« 2007 August | Main | 2007 June »

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Bible as a Tool for Those Unable to Know Right and Wrong
I met an interesting man the past two weeks. An army ranger, a captain formerly, now a navy chaplain. He's a believer in the Bible as a document that is to be taken literally to an extreme level. He believes that evil angels exist that are induced to copulate with women if they don't cover their hair. It seems bad angels have some fetish for hair, I guess. Oh, and evil angels can be recognized by their three pairs of wings. He's only met one so far in his life, when he worked as a prison guard. He knew him because the prisoner's eyes glowed red. Despite this, I really like him and think he is an otherwise good man, full of good, practical advice for my Marines.

Before he became a chaplain and a minister, before he became a missionary, before he became a handyman, before he became a prison guard, but after he left the army he applied for a job with the state department.

He didn't get the job, and the reason fascinates me.
He didn't get the job because of a revelation he had during the interview. He realized that one of his job requirements would be to convince people from other countries to supply information to him. He would get them to be traitors to their country. This horrified him because he realized that had he done that to his country, he would consider it among the worst crimes possible to commit as a citizen. The guilt for such a crime would drive him to suicide. He did not want to put that burden on other people.

After lengthy discussion, finally it was clear to me that this good man was unable to distinguish between nations, judging one as good and another as bad. His personal philosophy is incapable of judging whether something is good or bad. He was incapable of seeing that supporting a despotic regime was morally wrong and he believed the old, tired canard that one's culture determines what is right or wrong.

For example, he believed that individualism is valued only in our culture, and is in fact what is leading us to our downfall. Other cultures -- strangely he doesn't see how they are the despotic ones -- value family and tribal relations that are more important. The individual should be subordinate to the group. I suspect he comes to this conclusion honestly, he gets it from his only source of thought.

Although very intelligent, this man is incapable of thinking in abstract philosophical terms. He knows there is right and wrong, but is incapable of perceiving right and wrong. Being thus incapable, and yet wanting there to be an answer to the question as to what is right and wrong, he turns to a single source: The Bible.

He is a moral absolutist, which is good, but without the ability to percieve morality he is dependent on this book. This explains why he is a literalist in interpreting the Bible. If the Bible tells him absolutely what is right and what is wrong, then everything else it says must be absolutely true as well. Thus we must have six-winged bad angels that are seduced by women not covering their hair (I still am skeptical that this is in the Bible.)

Right and wrong are absolutes, and it is the role of civilization to come to an agreement to understanding what is right and what is wrong. No civilization has ever, and likely never will get 100% agreement nor even will any individual likely ever get a fully correct understanding of all that is right and all that is wrong. We can, however, certainly judge how well we are doing in a relative manner. We can know that the United States is among the best even with its known flaws. We can know that Cuba, China, Korea, and any muslim nation are among the worst. These are facts, they are self-evident and all people on this Earth are responsible to know this.

Convincing someone from one of these or other nations to subvert their government is not asking them to sin, it is allowing them to redeem themselves.

I enjoyed meeting this man for many reasons, but especially because he is such a dramatic example of why belief in god is often the catalyst for abetting or ignoring evil in others. There are many who believe in god who are not like this man, but this is a common mode. People like him believe in a god because they are personally incapable of deciding right and wrong without being told by others or being told by some ancient, dusty book of magic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I Know the American Fighting Man
I know the American fighting man. He is tough. He is motivated. He understands why we're fighting. He understands the evil we confront. He knows we must win.


The American fighting man is a winner. No matter the odds, I've seen him mount up on his vehicle and seek out the enemy time after time.

The American fighting man isn't stopped by anything save death. In the military hospitals you can see him, mangled, burned, mutilated, disemboweled, dismembered, wounded in every way imagineable. But I've yet to see one broken.

Talk to him, he is proud. Watch him, he is unbowed.

The only person as brave as the American fighting man is his American woman.
I am moved to tears by the women that are visiting their men in the military hospitals. Their husband, boyfriend, brother or son is mangled, burned, mutilated, disemboweled, dismembered, or wounded in any way imagineable but they are there with him. They don't recoil in horror. They don't sob and cry at the sight of their changed man. They reach down and pull out the courage to smile and be happy. The man isn't a fool, he knows his condition is serious, but the smile of the woman in his life in his hospital room helps him keep his courage. Sometimes he is lucid, sometimes he is drugged and barely conscious, but he knows his mother, sister, or lover is there and soothing his mind.

He is brave, but she makes him braver by supporting him. I've seen this many times. I see these men and I struggle to find words to say. What should you say to a man whos face looks like a ghastly skeleton because all his skin, nose and ears are burned off. I've seen the look of horror in others' faces when they walk into the room wearing sterile gowns. But their woman always seems to do or say something just right to make him keep a hold of his courage and the power he has inside him.

That he has been hurt is cause for sorrow, for him, for his woman, for us. No matter the advances of our medicine, he can never be whole again. I see these men and wonder what will become of them that survive for twenty more years. Will we remember them and what they endured? Will we shuffle them off to a rest home, alone but for the company of government caretakers? Will their woman leave them when the novelty of their condition wears off and they are confronted with the reality of unending need?

Surely some or all of these men over time will have cause to wonder at their fate. How can we as a nation tell these men that their agony was all for nothing? How can we know that we could have done more to make a difference in this world by winning this war, and yet decide to quit before winning -- knowing that we did not even try very hard.
We have two generations of bitter veterans from Korea and Viet Nam. We never made a commitment to winning those wars and thus lost them. In Korea we were afraid the Chinese might fight us, even though the Chinese were already fighting us. In Viet Nam we were worried the Soviets might fight us even though the Soviets were already fighting us.

Now we are worried that more Islamic nations will fight us, when they are already fighting us. Iran is fighting us, but we are reluctant to openly fight Iran.

The American fighting man is brave. His woman is brave. Are the American people brave enough to do enough to win? Or will we all just avert our eyes in shame when we meet those that were hurt by the enemy, afraid to admit that we as a people are too cowardly to be fighters who want to win?100_1617.png

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Land Fills
Some people lack the ability to look ahead.

I was listening to National Public Radio and some yahoo came on to talk about plastic. It seems it was the one hundredth anniversary of the patent for plastic being filed in this country. They were interviewing a man who specialized in the history of plastic. As newsworthy and interesting stories go, this one wasn't. They describe the story this way: "Michele Norris talks with Dr. Jeffrey Meikle, a historian of American plastic, about who Leo Baekeland was, and how his invention affected the next century's thinking." And don't forget that you don't pronounce Michele like everyone else would, this is NPR so a snobbish pronunciation is required, her name is MEE' shell.

But, NPR being NPR, Mee had to inject political slants somehow or another, and she found a way to put a negative political spin on plastic for crying out loud. After talking about the properties of plastic, she insisted that the plastics historian tell us how horrible plastic is for the environment. Okay, not so bad, until she said that plastic is as bad as nuclear waste.

How do these morons get on the radio?
Her reasoning goes something like this: Plastic doesn't decompose (wrong) therefore it stays in landfills forever. Quod erat demonstrandum, plastic is like nuclear waste.

What, you didn't follow that? Let's try it again, pay attention this time.

Plastic is in landfills, therefore it is as bad as radioactive material.

Yeah, I don't follow it either.

Let's look a bit closer at the problem without the obligatory NRP slant.

Plastic decomposes more slowly when not exposed to sunlight. This much is true. But you know what else doesn't decompose when it's underground in a landfill? Paper. When paper is tightly compacted, such as in a book form, it's virtually impossible for water and air to decompose the paper.

Don't tell Meeshell, she'll start telling us that books are as dangerous as nuclear waste.

Personally, I'm all in favor of landfills, especially with paper and plastic in them. Some day, if resources ever become scarce, someone will make a lot of money mining ancient landfills for the plastic, metals, and paper contained therein. The cellulose of the paper can be dumped directly into a paper mill. The plastics can be chopped up and recooked to make new plastics. Land fills are a future treasure trove of all kinds of good resources.

Nuclear waste isn't. It's just radioactive. But don't let basic concepts get in the way of your publicly financed political agenda, Meeshell.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

California Political Tactics
California is at it again. They've mastered the art of asking for the outrageous in order to get the merely intolerable.

That is, politicians in California routinely propose laws that are so far beyond the pale that there is almost no chance that they could ever be enacted.

Everyone knows the story about how if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out, but if you put the frog in a pot of cool water and slowly heat it up, the frog remains content until it is boiled. Whatever the truth of the science of that statement, it's a popular analogy for how the political class takes away our freedoms slowly, one by one, until we are enslaved.

Californian politicians don't feel a need to take such slow measures. Their theory is to throw the frog into boiling water, only to have it jump into a frying pan. They still get to eat the frog legs, and they don't have to wait a long time. Meanwhile the frog is happy to escape the boiling water.

Here's how it works:
Law makers want some sort of severe change in the state. In this case, they want to encourage pet owners to be more responsible about how their animals breed. So far so good. Feral animals are often an expensive public health problem.

Their method of encouraging this end is to dictate that all pets throughout the state must be sterilized. This is absurd and would never get passed, and the legislators know this. However, threatening this over-the-top plan allows them to make a few concessions, in this case only sterilizing animals that have a complaint lodged against them, and people are so relieved that they stop protesting.

I saw it happen with CAFE standards when I lived there many years ago. The new car emissions requirements were absurd and would require pretty much every car more than ten years old get sent to the scrap heap. Since I lived in Sacramento and worked the swing shift at the time, I even stopped by to watch the protests on that law.

But what eventually happened is that the politicians finally backed off and after the protesters left feeling victorious, they introduced a version that was only marginally better that eventually was enacted. It's really hard to get the protesters mobilized again once they've gone home.

If the California legislature proposed from the beginning that your pet would be sterilized at your expense if a neighbor called to complain that it barked one time, people would be outraged. After proposing that all pets everywhere be sterilized, people feel like they're getting a good deal when they back down to this also outrageous proposal.

The Golden State politicians are good at this and it will likely work. Time will tell. Californians are taught from young ages in government schools to organize and protest the government, not for principles, but for the sake of having an effect. The tactic of suggesting something so horrible that no one can support it allows their school indoctrination to take over and abet the creation of an almost as bad law.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Journalistic Code" or, Why Novak is an Idiot
Robert Novak is no more than a gossip monger. I read today that Robert Novak "tells all" in his new book. He's made his living as a gossip monger and has been successful because he can project an insufferable stuffiness and snobbishness as he tells us all the secrets of Washington. He's really no different than People magazine except that he writes about brainless people who can take our money away, whereas People magazine just writes about people who make movies.

Part of his schtick is to act as though he is privy to all the insider wheeling and dealing in politics, and relate his tales with an air of superiority. People will listen to anyone who acts as though they are superior.

Novak was the one, if you'll recall, who did the "tell all" article that exposed Valerie Plame, the CIA employee with the odd name, as a CIA employee. As gossip goes, this was not only boring, but unimportant. If she ever was an undercover agent, and that is not clear, her manipulating the CIA for political purposes certainly justified noting that she worked for the CIA.

Most people know now about the absurd investigations and Scooter Libby's conviction for not being involved. But all that could have been avoided had Novak simply come forward from the beginning to tell the authorities investigating this non-crime how he became aware of her status.

But no, Novak had to perpetuate the myth that gossip mongers are the high priests of politics and immune from the rules the rest of us abide by. He's a "Journalist." Whatever that is.
While people's fates were twisting in the wind, Novak stirred up more and more controversy, even staging a temper tantrum on television. When simple cooperation with the investigation would have put this needless mess to rest, he invoked the "code" of journalism as though purveying unattributed statements and gossip is somehow ethical.

When I was a kid, the bad westerns and other tv shows would mention the "code" of the outlaw. Such is the "code" of Novak's journalism. That is to say, it's laughable on its face.

Here's why it's laughable:

Journalists are not smart people. They have degrees in journalism for people who can't understand math or science. Yet, journalists routinely write about things they can't possibly understand and get it wrong almost every time. Anytime I have been associated with an event that ended up in the news, the story has invariably been wrong. Not just incomplete or abbreviated, but misleading and wrong. They are the kind of people who think their lack of understanding of the world is the natural state of people everywhere.

Novak felt a need to keep his source secret. Why? Because how else will politicians be able to tell him lies and gossip if he lets people know who the liars and gossipers are? Somehow, when Novak abets a potential criminal act it's sacrosanct, but if you or I were to claim privilege we would be tossed in the slammer. But then, once the scandal has played out he's free to tell all in a book he wants to sell. How convenient.

No one seems to question the merits of allowing politicians to speak "off the record" and without attribution, Novak even seems to think this is a good thing. These are people being paid by the citizens of the United States to work on our behalf. Everything they do and say that is related to the job we pay them to do should be attributable. Speaking without attribution is a very convenient way to spread lies and gossip, but if they didn't then how would Novak make his money?

In fact, Novak's refusal to cooperate in the investigation is not only extra-legal, it is unethical. But he won't see it that way since that's his rice bowl.

People who write about current events are not special categories of citizens. They are just citizens. That couldn't be more clear today with the internet. Anyone can write on the news today, and they do. We are no longer restricted to the ignorant and misleading writing of people not smart enough to have real educations or knowlege. Experts now write on the news from their homes and do a much better job of it. We don't have to get our only news from the AP, who pays terrorists in Iraq and Palestine to write their news rather than send trusted writers. We don't have to get military analysis from someone who doesn't know the difference between a tank and an armored personnel carrier, or a howitzer from a mortar. We no longer have to rely on pretty boys on TV who never took a class in calculus or chemistry to explain science and technology.

Robert Novak had a responsibility as a human being to clear up the facts surrounding a criminal investigation and didn't. He had a responsibility to not allow politicians to smear their opponents with gossip and hear say. Yet Robert Novak is perfectly happy to contribute to a multi-year political mess by not coming forward based on incorrect claims of principle. And he's perfectly happy to abandon these "principles" when he can sell a book.