Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Article on Crime, and My Response

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Recently, for an English class on technical writing that I am taking this semester, we had to read and discuss this article called "The Brain on Trial." The article is a proposal for a reform of our justice system, a  system which desperately needs reform. I was not sure that the author's way of addressing the core reasons for crime were correct.

I sent the following response to the article to my professor:


One thing that I think was missing from David Eagleman's article was an honest exploration of answers to the problems of our criminal justice system outside the purview of science.

Mr. Eagleman did not, in my opinion, appear to understand that the issue of fairness and justice toward those who trangress our laws is an issue that crosses over considerably into the concerns of theology, spirituality and the humanities. He did not call in any poets, novelists, theologians, Church Doctors, Biblical authors, prophets, priests or gurus to deal with the weighty issues of human guilt, culpability or sin.

Given that recorded human history extends back at least 6,000 years, and that the Great Questions of existence, goodness, evil and life have been more or less universally asked and talked about throughout that time, it would seem prudent to consider what our ancestors have had to say.

Mr. Eagleman does not do this in his piece because, I presume, he assumes that what we call "science" ("knowledge") is objectively more correct and superior to all speculation that has come before it, rendering what we call "art" or "the humanities" more or less obsolete, or, at any rate, fanciful. He assumes that all useful truth is that truth which may be measured or tested in the limited sense of laboratory science. 

I'm not sure he's read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or, if he has, he has not learned much from it.

He does not consider (and neither did we in our class discussion, for we have the same biases) answers provided outside of science because he doesn't think that the problem extends beyond science. He assumes that what is wrong with us as humans is only physical and material. For instance, the urge to sexually molest children or make inappropriate sexual advances is due to a tumor inside one's brain, not because of something called Original Sin (Christianity) or because of humanity's obsession with Desire (Buddhism) or our lack of knowledge of ourselves and nature (Taoism). 

The answers of religion and of much of our literature reaches beyond the physical and into our essences as humans, our souls, or, if you prefer, our "substance." Plato certainly thought that such a World of Forms existed. Has Mr. Eagleman read Plato? Does he care? 

My point is that there are many answers beyond science, answers I think any honest person would be willing to consider, recognizing that science can (and must) contribute significantly to our understanding, but science cannot be the only voice. If we neglect our spiritual men and literary men (and women, for women often have a better intuitive sense of these things than men do), we are not being honest people.

The reduction of all problems into questions of chemistry and mathematics, answerable with appropriate drugs or "cost-saving" measures, is a dangerous tendency in our modern age. It is simplified, fundamentalistic thinking, except this is scientific, not religious. 

Simplified thinking is thinking without heart or imagination, for it assumes it already has all the answers. Such thinking has led to the widespread economic destruction of small farmers. It has led to the mountaintop removal sites in Eastern Kentucky. It makes excuses for corporate greed and avarice, and for the Great Recessions that result from it, because all it does is measure problems--if a corporation may mine coal to produce electricity for less money by destroying a mountain, the man who lives on or from the mountain, and the creatures that live on the mountain, the corporation does so on the basis of monetary calculation alone. The government justifies the destruction of irreplaceable resources because the corporation "creates jobs," creates "a tax base," and so on. The thinking is entirely utilitarian, entirely materialistic, only concerned with the Now.  Goodness is determined by calculators and short term expediency, not by any universal understanding of goodness that extends outside Creation and judges our actions as creatures in Creation, as members of an ecological commonwealth.

Is Mr. Eagleman capable of asking, "By ignoring religion and the humanities, what tools, what methods of understanding do we lose that will help us understand what science is telling us?" I don't think so, not if his article is any indication. Is he capable of seeing the need for disciplines and concerns outside his own? Is he capable of considering that new psychotropic drugs may create more problems than they solve, and thus that more drugs are not the only answers to the problems of anti-social behavior? Is he capable of conceiving limits to what technology and science may do? Can he conceive of "appropriate technology"? Simply because we can do something, does that mean we must do it? The answers to these questions, based on his writing, appear to be "No."

We have such a treasure trove of thought that would help us all answer: what is the meaning of free will? Why do good people do bad things? What is the nature of evil? Where does sin come from? 

Mr. Eagleman could have started with Martin Luther's Law/Gospel dichotomy: the impossible miserable state of all humans, the Law which rightly convicts us, our helplessness to obey the Law, God's mercy and grace which alone fulfills the Law, the triumph of forgiveness over condemnation, etc, etc. He did not. What a shame. There are many other places he could have started from; I am picking one example with which I personally am familiar, because I am a Christian. It is possible that other religions have equally good and helpful things to say on the topic as well, I am just not familiar enough with other religions to make statements for them.

With all these thoughts rolling through my head, I knew I couldn't possibly flesh them all out in a way that made sense in class. But it is what I was, more or less, thinking about during our discussion. I wish we could have touched more on these questions.

*       *       *

I urge readers to read the linked article, which is immensely interesting (to me, at least).  Your comments are most welcome. -- RH  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One More Reason To Eat At Waffle House

Guest post by Ben Carmack

This article from Doug French at Lew Rockwell provides even more reasons for me to eat at Waffle House more often.

I am a fan of greasy spoon, classic American diner food. It's terrible for you, of course, and would make good guys like Michael Pollan, Weston A. Price and Wendell Berry flake out, but it is what it is. Life is short. I figure, eat what you like. 'Specially if it's cheap and the waitress asks, What fer ya, hon?

I like greasy spoons for some of the same reasons I like certain bars. Yeah, I know. 

I don't do this a lot, mind you. One must have limits. I do care about my health. I appreciate the genre.

Waffle House appears to treat its employees well, run its restaurants efficiently and avoid Wall Street malfeasance. Good for them. We should all be so lucky to work for such a company.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Death Penalty Is A Miscarriage Of Justice: It Should Be Abolished

Guest post by John W. Whitehead

"The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery.  It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics." ~ Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer

Imposition of the death penalty is arbitrary and capricious. The decision of who shall live and who shall die for his crime turns less on the nature of the offense and the incorrigibility of the offender and more on inappropriate and indefensible considerations: the political and personal inclinations of prosecutors; the defendant's wealth, race and intellect; the race and economic status of the victim; the quality of the defendant's counsel; and the resources allocated to defense lawyers." ~ Gerald Heaney, a former appellate judge

There is nothing moral or just about the death penalty – certainly not the way it is implemented in America, and anyone who says otherwise is either deluding themselves or trying to get elected by appearing tough on crime. Take Troy Davis, for example, a 43-year-old black man from Georgia who has spent the past 20 years of his life on death row for allegedly shooting and killing a white off-duty police officer – a crime he very well may not have committed.

According to Amnesty International, the case against Davis consisted entirely of witness testimony, which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Despite the fact that the case against Davis has largely fallen apart, the courts have not been inclined to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing. At a minimum, there's enough doubt as to Davis' guilt to commute his sentence. And even with prominent politicians and public officials such as former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Desmond Tutu lobbying on his behalf, Davis continues to languish on death row at a Georgia prison.

Unfortunately, Davis' journey to death row and his impending execution are indicative of the many failings of the capital punishment system in America, a system sorely lacking in justice and riddled by racial prejudice and economic inequality, not to mention outright corruption.

As it now stands, America's Western allies have abolished the death penalty, leaving America as one of only three industrialized democracies still carrying out capital punishment. Internationally, the U.S. ranks fifth in terms of the number of prisoners put to death, putting America in such ill-esteemed company as the regimes of China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, wasted no time in pointing out the hypocrisy of the U.S. executing Teresa Lewis last year while criticizing Iran for stoning a woman convicted of adultery.

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John W. Whitehead is an author and constitutional attorney, who founded The Rutherford Institute in 1982.  The Rutherford Institute is a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.  "When founding The Rutherford Institute, my goal was to create an organization that would defend people who were persecuted or oppressed without charging them for such services. The Rutherford Institute exists to ensure that people are treated fairly in the courts and are free to express themselves without fear."

Thanks, John, for permission to print this article.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Senator Patrick Leahy Takes A Stand

       Glimmers of hope are where you find them, and this week, I got a glimmer from the senior Senator from Vermont.

       Before I say what it is, and get to the end of the story, I'd like to say a few words about this man whom I have never met, and only know through the circumstantial evidence that a (controlled) media provides.  My most vivid information about Senator Leahy came from the reported encounter he had a few years ago with then-Vice-President Dick Cheney.  You may remember:  there was some sharp disagreement having to do with Halliburton contracts and government favoritism, and the Vice President told the Senator to go eff himself -- or words to that effect.

       Well, at the time, I was thinking that Dick Cheney might do well to take his own advice, what with his gift for promoting policies that eff'd Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United States of America.  I could imagine hearing the same thing from Cheney towards myself, if we had ever met and had an, ahem, "frank exchange of views."  So I made a mental note that there must be something specific to like about Patrick Leahy.  There is.

       For one thing, he stepped up to the plate and raked Bush's contemptible Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, for the "extraordinary rendition" of Maher Arar to Syria.  You can read about that here and here, and form your own opinion.

       Furthermore, on March 2, 2006, he was one of only ten senators who voted against the Bush/Bipartisan "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act," a bill to extend the utterly revolting USA PATRIOT Act.

       According to Wikipedia, "Leahy has been a long-time critic of the Iraq War. He has spoken in favor of timetables for troop withdrawal and has stated that the country needs well-trained foreign service and civilian workers to help fix the damage in Iraq."  Actually, it is more specific than that.  As the Senator's website declares, "Senator Leahy opposed the Iraq War since its beginning, and he has consistently voted against funding the war as an open-ended conflict. He also supported legislation to withdraw our troops, shorten deployment durations, and shift our strategy to focus on addressing the real threat of terrorism."

       Well, just the other day he stood up to the Israeli government, which is a practically unheard of thing on Capitol Hill.  Whatever affections and sympathies we have for the people in Israel, we have to begin to admit that the long-term behavior of their government on human rights issues has been somewhere between arrogant and evil.  Their leadership, both political and military, has taken their sense of exceptionalism (as a people) and entitlement (to the land) beyond all human proportion.  And they do not take kindly to questions or criticism.

       Senator Leahy has proposed a bill that would hold Israel to the same human-rights standards that the US requires for other governments that receive military subsidies from us.  According to a news report at, "The bill would halt aid to certain Israeli 'elite forces' units, including the Shayetet 13 unit involved in the attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship, over growing evidence that the units are responsible for major human rights violations in the occupied territories."

       The report goes on to say that "The proposal had Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak holding secret meetings with Leahy earlier this month, during which Barak demanded that the bill be withdrawn from consideration. It does not appear that it was successful."   What is there about the assertion of human rights that Ehud Barak, and by extension the government of Israel, doesn't like?

       "Major human rights violations in the occupied territories"?

       Patrick Leahy is the senior senator from Vermont; the only Democrat they have ever elected; and he has served for thirty-seven years.  I pray for him a long life, a strong heart, and a thick skin. I expect the attacks against him will begin soon.

*       *       *

Comments welcome, pro and con.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saint William Blake

Guest post by Ben Carmack

If you are like me, you were told that William Blake was something of a hedonist, an eccentric weirdo who wanted nothing to do with God, morality or restraint of any kind.

You can get the idea from reading some of his poems. He calls you to cast aside restraint and pursue "Desire" with abandon. Now that I think on it, I think he was being intentionally provocative and cheeky. He didn't necessarily mean for us to take him in a strict, literal sense. That was not his style. He was responding to the overly legalistic tendencies of the Church in his time.

As in so many things, I was wrong. I remembered that today when I had a chance to go over some of William Blake's poetry on Jesus afresh. It is just as good as when I dug into it a year ago.

It's so good, and shows such prophetic depth (along with many of his other poems, like "London," "Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and "Jerusalem") that I have personally canonized William Blake. Of course I have no idea as to his whereabouts in the afterlife, but I figured I'd do my part to put in a good word for him. If the Pope can do it, why can't I?

Blake was an engraver by trade, and he published his poems as engravings. Here's what he said at the introduction to his poem on Jesus and the Gospel:

There is not one Moral Virtue that Jesus Inculcated but Plato & Cicero did Inculcate before him; what then did Christ Inculcate? Forgiveness of Sins. This alone is the Gospel, & this is the Life & Immortality brought to light by Jesus, Even the Covenant of Jehovah, which is This: If you forgive one another your Trespasses, so shall Jehovah forgive you, That he himself may dwell among you; but if you Avenge, you Murder the Divine Image, & he cannot dwell among you; because you Murder him he arises again, & you deny that he is Arisen, & are blind to Spirit.

Granted, the theology in the foregoing paragraph is not entirely orthodox in the usual sense, but it is fascinating to hear the man's thoughts. He was one of a kind.

Charles Williams, who was a bit of a weirdo himself, called him "the brilliant but heretical poet William Blake" in his book 
Forgiveness of Sins.

I won't share the poetry; go pick it up and read it for yourself.

Seems to me that William Blake, much like Thomas Jefferson, has been misunderstood by Christians.

*       *       *
You may also be interested in this earlier post, 'William Blake, Charles Williams, and Anglican Spirituality'.     Comments always welcome.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Zen and the Art of Helicopter Maintenance

       With a title like that, I must begin with Motorcycles.

       Specifically, the military motorcycles that I remember from seeing "Why We Fight" and other film documentaries that provided the visual history of World War II.  You may remember them:  the grainy black-and-white newsreel clips of German motorcycle units roaring down the dirt roads of Europe, spreading war wherever they would.

       It was probably a good recruiting tool, especially in Germany, for a certain kind of daring young man.  He could imagine himself a part of some kind of First Wehrmacht Motorcyle Division, dirt-biking at fifty miles an hour with a couple of buddies on those beautiful, powerful, top-of-the-line military-issue machines.  It was kind of sexy, really, in that grim, dusty, determined kind of sexy that some young men (and some young women, apparently) prefer.

       Plus, the volunteer for motorcycle-duty figured he could take care of that machine.  (He may have even worked on a lesser bike of his own.)  As long as his superiors would cooperate with a few spare parts, motorcycle maintenance was something he knew he could do.  This was doable!  Think of the frauleins!

       But, sexy or not, newsreels or not, it didn't work.  If it had, all our modern armies would have Motorcycle Brigades.  But they don't.  Why?

       For all its undeniable cachet as a symbol of freedom and virility, the motorcycle is not much good on a battlefield.  It can be easily and totally stopped with rather simple countermeasures:  explosive devices, piano wire stretched across the road, or simple ambush from concealment.  A man on a motorcycle is, really, a fragile machine.  Because that machine can be easily unbalanced.

       Like the pilot with his helicopter.

       I have been studying up on the Vietnam War lately, so I've been reading a lot about the helicopter, which was the front-and-center weapon of military operations and largely affected the strategy and tactics of that entire war.

       If there is one weapon that can be said to have lost that terrible war, it is the helicopter.  That's right, it was the helicopter that lost that war.

       How, you may ask.  Good question; here are some basic statistics that I have gleaned from my readings.  Yours may be more accurate.

       1. The typical Vietnam-era transport helicopters could deliver 10 ground-troops and their equipment.     A typical operation of placing 200 men at a target required the safe arrival of 20 helicopters.

       2.  They had a maximum effective fuel range of about 200 miles -- 100 miles out, and 100 miles back, straight line.  But if you flew in a straight line, you were telegraphing your line of flight to the enemy waiting up ahead to set up an ambush.  (Zigzagging was possible, but limited, especially if you were flying in formation with twenty or so helicopters and your destination was close to the limit of fuel range.)

       3.  Helicopters zipped along at about 55 miles per hour.  That's the speed of the slow cars you pass on the freeway every day.  Think about it.  Helicopters that flew high were visible targets for rifle and small-arms fire for  minutes.  Helicopters hugging the ground at treetop level could be -- and very often were -- taken down by special home-made cross-bows that fired ropes, wires, and vines a few feet into the air and tangled the rotors.  That disruption of the delicate balance of spinning rotors guaranteed an instant crash.  It was so easy to do this, in fact, that these cross-bow armed opponents once took down fifteen helicopters in a single event.

       4.  Helicopters are flying machines that must be kept as light as possible in order to deliver a maximum payload.  There was no way for them to be effectively armored, even against small-arms fire.

       5.  Helicopters are very high-tech equipment.  Read, fragile.  A lot could go wrong, and often did,  before they ever reached the combat zone.  Over 40 percent of helicopter loss (and loss of crew) was due to accidents and mechanical failure, not hostile enemy action.

       6.  Helicopters are very high-tech equipment.  Read, temperamental.  At any one time, over half the helicopters were always down for servicing and unavailable for action.  The army tried to maintain a 50% availability rate, and couldn't.  This meant that a 200-man deployment unit really had to have more than forty helicopters at the base.

       7.  Helicopters are very high-tech equipment.   They require a lot of servicing, with lots of spare parts and the skilled mechanics to replace them.  This requires a large, vulnerable base, which needs protection.  The base, loaded with row upon row of helicopters, most of them unserviceable, is a magnet for attack by a handful of enemy concealed in the jungle within mortar range.  Huge numbers of helicopters were destroyed in this way.

       On a more personal and less mechanical note, helicopters are lousy for soldiers who need to distinguish friend from foe.  Fifty-five miles an hour seems slow when you are dodging small-arms fire; but when seconds count during the process of target identification, you are overflying the "enemy" area at more than 80 feet per second.  So the "enemy" becomes:  "anyone that runs."  Very bad for winning hearts and minds in Vietnam.

       Here are the rough figures for helicopter-related losses in Vietnam, as reported by a retired Air Force colonel who was in a position to know:
       over 5000 helicopters lost;
       over 15,000 lives lost in crashes;
       the average helicopter, it is reported, lasted slightly fewer than eight sorties;
yet, risky and ineffective as they were, they were used heavily in the war from beginning to end.


       Well, some old helicopter pilots will say that there was a rush of adrenalin like no other, flying into mortal danger, killing gooks, and coming back alive.  Get the juices going, and it might make for a good Saturday night seeking release at some brothel in Saigon.  So maybe helicopters are sexy, and the pilots don't want to give them up.

       But I think there is a better explanation for why the military kept using the helicopter.

       Helicopters are high-tech equipment.  Read, multi-million dollars apiece (a modern Apache, admittedly more sophisticated than its 60s brethren, was going for over 11 million dollars in 1995), and much, much more than that amount to service and replace.

       It is true that arms industries, especially aircraft industries, have enormous start-up and re-tooling costs.  They survive from contract to contract.  Sometimes, they even go broke.  So how do they get going and stay afloat?

       Loans.  Big, big loans.  From big investors, like very big banks.  In 1960, I have read, the First National Bank of Boston financed the purchase of Bell Helicopter Company -- but only after meeting in private in the Pentagon with representatives of the CIA to determine their future needs -- fully four years before the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" was staged by the CIA/NSA to begin the military buildup in Vietnam.  How many billions did these guys make at a cost of 5,000 helicopters and 15,000 lives?  Every lost helicopter was worth millions of dollars to replace . . .

       And the army kept writing the big checks year after year, even though it was accepting less than 49% operability, and over 40% of losses were due to non-combat mechanical failures or accidents.  The army still buys the newest upgrades today.

       Do you happen to remember that during the decade of the 1980's, "our" Afghan "freedom fighters," armed with our Stinger missiles, stalled the entire Russian invasion of that country by shooting down a zillion of their helicopters?  They made a movie about it called Charlie Wilson's War.  It really happened.

       So we have ten years of experience in helicopter "insurgency-counter-insurgency" operations by the Russians in Afghistan.  An even longer period of time for the US in Vietnam.   And now, again in Afghanistan, NATO is wrapping up its own decade of helicopter supported war: How are those amazing high-tech vehicles working?

       I am told -- I have no way of knowing for sure -- that it takes about a million dollars to train and deploy a single Navy Seal.  Why in God's name did they load more than twenty of them into a single helicopter, along with ten others, and send that pelican across a danger zone to risk being shot down by a missile like the ones that we taught the Afghans to use thirty years ago?

       I grieve over the loss of the Navy Seals and the other passengers on the helicopter that just went down.  Some of them could have been former students of mine.  I also grieve over the CIA Drone Wars that slaughter the Pashtun people in twos and threes and dozens and hundreds.

       I hear young men coming away from the annual military air show who tell me of their plans to become Apache pilots.  Their parents enthuse and encourage them.  I listen.

       I am tired of this ghastly ten-year tragedy called the War in Afghanistan.  Thousands of people dead,  and the only winners are the arms manufacturers and the big banks who control them.  And we say, To hell with the budget, to hell with the debt, to hell with the Bill of Rights.  Let's have some more war so our kids can be Apache pilots and defend our freedoms.  We can already see how proud we'll be when they come back home and come to church in their snappy uniforms with that laconic, knowing smile that will make dad proud, and will make the silly girls (and their silly mothers) swoon, and guarantee our sons a few hot dates with the sexiest ones.  To hell with our kids' lives.

       Motorcycles and helicopters -- both wonderful machines, not well suited for surviving modern combat.

       There is a famous old Zen conundrum:  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  I think I know that sound.  It is the sound of all the applause that the Bush-Obama War deserves.

       Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.

*       *       *

       The above information is what I have gleaned from study.  I believe it to be truthful; don't count on it for statistical purposes, or cite it as gospel truth; I cannot claim that it is.  Correct me if I am wrong.

       Comments pro and con always welcome.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Raw Milk and Ron Paul

       Well, the FDA, assisted by local SWAT teams, raided some some small dairy and organic farmer types last week in California, in order to remove any resistance to Corporate Agriculture.  They have declared -- I suppose by administrative fiat -- that it is illegal for people to sell raw milk to each other.  Shut those people down; close their businesses; seize their farms; fine them; imprison them.  They are a danger to the health of our society, and more importantly, our American Way of Life.

       I suspect that you won't hear much about this on the local news, or in the political discussions carried by the media, busy as they are with wars, debt ceilings, and stock market averages.  And the Republican Establishment and the Democratic Establishment are just that -- Establishment -- and they are one hundred per cent in favor of corporatizing the whole of America.  Actually, the whole world.

       I'm not expecting this issue to make it to your church's pulpit or "leadership team," either.  What with supporting our troops, honoring our veterans, decrying the collapse of our 401-k's, gay marriage, the China threat, the Muslim threat, the emerging-church threat, the drug threat, the public-school threat, and so on, the "plight" of a few small farmers is going to have a hard time competing for a place on the church's already very full plate.

       I understand.  You sent your kids off to the military; you didn't help them start organic farms.  If your kids are lucky, they have jobs in a fast-food restaurant (or college cafeteria) where the franchise absolutely depends on the Agricultural-Industrial Complex.  Probably those recently-raided small farmers are just misguided nature-worshippers.  Probably their food is unsafe; at least, we know it is unapproved.  And what am I, anyway -- some kind of  environmentalist wacko?

       But let us leave the church out of it -- please -- and get back to practicals.

       I make no secret of the fact that I love Ron Paul.  I'm not trying to nominate him for Pope or anything, but I like the way he thinks.  And I remember -- I do have a memory -- that he took time in his last campaign to stand up for the right of farmers -- including, but not limited to, Old Order Mennonite and Amish -- to produce and sell raw milk.  He was the only one of the candidates I ever heard take the time to do that (correct me if I am wrong).  The rest were fully occupied in supporting wars, lambasting their opponents, supporting wars, discussing issues, and supporting wars.  In other words, pandering to their voting blocs.

       Which is why Ron Paul is going to lose -- big, I predict -- and I'm totally okay with that.

       Ron Paul has committed the Unpardonable Political Sin, and has not Repented.  Actually, it is not sin; that could be forgiven.  It is Heresy, which cannot be.  He has repeatedly, publicly, and consistently criticized the Banker-Lawyer-Corporate-Warfare cartel that runs all of this country and most of the world.  He has denounced Satan and all his works.  And for that, he will Not.  Be.  Forgiven.

      Here is a little homily for the day, courtesy of Jeremiah:

For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings.  Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.  Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?  An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:  the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?

       Crazy old Jeremiah.  What could he know?

*       *       *

Comments pro and con always welcome, here or on the Park Bench.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Truth in U.S. Wars: Naming


     Someone, somewhere, first said -- and it has now become a truism -- that "In war, truth is the first casualty."

     That seems to be so.  And since you and I have a certain respect for the truth (even though we might usually prefer entertainment),  it could be worthwhile to think about what kind of truth dies, or is damaged, in times of war.

     I am going to approach this subject like any second-rate high-school history teacher might -- the style seems to come naturally to me, for some reason -- and so I will begin with a rather loose definition of terms, identify one or two relationships, and use them to comment on a few historical events and facts.  Let us begin by defining the terms in the title of this article, from last to first.

     First of all, Naming.  Good naming is not an easy art.  I shall make up this definition of Naming:  "The artistic, scientific, linguistic, and mystical process of selecting words, sounds, and symbols related to a thing, in order to best represent its essence, or its essential characteristics."  Choice of names, like choice of words, is necessarily important to language and good communication.  We want to say as clearly and as fully what we truly mean.

     (Except if we don't.  Then we hide the truth behind euphemisms, vague terms, false labels, acronyms, and the like.  So: I think proper naming is important.)

     Secondly, Wars.  For the purposes of this discussion, I shall use this definition of War:  "A complex event that is precipitated when one group of human beings, acting under some form of leadership, physically assault another group of human beings, with the intent of damaging or destroying living human flesh."

     This definition is a narrow one, in that it excludes many legitimate uses of the word War.  For example, it excludes cosmic wars, spiritual warfare, war on smallpox, and the wars of ants, since I am restricting the definition to human beings.  For the same reason, it also excludes wars on abstractions, such as war on poverty, war on drugs, war of ideas, war on terror, cyber-wars, and the like, since abstractions are not human beings.  Unless, of course, these abstractions are used euphemistically to partly conceal the fact that they really are directed against human beings.  Then we would be talking about a real war.

     To summarize:  We are talking only about organized, conventional wars in which people use weapons to kill and maim other people.

     The next term is, U.S.  For the purposes of this discussion, I shall use this narrow definition of the U.S.  (which leaves out the colonial wars and the revolutionary war):  "The body politic organized by the Constitution of 1787, with the governmental powers distributed variously and specifically among the Congress, the President, the Courts, the State Governments, and the People."  Since we are talking about war, we will simply note that under the Constitution, the war-making power is reserved to the People acting through the Congress, and the execution of any war so declared is the specific responsibility of the President in his duty as Commander-in-Chief.

     The final term is, Truth.  This is one is quite difficult to define, since the word has been the common property of the human race from time immemorial.  I'll just work with this expedient description of truth:  "That which we desire to know when we want to distinguish between that which is in some sense, Real, and that which is in some sense, Not."


     So we have worked through the definitions of the title.  Are we interested in knowing the truth about U.S. wars?  Let us work through a few observations about relations.

     First of all, the American constitutional tradition acknowledges that men make war.  The people, acting through Congress, are held responsible for choosing war (and, having done so, must openly declare it).  War being what it is (like fire, it can easily get out of control; like a game, someone must decide which moves and stratagems to use),  the conduct of war must ultimately come under the authority of a single man; in our case, the President.

     Real wars are made by real men.  They begin with real (though perhaps obscure) motivations in one or more real human brains.  Motivations are strengthened into specific intentions, and at this point the group must become involved: intentions must be frankly discussed in order to be turned into concrete plans.  At this point human hands must become involved:  preparations must be made, weapons assembled, supplies gathered, and the warriors must be recruited, trained, and motivated.  Usually this occurs under conditions of partial -- and sometimes near total -- concealment.  Leaders are chosen, and contingencies are discussed and provided for.  Stages in the unfolding plan are established.  Except in small tribal affairs, war plans require months; more often years; occasionally decades.

     At some point the executive makes a series of decisions: the time, place, and nature of a set of stratagems and attacks.  At some point, he decides to launch the operation, and proceeds to execute it.  Basically, all wars start in this way.

     They are not unforeseen catastrophes or disasters.  They do not "erupt," like volcanoes.  They do not "break out" like diseases, or "spread" like epidemics.  They do not "happen,"  like a random meteorite striking the earth.  All wars are prepared for, intended, planned and executed by men: usually planned by staffers, executed by commanders, and fought by warriors. (Unasked question:  who finances them?)


     Let us now consider an actual list of some of America's wars.  (The total list is too long and too tedious for this article: with all due respect to the precious lives lost in those omitted wars.)

     1794: the Whiskey Rebellion

     1812-1815: the War of 1812

     1845-1848: the Mexican War

     1861-1865: the Civil War

     1860s-1870s, and thereafter: the Indian Wars

     1898: the Spanish-American War

     1917-1918: the First World War

     1941-1945: the Second World War

     1950-1953: the Korean War

     1964-1975: the Vietnam War

     1990-1991: the First Iraq War

     2001-Present: the Afghanistan War

     2003-Present: the Second Iraq War

     Now, as a step in restoring truth about war, let us begin by naming the wars after the great men who execute them.  Since military discipline holds subordinate commanders fully responsible for their appointed parts in the war, it is appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief to take full responsibility for the war that he executes. In our Constitutional system, the President must secure a declaration of war before he proceeds (unless he acts, beyond the Constitution, on his own). So here goes:  let the Presidents take full responsibility, whether that be to their blame, or to their credit.  I make no judgments.

     The Whiskey Rebellion is renamed George Washington's War.

     The War of 1812 becomes James Madison's War.

     The Mexican War is James Polk's War.

     The Civil War is Abraham Lincoln's War.

     The Indian Wars are the Ulysses Grant-Rutherford Hayes Wars.

     The Spanish-American War is William McKinley's War.

     World War I is Woodrow Wilson's War.

     World War II is Franklin Roosevelt's War.

     The Korean War is Harry Truman's War.

     The Vietnam War is the Lyndon Johnson-Richard Nixon War.

     The First Iraq War is the George H. Bush War.

     The Afghanistan War is the First George W. Bush-Barack Obama War.

     The Second Iraq War is the Second George Bush-Barack Obama War.

     Now that will help us learn some American History, and it will help our troops to know more clearly just who they are fighting for.

     Then we can discuss who they were fighting against, and why.  But that should be the subject of another article.  Stay tuned.

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Comments always welcome, pro and con.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Arab Spring; Israeli Summer?

       It has been a disorderly summer in Israel.

       Unaffordable housing has been a problem in Israel for years, and it is getting worse -- just like it has been in the United States.  Israel has always followed the same failed economic model that the US adopted after World War II -- increasing debt, consumerism, high taxes and inflation.  In both countries, wealthy special interests have been in the catbird seat and the ordinary citizen suffers.

       A month ago, the stirring of a butterfly's wings produced a small hurricane in the Promised Land.  A young lady announced that she was going to protest unaffordable housing by pitching a tent and living in it.   Right in the city -- Tel Aviv, I think.  She was quickly joined by others -- young and middle-aged workers, professionals, and unemployed.  The unrest has risen to the point that tens of thousands are taking to the streets and pointedly expressing their dissatisfaction.  They are tired of a government that keeps using "security needs" and never-ending fear in order to justify its oppression and manipulation of its own people.

       There are several very informative videos available.  Here is a link to Gilad Atzmon.  Here is one to Real News Network.  Please watch them, they are fairly short.

       One of the most striking things to me in these clips is the obviousness of the utterly materialist and ultimately meaningless life-style of the average Israeli.  They have built nothing more holy than New-Jersey-on-the-Mediterranean.  The endlessly repeated propaganda pictures that feature black-suited orthodox praying and chanting at the Wailing Wall is about as typical of Israel as would be repeated pictures of Amish families in Lancaster County riding in the family buggies to church in America.  True as facts; just totally atypical and irrelevant to the average underpaid, overcharged, and overspent consumer.

       I do not mean to imply that the Israelis are undergoing any kind of moral self-examination.  This is a solidly middle-class pocketbook issue, much like the current stir in America.  They have no more concern for their own poor (let alone Palestinian Muslims and Christians as such) than the tea-partiers in America have for love, liberty, and live-and-let-live.

       Still, it is interesting.  The times they may be a-changin.  What next?

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       Here is late word from Israel. "270,000 attend Israel's biggest pocketbook protest." (Aug 6)  Thoughts pro and con always welcome.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Christian Family, Muslim Family, and Jesus

Guest Post by Brother Abe

About 18 months ago, forced by job loss and foreclosure, God brought my family of 9 into the section of our city called the Ghetto. 

I used to not use that term out of respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters who experienced a real Ghetto in the 1940's. But I have come to realize that poverty has been Ghetto-ized nazi style in most mid to large sized American Cities. The Police department admits to using a forest-fire fighting approach to my neighborhood: contain the crime, don't let it spread to the good neighborhoods and let it hopefully burn itself out... sometimes literally, considering the high rate of arson. There is actually a good racial diversity here, but not economic diversity. Hunger, eviction, and health problems are universal conditions. 

Moving here, we were not some financially-backed missionaries with an axe to grind, we were fellow travelers through a heartbreaking valley seemingly devoid of hope. But we had one thing to give: a new message that many had never heard. 

The Gospel? Nope, that is very prominent in our 'hood. The sad thing is the rarest message is the message behind the gospel, the one Christians don't share because they don't often understand that it is the deepest message of love from our God. It is the message that you have worth. You were made in God's image. While sin makes you unworthy, we are all equally worthy of Love, equally worth others' time and effort as any suburban moneybags. 

As the Churches seek prosperity and physical growth like new buildings and bigger parking lots, do you think they invest in inviting those without pennies to spare for the offering plate?
Before telling the downtrodden they are sinners, we must try to show them they are beautiful, wonderful creations. Without that foundation, what difference does sin make? If you believe you are trash because the TV, the Cops, the Storekeepers the mall security, Teachers and parents all tell you you are trash... What difference does the taint of sin make? Love your neighbor as yourself is practiced every day in my neighborhood, but no one loves themselves but will often admit they hate themselves. Hence: murder, drugs, revenge, fights, fires etc.

One morning, I walked downstairs at 5 am to find a man in my house. He had already taken and sold the TV, and was coming back for more. I chased him away by God's protection because a few days later he pulled a knife on a guy during a different robbery. Tom will understand when I say that I owe that man some thanks anyway... He saved my Louisville Slugger from getting shards of TV screen all over it.

Ok, Sorry for the rant. The story you asked for involves our neighbors. They are refugees from the Sierra Leone war in the 90's and are muslim. Through slow and steady relationship, they trust me to watch their children and watch over their house. I have been asked to intervene during domestic violence, nurse the children's wounds when their mother couldn't, and feed the children when poverty inevitably ends the month with hunger. 

Recently the Matriarch, K---, flew back to Africa to be with her dying father. She told me in tears, "I leave my family in your hands." I said "God bless you, I will pray for you and your father." Her answer brought me to tears. She responded "And I know God hears you, Abraham." (She loves saying my whole name, I think it emphasizes our common spiritual roots in the Jewish history.)

During K---'s absence, I've had opportunities to continue to bless this family. Then, on Monday, the 14 year old boy, came over to my porch and we talked for hours. We had talked before about some common questions we have about government and religion, but this time he asked me about my beliefs specifically.  He admitted that he had prayed in English and "it felt like I was praying to the Christian God." He also talked about feeling very dizzy while bowing during prayer at the Mosque... but not being dizzy when he did the same thing elsewhere. I did my best, and I can only trust the Holy Spirit in me that what I said was helpful, but he got a good chunk of the Gospel, a character sketch of Jesus, and a good answer to "if Hitler repented on his death bed, do you believe he would go to heaven." I'd never thought about it before, but God showed me that Paul was genocidal, a torturer who waged war against a faith... practically Slobodon Milosovich before Jesus knocked him to the ground and blinded him. So there is hope for all, but the deathbed prayer had better be deep heart-changing truth... and God looks upon the heart. 

We then talked about the life choices in front of him. His time playing Black Ops on the PS3 has him angling to join the military and try special forces. He admits the game is propaganda and teaches some false realities. I am gently trying to steer him sideways... maybe peace corps or a Navy Medic.

Anyway, God made all that happen. All we did was respond in love to those around us, and answer honest questions honestly. Islam isn't some big scary opponent, but just a different set of blinders that people wear. And only God can shine through. But boy, when He does shine through, nothing gets in the way. So, don't forget to build people up with real love and respect, they may not have enough of those two things to care about the consequences of sin or the prospect of salvation.

By the way, I'm not some saint or even a nice guy. My wife affectionately calls me a bad word that characterizes my interactions with other humans. I admit, I'm often a jerk but I'm working on it. I'm definitely not the type who exudes love for others out of every pore. But God works anyway, and is glorified in my shortcomings. Pray for me because another relationship God seems to be growing is with the Crack-dealing cross-dressing registered sex-offender next door. That challenge makes a Muslim look much less intimidating. When love is a commodity to be traded to meet other needs, Jesus has to work miraculously. But hey, its Jesus we're talking about here.

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Thanks, Brother Abe, for letting me post this letter you wrote to Doc.

Reader response always welcome.

How To Advance Liberty

       The title of this post is shared with a very interesting article that has been posted on Lew Rockwell's website.  I consider it so well written, that I am not going to compete with it at all.

       I'd love for some readers of this blog to go to this link and take 7 minutes to enjoy it, and then stop back here for some comments pro and con.

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A brief look at the life of the author, Leonard Read, can be found at Wikipedia, here.