but it's not standard Unix and it's not Macintosh. It's really a warmed-over NeXt-Step, the system that Steve Jobs couldn't sell after Scully pushed him out of Apple in the 1980s. Perhaps it is easy to program (programmers seem to like it), but it's a proprietary architecture implemented in a proprietary language.
Let me tell you about proprietary systems. Two years ago I threw away 67,000 lines of active code -- five years of work -- implemented in a proprietary language on a minority platform (sounds like Cocoa on OSX?) because the vendor decided to kill it and did not offer an upgrade path. More recently I threw away three more programs (maybe 5,000 lines total) of VisualBasic/6, again because the vendor -- this time the Microsoft giant -- decided to kill it and did not offer a viable upgrade path. On the other side of that coin, I have a compiler compiler that generates standard (non-proprietary) C code. There are dozens of standard-conforming (to one degree or another) C compilers out there, so if one of them dies or commits hari-kari, there are more to choose from. After the VB6 fiasco I have resolved to depend on no third-party proprietary products. OSX is thus a non-starter. Microsoft's own "Dot-Net" is a non-starter. Taking VB6 as a predictor of the future, I am forced to assume Dot-Net is not supported by the vendor, and therefore not viable technology.
Unix is an open standard, if you can stomach the command line. Unix is a 3% minority platform limited to server farms and geeks. Linux (a variety of unix) is open source with multiple vendors. The business model does not support making it easy to use, but it's easy to program and the geeks love it. It will be around for many more decades.
What about Windows? It's proprietary. But Microsoft has millions of users out there -- many of them still running 10-year-old versions and 20-year-old software -- they cannot just kill it. They might come out with a new and incompatible "Longhorn" system, but if it doesn't run the million existing programs, nobody will buy it.
Where does that leave me? I don't like Windows. If I'm going to write programs for people to use, it has to run on Windows. But I don't have to use it.
I write operating systems. I'm currently writing a replacement for the MacOS. It's coming along nicely, thank you. Isn't that a proprietary system? Yes, but because it's my own, I don't have to worry about the vendor killing it. If there's a bug, I can fix it. Being small, like the original MacOS, it won't be too big to understand.
Some day maybe I will put it out as open source, what
a well-done OS can and should be. That's how Linux got its start.
The churches formalize this social obligation into what I call "the Little Moment of Chaos" (LMC), when they interrupt any sense of worship (the buzz) people might have been building, to invite everybody to greet somebody, typically next to them, or in front or behind. Like the chance meeting of a stranger on the street, nobody ever really cares how the other person is, they just are required by the etiquette to ask. The church I attend takes this responsibility seriously: they mill all over the auditorium greeting everybody. Half of them actually stop and wait for a reply. If you arrive more than two minutes before the service is to begin, you are further expected to go around and shake the hand of everybody already there, and ask how they are. They do it again during the LMC.
The required response in all of these cases is to lie and say "I'm fine," whether you are or not. They don't want to know, and it's rude to tell them what they don't want to hear. The fact is -- and this comes out if you wait long enough and listen to what people have to say -- nobody is "just fine." We live in a fallen world, and things go wrong all the time. It's good not to focus on the problems, but saying they do not exist is a lie.
Now I have a problem with churches promoting a social convention that entices people to sin [Luke 17:1], but especially I have a problem with lying myself. I have experimented with a variety on truthful responses to this formalism, with varying degrees of lack of success. Anything less than a positive, upbeat "I'm fine" or "Just wonderful" is taken as a euphemism for serious catastrophe; it puts people off. In keeping with Jesus' teaching about self-denial, I'd rather not even think about how I am, but focus instead on what God is doing. For a while I honestly said "I try not to notice," but people apparently assumed there was something bad I was trying to ignore (I got this by hearsay -- nobody is honest enough to say it to your face). My current response is to smile and say "Hello," but that is not very satisfactory for the people who actually stop and wait for the Lie.
Reading through Proverbs, as is my custom in January and July (one chapter each of the 31 days), I came on a curious verse today:
A man's steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?[Pr.20:24]That's it exactly! Now I just need to think of a way to quote or cite this verse when people ask.
It is curious how equal the two sides are. The left-wing bigots are a small minority, but they control the media. TIME has a token Republican columnist or two, but even they are closet Democrats in perspective. The vast unthinking masses -- well, many of them are not so unthinking as to swallow the left-wing propaganda all the time -- but their values are far to the right of the media and their political leaders.
One of those values is loyalty. I once knew a college professor who votes Democrat because his family always voted Democrat -- and then he complained angrily about government policies that made his work more difficult, policies instituted by Democrats when they were in power and opposed by Republicans. You'd think that a smart college professor would think through the issues and vote the issues. You'd think wrong.
Or maybe there isn't much of a political difference between the two major political parties at all. A few months ago TIME wondered where all the Roosevelt Democrats were. They are alive and well and call themselves Republicans these days; one of them is President. The Republicans and Democrats alike have abandonned the government under law that the Founders envisioned for this country. Now we live under a Machiavellian government, whoever is in power makes the rules. A Clinton aide said it most clearly: "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kind of cool!" About the only real difference between the Left and the Right is religion. The Left wants God out of sight, and the Right wants God on their side. Neither of them wants what the Founders designed. Which is OK, because they don't have the power to pull it off anyway. But the pretense is fun.
Do you know who the real power is? Not Clinton, not Bush, not Congress, it's the Supreme Court. They invent whatever laws they want, and nobody, not the President, and definitely not the spineless Congress has the will to restore the Balance of Power that the Founders planned.
So we play these futile games. The atheist left-wing bigots hate the God-fearing right-wing bigots, who hate the atheists right back. Depending on who talks a better line and promises more goodies from the public till, they get their guy in the nominal seat of power for a few years, and none of it means anything at all.
Shakespeare said it some four centuries ago: "Life is a tale told by
an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Solomon said it
even better, more than three thousand years before him: "Vanity of vanities,
all is vanity." Sigh
But when they present vocal music, they don't use their own qualified musicians, they play a CD sound track. I call it "plastic music." This leads me to ask, What's the point?
Who are they singing for, God? Or for the entertainment of the congregation? As entertainers, they have a long way to go to compete with the vocal track on that same CD. But we don't go to church to be entertained, do we? What's the point?
I read the Psalms, one per day. With a few adjustments for 31-day months, this fills out exactly five months. Today was the end of the cycle, Psalm 150 on June 30. It's a wonderful psalm of praise to God. Three churches ago they had a Sunday School song that set this to very colorful music, with instrumental runs and trills to accentuate the various instruments in the psalm. The point of music in the church is to praise God. The singers praise God. The instrumentalists praise God. We get to hear them praise God, but they are doing it for God more than for us, right?
But the plastic music, is that for God? God already heard that particular recording -- in the recording studio. It cannot be for our entertainment, because that's not what church is about, is it? Why can't the singers use local talent (when it is available, as it is in this church) to accompany their praise? Then two people, not just the soloist, get to praise God.
We live in a plastic, throw-away society. Plastic is chintzy, cheap. What we do for God should be better than that.
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Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Psalm 142:7Today I think I'm a little ahead of David when he wrote this cry of anguish in the cave. Four months ago that's where I was. Today I'm in the praise part.
Last night I learned that the university music department is losing both of their choral faculty. The computer science department was down to one plus a temporary after they fired me, because the erstwhile chair (when I came) also decided to leave. The gossip last night was that the Missouri Baptists are too fragmented, that the Arkansas Baptists (where the choral director is going) don't have that problem. I believe it.
God has not exactly told me His thinking in all this, but it sure looks like He brought me to the most hostile, fractious, mean-spirited campus of all the places I looked at, so that when it came time to leave, I could do so with no regrets. God's Word requires me to serve my employer with my whole heart, "as unto God," and I did that. When they chose to be served by my departure, I did that. It's not pleasant being disaffirmed, and I lost 20 pounds in the ordeal. The other faculty obviously have their own reasons for leaving, but it hardly qualifies the campus as their self-proclaimed "Christ-centered caring ... community." And it's not my problem now.
I have a new "job" now. I'm eager, fresh, and up to speed. I wrote 1400 lines of code in slightly over four weeks, and it compiles (see details). The software tools are doing their job, finding bugs for me. I once calculated that I tend to introduce about three errors for every 100 lines of new code, so there were maybe 50 in those 1400 lines. Finding them is always the hard part, but not in this project, not yet.
I have a roof over my head and no debt. I'm even starting to put that
unneeded weight back on.
I suppose they probably preferred to give a balanced perspective on the continuing problem of racism in America too, but lacked the courage (or could not find anybody willing) to offer a counterpoint to Stephen Carter's whine in the July 2004 issue.
There will always be people who take the lazy way, and blame visible and superficial differences for differences in economic opportunities. Those people are rightly called racist, just like the people they blame. We cannot rid the world of such racists, but we do not have to enlarge their numbers by joining them. Their failed blame politics are evident in the demographics that Carter blindly cites: the worst segregation remaining today is in the so-called "liberal" states, where racist political policies aid and abet the blame game instead of encouraging people to take charge of their own destiny.
Once in a while somebody rises above the folly of blame and points to a fixable cause. Bill Cosby recently did that, by reminding people everywhere (and especially his own race) that good parenting encourages people to succeed. Clarence Thomas said similar things before him. Although it's not Politically Correct for anybody else to make the same claim, it's not really a racial problem at all.
Yes, there are disadvantages to be overcome, but the unluckiest of black Americans have a much better chance of economic success than the best of the good Christian people in Sudan. By God's grace alone, I have more advantages than my Christian brothers in Indonesia and China -- and I must apply those advantages in the service of God, as I so attempt even now -- but all people in this great country have most of those advantages. Work hard, learn from other people's mistakes, don't stop to blame.
When enough people in an identifiable demographic group start to take charge of their own destiny, the lazy rest of the public will probably still hate them, but now for their success. I see that in the orientals in America. They have most of the disadvantages of the African-descent people, but they refused to let it stop them. Perhaps it's in their culture: I'm told it is the ethnic Chinese who are the persecuted Christians in Indonesia. Many of them are economically successful there also. It's culture, not race.
The Christian ("Protestant") work ethic builds small opportunities into bigger ones instead of "wasting their substance on riotous living." Those people who wait around trying to win the lottery mostly become suckers for the shysters (government included) who are willing to take what little they have in return for empty promises. You don't have to spend money on actual lottery tickets to live in the lottery mentality, looking for a get-rich-quick alternative to hard work.
Like the games of Risk and Monopoly, luck (read: Providence) will always play a part in what happens, but I win at those games more often than I lose. Statistically, if luck were all it takes, it should be the other way around. Intentionality -- looking for what works and avoiding mistakes that don't work -- that's what wins the game. Life, I have discovered, is like Monopoly or Risk. Seize the opportunity!
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Somewhere along the way, perhaps as an unavoidable consequence of an overly successful Protestant Reformation nearly 500 years ago, we have lost the meaning of "religion." Jesus -- and the Bible in which his teachings are recorded -- never taught a private religion divorced from temporal implications and consequences. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit," he said. Another Biblical writer was even more direct: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Instead of protecting young children from the moneyed corporate interests, one political party wants to kill them. The Catholic bishops still understand what religion is about.
There are really only two religions in America: either you believe there is a God who has the right to tell you and me what to do and how, or else you believe there is no such God, of if any god exists he/she/it is irrelevant. Many -- perhaps most -- of the "religious" believing church-goers in America are in fact practising atheists. They like the buzz they get from attending church, but they are unwilling to take directions from God that might impact their lives. The Catholics go to church and take communion, but they ignore the teachings of their chosen religion; the Protestants and Jews likewise do their religious rituals, but neglect the teachings of the authoritative Book. And if one of us actually tries to live the faith we say we believe... Well, I got fired for it. About half of the country wishes the same end on our President.
John Kerry is not a Catholic in good standing if he refuses to order
his life as taught by the Catholic church. If and to the extent that George
Bush does follow the teachings of his Bible rather than every wind of political
opinion, at least he is an honest Christian, nevermind how many atheist
citizens (and TIME editors) he might offend.
A few months ago (I did say "sometimes"; now that I'm formally unemployed I have more time for reading back issues) Michael Swaine devoted his page to a rant against a then-recent Supreme Court ruling. Now I have no particularly warm place in my heart for the autocratic, unelected ruler and supreme lawmaker of this country -- I used to call them King George IX in honor of the British monarch our forefathers revolted against, but now that we have a President named George I need to find a different moniker -- but Mike seems to be parroting a political line without technical merit.
Apparently the King had ruled (surprisingly) this time for the people by letting stand a law passed by their elected representatives, under which Congress could restrict funds granted to local libraries by tying them to the use of filtering software to protect juvenile patrons from inappropriate material. Mike correctly points out that filters are notoriously unreliable, and (also correctly) that librarians can do a much better job simply by supervising the internet access machines. There would be no need for such a law, and indeed there would be no such law, if the librarians did their job. But many of them refused. As near as I can tell, all laws are the result of people abusing common sense and imposing the consequences of that abuse on the public at large. A couple decades ago one of the major car manufacturers in this country thought that extending the fenders of their cars forward and back past the lights looked cool, nevermind that it obscured the vehicle from a side view at night; two or three years later all cars were required by Federal law to provide lights on the side, and all buyers had to pay for the extra plastic and bulbs and wiring and holes cut in the fenders. Laws are like that.
Mike goes on to complain about the hypothetical possibility of the filter companies adding a political bias to their filters. It's not going to happen -- at least not by censoring out left-wing politicians like Ralph Nader, as suggested by Mike. There are several reasons for that, most significantly being that the librarians as a body are a left-wing bunch of radicals themselves, and they would never allow it. More importantly, the law does not (indeed, it cannot) specify which filter companies the libraries must patronize; if one company tried it, their products would immediately be replaced by something more in line with what the public asked their legislators for in the first place. That's the advantage of the "free country" that Mike still wants to live in.
This would never have become a problem if the King had not sided with the purveyors of filth a decade or so ago by legislating a new right to send unwanted and unsolicited garbage to people as offended by it as Mike is by the new law. I am continually surprised that the scum who fill our networks with computer viruses have not yet cited in their defense, that important Supreme Court decision declaring that "free speech" applies also to their particular kind of electronic communication filling telephone connections paid for by the recipients. Of course they would lose anyway, because this is no longer a nation under law. There are so many contradictory laws on the books now that, as in the novel 1984, they can pick and choose which laws to enforce and upon whom.
I thought Mike's choice of an acronym for the Supreme Court Of The United States particularly insightful. As a nonsense word it is vaguely suggestive of something pornographic.
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Houston, we have a problem. This is not a Christian virtue. Jesus said so, again and again.
More than anything else, I believe this disconnect between the Biblical ethics I practice and the (worldly?) etiquette practiced by others in the church who are honestly trying to be virtuous, this disconnect is what got me fired. It is what killed BibleTrans International two years before that, and probably every other social catastrophe I have experienced in the last 25 years.
I consciously and carefully make it a policy never to say anything more negative about a person not present (that is, behind their back) than I have already said to their face. I base this on the logical implications of the Second Great Commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" in context [Lev.19:14-18, of which Jesus quoted only the last half verse]. Jesus was also openly hostile to people who said one thing to your face and did quite something else when you're not looking [Matt.23:2,3,25, as well as numerous other places]. Combining that with Paul's teaching to think good thoughts about people [Phil.4:8] enables me hopefully to not be such a curmudgeon that nobody wants around.
You'd think -- at least I thought -- people would appreciate knowing that they can trust me never to stab them in the back. Even if I must because of other constraints give a negative report, they always have the opportunity to correct any (negative) errors in my thinking before or when I give it. It appears they don't believe it. One author in CACM pointed out that people take negative remarks as personal rejection; I always try to see them as opportunities for improving the relationship, which is almost the exact opposite of rejection.
The people who call themselves Christians are so accustomed to hearing flattery from people who criticize them "behind their back," and direct criticism only in anger -- and doing the same things themselves -- that they cannot believe there is anybody who does otherwise. That's sad. Even more disappointing, I now know this problem to be pervasive in American culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I will not be cowed. Whether you believe it or not, whether you reciprocate or not, whether I get fired or not, it is and remains a matter of personal ethics that I will not say anything more negative and harmful about you to anyone than I have said to you directly with the opportunity to correct any mistakes, whoever you are.
There is one subculture in America that does not -- indeed, cannot -- follow this hypocritical etiquette, and that is the computer technologists. If these people don't tell the truth to their machines, the machines won't work. To the extent that their behavior patterns distribute equally over machines and persons (the point made in the CACM issue), these people tend to be blunt and unhypocritical. In other words, social misfits. I spent most of my life in that culture, and I get along with them just fine. I think Jesus would too.
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I bought the Microsoft C compiler called Visual Studio. I figured that it's what most people use, I should get to know it. It produces some of the fastest, tightest code in the magazine reviews. None of the reviews ever say anything bad about it. They lied. Compared to what I was used to on the Mac, it's like falling out of Heaven and landing in -- well, it's not Hell, but you can smell the sulfur. I spent two long days trying to figure out how to make a simple program (my TinyBasic) live in a window. I guess all the people who use this product and swear by (not at) it, already know how. The documentation (can you call it that?) is non-functional. Their whole framework is filled with non-standard extensions to the C language, so that nothing you might know from the language (or from the books about programming in C, nor even from books about programming for Windows!) works at all. If you try to use their Help feature, it finds 500 references to random topics in other tools (VisualBasic, databases, client-server, anything but C/C++), or else nothing at all when given a phrase from a compiler error message. It doesn't help that the C standard itself does not say how to do GUI, but recall that C is mired in Unix, which doesn't know about GUI. I often tell people that "eunuchs are missing a vital organ, so they cannot perform." It's true. sigh
Visual Studio calls their projects "solutions." That's obviously a euphemism. I tried opening a "New Solution" and it created a zillion files and folders that had nothing to do with anything. It even let me "Build" it. I don't know what it did, but there was no program. If I ask for a new program, at least it makes program that puts up a default window. I don't know what they think their "solutions" are solving, but for me they have created only problems, no solutions.
Well, I kept banging away at it, and it finally works -- sort of. Programming has become something like a video game: there are no instructions, you just keep trying things until something works. It used to be that you could read the documentation, and then you knew; not any more. More than anything else, this is why I need to rebuild my own tools and maybe my own operating system for them to work in. Yes, it's a lot of work, but not as much as fighting a badly designed system and toolset out of Redmond. A lot of people like to rag on about conspiracy theories. I think the developers of this stuff lack the cognitive capability to pull off any sort of conspiracy. Now that I've seen what goes through one of the better computer science departments in the country... Mumble.
I sometimes shop at one of the outlets of a large retailer chain headquartered
not too far from here. They hire some of our best graduates to work in
their computer center. The stores recently installed a computer screen
to digitally sign credit card purchases. Knowing what I now know about
their programmers, I always insist that they print a ticket for me to sign.
I know what computers can do to data. Did you hear that the new electronic
voting machines are less reliable than "hanging-chad" paper ballots? Call
me a Luddite. The whole computer software industry is hanging on the edge
of utter collapse. Imagine if all the software companies were run with
the corporate ethics of Enron, and you have an idea of the magnitude of
this problem. Except that often the problem is just incompetence, not ethics.
Did I learn anything? I think so:
I learned that Operating systems are really hard to write. Everything I had done before was in the context of embedded systems (computer inside a box that pretends to be something else, like a burglar alarm, and not appearing to the user as a computer). That was pretty easy, but putting in all the features that made the Mac system so usable is hard. Oh, I knew that user interface is hard, but somehow I didn't make the connection. The students struggled mightily. Only one gave up. If I had not been so wrapped around my own troubles, I might have taken notice of that soon enough to mitigate the problem. All the rest got As and Bs. They earned it. More relevant to my own situation, I was thinking of doing a "Mac-like" operating system to build future software on. It might be prudent to scale back that ambition.
I learned that Unix is a really bad system. I always knew that, but mostly from a distance. This semester I got up close for a change. The students had a hard time with it. It's a system designed by geeks, for geeks -- and not for real people. Oh how I long for the Mac! But it's gone. sigh
I learned Don't believe the Mission Statement. Mottos are a wonderful goal to aim for, but a lousy expression of what really happens. They are written by thoughtful people carefully thinking about what they want the world to see. They are implemented -- or rather not implemented -- by angry people with an axe to grind. Think about it: did you ever meet a person saying "Trust me" who was worthy of your trust? In view of this insight (and in the hope I am not alone in it), I will try never again to promote a self-congratulatory corporate motto like "Christ-centered". If Christ is at the center, they won't need to say so; if he is not, saying so is a lie.
I learned that There is no protection from relational meltdown. When the previous situation collapsed, I learned that I cannot prevent the problem (oh how I tried!) so when I interviewed here I specifically asked about institutional policies and procedures for conflict resolution. They had them, and I read them before deciding to come. But when the rubber hit the road, the policies were not followed. Duh. Face it, when there is conflict like that, it is because of sin. What sinner is going to stop and say, "Oh wait, the right thing to do here is follow the (Bible-based) procedures"? I won't stop trying to make things right, but it's no longer going to be a consuming priority. For most of my life I just walked away from catastrophe; in retrospect, that's not such a bad policy.
I learned that Reconciliation is possible. When relationships melt down, the other party always insists that "reconciliation is impossible" (their words). I never believed it. In this one case, the other guy had similarly given up, but because he was stuck with me for the rest of the semester, I was able to keep pushing him in the direction of reconciliation. It worked. There are still unresolved issues, but the situation is far better than it was six weeks ago. That is a definite plus. Reconciliation really is possible, but both parties have to want to. It's not easy.
I already knew it, but God works all things together for good. Sometimes the path is rocky, but the result is worth it. I have yet to see it on a large scale, but I still believe also in justice. However, that is God's prerogative, not mine, and I can trust Him to make it happen in His time. Meanwhile, I have fun and useful things to do.
God put eyes on the front of my head to see where I am going, not on the back to see where I've been.
Forgetting those things which are behind, I press on to the mark of the high calling which is in Christ Jesus -- Php.3:13,14
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|I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
-- Joyce Kilmer
|I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.
-- Ogden Nash
It was a sunny day today, and there were students sitting outside everywhere sketching trees on huge tablets of paper, obviously an assignment for art class. Most of the sketches I saw were quite good. I was reminded first of Ogden Nash's parody, then of the Kilmer poem itself.
There are no billboards on campus blocking the view of trees, but poetry is something else. I think it gets its impetus from being obscure and subject to multiple interpretations. Well, maybe not these two poems, which are pretty direct.
Several years ago, when I was hard at work on the first version of BibleTrans, I subscribed to an email list that focussed on Bible translation. A number of the people posting to that list were promoting a linguistic idea they called "Relevance Theory" (RT), of which the main point was that communication depends to a large degree on a shared body of knowledge to which inferential allusions can be made, and from which the listener can infer the intended message based on the relevance of the various "implicatures" (differing inferences) to the current situation. I tried, with little success, to argue that RT works fine when the inferences are correct, but when it breaks down, people must resort to referential semantics, where the words mean what the dictionary says they mean, and the sentences mean what the grammar says they mean.
I should have listened to my own sermon more carefully. Some, perhaps many, of my problems with the university administration here come from misunderstandings. When people of good will also assume the other party is a person of good will, then the misunderstandings are quickly recognized and corrected. When people start to assume the other person is malevolent, then the misunderstandings propagate and the situation gets only worse. It is possible to back out of that kind of situation, but only at great effort.
Trees don't communicate, they just are. Maybe God was onto something.
The interesting feature in this story is that it portrayed his revenge in a positive light. Justice is a moral absolute, and you really wanted him to get those bad guys. And yes, they were always trying to kill him, so the battles were always technically self-defense, but he really was going after them for "vengeance" (his word), and he really did leave "a trail of dead people behind him everywhere" he went (a line used by a police woman who was following her own agenda in the story).
"Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." Revenge has a tendency to escalate, so God (and the government, as God's minister of justice) rightly reserve it to themselves. Seagal's character did not feel that constraint. He is not alone in that sentiment.
A recent event in my life reminded me that most people -- and certainly this one person -- operate on a "quid pro quo" (payback) rule of justice: he perceived me to "lie" about somebody -- actually he misunderstood me, but at the time, after failing a second time to explain what I was trying to say, I decided his agenda was not receptive and I gave up the attempt, which he took as admission of guilt (so he told me later) -- and so he was justified in slandering me falsely in a place where it could do me harm. On another occasion, he took offense at something I said (I still to this day do not understand what was offensive about it), but when a third person told me and I offered a vague apology -- it's hard to repent of a wrong you don't understand -- he came to my office to perform a little ritual I call "The Prisoner Exchange," where all parties in a conflict confess to equal guilt, then "forgive" each other all the way around.
The Prisoner Exchange is a kind of Christianized version of revenge, but not really Christian. Also quite impractical, since the guilt is not necessarily equal, especially if some of the participants are true Christians, unwilling to play the revenge game. For the Exchange to work, everybody must "confess" to something. It's all about saving face, not righting wrongs. So the "forgiveness" is not real either, and tends to be revoked if there is a repeat occurrence.
In true Christian ethics, if you do something wrong, you make it right, and you don't do it again. If somebody does wrong to you, you tell him [Luke 17:3], and if he repents, you forgive him. And if (God forbid) he does it again, you don't dredge up the previous event. This is an assymmetrical relationship. It puts a stop to revenge. It is also really hard to find among Christians.
For a longer explanation, see my essay As God Forgave Us.
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Freedom as a philosophical principle is a modern concept, probably younger than the 150 years since the American Civil War, and certainly not more than two millennia old as would be necessary for the historical Spartacus to be seeking it. The American Revolutionaries talked "freedom" but that was not a sufficiently deep nor profound philosophical principle for them to give up their slaves. That same web site also pointed out how popular Spartacus is with the Marxists, as a liberator of the proletariat. Sounds a lot like the movie theme. At least the (first-generation) Marxists were more committed to their principles than the modern armchair philosophers and movie makers, who mostly don't believe anything is worth dying for.
But the ethical idea in this film that got my attention was sexual. Everything in America today is sexualized. Kevin Costner's character in Dances With Wolves fornicated with his female supporting character long before there was a formal marriage relationship. This is true in most modern movies, but it was less credible in DWW, because almost no non-modern culture would allow them to do that. In Spartacus, as in BraveHeart, there was the usual and expected rape of the young maidens by the soldiers (which even moderns deplore), but like BraveHeart (and unlike other modern flics), the hero was unwilling to defile his leading lady before marriage. In Spartacus he actually explained it as a Thracian virtue. Bravo!
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I have nothing against Mr.Swaine personally -- indeed, it was his review of my software that gave it the top 5-mouse rating some ten or twelve years ago. He also seems to like me well enough to list my name in his other column, 11 pages earlier. He's a fine fellow with lots of good ideas; this just wasn't one of them. OK, it's an April Fools column, and to help you recognize that, most of the dates were out of range, dates like February 30 and March 62. But the first item had a legitimate date and apparently cited an actual event that he decided to poke fun at. His facts were wrong.
Evolution is not, as Swaine implies, synonymous with science. Science is about theories (like gravity) which can be tested; evolution, at least as it is taught in public school textbooks, is a philosophy of origins that cannot be tested -- or else it has been tested and failed. This fact is not widely known, and certainly not widely known among the geeks likely to read Swaine's column, mostly because the geeks are not welcome in the Christian churches (unless they abandon who they are), and the media don't want to be there, so they are motivated to try and discredit anything churchy, and to misrepresent or not report that side of the scientific debate.
It is a scientific debate, but strangely one-sided. For some 25 years now, I have been asking anybody and everybody, but particularly anybody with scientific qualifications (that is, a terminal degree) in any field, the Question: "What in your specialty favors the Darwinian common descent model of origins over the fiat creation model?" And in 25 years I have had not one single qualified respondent. Not one. As grad student (when I started) and now university faculty (two different universities, one of them a state school), I have plenty of opportunity to mingle with people qualified and motivated to give a positive response -- yet none ever did. I'm forced to infer that there is no such evidence that stands up to the scrutiny of a specialist in their own field. It's easy to make a generalizing argument about ideas that somebody else knows better, but PhD research requires in-depth understanding of your own specialty that even Masters students don't get (a grad student in entomology at the state university told me that, and it's true in computer science as well).
Despite Swaine's remarks to the contrary, evolution is not like gravity.
The Bible speaks of going to heaven, but no Christian takes that to contradict
the law of gravity. Why? Because gravity is testable by anyone at any time.
The Bible speaks of God as light, but no Christian takes that to contradict
the speed of light. Why? Because that is also (in principle) testable by
anyone at any time. Evolution is about history. It's demonstrably
not happening at this time: we have minor variations within species
and genus, but no documented structural changes. Where it could have been
demonstrated, such as the rapid evolution of viruses and the long-term
improved "fitness" of race horses, it simply doesn't happen. The viruses
stay within their bounds, and horses just don't get faster any more. Evolution
fails even as a historical "science": out of billions of fossils out there,
there is no continuous sequence between any two species; it's always by
jumps. Depending on which metric you choose, you get different evolutionary
trees. If common descent from a single parent species were the truth, you'd
expect all the ways of measuring variations to come out with the same family
tree -- but they don't. You don't even need to be a molecular biologist
to see that. Look at the platypus, obviously living evidence that birds
evolved into mammals -- or is it the other way around? Nobody believes
I'm spending more time at home these days. Up until a couple months ago, I put in some 70 hours/week on SBU business, working at being the best teacher I could be. But I'm future-oriented, and there is no future for me at SBU. I still give them a fair job for their money, but not so much extra.
Right now the future looks like Bible translation again. To make that work, I need a complete new set of development tools. I bought a PC to do it on, but it's hideous. So I think I will try to develop my own, comparable to what I had before Apple killed the Mac. I already have a usable programming language (Turk2), a working virtual computer to run it on (I call it the IttyBittyStackMachine, something like SandBox), and a compiler that generates code for it, plus a mini operating system to build on. Hopefully by the end of summer these tools should be up near the quality of the Mac -- or at least more usable than the PC, while (eventually) running on the PC and generating code that runs in Windows. The virtual machine approach, while computationally slower, is much more portable. I can develop it on the Mac, then rewrite the emulator to run on a PC and have everything completely migrated in a few weeks. Plus, I can debug by stepping through code on the virtual machine much more easily than on real hardware.
I'm having a ball!
When I first got on a Macintosh, back in 1984, my productivity and convenience
took such a giant leap forward I never wanted to go back. Today I have
no real choice: The Mac is dead. In its place we have Unix (Linux or Apple's
own Oh-Ess-Ex) and Windows (XP; the fast systems are no longer supported).
How do they compare, for the kinds of things I want to do? See for yourself:
|Plug in a second drive, then drag your System Folder and other files to it. It's now bootable, and any file can be dragged back
|Cannot be done. Buy a 3rd-party product that claims to do it, then click and type away for 25 or 50 steps and a couple reboots, and if you make any mistakes, do it all over 2 or 3 times, while it destroys previous backup images without warning...
|Cannot be done. Use the Windows product in DOS mode to backup
Linux. OSX users are out of luck, just re-install from CDs.
By the way, good luck getting that backup to restore.
|Rapid Software Development
|HyperCard, originally free with the system.
|Visual Basic. It's not as easy to use as HyperCard, but programs run faster -- if they run at all. Depends on obscure runtime files. No way to upgrade when Microsoft changes the specs to ".NET", you have to start over from scratch...
|Cannot be done. Write long complicated program in C++ using long complicated MakeFile, then spend many hours fighting stupid language design issues that allow buffer overruns and other bug hatcheries...
|User Interface Control
|Put the windows and icons where you want them, and they stay there.
|The folks in Redmond know better than you do what's good for you. Things are constantly moving around capriciously
|OSX is like Windows, but there are 25 zillion ways to customize the Linux look and feel, and 30 zillion different ways to get to the same customizing screens (just none of them get to the one you want right now). However, most of what you want done you don't have permission to do
They say all good things come to an end. sigh
The Macintosh was the first computer that I considered worth buying. I bought several of them over the years. It was wonderful. It's still my preferred system for, well, doing almost anything. Like maintaining this web site. Like writing software to run on other computers.
Alas the Mac is dead. If I'm going to sell my services as a programmer, I will have to do it on something that people can buy to run it on. In other words, either Windows or Unix. So I bought a computer that runs WindowsXP and Linux. sigh
Going from a Mac to unix or wintel is a little like falling out of Heaven and landing in -- well, it's not Hell, but you can see it from here. Yes, it's that bad. Fortunately, I knew that, so I paid a local system integrator to put it together, "Everything installed and working," I told him. I insisted on seeing it run there, before I took it home. Good thing, too, because it didn't. Linux had trouble working with the monitor (no big surprise: Linux always has trouble with the hardware), and the system backup package he sold me didn't work properly. Three hours later he had the problems corrected, and I took the system home and spent another six hours fiddling with it. Things like getting rid of the dopey giant icon tiles and humongous Start menus, learning how to make it work with the Mac file sharing (crashed both computers a couple times; PCs are like that), and stuff like that. sigh
OK, it works.
Why is it so hard? I have a theory: it's Entropy, otherwise known as Original Sin (or in Protestant terminology, the Curse). In modern terminology, think of the Business Model. Different names for the same phenomenon.
Some ten or 15 years ago another software developer explained to me why he was getting out of the Mac software business. "The Mac works too well," he said. "There's no money in original sales, all the profit is in upgrades. But the Mac works so well that nobody ever upgrades." The PC, he gave me to understand, did not have that problem. Today I experienced the difference myself. When I bought a computer in the past, I plunked down my cash, took the box home, plugged it in, and it ran. New peripherals or software? Just plug them in and they run. Mostly I never even bother running the installer software, because it's not necessary. That's the way things should work. But the vendors don't get filthy rich selling things that just work. Bill Gates understands that, which is why Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, and not Steve Jobs. But Steve is learning. That's why the MacOS is gone, and in its place is Unix, which is even harder to use and more brittle than Windows. Look at how many upgrade opportunities there are!
Unix/Linux has a different business model, but also broken. Most unix systems, but especially Linux, come with free source code. The whole Linux system is required (by the GNU Public License, GPL) to be free for the cost of copying it. That means that companies cannot make a reasonable profit doing the hard work of developing a system that is usable. All development on it is donated labor by people who happen to like hacking on it -- and of course those people don't care that it's hard to use (that's why they're geeks in the first place). How does that line go? "Follow the money." There's no money in making it usable, so the professionals, who have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed, they work for Microsoft (or some other company) who is willing to pay for their services. The Linux folks talk about the altruism of open source, but their time is really limited to what they can do evenings and weekends.
Oh, by the way, the business model problems are not limited to the computer industry. The same short-sighted policy nearly killed General Motors. It was rumored at one time that they had a Vice President in charge of making sure their cars broke down -- just after the warranty ran out. The Japanese weren't so clever: they made cars that lasted long after the warranty was gone. When the American drivers figured that out, they bought Japanese cars. Hmmm, maybe the Japanese were really the more clever after all. 40 years ago I went through a pair of socks in a week. Then I found a pair made of thick 100% nylon. They never wore out! I quick bought a dozen pairs more. Then I never bought another pair of socks for 30 years. Eventually these wonderful socks began to wear out -- but the company which made them was long gone. No upgrades, no revenue, Chapter 11.
The Christian perspective, at one time called the Puritan Ethic, is
to make the best possible product and sell it for a reasonable price. You
probably won't get as rich as Bill Gates, -- there's something unChristian
about the "love of money" anyway -- but you might make a decent living.
The problem is, not even the "Christians" are doing that any more. That's
what I mean by Entropy: everything goes from bad to worse. sigh
All the critics who tried to say it was anti-Semitic simply have not watched the movie. If it has any agenda at all beyond inducing in the viewers a warm fuzzy pious feeling at particularly Catholic religious moments (you can tell when they happen, because everything switches into slow motion), it was a tract against the abuse of power by those who have it.
Sure, some of the power structure in 30AD Jerusalem were Jews, but then so was Jesus and so also were the people in the crowd pleading for mercy for this "holy man." Others in the power structure were Romans, and the most evil and cruel abusers were the soldiers assigned to scourge Jesus. You could tell they were Romans because they spoke Latin, not Aramaic.
Perhaps my perspective is biased somewhat by my own struggle with power-abusing people. So I won't say any more on that topic. I'm somewhat into computational linguistics, so let's look instead at the language(s) used in the film.
Mostly it was Aramaic, which is authentic first-century Judea. Jesus spoke Aramaic, as quoted occasionally in the gospel records, and probably not any other language (Acts 21:37 quotes the Roman commander as surprised that any Jew would speak the trade language, Greek). There was no Greek spoken at all in the movie, that I could tell.
Pilate and his wife spoke to each other in Latin, which is appropriate, as also the soldiers speaking to each other. During the scourging there were some short one- and two-word phrases spoken off-screen with each stroke. They were not subtitled, and it took me a few seconds to realize that they were counting (in Latin) the strokes. The count got up to (I think it was) 31 or 32, then restarted at one when they switched to the nasty barbed lashes. When that count got up to nine (total 40), they were stopped by the commander, probably because 40 lashes was considered cruel and inhumane.
I studied Hebrew more than 30 years ago, and it's similar enough to Aramaic that I could make out one or two words in each sentence. Latin is much closer to the languages I do know that I was able to make out almost half of the words -- certainly enough to know which language they were speaking. What surprised me was how much (apparently accent-free) Aramaic the Romans spoke to the locals. How many American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan know Arabic or one of the local languages? Almost none. They use translators. Educated people in the first century knew and communicated in Greek, and it's very likely that the real Pilate and Caiaphas spoke to each other in Greek, not a backwater language like Aramaic. The soldiers may have barked orders in pidgeon Aramaic, but certainly not the fluent complete sentences shown in the movie.
More interesting -- and this was probably completely missed by most of the viewers -- the private conversation between Jesus and Pilate started off in Aramaic, but switched to Latin for the heavy theological lines, including Pilate's contemptuous "What is truth?" ("Quod est veritas?") Gibson has Jesus speaking fluent Latin to Pilate! I suppose (especially in the docetic heresy accepted by most modern Christians) Jesus could have been able to do that, but I don't think he actually did know any Latin or Greek. It was the nature of the Incarnation as taught in the New Testament that Jesus laid aside ALL his divine attributes -- especially including omniscience [Mark 13:32].
And finally -- a nit really -- the titulum (inscription) over the cross we are told in the Bible was Aramaic and Latin and Greek, but in the movie it was only Latin and Aramaic (in that order). The lettering looked authentic (the Aramaic was very similar in style to the lettering on the James "brother of Jesus" ossuary), but there was no Greek at all. Oh well.
I doubt the Romans would have spent so much effort on smoothing their cross, the way it was in the movie. This was, after all, just the means of executing the scum of the earth. No ropes tying the arms up, just run the nails through the wrists, which can hold the victim's weight (the blood traces in the Shroud of Turin show wrist wounds, not in the palms), and no nice little foot-rest (one of the ossuaries recently found in Israel had a single nail sideways through both heels; the nail and a fragment of the cross was still there, because the nail had bent around a knot in the wood, so they could not remove it). The movie also showed them ripping off Jesus' outer garment, which the gospel record clearly tells us was not torn.
Obviously the movie was misogynistic, because it pictured Satan as a woman. Nonsense. But the snake coming out of her skirt in the garden and Jesus stomping on its head was a nice symbolism from Genesis 3:15.
It was fun looking for these historical trivia. I'm somewhat hemophobic, and it helped take my mind off the violence and gore.
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Me, I have work to do. I will finish out the term -- as well as a lame-duck instructor can -- and spend the rest of my time rebuilding the tools I need to rewrite BibleTrans. If and when God has something else for me, I'll be ready. If I don't hang on so tightly, maybe God won't have to break so many knuckles prying me loose.
Getting another job at this time appears unlikely. Would you hire somebody who just got fired for "reasons unspecified"? It's really amazing how many people in a supposedly Christian community are advising me that I don't have to tell potential employers the whole story. Like Ken Lay didn't think he had to tell his stockholders... I got fired for being too honest. On Judgment Day that's not such a tough sell as getting fired later on for having withheld relevant information.
Then there are the references. Students tell me to my face that they really learned a lot in my courses -- usually a year later. That's very gratifying, because I designed the course organization (nevermind that the department chaiman called it "disorganized") to achieve exactly that result. It's even more gratifying when I hear that they say those things to other people, and I do hear it. But if I ask them to put their thoughts into a letter or email (something I might use in job-hunting), nothing happens. I can't say I blame them: if I were a student in a college that just fired a good, hardworking teacher, I sure wouldn't want my name on any document supporting him. That says more about the administration than about the students themselves.
I asked God for a clear direction, and I guess I got it.
There's more to say, but I need to get over my resentment at learning
that "a Christ-centered, caring academic community" whose Mission statement
I wholeheartedly, albeit somewhat clumsily, adopted as my own, isn't what
they claim to be.
That's OK, this was what God had for me at this time. After 18 years working with the only commercially viable wysiwyg (What You See Is What You Get, there ain't no command line hidden underneath the hood) operating system, and a programming environment of my own making that worked in it, my skills became unmarketable when the vendor decided to kill that wonderful platform. 20 years I spent petulantly refusing to write a single line of C, and now it was the only game in town. 20 years I vigorously avoided Unix (failing often enough to be continually reminded why it was a good thing to avoid), and now it's the only alternative to participating in enabling a convicted criminal corporation to benefit from the fruits of their crime. So now, if I'm going to sell my services as a programmer, I need to do it in C/C++, and it has to be in Unix or Windows. The better operating system and the better programming languages are all gone. I can do that, but the job I was working on and my savings were also gone.
Fortunately, in the Providence of God, I had prepared for this situation by getting a PhD. I can teach. The secular universities are not interested in teachers, they want "researchers" (by which they mean people who can pull in federal grant money). I'm a known and proven failure at that. But Christian colleges, because of this bogus "separation of church and state" thing that controls the country these days, they cannot get federal grant money. Many of them are hard-up enough for PhDs that they can tolerate some on-the-job training. So I learned C++ and Java and Unix and (to a lesser degree, Windows) as fast as I could... What better way to learn a subject than by teaching it? Perhaps they don't believe it, but the university got their money's worth, I got my skills updated, and for good measure, my bank account has been replenished.
My skills updating is now nearly complete. I'm ready for God's next
assignment. Today I found out that it will happen this year. I can't wait
to see what it is.
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