Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I think. I think I am. Therefore I am. I think.

We begin with Eddington:
I find a difficulty in understanding books on philosophy because they talk a great deal about "existence",  and I do not know what they mean.  Existence seems to be a rather important property, because I gather that one of the main sources of division between different schools of philosophy is the question of whether certain things exist or not.  But I cannot even begin to understand these issues, because I can find no explanation of the term "exist".

The word "existence" is, of course, familiar in everyday speech;  but it does not express a uniform idea - a universally agreed principle according to which things can be divided into existing and non-existing.   Difference of opinion as to whether a thing exists or not sometimes arises because the thing itself is imperfectly defined,  or because the exact implications of the definition have not been grasped;  thus the "real existence" of electrons, aether, space, colour, may be affirmed or denied because different persons use these terms with somewhat different implications.  But ambiguity of definition is not always responsible for the difference of view.  Let us take something familiar, say an overdraft at a bank.  No one can fail to understand precisely what that means.  Is an overdraft something which exists?  If the question were put to a vote,  I think some would say that its existence must be accepted as a grim reality,  and others would consider it illogical to concede existence to what is intrinsically a negation.  But what divides the two parties is no more than a question of words.  It would be absurd to divide mankind into two sects,  the one believing in the existence of overdrafts and the other denying their existence.  The division is a question of classification, not of belief.  If you tell me your own answer,  I shall not learn anything new about the nature or properties of an overdraft;  but I shall learn something about your usage of the term "exists"  -  what category of things you intend it to cover.

It is a primitive form of thought that things either exist or do not exist;  and the concept of a category of things possessing existence results from forcing our knowledge into a corresponding frame of thought.  Everyone does this instinctively;  but there are borderline cases in which all do not employ the same criteria,  as an example of the overdraft shows.  A philosopher is not bound by traditional or instinctive conventions to the same extent as a layman; and when he similarly expresses his knowledge in this primitive frame of thought, it is impossible to guess what classificatory system he will adopt.  It would be rather surprising if all philosophers adopted the same system.  In any case I do not see why such a mystery should be made of it,  nor how an arbitrary decision as to the classification to be adopted has come to be transformed into a fervid philosophical belief.

I do not want to make sweeping charges on the basis of a very limited reading of philosophy.  I am aware that in the recondite works the meaning of the term is sometimes discussed.  But, after all, philosophers do occasionally write for the layman;  and some of them seek to repel the scientific invader in language which he is supposed to understand.  What I complain of is that these writers do not seem to realise that the term "exist", if they do not explain the meaning they attach to it, must necessarily be as bewildering to the scientists  as, for example, the term "curvature of space", if left unexplained, would be to the philosopher.  and I think it is not an unfair inference from this omission that they themselves attach more importance to the word than to its meaning.

It is not every sentence containing the verb " to exist" that troubles me,.  The term is often used in an intelligible way.  for me ( and, it appears, also for my dictionary) "exists" is a rather emphatic form of "is".  "A thought eists in somebody's mind," i.e. a thought is in somebody's mind - I can understand that.  " A state of war exists in Ruritania,"  i.e. a state of war is in Ruritania -  not very good English, but intelligible.  but when a philosopher says "Familiar chairs and tables exist", i.e. familiar chairs and tales are....,  I wait for him to conclude.  Yes:  What were you going to say they are?  But he never finishes the sentences/  and I do not know what to make of it.

Speech is often elliptical,  and I do not mind unfinished sentences if I know how they are meant to be finished.  "A horrible noise exists"  presumably is intended to be completed in such form as " A horrible noise is- disturbing me".  But that is not how the philosopher intends me to complete his unfinished statement. "noises actually exist " - and I really have no idea what completion he does intend.  I myself, when I am not intimidated by the existence* of critics determined to make nonsense of my words if it is possible to do so, often say that atoms and electrons exist.  I mean, of course, that they exist - or are - in the physical world,  that being the theme of discussion in the context.  We need not examine the precise ellipsis by which a mathematician says that the root of an equation exists, when he means that the equation has a root;  it is sufficient to say that he has no idea of putting forward a claim to include the root of a mathematical equation in the category of things which philosophers speak of as "really existing".

In the preceding chapters I have discussed a number of things which exist in the physical universe;  that is to say, that are in, or are parts of the physical universe.  We have seen that "to exist in",  even in the equivalent expression " to be part of", is not free from ambiguity,  and is made definite only by the conventions discussed in connection with the concept of analysis.  The question whether the physical universe itself exists has not arisen.  I have, in fact, avoided saying that it exists - which would be an unfinished sentence.  Ordinarily it would be unnecessary to be so particular.  The existence or non-existence of things is a primitive form of thought; and, if I had used the term, it would mean no more than that I was forcing our observational knowledge into such a frame** as it is forced into several other frames that we have discussed.  Knowing, however that as philosophers we must seek to get behind these forms of thought,  I have thought it best in this book to avoid introducing it even temporarily.

* No;  you have not caught me this time.  The critics intimidate me just as much, whether philosophy concedes to them "real existence" or not.

** If we wish the assertion to mean more than the expression of a primitive form of thought, we say "really exists".

Eddington has a point.  Wading through Heidegger's Zein und Seit, one never does quite grasp what "Being" is.  Well, not as a concrete object. Then again, one can read Benedetto Croce's Aesthetic and still have no clear idea what "Beauty" is.  And frankly, the physicist who explains to me patiently and deliberately the tenets of quantum mechanics is just repeating so many words, to me.  Jargon, really.  The physicist insists the concept of quantum mechanics, or even Einsteinian physics, have reality.  I, ultimately, just have to accept that as true.

I've read a very detailed, very technical account of how an internal combustion engine actually manages to produce power.  The explanation went down to the molecular level of the combustion of the fuel, IIRC.  I'm sure it was soundly reasoned and based on the finest understanding of scientific principles and informed engineering.  It still just meant the car starts when the key turns and there's gas in the tank, and all the systems of the automobile function as they were designed to.  It doesn't really make it clearer to me that the engine exists, or that the power it generates has reality.

These are, in other words, enormously slippery concepts.  As I often tell my students, I can't bring abstract concepts like "Justice" or "Beauty" into the classroom so they can identify them the next time they see them.  What is "Justice"?  Where does it come from?  What does it look like?  How do you define it?

Lawyers and politicians have been working on that one for centuries, and so far the closest we've gotten is that we know it when we don't see it.  Could I ever meaningfully say that Justice exists?  And would I mean it in the same way as saying that a platypus exists?

What Eddington is encountering is what Wittgenstein called "language games."  We use words in different ways depending on so many different things:  culture, context, meaning.  And "meaning" is hardly what's confined to the dictionary (which is not the objective arbiter of language after all; dictionaries since Samuel Johnson's day have only recorded the way words are used.  "Awful" for example, once meant "full of awe."  But even if a dictionary insisted that was the only meaning of the word today, we'd consider it a pretty awful definition.).  Wittgenstein argued this confusion arising from such freewheeling use of language as if it were the stuff of reality is what leads to most philosophical conundrums, like:  "How far is up?" or "How long is a piece of string?"

Okay, okay, but seriously, folks.  Take my wife:  please!

I digress....

We can say, for example, that a stone exists.  That's a perfectly sensible English statement which does not seem immediately contradictory or strange, especially if the stone is large and you just stubbed your toe on it.  Clearly it exists apart from your perception of it, or you wouldn't have run your toe against it in the first place (you didn't perceive it until your toe struck it).  But would we also say a stone has existence?  Even if we aren't quite sure just how to define "existence," we'd hesitate to use this sentence, this concept.  Conversely, we can easily say a unicorn does not exist.  Yet it isn't the same thing as saying a unicorn doesn't have existence.

I mean, neither does a stone.

Now it's a bit clearer, to be fair to Heidegger, why Being and existence don't get squarely defined in his philosophy; especially since his philosophy is all about the nature of Being and existence.

What, then, is "existence"?  What do we mean when we say we have existence?  Eddington insists it is "primitive thought" (by which he means to be pejorative.  But "primitive" is almost as acceptable in discourse today as the "n-word" is.  It's a bit too harsh, in other words.  We stumble over it.  Well, I do, anyway.  "Primitive thought" is too simplistic a concept for me, too dismissive. It smacks of arrogance.), but is it really "primitive" (or just simplistic) to think in terms of existence or non-existence, of either/or?

A stone exists, or it doesn't.  And it has existence; or it doesn't.  Now, whether that gets us anywhere worthwhile, whether that tells us anything worth knowing, is worthy of debate.  But it is primitive to examine the issue?  I don't think so.

Do humans have existence?  We're back to Kierkegaard's question; because, if we have it, what is it we have, and how do we prove it?  How do we establish existence?

But what is this unknown against which the understanding in its paradoxical passion collides and which even disturbs man [sic] and his self-knowledge? It is the unknown. But it is not a human being, insofar as he knows man, or anything else that he knows. Therefore, let us call this unknown the god. It is only a name we give to it. It hardly occurs to the understanding to want to demonstrate that this unknown (the god) exists. If, namely the god does not exist, then of course it is impossible to demonstrate it. But if he does exist, then of course it is foolishness to want to demonstrate it, since I, in the very moment the demonstration commences, would presuppose it not as doubtful--which a presupposition cannot be, inasmuch as it is a presupposition--but as decided, because otherwise I would not begin, easily perceiving that the whole thing would be impossible if he did not exist. If, however, I interpret the expression "to demonstrate the existence of the god" to mean that I want to demonstrate that the unknown, which exists, is the god, than I do not express myself very felicitously, for then I demonstrate nothing, least of all an existence, but I develop the definiteness of a concept. 

I start there not because I'm interested in establishing the existence of God; but because S.K. gets us to this question of establishing existence at all, through the arguments about the existence of God.  As the argument goes:  if what you seek to establish as existing doesn't have existence, then it is impossible to establish that it exists (which takes us back to my example of the stone.  But even if the stone exists, are we now willing to say the stone has existence?  If so, what do we mean by that, now?).  If it does exist, then why demonstrate it?  From there the argument slides into the establishment of a concept ("the unknown"), and away form our purposes.  But it is still a good prologue to what follows:

It is generally a difficult matter to want to demonstrate that something exists--worse still, for the brave souls who venture to do it, the difficulty is of such a kind that fame by no means awaits those who are preoccupied with it. The whole process of demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists. Therefore in the world of thought, I never reason in conclusion to existence, but I reason in conclusion from existence. For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something which exists is a stone. The court of law does not demonstrate that a criminal exists but that the accused, who indeed does exist, is a criminal. Whether one wants to call existence an accessorium or the eternal prius, it can never be demonstrated.

And our stone comes back for us to stumble over again!  It cannot be proven that a stone exists, or, in our example, has existence.  But we can establish that this thing which exists (look!  It's in my hand!  Even now it breaks forth!  Can you not perceive it?!) is a stone.  We can, in other words, identify it.  We can name it.

Never underestimate the power of naming.  Many have pointed out over the centuries it was the first power given to Adam.

But to prove existence, as Kiekegaard says, I continually start with the presupposition of existence.  This is, among other things, the bedrock principle of existentialism, although Sartre used it to turn against essentialism (which is another line of argument entirely).  Our question is this: if we are presupposing existence, what, precisely, are we presupposing?  That this stone in my hand exists because it has mass, weight, breadth, hardness?  Is that all it takes to exist?  Is that what existence comes down to?

Does the mind exist, then?  Eddington speaks approvingly of thoughts existing in the mind.  Does the mind have mass, weight, breadth, hardness?  Does a thought?

And we don't get any closer to a definition if we choose to settle on a single individual as our example:

If one wanted to demonstrate Napoleon's existence from Napoleon's works, would it not be most curious, since his existence certainly explains the works but the works do not demonstrate his existence unless I have already in advance interpreted the word "his" in such a way as to have assumed he exists.
 Kierkegaard points out that existence can never be demonstrated.  But, again, this presupposes a definition of existence which is not itself clearly defined.  We've come quite a long way and gotten no further along.  Or maybe we have.

Existence seems to be a rather important property, because I gather that one of the main sources of division between different schools of philosophy is the question of whether certain things exist or not.  But I cannot even begin to understand these issues, because I can find no explanation of the term "exist".
Actually, the distinction between the Continental and Anglo-American schools of Western philosophy is not over whether "things" exist or not, but over whether existence itself is an important concept worth considering.  Kierkegaard follows the older line, the one that began to fall apart into the two schools we have now when European philosophy tripped over the stone of the Scot David Hume, and the German Immanuel Kant put the pieces back together again.  But before that split took hold and produced the flowering of the two schools, the consensus was pretty much here:  "Whether one wants to call existence an accessorium or the eternal prius, it can never be demonstrated."

Indeed, why should it be?  How could it be?

We are up against the pretty problem of not being able to find what you don't know what to look for.  It's a basic issue in science:  if you don't know to look for it, you'll never find it.  If we don't know how to identify existence, to explain the term we are using, how are we ever going to demonstrate it?

Or are we stuck with Potter Stewart's definition of pornography?

Definitions are important in discussions.  Then again, Socrates should have taught us by now the perils of definition.  Just before his trial he meets the priest Euthyphro, who has brought an action for impiety against his father, whose negligence (and, we would say, cruelty, but we are anachronisms here) has resulted in the death of a slave.  Impressed with Euthyphro's piety, Socrates asks the priest to explain the concept to him, so that he, too (Socrates) will understand.

By the end of the dialogue Euthyphro has abandoned his suit and fled the scene, as the only possible way to escape Socrates' persistent destruction of every definition Euthyphro boldly puts forward.  Kierkegaard identified precisely this kind of "Socratic method" as the "Concept of Irony," and pointed out just how ultimately destructive and nihilistic the pursuit is.  Not, mind, without saying it has a value; just not the value we usually think it has.

So there are perils to insisting that definitions will give us, finally and precisely, clarity.  Definitions will only establish the boundaries of how we use a word and, as Socrates pointed out with poor Euthyphro as his foil (then again, Euthyphro is arrogant and we enjoy seeing his pompous balloon getting punctured), we use words in such contradictory and ultimately conflicting ways, and usually just to justify what we already want to think, or do.

Which sounds terribly cynical; but sometimes such cynicism can be the beginning of wisdom.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

O Texas, My Texas!

I'll admit it, I'm amused by this.

I'm amused because Perry's reaction is so over the top.  I'm amused because the Sacramento Bee stood so strongly behind their cartoonist.  I'm also amused because Perry offers no defense for actually doing what the cartoon accuses him of doing:  touting the lack of regulations in Texas while he goes looking for jobs in Illinois as West, Texas smolders.

I keep thinking of Chris Christie visiting the Jersey shore.  I don't remember Rick Perry coming to Houston after Hurricane Ike, although maybe he deigned to visit the Bolivar Peninsula, which was scrubbed clean by that hurricane.  He certainly didn't make the effort to show support for the people of Bolivar Peninsula, or Galveston, or Houston, that Chris Christie showed for the residents of New Jersey.

I can understand those who find the cartoon offensive.  But I've gotta say, I agree with the cartoonist, and the editor of the Sacramento Bee:  Rick Perry offends me quite a bit more.  And he really does put business ahead of people.  He all but brags about it.

What I think he finds most offensive, is that somebody finally noticed.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Duck 'n' Cover 2013

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but this is fucking insane:
The pink bulletproof rucksack that 5-year-old Jaliyah wears to school every day reaches almost down to her knees and weighs 3lbs even when empty, but for her Colorado father, the size and solidity are part of the attraction.

"If you put it on her back, it almost covers her whole body," explains Demitric Boykin. "It was a very hard conversation to have but she knows that it's something that will keep her safe."

Lined with ballistic material that can stop a 9mm bullet travelling at 400 metres per second, the backpack is only one of a clutch of new products making their way into US schools in the wake of Newtown school massacre. As gun control legislation grinds to halt in Washington, a growing number of parents and teachers are taking matters into their own hands.

The Denver company that supplied Jaliyah's rucksack, Elite Sterling Security, has sold over 300 in the last two months and received inquiries from some 2,000 families across the US. It is also in discussion with more than a dozen schools in Colorado about equipping them with ballistic safety vests, a scaled-down version of military uniforms designed to hang in classroom cupboards for children to wear in an emergency.

When I was a child, it as "duck 'n' cover," which was meant to protect us from either a tornado, or nuclear blast.

I wish I were making that up.

One was more likely than the other, and the danger was real, as the classrooms I sat in were basically greenhouses:  two walls on opposite sides were plate glass.  A tornado would have turned the whole school into shrapnel in less time than it takes me to type this sentence.  Duck 'n' cover meant crouching beneath your desk with your hands over the back of your neck.  It was as much protection as could be provided against what was, after all, an Act of God.

Not that it was really much protection at all.

There is nothing either Godly or natural about a shooter entering a school to kill students.  And while the tornado is still more likely (although the schools have, only recently though, been replaced with brick and mortar versions that will withstand the weather much better), telling a child they must carry a bullet-proof backpack to school in order to be safe, is such an abdication of social order and justice I don't know here to start.

As I said, it's just fucking insane.  There are no other words for it.

But this is America, so of course, there's more:

Barry Tull, headteacher of Worcester Preparatory School in rural Maryland, has 80 ballistic shields deployed in his classrooms disguised as whiteboards and clipboards. Some teachers use them to assign homework, others lean them up against the wall, but most of Worcester's middle and high-school children know what they are for.
 Keith Olbermann used to call it "security theater:"  the elaborate measures at airports for preventing another 9/11:  more expensive and flashier than real intelligence work, and even less likely to prevent another event (which, like meteor or lightning strikes, were rare before 2001, as well as after).  This is the modern American solution to the problem:  not to use government money to prevent crime, but to waste government money on products that will make us think we will be safe "next time."  Because this is what our teachers need to know:

"The former secret service trainers we had in showed us how they can deploy them; how to hold them in front of their body defensively or use them offensively where the teacher charges at someone with the shield as cover."
And the children need to know to be afraid; but not too afraid.  They need to know that, as a society, we can't really do anything to stop people from using guns any damned way they please.  They need to know we aren't Australia, and that people are the problem, so be afraid of people.  And they need to know that yet another consumer product, is the only thing that will bring them comfort, if not security; and salvation, if not safety. 

Anne Marie Albano, psychiatry director at Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, said parents should convey calmness, not anxiety.

‘‘This is not serving to keep children safe,’’ she said. ‘‘This is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers.’’

At Amendment II in Salt Lake City, sales of its children’s backpacks and armored inserts have increased, with 200 purchase requests Wednesday alone.
Gotta love the name of that Salt Lake city source for these things.  Because in the end, even our children don't matter as much as our guns.
"My main impulse is to protect my family. As you see these children being brought into the world your natural reaction is to try to protect them. By the time the police arrive on the scene, the shooting has often finished. I want to try to protect them when I am not around."
 Society can only provide the school.  It's up to you, to provide the security.

Is this a great country, or what?

In America, People are the Problem....

"The eternal struggle of former Presidents to rewrite history.”

The opening of the Bush Library in Dallas has prompted the predictable hagiography of our 43rd President (and there is something weirdly Oedipal about a Presidential Library that prominently features a much-larger than life-size statue of the President standing with his father, also a President.  The Adams family was never as creepy as this:)

It is a hagiography even Ezra Klein has fallen prey to (sorry, Mr. Klein, but you do get to be President without being smart.  American history is rife with examples.  And just because David Brooks says W. is smarter in private than in public, doesn't make it so.), and that prompts me to add my $0.02 to the collective memory of who George Bush really was:

At Buckingham Palace there is bewilderment and some resentment at the sheer scale of American security requests for the duration of Mr Bush's stay. The Palace knows how to do state visits. But there has never been one quite like this before.

"They wanted blast- and bullet-proofed windows," one senior courtier told the Telegraph. "They wanted strengthened curtains and strengthening to the walls of the President's suite and the other rooms that he would be spending time in during his two-day stay."

The proposal, which would have meant substantial building alterations, was firmly turned down by the Queen. But anxiety levels among the Bush security team continue to grow.

Buckingham Palace security pass-holders are being ordered to go through bomb checks for the first time. Some Palace staff who have had security clearance for 30 years are undergoing positive vetting again.

"The Queen will not have to wear a security badge. I think we know what she looks like," said one Palace official. "But it is getting to that level. It is quite ridiculous."

"The President's men seem obsessed with the idea of an airborne attack on the Palace," said another courtier. "Her Majesty takes the view that no amount of strengthening of windows and walls could protect the President in such an eventuality. Other political leaders have stayed at the Palace at difficult times in their careers but have not made such demands."
And not just at the Palace:
A five-star hotel in the Indian capital is playing host to a special team that is part of US President George Bush's security entourage - some 65 dogs that are referred to as "officials".

The specially trained dogs were flown in as part of the multi-layer security for Bush and have been put up in deluxe rooms at the Le Meridien Hotel in central Delhi.

According to Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Nilotpal Basu, who gave the information to the media, the hotel authorities initially refused to accommodate the four-legged "officials", saying they did not have provisions for accommodating animals.

"But the US officials apparently insisted that they were not dogs, but skilled security 'officials' and no one should call them dogs," Basu told reporters at Parliament House.

"These dogs cannot be called animals. They can be addressed either by their ranks such as sergeant, major, etc. And the hotel staff had to accept it," he said.
And the last time we opened a Presidential Library:
Bush appeared distracted, and glanced repeatedly at his watch. When he stopped to gaze at the river, where secret service agents were stationed in boats, the guide said: "Usually, you might see some bass fishermen out there." Bush replied: "A submarine could take this place out."

Was the president warning of an al-Qaida submarine, sneaking undetected up the Mississippi, through the locks and dams of the Arkansas river, surfacing under the bridge to the 21st century to dispatch the Clinton library? Is that where Osama bin Laden is hiding?

Or was this a wishful paranoid fantasy of ubiquitous terrorism destroying Clinton's legacy with one blow? Or a projection of menace and messianism, with only Bush grasping the true danger, standing between submerged threat and civilisation? Perhaps it was simply his way of saying he wouldn't build his library near water.
 And while Bush may wish to look larger-than-life at his own library, this is how he looked at that last library opening:

And that's the way I'm always going to remember him.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of shootouts and reality

We've been here before; and we're here again:

Two U.S. officials say investigators in the Boston bombings have recovered only one handgun believed to have been used in a gun battle with police.

One official said the serial number on what they described as a 9 mm pistol was scratched off. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation still in progress.

Why is this of any significance?

 Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis says over 250 rounds were fired in the shootout. 

Which means most of them came from the police; and yet one man was killed, apparently by being run over, and the other escaped with injuries serious enough to leave him bleeding in the boat where he was found, but not serious enough to kill him after several hours without medical treatment. Oh, and about the boat; there was a shootout there, too:

Davis said shots were fired from the boat where Tsarnaev was found. It wasn't clear whether he was armed when he was captured.
We already know bullets were flying furiously in the first gunfight.  More than one resident in the neighborhood of that fight reported bullets flying through their houses.  What about all those bullets flying during the second?  Why wasn't the boat reduced to splinters?  Why wasn't Tsarnaev reduced to a bloody pincushion?  Who was shooting, and what were they shooting at?

Is anybody going to ask?

And, not tangentially, what would the scene be if even half of the witnesses to either gunfight had come out with their guns blazing?

After I wrote that, this was reported:

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation, say investigators recovered a 9 mm handgun believed to have been used by Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, from the site of a gun battle Thursday night, which injured a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer. Dzhokhar was believed to have been shot before he escaped.

The officials tell The Associated Press that no gun was found in the boat. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said earlier that shots were fired from inside the boat.
Granted, there is still a great deal of confused reporting coming out of this series of unfortunate events; but details like this are seldom confirmed in official disclosures without some intense questioning of the official statements.  This does begin to answer the question of whether Tsarnaev was armed when he was captured.  We've heard the videotape of the gunfire that went off when they determined Tsarnaev was hiding in the boat.  But who started shooting, and why?

And where the hell did all those bullets go?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Technology, Entertainment, and Design

Arthur Stanley Eddington:
If the kind of controversy which so often springs up between modernism and traditionalism in religion were applied to more commonplace affairs of life we might see some strange results. Would it be altogether unfair to imagine something liked the following series of letters in our correspondence columns? It arises, let us say, from a passage in an obituary notice which mentions that the deceased had loved to watch the sunsets from his peaceful country home. A. writes deploring that in this progressive age few of the younger generation ever notice a sunset; perhaps this is due to the pernicious influence of the teaching of Copernicus who maintains that the sun is really stationary. This rouses B to reply that nowadays every reasonable person accepts Copernicus’s doctrine. C is positive that he has many times seen the sun set, and Copernicus must be wrong. D calls for a restatement of belief, so that we may know just how much modern science has left of the sunset, and appreciated the remnant without disloyalty to truth. E (perhaps significantly my own initial) in a misguided effort for peace points out that on the most modern scientific theory there is no absolute distinction between the heavens revolving around the earth and the earth revolving under the heavens; both parties are (relatively) right. F regards this as a most dangerous sophistry, which insinuates that there is no essential difference between truth and untruth. G thinks that we ought now to admit frankly that the revolution of the heavens is a myth; nevertheless such myths have still a practical teaching for us in the present day. H produces an obscure passage in the Almagest, which he interprets as showing that the philosophy of the ancients was not really opposed to the Copernican view. And so it goes on. And the simple reader feels himself in an age of disquiet, insecurity and dissension, all because it is forgotten that what the deceased man looked out for each evening was an experience and not a creed.
Eddington goes on to distinguish "creed" on the grounds of Quakerism, and the absolute rejection of metaphysical knowledge (let us call it that, although "metaphysics" draws up consideration of matters that are sometimes supposedly physical, only ever so much more so.  I should, in other words, hesitate to use the term, except that "metaphysical" also properly means "beyond the physical," and so encompasses thought itself, and human experience; a subject upon which Eddington also has some interesting comments.)  Being an ordained minister and a faithful believer in the power of liturgical worship and the liturgical calendar, I'm not quite ready to join Eddington in throwing out creedal statements (and I recognize his bias; Eddington was a Quaker); so I don't think he's quite put his finger on the problem, but I appreciate the impulse nonetheless.

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.

That's really as anti-creedal a statement as I can sign onto.  I think I would take Eddington's enlightening example rather as a starting point for existentialism, and for questioning the value of ratiocination in the examination of what really matters to the living individual.

Or, as William James put it:

1. A living option is one in which both hypotheses are live ones. If I say to you: "Be a theosophist or be a Mohammedan," it is probably a dead option, because for you neither hypothesis is likely to be alive. But if I say: " Be an agnostic or be Christian," it is otherwise: trained as you are, each hypothesis makes some appeal, however small, to your belief.

 2. Next, if I say to you: " Choose between going out with your umbrella or without it," I do not offer you a genuine option, for it is not forced. You can easily avoid it by not going out at all. Similarly, if I say, " Either love me or hate me," " Either call my theory true or call it false," your option is avoidable. You may remain indifferent to me, neither loving nor hating, and you may decline to offer any judgment as to my theory. But if I say, " Either accept this truth or go without it," I put on you a forced option, for there is no standing place outside of the alternative. Every dilemma based on a complete logical disjunction, with no possibility of not choosing, is an option of this forced kind.

 3. Finally, if I were Dr. Nansen and proposed to you to join my North Pole expedition, your option would be momentous; for this would probably be your only similar opportunity, and your choice now would either exclude you from the North Pole sort of immortality altogether or put at least the chance of it into your hands. He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed. Per contra, the option is trivial when the opportunity is not unique, when the stake is insignificant, or when the decision is reversible if it later prove unwise. Such trivial options abound in the scientific life. A chemist finds an hypothesis live enough to spend a year in its verification: he believes in it to that extent. But if his experiments prove inconclusive either way, he is quit for his loss of time, no vital harm being done. It will facilitate our discussion if we keep all these distinctions well in mind.

Is the creed, in other words, a living option for you?  If so, you adopt it; but recognize always its limitations.  This, I firmly believe, is the underlying basis of the parables.  The story of the Prodigal Son is really the story of the Crazy Father, a father who casts aside all reasonable social restraints and respects his son absolutely.  That respect is not only absolute toward his son, it is also absolutely contrary to the interests of society.  What example does the father set, to allow such a crude and gross insult as:  "I want what's coming to me, and I want it now?"  It is a demand that can only be interpreted as:  "Drop dead, old man, and get out of the way of my inheritance!"  Which, to say the least, violates the "creed" of one of the Ten Commandments.

And yet the father acquiesces.  Is this good, or bad?  And when the prodigal returns, the father uses the brother's property (the father having divided everything between the two sons) to celebrate the return, and worse, leaves the brother with the social and moral quandary:  to acquiesce to the father's insanity, or to challenge the father's love, which here truly does conquer all (we seldom think of it that way, do we?).   Recognize the older brother's struggle here:  he's done everything right.  He's honored his father; he still does.  But is his father crazy?  Or a genius?  And if we all ordered society as the father does, what then?

Which returns us to the point of religious belief, and of Eddington's engaging example:  the real question is not, how do we explain life?  The real question is:  how should we then live?

At which point I realized

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I no longer give a wet snap about American politics. I mean, what's the point?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Texas, Our Texas

Gov. Rick Perry is all for examining the causes of the explosion in West, Texas, and responding to them:

When asked at a press conference Friday if the state should be doing more to regulate and properly zone industrial facilities, Governor Rick Perry said he’d look into it.

“Listen, if there’s a better way to do this, we want to know about it,” Perry told reporters. “If there’s a better way to deal with these events, we want to have that discussion, whatever that might be.”

Or, maybe not:

Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that spending more state money on inspections would not have prevented the deadly explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that was last investigated by Texas environmental regulators in 2006.

Perry told The Associated Press that he remains comfortable with the state's level of oversight following last week's massive blast in the rural farming town of West that killed 14 people and injured 200. Federal and state investigators say they have yet to identify the cause of the explosion.

Perry suggested that the majority of Texas residents agree with him.

"(People) through their elected officials clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight," Perry said Monday.

Perry was in Illinois on Monday on a trip intended to lure companies to relocate to Texas. Among his selling points: Texas' low regulatory climate that Perry says unburdens businesses and allows companies to create more jobs and wealth.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/04/22/4793839/perry-state-oversight-not-to-blame.html#storylink=cpy
And to blow shit up, like half a small Texas town.  Besides, it wasn't the state's fault!

Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said Monday he did not believe that more environmental regulations would have prevented the blast.

Shaw told AP that he believes the final investigation will show that anhydrous ammonia, which his agency regulates and the plant stored, was not responsible for the explosion.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/04/22/4793839/perry-state-oversight-not-to-blame.html#storylink=cpy
It was probably the ammonium nitrate the plant didn't tell the Dept. of Homeland Security was stored there.  So, see?  No harm, no foul!  Or, at least, not a TCEQ problem!  Hey, presto!

Texas Department of State Health Services knew about the ammonium nitrate, though.  And how much was there?  270 tons of it.  How much did Timothy McVeigh use to blow up the Murrah Building?  4800 pounds.  See?  Nothing to see here!  Move along!

Just don't trip over the dead Texas workers:

Texas leads the nation in workplace fatalities, with 433 deaths in 2011. That’s nearly a hundred more than California, which has six million more people in its workforce.
 Well, if you're gonna make an omelet, you gotta break a few eggs, amirite?

Now, the more perceptive among you might wonder why, on Monday, Gov. Goodhair is in Illinois trying to drum up bidness for Texas while West, Texas is still smoking ruins.  The more informed among you will realize the Texas Lege is in session, an event that only happens for six months every two years.  So why isn't the Governor and Great White Hope of the GOP in Austin, where you'd think he belongs?  Because, despite Paul Burka, the Governor of Texas is still the most useless and powerless position in Texas government.  And Rick Perry doesn't really get to decide how much regulation is imposed on fertilizer plant owners who store so much potential explosives so close to 3000 people.  The Governor just appoints people to run state agencies who think their first priority is to disavow any oversight responsibility for industrial accidents like this.

Right now, this is the guy to pay attention to:

 Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said last week the Texas Legislature would support West in the aftermath of the explosion, but the region’s representatives said they are waiting for more answers before submitting legislation.
And if you think about it, Gov. Perry peddling the good bidness climate of Texas as West smolders, is kind of like Gov. Christie going out of state to promote the advantages of the Jersey shore, right after Hurricane Sandy blew inland.

A bit tone-deaf, if you know what I mean.

Besides,as the redoubtable Mr. Shaw, head of TCEQ, said:

 “There are hundreds of these facilities, and fortunately they don’t explode very often,” said Shaw.

Perspective, people!  Perspective!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fear Itself

No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'

Lindsay Graham, et al., would like to move us toward the idea that the Constitution doesn't say what the Constitution plainly says:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
Note it does not say "U.S. Citizen," it says "person."  Sen. Graham likes to imagine we are now ancient Rome, and Roman citizens have privileges that other residents of the Empire don't enjoy.  But since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a US citizen, Sen. Graham realizes he's on shaky public ground, so he wants Tsarnaev declared an "enemy combatant" because, well:  ooga booga!

GRAHAM: This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that may exist that he has knowledge of, and that evidence cannot be used against him in trial. That evidence is used to protect us as a nation. Any time we question him about his guilt or innocence, he’s entitled to his Miranda rights and a lawyer, but we have the right under our law — I’ve been a military lawyer for 30 years — to gather intelligence from enemy combatants. And a citizen can be an enemy combatant.

He is not eligible for military commission trial. I wrote the military commission in 2009. He cannot go to military commission.

Why can't Tsarnaev go to a "military commission"?  Because he's a US citizen, of course.  Otherwise Sen. Graham would demand he be remanded to Gitmo instanter, lest we all be in danger.

Remind me again how dangerous Tsarnaev is compared to the Unabomber; or Timothy McVeigh; or Adam Lanza, who terrorized every school in the country into putting teachers in classrooms with guns, or wondering if they should; or the Aurora shooter; or....

Was it because Tsarnaev used bombs?  He used guns, too.  He's responsible for killing three people with bombs, one with a gun, and his own brother with a car.  Is he a mass murderer?  Or a terrorist?

And why in the name of all that's Constitutional is he a "potential enemy combatant"?  Because he didn't shoot enough people?  What the hell does "potential" mean?  How does that alter Tsarnaev's status before the 5th Amendment?  After all, his crimes were committed here, not against US troops on a foreign battlefield. If they were committed....

Why, again, is Tsarnaev an "enemy combatant," potential or otherwise?  Because the FBI says so? It says he's a suspect in the bombing.  Perhaps the Boston State Police say he's responsible for the death of an MIT police officer, and Tsarnaev's own brother.  But those are surely criminal acts, not acts of terrorism.  So is it now enough that someone somewhere just says you're suspicious, to make you subject to indefinite detention?

Sen. Graham's claim of being a military lawyer reminds me of the comment of my Criminal Law professor, himself also a former JAG:  "Military law is to law as military music is to music."  Sen. Graham proves my professor was right.  And we don't need to be using "military law" as an excuse to eviscerate Constitutional law.  Unless we get to declare Sen. Graham a "potential enemy combatant" because a person so shrill and such a relentless fear-mongerer is a danger to the national well-being.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Louie Gohmert is a F*cking Idiot, Part Deux

The Honorable Mr. Gohmert:
What hit me this morning when I heard the residents there around Boston and in the area where they thought someone might be were ordered to stay in their homes, businesses were ordered closed, public transportation was ordered closed. Let me ask you, if you’re sitting in your home and you know there are only two possibilities for people coming, one is law enforcement and the other is somebody who has already killed Americans and continues to do so, how many rounds do you want to be limited to in your magazine as you sit in your chair and wait?
It was on live radio yesterday, so I'll never find a link to it on-line, but one resident of Newton, MA reported gunfire near his house that made him move from his chair and crouch in a closet.  Shortly after moving into the closet, he heard a bullet go through his room.

This, of course, is not surprising, except in Hollywood movies:

In the real world, I have converted a sedan into a convertible, quite easily, using bullets. Not even a lot of bullets either. If the other guy is firing anything with greater hitting power than, say, a .32 (Google .32 caliber, .45 caliber, 5.56mm and 7.62mm...I can't do it ALL for you) it will go through things. Metals, woods, sheet-rock? No problem. Your front door will not protect you, at all. Nor will the walls of a normal suburban house, nor the three Sheet-rock walls beyond that. In a car, the only thing that really stops most bullets would be the engine block itself. All the rest of the body of a car, well, basically tin-foil. All those cop movies you remember from the 70s, when they hid behind the opened door of their patrol car and shot at the bad guy? Yea, no. Do not think that works. That is stupid, and nobody but actors in Hollywood actually does that.
The Newton resident who left his chair, returned to it after the gunfire had ended, to find a bullet hole through it, and through two walls of the room he was in.

I'm sure owning a gun would have protected him, however.

Gonna have to explain it to me....

Remington 750 semiautomatic hunting rifle. Remington's marketing material promises "super-fast cycling.... Rapid follow-ups are its specialty, but famed Remington one-shot accuracy comes standard."
The Boston bombers had guns and gunpowder and homemade bombs.   And lots of ammunition:

After more than 200 rounds were traded over several minutes, some officers were out of ammunition and charged the brothers’ position with their police car. The vehicle was disabled by gunfire from the Mercedes. Kitzenberg said he saw one of the shooters toss a metallic object — possibly a pressure-cooker bomb similar to the ones used in the marathon attack — in the direction of the police line. It rolled a few yards before detonating harmlessly.

Adam Lanza had a home arsenal.

The Aurora shooter was a one man army.  He left guns in his car he couldn't be bothered with carrying into the theater.

Every gun nut in America is convinced it is only their arsenal which keeps them safe from the other gun nuts.  But here's the question for the rest of us:

When are there enough guns that the gun nuts can save us
from the gun nuts?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Love in the time of terrorism

Jonah Goldberg ✔ @JonahNRO
To paraphrase William F. Buckley, I'd be perfectly happy to leave this guy's fate up to the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook.

In all this talk about the Boston Marathon bombing, from the catastrophe of CNN's premature announcement of an arrest to the New York Post accusing innocent people of the crime, I am reminded, not for the first time, of a story by Steve Allen from, coincidentally, the year of my birth:  "The Public Hating."

It takes place in an America of the future where they have found that hatred can be focused, can be channeled, can be directed on a human target.  The protagonist (I only remember the story now) enters a stadium which fills with people who are all directed to focus their hate on the convicted prisoner on a platform on the ground below.  He is not much larger than a bug to the main character, and soon he begins to run around the stage trying to evade the torture he is suffering as the announcer exhorts the people in the stands to "hate" him.  Soon he resembles a bug on a hot griddle, as he tries to run from what he cannot escape.  When he finally collapses, twitching and literally burning from the inside out, the protagonist leaves the stadium, nauseated by what he has seen and been a part of.

But most of the people in the stadium, of course, are quite happy with the results.

Digsby worried about something akin to this earlier; and the response of the New York Post to its catastrophic failure to publish news and instead publish slander, indicates Digsby was on to something.  The teenager in that picture is still terrified to be connected to this horrific crime just because he was a spectator; but the New York Post is unrepentant.  The event has prompted the predictable amount of American xenophobia.  But the full scale meltdown of news outlets, the absolute set of lies released in this case, has been stunning.  Even this morning, the moment "Chechnya" was mentioned, reporters on NPR started talking about "Islam."

Because, you know:  terrorism.

And, as I say, it made me think of that story by Steve Allen; and not for the first time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Does Bedlam have any room left?

Remington 750 semiautomatic hunting rifle. Remington's marketing material promises "super-fast cycling.... Rapid follow-ups are its specialty, but famed Remington one-shot accuracy comes standard."
As I was saying (via Raw Story):

“I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting,” Davis said. “I don’t care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn’t mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid — they’re terrified of these victims.”

“I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘go to hell,’” he added.

And no, his comments did not go unnoticed, and no, he hasn't apologized:

Davis acknowledged on Monday he was “getting some email” about his comments. But he did not offer an apology. Instead, he dismissed his offensive remarks as “an emotional predecessor to a thought which can and will find a more refined expression by me and others in the future.” 

In fact, he went a bit further in "refining" his "expression":

 It's critical that people who have suffered a tragedy are able to speak and it's understandable that they would wanna, you know, dedicate their lives to the memory of their children. But it's also critical that our constitutional rights are protected. And here's the point in this: What's really at stake is the insecurity because of the loss of natural rights to defend ourselves from criminals as well as the encroaching power of the state. And it's important to look at the broad ramifications that this legislation might have on liberty and security and refrain from pushing it through by parading around victims or overestimating their credibility in policy preferences just because they're victims. Victims should not be exploited, it does not help them grieve, it does not help us grieve, and it does not advance the cause of liberty. But they are, and so they become public personalities and part of the political arena and so be it and we'll leave it at that.
To take his "argument" seriously, apparently the "cause of liberty" means we have to let people who aren't Bob Davis die, so Bob Davis can be at liberty to own guns.  I wonder if he feels the same way about the liberty to use bombs or otherwise kill people in "terrorist" acts, and if not, why not?

The chart speaks for itself.  We have, in 20 years, lost 300 times as many people to gun violence as we have lost to terrorism in 30 years. And yet, as Chris Hayes pointed out last night, when  the cause of death is terrorism, no cost should be spared to prevent any further deaths, no stone unturned to capture and punish the perpetrators.  But for gun violence?  Well, that's the cost we pay for being a "free society."  Even when that cost is 30,000 times as many fatalities in 43 years.  But Bob Davis thinks we have to pay that price in order to have liberty.

What kind of liberty is this, and is Bob Davis willing to pay it with his family members?

Claire McCaskill gets it:  the only difference between Boston and Sandy Hook is the choice of weapon.  One is a weapon of mass terror; the other simply a weapon of mass death.  We cannot accept bombers at public events who kill 3 people and wound hundreds.  We have to accept a madman who slaughters a school full of children.  We can't even let the families of those children have any impact on the discussion of our public policy.

I'm tempted to say that people who have no real empathy for the suffering of others have no place in society, either.  But that would display a lack of empathy on my part; and what I really mean is, such people have no role to play in our policy making.

Unfortunately, the US Senate yesterday proved me wrong on that, too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First rule of holes

Stop digging.
"That was misreported," [Rand] Paul said. "I asked them, 'Do you know?' and I didn't know the answer. This is my first time to go to a historically black college."

"People say, 'Well, you should know the answer.' Well, that was part of the reason for going there, was I didn't know the answer," he said. "I said, 'Did they all know that the NAACP was founded by Republicans?' And in retrospect it sounds like it is a dumb question, but it's like, Republicans haven't been going to Howard for 20 years, so maybe by me going there I did learn something. And I did learn that everybody there knows, and I left there knowing that: Everybody there knows."
 D'ya think if I were a U.S. Senator and went to a Jewish school (or someplace where I could expect highly knowledgeable people) and asked if they all knew Jesus was Jewish (as was Mary.  I had a professor in seminary who told the story of being a tour guide while a graduate student at Notre Dame.  When visiting families would ask who the figure was atop the main building, he'd reply:  "Oh, a nice Jewish girl."), that people would expect me to know they would know that?

Would they be right to think it was mighty condescending of me to assume that this was secret knowledge I was about to spring on them?

"It's unfair what the media tries to do to me on this," Paul added, according to the report. "I'm a little sensitive to some of it."
I'm sure you are.  You have my sympathies.  Now get off the public stage.  You clearly don't belong there.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fifty Years On

The scene is the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, established in 1932 by a student of Reinhold Niebuhr's. It was a "communist training school" because it was teaching about race relations and was a center for training civil rights activists. As you can tell from the tenor of the questions of Dr. King, it's pretty clear this is a subversive place: blacks and whites, men and women, are sitting together as equals.


While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. King's letter.  It bears reading in its entirety.  Today is also the day Pat Buchanan wrote this:

When Martin Luther King Jr. called on the nation to “live up to the meaning of its creed,” he heard an echo from a thousand pulpits. Treating black folks decently was consistent with what Christians had been taught. Dr. King was pushing against an open door.

Priests and pastors marched for civil rights. Others preached for civil rights. But if the gay rights agenda is imposed, we could have priests and pastors preaching not acceptance but principled rejection.

Prelates could be declaring from pulpits everywhere that the triumph of gay rights is a defeat for God’s Country, and the new laws are immoral and need neither be respected nor obeyed.

Something akin to this could be in the cards if the homosexual rights movement is victorious – a public rejection of the new laws by millions and a refusal by many to respect or obey them.

The culture war in America today may be seen as squabbles in a day-care center compared to what is coming. A new era of civil disobedience may be at hand.

Dr. King said this in his letter about civil disobedience:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.....

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise....

We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"...
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

I would really like to hear Pat Buchanan explain how laws recognizing gays as human beings are "unjust laws" equivalent to those Dr. King opposed with his words and his body.  I would appreciate seeing him lead a movement of civil disobedience with acts of purification and preparation and intense questions of "are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"  But I really want to know how equal legal treatment for gays and lesbians inflicts on the minority of people who bother to read WorldNet Daily a burden that is not binding on the rest of the country that doesn't bother with such dribble.  And then he can compare his sufferings to those Dr. King outlines above.  I hope he can be just as specific.

In God We Trust. All others pay cash.

I have my problems with Christian salvation, and so with most theories of soteriology.  Some of my thoughts on this subject are quite technical and almost systematic; some, less so.

Take, for example, the simple statement "Jesus Saves."  What does it mean?  If it's a sign posted by a bank; one thing.  In the picture above, another.  I even saw a picture on Google of Jesus pulling a man out of the water by the man's wrist.  Is that what the statement means?  Is that even a good metaphor for what the statement means, a better visual representation of the "correct meaning" than the picture above?

No, probably not.

Usually we mean something like this:

Which begs the question still: what does this sentence mean?

Usually, salvation from damnation; from an eternity in hell, in the burning flames of Hades, in the sulfurous tides of the land where those who enter must abandon all hope.

What a Chick tract means, in other words.  I've never been a fan of Chick tracts, but then Hitler liked dogs, too, so Chick tracts are not reason enough to set aside the traditional doctrines of Christianity.

Well, not Chick tracts alone; but the whole idea of salvation has, by and large, been a club Christians have used to beat up either other non-Christians, or other Christians they deemed insufficiently "Christian" enough for the holy tribute of salvation.  Soteriology is what led to Calvin's bizarre and ultimately perverse doctrine of the elect, and a soteriology his followers used to turn Christianity inside out.  I am thinking particularly of TULIP (which, no, is not Calvinism; except it is, once the doctrines move far enough away from Calvin's Institutes.  I am not blaming Calvin for the state of Christianity today; but I am blaming soteriology, which too many Christians think is the be-all and end-all of Christianity.).  TULIP is nothing more than a cudgel to be used against to motivate people to act as we would wish them to (and as we are sure God would wish them to).  Indeed, making people behave has become the primary purpose of soteriology.

We use it to make people join "our" church, to make people think as we do, or just to make people be civilized.  The root of the fear that the "death of God" would undermine society (and the modern day attack on Christianity, that morality can only come from a deity) was that, absent a fear of damnation (God is dead), what would keep the great unwashed on the straight and narrow?  That it had never kept the leadership in line was beside the point; but directly to the point of the purpose of soteriology (which is, after all, a human doctrine.  I don't remember Christ espousing one in the gospels.)

So how about the sheer damage proponents of "traditional" Christian soteriology do?  I've yet to meet a person whose theology emphasized individual salvation who didn't use that emphasis to deny comfort and succor to others.  Oh, they make nice noises about helping the destitute, but as far as really doing it, not much happens.  Individual salvation means you are individually responsible for the state of your immortal soul.  And if you are individually responsible for the state of your soul, you are individually responsible for the state of your life.  In this understanding, the community doesn't exist to take you in, it exists to set you straight, to straighten you out, to determine whether or not you are worthy of admission to the company of the Blessed.  Any help is short term and blunted, and meant to get you back to being responsible for yourself again, the way God intended!  Living as the widow who fed Elijah is simply not on:

After a while the stream dried up, for there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go now to Zarephath, a village of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ He went off to Zarephath, and when he reached the entrance to the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks. He called to her, ‘Please bring me a little water in a pitcher to drink.’ As she went to fetch it, he called after her, ‘Bring me, please, a piece of bread as well.’ But she answered, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no food baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a flask. I am just gathering two or three sticks to go and cook it for my son and myself before we die.’ ‘Have no fear,’ Elijah said, ‘go and do as you have said. But first make me a small cake from what you have and bring it out to me, and after that make something for your son and yourself. For this is the word of the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of flour will not give out, nor the flask of oil fail, until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went and did as Elijah had said, and there was food for him and for her family for a long time. The jar of flour did not give out, nor did the flask of oil, as the word of the Lord foretold through Elijah. 1 Kings 17:7-16 (REB)

There are nuances, of course; variations.  Not everyone who believes in individual salvation as the central doctrine of Christianity agrees with Baroness Thatcher:

They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I would identify three beliefs in particular:

First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil. And second, that we were made in God's own image and, therefore, we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, that if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us. And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, "No one took away the life of Jesus , He chose to lay it down".
Thatcher carefully distinguishes "spiritual" from "social," and makes it clear throughout that her emphasis is on the individual, that, as she famously said elsewhere, "Society does not exist."  "Man," in that first sentence, is clearly an individual:  only individuals choose good or evil.  And it is up to us, as individuals, "to use all our own (!) power of thought and judgment in exercising that choice."  And it is only after we have done so that we can "open our hearts [not the seat of thought and judgment] to God," who has "promised to work within us."  Because, after all, that's what Jesus did.

Which is one of the weirder theories of the crucifixion I think I've ever heard.  It's supported, to some degree, by John's gospel; but everybody agrees John's Jesus is the least human of the four representations in the canon.


The third is the oddest also because it doesn't connect to the acts of thought and judgement of the individual, or even of God entering your heart and working within you.  What it does connect with, is that even God has to make individual choices.  What it tells me is that even God is all alone.

Which is a very chilling place to put the emphasis (and not at all what the author of John's Gospel meant).  If Thatcher means to use it to make God "one of us," then it's even worse.  But it does explain the complete lack of Christian humility in Thatcher's speech.  Why be humble when you are equal to God?

Follow that reasoning very far, or even take it up at all, and you wind up at Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, which is not a place I want to be:

Mars Hill has not entirely dispensed with megachurch marketing tactics. Its success in one of the most liberal and least-churched cities in America depends on being sensitive to the body-pierced and latte-drinking seekers of Seattle. Ultimately, however, Driscoll's theology means that his congregants' salvation is not in his hands. It's not in their own hands, either — this is the heart of Calvinism. Ultimately, however, Driscoll's theology means that his congregants' salvation is not in his hands. It's not in their own hands, either — this is the heart of Calvinism.

Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin and predestined for heaven or hell, no matter their earthly conduct. We all deserve eternal damnation, but God, in his inscrutable mercy, has granted the grace of salvation to an elect few. While John Calvin's 16th-century doctrines have deep roots in Christian tradition, they strike many modern evangelicals as nonsensical and even un-Christian. If predestination is true, they argue, then there is no point in missions to the unsaved or in leading a godly life. And some babies who die in infancy — if God placed them among the reprobate — go straight to hell with the rest of the damned, to "glorify his name by their own destruction," as Calvin wrote. Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer's free decision to accept God's grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend.
And we all know personal friends are people just like us.  Why be humble when God is your BFF?  Why be a servant when you pal around with the Logos that created the cosmos?  A little of that goes a long way, and it goes a long way in the wrong direction, for my taste.

But are we totally corrupted?  Do we all deserve eternal damnation?  Is that any better than Jesus being my BFF?  And can I set any of this aside without completely re-writing traditional Christian soteriology?

Even Luther runs afoul of his own reasoning on this.  Luther decided it was God's grace that saved us, and that God's grace is wholly unmerited, because there is nothing we can do to merit it.  Yet we must do something.  We must choose to accept that grace.  Apparently if we don't, we're still damned.  Which means we were damned from the beginning, damned before birth, and only the right choice will save us.  Which means the grace is not unmerited; we only merit it if, like the characters given the decision to choose the chalice in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," we choose wisely.  Everyone watching that film knows the Nazi will not choose wisely.  He's the bad guy, they never make wise decisions.  He doesn't deserve grace because he's made too many bad choices.  He deserves only damnation.  But to switch back to Luther, we've all made bad choices, we all deserve damnation.  How is it this one choice determines our salvation?  And if it does, how is grace then unmerited?  Are we left only with the simplistic version of Pascal's wager:  it's better that I choose God than not, just to be safe?  What kind of choice is that?  What kind of soteriology is that?

So eventually grace comes to us because we make the right choice or we think the right thought or we say the right words (whether we mean them or not, even God doesn't know).  What is the point of this tail-chasing?  Historically it's been to establish precisely what Jesus specifically preached against:  a hierarchy where the believers, or at the worst extreme the "elect," get to claim privileges for themselves above all others.  And that is not only a perversion of the most basic Christian teachings, it's reprehensible.  Dare I say, it is the fundamental heresy?

If I profess a soteriology now, it is a soteriology of life, not an after-life.  My sympathies are with the nuns and monks who work especially with the poor, the ones who, as Windhorse noted:

... are concerned with trying to find food and clothing and medicine for the least among us, not lecturing them on sin or hypostatic union. Mother Teresa did not try and "save" Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs, just help them. As a result, she has become a powerful and inspiring example of Christian values while, conversely, the likes of salvationists like Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard and Pat Robertson have done immeasurable [harm] to the Christian message.
I have never been so comfortable with Christianity as I have in those moments when I realized I was trying to help someone in the name of Christ, rather than to "save" them from a fate I don't think anyone is born to deserve.