May 13

Pacific Crest Trials: A psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, by Zach Davis and Carly Moree★★★

Zach Davis wrote this book as a parallel to a similar book he wrote soon after completing the Appalachian Trail, called Appalachian Trials. Zach seems to admit that at the time of the writing of this book, he had not yet hiked the PCT, though his co-author and friend Carly Moree has done both the AT and PCT. Sections of this book are now written by Carly. This book focuses on the mind games that play on the hiker leading to an unsuccessful attempt to complete the entire trail. The book emphasizes appropriate mental preparation for the hike, discusses how one can avoid the temptation to bale out and return to the comforts of house and home, but also includes the mental problems that are common among those who complete the hike. Advice is good, in that it helps to know what sort of mental issues are going to be at issue. His solutions are often in need of great personal modification. To mentally prepare, he encourages hikers to truly examine why they are wanting to hike the trail, what they expect to get out of it, and what will be the consequences of failure. There are several addenda to the book, one written by Carly Moree on the differences in the PCT and AT and how one would adapt to those difference. Then, a fairly experienced and multiply accomplished thru hiker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas wrote a chapter on gear.

I appreciated the author discussing something that is usually not addressed in planning a long thru-hike, that of the mental issues of enduring the trail. Most people focus on gear, resupply, planning, and other matters, and this book conveniently informs one of the mental anguish that will occur, allowing the hiker to be prepared for these issues. The main author also runs a website, which is quite informative in preparing for the PCT. It might have been nice if he had at least once done the PCT, and one could tell that much material seemed to be cut-and-pasted from the Appalachian Trials book, in that it continues to reference the AT.

 

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May 07

Bad Science

By Kenneth Feucht books No Comments »

Bad Science, Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tate, and is an enjoyable read. It is not about science, per se, but about research and science in health care. It is a book that I wish most people (who choose to be opinionated about health care problems) would read. The slightly less than excellent rating is not because it was a mediocre book, but for reasons to be explained below. The book is good because he hits at many of the issues that is encountered by popular medicine, whether it be conventional or alternative. So many people are deeply opinionated in things they know little about, and health care ranks at the top of the list. The book has 12 chapters, which I’ll briefly review.

Chapter 1, Matter, is an attack on a potpourri of crazy alternative health options, focusing on detoxification methods. Sadly, these treatments suggest that they are based on “science”, though worthwhile studies are virtually non-existent. Chapter 2, Brain Gym, attacks a ritual that I guess is quite popular in the British school system, but was exported from the US. In it, students go through a number of silly rituals to improve their “brain power”. Such a concept needs minimal argument as the method is so ad hoc and untested. Chapter 3 Homeopathy, is explored in a bit more depth. Goldacre’s biggest rant is against the extremely shoddy nature of their studies, as he begins to explore with the reader what it takes to engage in a legitimate clinical study. As a side comment, these were issues that were even of serious concern to the bench scientist. He spends some time introducing the issue of the Cochrane collaboration, and organization of scientist/statisticians which will take a given topic, research as many studies as possible that addressed the given topic, combine the studies through fancy statistical analysis, and then come to a conclusion. Chapter 4 is about the placebo effect, clarifying in many ways the power of a placebo. Chapter 5, titled The nonsense du jour, explores more about issues of bad science, how studies are poorly controlled, etc., but then focuses on nutritional studies and and anti-oxidants. Chapter 7, Nutritionists, develops an all out attack on people making ridiculous food claims, which are most plentiful. Chapter 8, The doctor will sue you now, goes into a personal story of Dr. Goldacre being sued by Dr. Matthias Rath for libel regarding Rath’s claims for the benefit of high dose vitamins, but lacking any substantial research to support that claim. Of course, the claim is so typical, that physicians and Bid Medicine are in collusion against alternative treatments, yet alternative treatment practitioners do not repel those claims by offering a legitimate scientific study. Which leads to chapter 9, Is mainstream medicine evil? Here, Goldacre takes a hard look at big Pharma, and instances where they have twisted or concealed data. The example used was of Vioxx, whose problem would never had been found if sloppy science was being used. But, Goldacre makes a claim that big Pharma has gone wrong in the past, and how pressures on the pharmaceutical industry will continue to manifest serious problems. In this chapter, I think that Goldacre was a little too kind to big Pharma. Yet, he also published an entire book attacking Big Pharma, so, perhaps he is leaving much to another book. Chapter 10, Why clever people believe stupid things, summarizes why very intelligent people, including those who have had scientific training, can be so wrong with healthcare studies. Not understanding randomization and statistics, preformed bias, drawing conclusions after the fact of the study all lead to wrong conclusions. This is probably the best chapter in the book. Chapter 11, Bad Stats, hits even harder on how study design, randomization, abuse of data, lack of critical thinking, etc., has led to so many false conclusions, and even major lawsuits, where the uncritical mind (especially lawyers) can draw conclusions from data that just isn’t there. Chapter 12, The MMR hoax, is a rant about the bad science used to suggest that the MMR vaccine is bad for you, causes autism, etc., etc.. His case is strong. I’m glad he didn’t attack the fight against the flu vaccine, whose science is pathetic. So, the book is good about detailing how bad science, bad statistics, and bad thinking can lead so many people (including very bright people, scientists, doctors) to wrong conclusions regarding issues related to health.

So, what did I not like about the book? I felt that Goldacre was completely lacking in humility, and his assumption that science can avoid issues of investigator bias are wrong. His assumption that with “good” science, all truth will be fore coming is fitting of a positivist mindset, which has been otherwise been thoroughly destroyed as a philosophic construct. Science depends on paradigms which so often are just plain wrong. It’s been shown that predictably, paradigms will change every 20-40 years, whether it be in health care, or in the hard sciences. He remains hyper-critical about everybody but himself. This is the greatest failure of this book, and Ben could use a dose of humility.

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Oct 24

seekingallah

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi ★★★★

This is an autobiography of the conversion of Nabeel Qureshi from a devout Muslim faith to Christianity. Nabeel was born in the USA, but grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family belonging to a sect called the Ahmadi. Living in Virginia, he was challenged in his faith by a close Christian friend David Wood. David and Nabeel met in high school, and continued on together in college, until Nabeel eventually applied to and was accepted into medical school. Through a number of years and Nabeel seeking inconsistencies in his faith, he finally had a series of dreams which led him to become a Christian. The book is written in multiple very short chapters, and so is somewhat spasmodic or convulsive  in the way it is read. There is a lengthy appendage to the book. I appreciated this book as a means of describing the challenges of bringing a Muslim person to faith in Christ. Nabeel has written several other books, one on Jihad and another on the distinctives of Muslim versus Christian theology.

Because Nabeel grew up in the USA and to a small sect of the Muslim faith, he is somewhat lacking in seeing the result of a large community of regular Sunni or Shiite Muslims. I am not challenging Nabeel of deficits in knowledge of the Muslim faith, but note that having lived for a while in two Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Extrem Nord Cameroon), my picture of the Muslim faith in those countries (as can be found in most Muslim countries) is less romantic than his views. The people appear bound by an ugly task-master of an intolerant god, with joyless worship of this uncaring and merciless otherworld being. Nabeel shows a kinder, gentler Muslim faith more closely related to its Christian roots, explaining why it is dangerous to categorize all Muslims as dangerous jihadists. Note that I view the Muslim faith as a Christian heresy (which it is!). This kinder, gentler subset of Muslims probably represents a small minority of Muslims just as most “Christians” are Christian in name only. The only problem is in being able to sort out one from the other.

Qureshi shows the reader the formidable challenge of witnessing to the Muslim. The most important aspect is not in having an encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim faith and doctrine, but in simply being able to share clearly the Christian faith, including the resurrection of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity, the formation of the canon of Scripture, etc., and to know why these doctrines are important.

Qureshi continues to write. He has appended this book to fill in 10 years of time since he first became a Christian. He frankly discusses the problems of his family rejecting him for his faith. He discusses finishing medical school, but deciding upon going into the ministry instead, and now works with Ravi Zacharias. Only recently in the news is it known that Nabeel has an advanced gastric cancer and probably will not live too much longer. It will be sad to see the loss of such an interesting person.

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Jul 07

MetaxasKeepIT

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas ★★★

I ordered this book on-line in February from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail in late June. I’ve read another book by Metaxas which intrigued me, leading to me to order this book. I found out about the book on Facebook, coming from Metaxas’ blog site. I typically appreciate how Metaxas writes, and so felt that I would enjoy reading this book. I’ve met and chatted with Metaxas, I find him to be most likable, and would love to engage in more conversation with him. He is bright, and mostly right-on. The other book by Metaxas that I’ve read was “Bonhoeffer”, a stimulating read, though a book for which I felt Metaxas would frequently draw erroneous conclusions, such as to state that Bonhoeffer was a martyr, which he most certainly was not. That discussion might be found in my review of that text. But, let’s get on with “If You Can Keep It”.

The book is seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. I’ll comment on the chapters after I briefly summarize them. The introduction presents the topic, titled by a phrase uttered by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention. When asked whether we would be a republic or a monarchy, Franklin noted that we would be a republic, if we could keep it. Focused on that phrase, Metaxas seeks to restore through the book the zeal to keep this republic founded roughly 230 years ago. Chapter 1 begins the argument by noting that a republic can function only in the environment of moral people. Government cannot make us moral, and each citizen must hold the responsibility for personal morality. Chapter 2 introduces a concept borrowed by Os Guinness called the golden triangle. Specifically, the triangle is that freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom. Chapter 3 was simply a summary of the ministry of George Whitfield in America, leading to a spiritual revival. Chapter 4 notes how civilizations will have historical heroes that are venerated. He discusses the American heroes that are too commonly forgotten, such as Nathanial Hale, and the founding fathers, including Paul Revere. Chapter 5 builds heavily on the importance of moral leaders, contrasting the immorality of such leaders as Bill Clinton to that of Cinncinaticus, George Washington or William Wilberforce. Chapter 6 explores further the idea of American exceptionalism, and why it is important in thinking about our country. Chapter 7 is a plea that one must love their country (America) in spite of its faults. The epilogue recalls the sentimental experience of Metaxas seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor soon after the 9/11 tragedy.

What is the problem with this book? Several…

  1. Metaxas doesn’t express deep insights into the real nature of America, and with what has gone wrong. Perhaps the seeds of destruction were sown at the writing of the constitution itself? Perhaps America’s “exceptionalism” has been not the virtue of its wonderful constitution but its transitory moments where many Americans actually had a true faith in the God of Christianity? Perhaps many of the symbols that evoke sentimental emotions with Metaxas are false symbols, such as the statue of liberty, which is about as pagan as you can get. Not that I dislike Lady Liberty, but I acknowledge that the Christian faith has a seriously different concept of the entire notion of liberty and freedom than pagan or humanistic sources provide for. Metaxas almost hints on that in the book, but fails to follow through, lapsing back into a “God, mother and apple pie” notion of America.
  2. Metaxas confuses general morality with a Christian morality. He spends much time talking about the importance of American’s being moral, but fails to explain why any morality not grounded in Scripture is really a false morality. In essence, morality essentially becomes what the state deems to be good and right. If tolerance becomes the greatest virtue, so be it, because the state has declared it to be so.
  3. Public heroes are nice and important, but only in the light of how they lived consistent with Christian beliefs. I can hold Latimer and Ridley as far greater heroes, dying for far greater principles, than that of Nathanial Hale, or those that perished in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Heroes now tend to be sentimental figures that do not inform the public into taking a costly moral stance. Metaxas completely confuses this in his book on Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, which might be noble, but certainly true heroes like David from Scripture had better restraint when an opportunity to assassinate evil Saul presented itself.
  4. The golden triangle, with deepest respect to Os Guinness, seems to be nonsense. There are no specific definitions of virtue (whose morality?) or faith (in what?) or freedom (from what or for what?). Faith in the Christian sense does NOT require freedom, but affords a much greater freedom than is offered by the constitution or any other man-created document or system of government.

Metaxas labors long about the importance of love for country, being sure to dismiss the “my country right or wrong” notion. He argues that you can love a country while hating the sins of that country. But, one’s love for country is far more complex than just “loving” America. Is he talking about America as a system of government? Do we idolize the good but seriously flawed constitution, the “living” document that now controls our country? Do we love it for its extreme secularism, that refuses to take a stance as a Christian nation, and supporting equally Islam, Buddhism, and even Satanism as legitimate religions of the land?  Metaxas doesn’t mention that our only real citizenship is a heavenly citizenship, and on earth we are strangers and pilgrims. It’s not that we are solely citizens of an other-worldly realm, but that we have dual citizenships, and must reconcile how to deal with that, being both members of planet earth and asked to care for the earth, yet members of a heavenly kingdom. Some have responded by claiming that the US system is too far gone, and moved to a country which tended for stronger Christian sympathies. Others have moved on to more oppressive nations, though with the thought that they are subject to a King that is not the prince of this world. Others, like myself, stay, realizing that this is my Heimat, my homeland, that I can have an influence for good in the community in which I live. I do not find America to be exceptional, but like the prophet Jeremiah, spend my time weeping that my nation could have made better decisions but have gone the way of inevitable judgment of a most serious nature.

I see our government as far more corrupt than meets the eye. I see the constitutional structure as fatally flawed in that it is primarily a secular humanist document, and we are now reaping the consequences of that structure. I see the loss of a public Christian morality as the essential loss of anything that once was good about our country. I don’t view ourselves as having a representative government, or that our votes have any substantial meaning. A plethora of events within the last twenty years have shown that a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” does not exist in the USA, and that it will never return, save for a cataclysmic revival in our country. Why can’t Metaxas see this? I don’t know. I ponder the imponderable question as to how the majority of our “well-informed, greatest-nation-on-earth” citizens could vote in a fool and evil person to be their president. I find it even more confusing that some of my Christian friends voted and still stand behind that man, and will soon vote in an even more evil, corrupt liar. These Christian friends are very moral people as well as well educated intelligent folk, and so a generic “morality” just doesn’t explain how to fix America, as Metaxas’ thesis claims.

There is much that Metaxas says correctly in this book. I appreciate his insights into American history and his dissatisfaction with the current status of our country. I appreciate his appeal to return to a moral stance. I would find it easy to get along with Metaxas if we were to meet in public, and could easily become a good friend with him. I hope that with time and age, Metaxas would write a text about America lacking the sentimental statements and the sense that America is a city on a hill that we all wish it would have been. I would hope that Metaxas’ love for America would remain strong, but become more mature,  perhaps seeing America the same way that Jeremiah saw (and deeply loved) Judah.

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May 21

ChallengeOfRainier

The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar (4th Edition) ★★★★★

I’ve seen this book around for many years sitting on shelves in the bookstores, but never bothered to purchase a copy to read. It seemed that the time was ripe. Mt. Rainier is in many ways my favorite mountain. It’s in my backyard, and I frequently bicycle its perimeter. I’ve climbed it twice. I’ve hiked the Wonderland trail twice. I’ve yet to have a truly bad moment on the mountain, even though rain has occasionally terminated an adventure on the mountain. Mt. Rainier is of particular note in that many of America’s most famous Himalayan climbers learned their craft on this mountain. It is frequently acclaimed to be the most photogenic mountain in the world. My love for the mountain has extended to all seasons, doing winter ski trips into the park, spending other times hiking the trails for the day, cycling around the mountain, and always standing in awe of it. Thus, learning more of the history of the mountain was most gripping to me. Dee writes very well, and it is hard to put the book down. He chronicles the first climbs of each of the main routes, the development of the park, recounts tragedies that occurred in the park, discusses famous and interesting characters who have climbed to the summit, and discusses the challenges of the park rangers in keeping the mountain safe for all who approach its flanks. Chapter 35, In Retrospect, hit a tender spot with me. Though my experiences on Rainier are far fewer and less intense than the author, we both share the deep sentimentality of the majesty and grandeur of the mountain, the respect for its challenges that it offers the visitor, and its desire to see it preserved from careless human ambition. I’d encourage any and all that have have fallen in love with Mt. Rainier to read this book, and to delight in the perspective of the mountain man on the greatest of American mountains.

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