Sunday, October 31

Kerry may not have lied (on one occasion)

The statement I am concerning himself, is one of the debate answers concerning abortion and religion. He said:
  1. I personally, based on (deeply?) held religious beliefs, hold that life begins at conception.
  2. I don't think a person should legislate based on his religious beliefs (a statement contradicted by some of his other arguments and statements, but I'm ignoring that here).
  3. Therefore, I feel I must back pro-abortion legislation.
What Kerry fails to admit (out loud) here is that, he does legislate based on his personal beliefs, its just that he has other secular sources of ethical standards which trump his religious beliefs in this matter. What those beliefs might be are thus far Kerry's secret.

Did Kerry lie? He did deceive in not telling us the true reason for his voting practice. But if he was not aware of the reason, it wasn't a lie. It is very likely that Kerry personally thinks he is anti-abortion, but that he is "forced" to back the pro-abortion view against his faith. What he doesn't realize is that the "forcing" is due to internal belief systems which are not external. But he may "think" they are, which is likely his error.

So it depends on your opinion of Kerry. If you think he is very smart, he lied. If he's not, he didn't.

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Law vs Ethics

I've caught wind of two posts (here and here and here) about ethics and morality, and I'm going to throw my 2 cents into the fray. I've written two posts which touch on this to some degree (here and here)

The three protagonists are (following the summary by (Jeremy):
  • Mr Prosthesis defines ethics as love and since love cannot be forced, ethics cannot be legislated.
  • Wink holds a difference between morality and civil values is that morality is where we get from our religious values. Since religious truths (values) cannot be agreed upon, we shouldn't legislate based on them. The "rub" is how to tell them apart I would think.
  • Jeremy then goes on to point out the ironies inherent in Kerry's tortuous ruminations about religion and legislation especially with regards to abortion and stem-cell research. My take on Kerry's statements was they were "unstable under reflection" (that phrase borrowed from one (unremembered) NR writer).

My working definition, to lay some ground rules, is that when studying ethics you are studying "what is good". All else in ethics flows from that.

Point 1: Ethics and Law are more intimately intertwined than Mr Prosthesis indicates. Examine for example, Lacodaemon from just before through the Golden Age of Athens and the Peloponnesian War. Spartan Law and the ethics of the Peers certainly were intertwined. Thus the love for nation and comrade that the Spartan Peer felt (or as I would say what he saw as good) were in a fundamental way "forced" on him by the legal framework of his nation.

Point 2: Neither Law nor Ethics can "generate" the other. That is to say, neither Soviet Marxist Law nor the Code of Lycurgus) could be transplanted into modern-day America today. Given our ethics/values which we possess, we as a society would reject it.

So while law and ethics are inter-related, they are also inter-dependent.

Point 3: The confusing point Kerry tried to make, and Wink repeats, is maintaining one can as a legislator act other than from his ethic. Every man makes choices based on his ethic (what he feels is good). You can do no other. Defining what your ethic is takes self-knowledge, self-introspection, and study. Thinking that you make your choices otherwise is just self delusion. If your ethic flows from your faith, you can do no other than base your legal decisions based on what you feel is right.

Point 4: Reiterating what I said above, there is no real distinction when justifying a law between a secular or religious basis to support for a piece of legislature. For example, if a legislator believes for religious reasons that capital punishment is wrong, then fact that his justification is based on his faith is no different in principle from a legislator who makes the same decision based on his interpretation of Locke (or Hegel, Marx, Kant, or Roger Rabbit).

Update: Added to the Kerry v Kerry abortion stance here.

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Falluja update

Look here

Update: and here
hat tip: Instapundit)

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Movie Review: The Bulletproof Monk

Ok Ok, it's not in the theaters. But I gave it to an officemate last Christmas, and he lent it to me Friday. Our family sat down, and as is one of our customs, over the next three nights, we watched pre-bedtime bit by bit. I have found the the carrot implied with "one more minute" (after you're ready for bed) spurs my #2 daughter nicely in smoothing over her task of getting herself ready for bed. Plus, it makes for a good whole-family shared experience.

The BulletProof Monk is based on a (3 issue!) comic book. And as such, has comic book sensibilities with respect to pacing, violence, and story. The transcription to film is quite good. Modern film technology with the special effects/CGI advances of the last 10 years make comic books an ideal medium to plumb for screenplays. Production values are very good, and the three main actors perform very well.

The story synopsis: In remote Tibet we learn that a scroll exists, which grants the reader complete power over the physical universe. A "bulletproof" monk is chosen (by prophecy) to guard it for a 60 year term, during which he doesn't age and has unspecefied invulnerabilites including (perhaps) bullets. An evil SS officer breaks in when Mr Chow (Yun-Fat Chow) just receives the assignment for the next 60 years. Then we cut to the present, a young pickpocket/projectionist (named Car) runs into our monk. They mix and the monk observes Car fulfill the first part of the prophecy. Scenes move along as Car and the monk (nameless) learn more about each other. The SS officer (now very old and infirm) is getting closer. He captures the monk and the scroll. Car (and his paramour) return to rescue the monk. Evil is defeated. Car takes the next cycle.

My take Well after trashing the objectionable "A Shark's Tale", I guess I'll show that all movies made today are not useless. Perhaps it is because the comics books rarely dredge the PC bin for their material. Our hero (Car) has been chosen by prophecy, not by any merit of his own, which resonates with sola gratia of Christian ethics. He also, unlike the previous example, possesses demonstrable ethical fibre of his own. When the monk and Car meet, while both are fleeing from their respective nemesis (cops and SS mercenaries respectively), both halt their flight risking their lives to save that of a young girl caught improbably in train tracks before an onrushing subway train. And Car grows/learns during his adventures. Furthermore, one of the main lessons for Car is that there is more to the universe than what he has been led to believe from his secular schooling. Another interesting message comes in the final denoument with the villain.
The monk lets us know that the reason he hasn't killed the SS officer previously, was not because he couldn't, but because he was hoping the bad guy would repent and seek redemption.

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If you're still undecided (!?)

read this.

If you're voting Kerry and you're not undecided. Go read it anyhow.

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Saturday, October 30

Augustine: Confessions Book 5

On to book 5.

Again, if you are just joining in this exercise of reading the Confession then, please start here and here, Then this post, here, book 3 , and finally book 4 will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exercise.

Ok, I'll start with a very rough sketch of book 5. It starts of with a quick rendition of sola gratia, that it is by God's grace alone that we are saved. As he puts it, "the closed heart does not shut out your eye, and your hand is not kept away by the hardness of humanity, but you melt that when you wish...". The next few chapters quickly go over Augustine's anticipated meeting with the "great" Manichean bishop Faustus. Then he meets him and is disappointed. He had been getting disillusioned by mistaken predictions made by the Manicheans. Faustus was "billed" as a man educated in the "liberal" arts and skilled in rhetoric. But he disappointed Augustine. Apparently as well, the Manichean texts were very complex, and since Faustus seemed less educated then Augustine, he would not do. Augustine then leaves for Rome, suffers illness, and through a Manichean connection gets posted to a teaching position at Milan. He meets Bishop Ambrose. At this point he is mostly interested in Ambrose for his rhetoric, but he admits the message may have started to seep in.

Our Companion guide for this book is Frederick J. Crosson. Mr Crosson is Prof. of Humanities Emeritus at Notre Dame. He teaches undergraduate Liberal Arts and graduate Philosophy. He has published studies of Augustine's early works.

Mr Crosson tells us that Book 5 is the center of the Confesssion. It has a center (going to Rome), it marks the center of the turning place between Manichean and Catholic thought, and it is the midpoint of books 3-7, which mark the passage from the philosophers to the church. He also then expounds how this book can be regarded as the center of book 2-8 and 1-9. As the center of 2-8 there is a "symmetrical gathering of the themes of his progressive alienation from God around that center". Books 2-5 gather the three sins mentioned earlier. He will gain freedom from them unwinding through book 8. As for 1-9, in the earlier books he mentions nobody he knows by name. In book 5 he starts naming Faustus, Ambrose and others. Later he will mention his parents by name.

Now, Manicheism might have a parallel with today's "church" of "scientism". Manicheism, of which I now little beyond the fragments in the Confessions and the Companion was a quasi scientific theory that gave "light/good" vs "dark/evil" moral connection to astronomical phenomena, the "science". Today, secular humanists imagine that science backs their philosophy with about as much rigor. My only point, is that perhaps a decline in the "modern" education will perhaps bring some of our best and brightest disillusioned, like Augustine with Faustus, to listen or read Augustine himself.

Who knows, a pseudo-polymath can dream can't he? :)

At any rate. I owe you my gentle reader, and myself, a little practice in close reading. I pick chapter 1 and 14, the beginning and the end.

Chapter 1. It starts with a prayer, that the "sacrifice of these confessions" be accepted. As I mentioned earlier, it quickly goes into a brief exposition of sola gratia. Creation continually praises God and is never silent. We can praise and discover God by studying it's form and function. Or as Augustine says, "... animals and physical matter find a voice through those who contemplate them." This is as direct a way of saying the work of science is an act of praise to God.

Chapter 14. Speaking of Ambrose. Augustine declares he did not care what Ambrose spoke about, just how well he said it, as one professional rhetoritician watching another. However, he continues,
Nevertheless together with the words I was enjoying, the subject matter, in which I was unconcerned, came to make an entry into my mind.

Augustine had previously thought the Catholic teachings could not be defended against the Manichean arguments. However, the Catholic teachings became much more acceptable. However at this point, the Catholic teachings were not conqueror, but neither were they conquered. Things were still in flux. He could still not "defeat" the Manichean arguments (note he does not mention of what these arguments consist). However at this point, he determined to take up study of the Catholic faith.

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Cycling: Shaving Legs

Non-cyclists frequently ask cyclists, why the heck do you shave your legs? Because even at the amateur levels at which I race, almost to a man, all shave their legs at least 2 times a week. Here are some reasons:
  • The Pro's get a deep muscle massage concentrating on the legs after every hard workout (perhaps every day). Training for cycling is all about recovery. You can't train hard every day. You have to train hard when you are fresh. Then you gain strength and endurance while you recover. When you've recovered, repeat. If you can recover faster, voila you can get better. At any rate, applying oils and being massaged is much better on shaved skin.
  • Care of wounds is easier on shaved skin. And it is damn painful to shave skin that is abraided. Road rash, the term for the most common "crash" injury, is an abraided burn which can vary in depth and severity. Commonly they can cover a large area (16-36 inches square is not unusual). They take a few weeks to heal. Shaving ahead of time makes care and feeding of the wound easier.
  • Applying sun-screen is much easier. Hairy legs suck up way more sun-screen and is much more difficult than on shaved legs.
  • After all that training, almost all exclusively on the legs, we want to show them off. Unlike the massive striated muscles of the body-builder, cyclists legs are lean but well defined.
  • And for the amateur, we shave because, well hell, the Pro's we try to emulate do it.
As for me, I shave my legs, because "cyclists shave their legs". I'm a cyclist. I'm proud of it. I put in way too many hours on a bike not to be. It's just something we do. I'm glad we don't shave our heads, wear funny clothes (oh I forgot, we do that!), or something really asocial.

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Friday, October 29

The Electoral College, Liberte, Fraternite & Egalite, and Buckets of Blood.

Four years ago, after the election process had wound itself out just like many other post Presidential election years, people grouse about the damn Electoral College and why it isn't replaced by a "popular vote" elective process.

Because the founding fathers were smarter than those numbskulls who think they now better about how government should be designed.

What they also forgot is what happened the last time a government decided to let popular rule take over. That would be France, circa 1796. Commonly known as the "terror".

Do you think the election mess in Florida would have been averted by a popular vote. First, neither Gore, nor Bush, campaigned trying to win the popular vote. If you observe the patterns of our candidates today, they are spending all their time in the "swing" states. Do you think that "might" have happened four years ago. My how memories are short. And if the popular vote was close, just think the legal squabbles confined to Florida would erupt to every precinct in the land. People would get even more hot headed. And in short order.... "buckets of blood" as occurred in France would get repeated here.

If anyone suggests in your hearing that the electoral college should be gotten rid of, I suggest you pull out your well worn copy of the Federalist Papers and cuff them sharply.

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Fiskin' Harkin

This morning Powerline put up a link to this silly speech by Mr Harkin, (US Senate D). I thought I'd go through a fisking exercise with it.

Minnesota Daily : Why Bush will restart the draft if re-elected

Why Bush will restart the draft if re-elected
A major terrorist attack could easily serve as the pretext for setting the draft in motion.
By Sen. Tom Harkin

President George W. Bush may or may not have a secret plan to reinstate the draft. But this is besides the point.


The deteriorating facts on the ground in Iraq, plus the Bush doctrine of acting pre-emptively and unilaterally against hostile regimes, will soon leave him no choice. If Bush is re-elected, he will have to restart the draft.

Wrong. No draft required. As we shall see, the military is meeting (exceeding) staffing requirements as it is. Nobody in the military wants it. They don't want an influx of unwilling bodies when they have all the bodies they need.

Indeed, Bush has already imposed stage one of a new draft. Many soldiers whose enlistment period is up are not being allowed to leave the service, and those who left the service years ago are being forced to put on the uniform again against their wills.

This is false. It is a bad reference to the so-called "stop loss" program. When you sign up for the military you sign up for an 8 years. In peacetime when staffing requirements are reduced, you may be let go before the time is up. But you still are on call for the 8 years, ya signed up, ya might have to finish your commitment.

It is clear that we already have a back-door draft. Bush has effectively ended the all-volunteer military.

So doing what you agreed to do is a "back door draft" funny way of putting it. But then, Democrats traditionally do not think highly of actually personally being responsible to your commitments.

And stage two of a reinstated draft would be easy to implement. Draft boards are already in place in every county in the United States, and young men who turn 18 are already required to register with their local draft board. A major terrorist attack could easily serve as the pretext for flipping the switch and setting this apparatus in motion.

Uhm, and since nobody wants it, it is easy to see it wouldn't happen.

It is obvious that our armed forces are stretched dangerously thin. We do not have enough people in uniform to meet current needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, much less to deal with a confrontation with Iran or North Korea.

And what are the 100,000 guys doing in Germany right now?

Right now, total active Army and Marine personnel number approximately 655,000, and that includes support units, training units, headquarters personnel and others who do not see combat. In a long, drawn-out war such as Vietnam or Iraq, units sent to the front lines have to be rotated out periodically and replaced by an equal number of forces.

Currently, we have 135,000 troops in Iraq, 20,000 in Afghanistan, approximately 100,000 in Asia and more than 100,000 in Europe. Our armed forces have been strained to the breaking point. To fill the gaps and shortages, tens of thousands of National Guard and reservists have been called up, some for several years at a time.

But there is a cost to all of this. Morale is suffering, as evidenced by the recent refusal of an Army Reserve platoon to carry out an order. Enlistments and re-enlistments are down. The Army National Guard fell 10 percent short of its 2004 recruiting goal. The regular Army has had to ease up on standards to meet its recruiting goals.

Morale is down because one platoon refused and order. Hmm. Think you're calling your shots a little early. Reports I see from the actual soldiers tend to disagree. Also, The military in the whole is turning down recruits.

What if all-out civil war breaks out in Iraq and we have to increase our troop strength to 200,000 or 300,000 to quell it?

We took Iraq in 3 months against the "best equipped military" in the Arab world. What makes you think a "all-out civil" war is about to break out. All but one province is basically peaceful. I think you're "fear mongering". Didn't Kerry accuse that of Bush. Maybe he should accuse you of that!

What if a newly re-elected Bush decides to act pre-emptively against Iran, Syria or North Korea?

A little constitutional lesson for you Senator. One would think you were aware, that the right to declare war is not a Presidential privilege! Hello, Congress gets that right, specifically the Senate. I'm a little puzzled about you, a Senator, not knowing that. Must be the disadvantage of a public education.

Today, people are hesitant to join the National Guard or reserves because of skyrocketing odds of being sent into combat or kept away from family and jobs for a year or longer. Morale, enlistments and re-enlistments are falling, at the same time that military manpower needs are rising dramatically.

I don't think you've made your case that "military manpower needs are rising dramatically". The DoD doesn't support your claim either.

So where would a re-elected Bush get the manpower to pacify Iraq while pursuing the next phases of his doctrine of pre-emptive, unilateral war? There is only one viable option: a reinstated draft.

No. First before a draft occurs we let more people sign up for the military. Perhaps let people know we need troops. If we call ya think they won't come?

It is probably too much to expect Bush to acknowledge this before Election Day. But we would do well to remember when President Lyndon B. Johnson was running for election in 1964.

Boy, you Democrats have a bug up your butt about Vietnam. Get over it, already.

Voters were afraid he had a secret plan to escalate the war in Vietnam. He denied it, repeatedly promising, “I will not send American boys halfway around the world to do a job that Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

Johnson was re-elected. And sure enough, millions of U.S. boys were drafted and sent halfway around the world to Vietnam. More than 17,000 of those draftees got killed in combat.

America if you recall has participated in several wars that didn't require a draft. You seem to need reminding. Again, we'll remind you about another fact of the draft. Bush can't enact the draft. It'll be up to you and your buddies in Congress. But be cognizant of the fact that neither the military nor the public want it, so you might find re-election problematic if you push for it.

So Americans, today we have good reasons to fear the return of the draft. Bush might have avoided the draft when he was a young man.

You mean Clinton might have avoided the draft. Bush served in the TARN. But as you might recall, our staffing levels through his enlistment were falling continuously and he was never called into service in Vietnam.

But if re-elected, he will not be able to avoid the draft as president.

He will not? What is that a threat. You are the one who might be able to re-instate it. You are being downright two faced about this whole issue.

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Thursday, October 28

Kerfuffling about al-QaQaa

So something between 3 and 400 tons of explosives "may" have gone missing from a large installation in Iraq sometime in April of 2003. That's the news everyone is in a bother about (Joe has a good writeup here. NZ Bear here. And from the other side of the aisle here.)

Kerry blames the President. He says we needed more troops. This of course is a little silly. Let's examine that:
  • more troops means higher cost. Kerry has never complained about the cost of the war.
  • more troops means operations (logistics) would take longer (it takes longer to move more men and equipment). Perhaps Kerry thinks the major hostilities took went too fast? This point is reminiscent of the Lefts headspinning change of mind about WMD. Before the start of the offensive it was, "We can't attack he has WMD!". Then it switched without blinking into "Where's the WMD? What WMD?". Guess they want it both ways. Maybe it's one of those urban metrosexual things.
  • longer time means more time for Saddam to prepare. Kerry perhaps thinks we didn't give Mr Hussein a far fight. I'm not sure what that would mean. Oh that's right. He said in the debates we should have given Saddam more time to prepare. Why, perhaps the whole treason thing wasn't untrue?
  • slower movement and longer time for Saddam to prepare means higher casualties for both combatants and higher civilian casualties. Kerry surely can't be for that! (see above)
He also wanted more allies:
  • more egos involved. Means the war would be more complex and take longer. Again more casualties for the troops.
  • more poorly trained (now allies) in the field. Again, higher casualties. Of course one could take the low road and insist "at least they wouldn't be American casualties". I dismiss that argument as contemptible.
  • more logistical difficulties. Again, this means we would move slower and incur more casualties.
  • On the plus side however, it means more nations would defray the cost. Just think, save money at the cost of our soldiers and allied soldiers lives. But Kerry might recall for us, they are just peasants. Bah!
Of course, what Kerry really wants to say is we aren't able to fight such a war. America he feels is too soft and too lazy to get in a war. He wants to go home. Perhaps he wants his mommy too. Kerry has traditionally shown distrust of America's ability (and moral rectitude) in projecting strength beyond her borders. In this, he shows a lack of awareness of history.

Dick MacDonald has a nice piece on this here:
Stolen Munitions. Wow, 380 tons of munitions at 1 munition dump 20 miles south of Baghdad are missing. Forget the fact that these munitions went missing before our troops captured that dump. What's 380 out of the 400,000 tons already recovered at 1 dump out of 10,000 dumps already identified. Paul Bremer says that Saddam purchased almost 1,000,000 tons of munitions, mostly from France, China and Germany. Now, John Kerry calls for Bush's scalp for the 380 tons. Numerically brain-dead.

Exactly. Recall this all took place during the shooting phase of the war (April 2003). Recall we don't actually know how much HE is missing, it might be 3 tons? The 3ID quotes "thousands" of 2 1/2 inch by 6 inch bottles contained a white powder which "might" be HE. A bottle that size can't weigh more than a few pounds. "Thousands" of such bottles comes to (hey!) about 3 tons! Not 400 tons. That would take 100's of thousands of bottles . What's a few orders of magnitude between friends.

Kerfuffle a wonderful word, ht Best of the Web (James Taranto).

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Wednesday, October 27

Augustine: Confessions Book 4

Before diving into book 4 of the Confessions and the companion volume, I thought I'd recap where I am so far, why I'm doing this in the first place, and where I hope to go.

I was in a conversation recently and the person I was talking with wondered why "close reading" was an important skill. He maintained that an author should always endeavor to write clearly, and that life is too short of obfuscated writers. However, it must be noted that when in Physics, one suggests that for instance there is a local U(1) gauge symmetry obeyed by Nature. This may be a simple statement and clear to the (prepared) reader what this means. However, this statement takes a lot of work to glean from it all of the implications of that claim. One must do some work to find Maxwell's equations and from there, your even more work to explain your TV set. Just as in Physics, in theology and philosophy "close reading" is required. This is because even if the statements an author makes are clear the implications of those statements may not be as obvious.

Why am I even reading the Confessions in the first place? Well, as happens to so many people when they reach middle age, I too have (re)discovered my faith. As a result, as the saying goes "when a child I thought as child ...". It turns out my powers for study and thinking have outstripped those I had when I did "study" theological matters (which were back in the days of high school and earlier), and so now I return. However, now that I am older, I have also developed a mistrust of the work of most 20th century thought. So I figured, if I'm going to re-visit Christianity to re-examine the important questions, I better start at the beginning. So, I'm re-reading the bible and reading the works of the "Early Christian Fathers". Augustine, I hear, is one of the most important. Hence, I'm studying this book now.

The previous posts cover the previous 3 books:
Again, if you are just joining in this exercise of reading the Confession then, please start here and here, Then this post, here, and then at last book 3 will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exercise.

Book 4 (of 13, almost 1/3 of the way!)

In our Companion we are guided in book 4 by James Wetzel. Mr Wetzel hails from Colgate University where he is Assoc. Prof. of Philosophy and Religion. He studied at Princeton and Columbia.

Mr Wetzel tells us that Book 4 is a book about Grief. In fact he entitles his essay: The Trappings of Woe and Confession of Grief. Again, I note this is very different from the structure outlined by our last two guides. I feel at this point, that this is perhaps both an advantage and disadvantage of having a different "guide" for each book. We lose the sense of over-arching structure which is surely there. Peeking ahead, I note that some of the further essays will give us references to other commentaries on the Confessions so perhaps I may pick them up (or not). At any rate, Mr Wetzel quickly tells us that Book 4 covers 9 years of life, from age 19-28 where publicly he taught the liberal arts and privately he "bound himself to the false religion of Manicheism". During this time, he informs us he was not alone in this, Augustine uses "we" when referring to his time spent. However the heart of this book for Mr Wetzel is the relationship with a close friend, whom Augustine convinces to be converted to Manicheism and who then dies of a fever. The grief he suffers, Manicheism did not prepare him to bear.

Mr Wetzel proposes we muse what connection exists between Augustine's seeking Manicheism and his misfortune (that is the death of his friend). How are these connected. Mr Wetzel warns us that Augustine (and we) do not take the "easy" route and assume that like a OT prophet we are to take his state of unbelief as his cause for his distress. Mr Wetzel directs us to try to understand Augustine's heart as he in seeking found a false religion. How at the same time his grief for his friend was false, because not having found God, his love was "false".

A second part of Book 4 concerns itself with a book (now lost) which Augustine authored when he was 26. It was entitled, "On Beauty and Aptness" in which he discusses Abstract and Concrete (or relative) concepts of Beauty. He digresses for some time reconstructing the arguments he presented only to ultimately conclude, "I didn't know what I was talking about." Why then, the digression? Mr Wetzel suggests that the arguments he presented may not be totally strange to the reader. Augustine wants to draw us along in the further books, to the same conclusion he has reached.

Recall Mr Cavadino of Book 2 had told us this book would be about "concupscience of the eyes", and in fact, in chapter 13 the love of beautiful things is discussed. However, as Mr Wetzel points out that isn't the main thrust of the book. But, to give him his due, Augustine is relating his life's Confession to God and as such, it is a stretch to expect blatant overarching thematic structure. Finding threads is a good approach.

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Our Sharply Divided Land Part 2

Several weeks ago, I started on this topic (here), motivated by musings after the Vice-Presidential debate. What I was musing on was:
What separates the left from the right is they have different ethical standards. Ethics to put it baldly is how one defines "good". To use a simple example from one of the above "dividing lines" in our society, a "Bible-based citizen" (BBC) will fall on a different side of the SSM (Same Sex Marriage) issue than a secular humanist (SH). The SH feels that a persons "personal sexual affirmation" trumps societies concerns. Nowhere in the biblical tradition is homosexuality affirmed, thus the BBC is against it. This difference is not going to be addressed by the BBC insisting to the SH that he is going to drag society into a pit of amoral licentiousness. The SH is not going to convince the BBC that he is "hateful" and must be "embrace diversity".

Now I had promised to discuss further identifying the major ethical frameworks in America today and to discuss ways of facilitating communication between the two main "camps" (which I had called BBC and SH).

Some of the ethical groups which I can identify (not being a modern anthropologist by trade) include:
  1. The Bible based Christian, that is a Christian who feels that biblical authority trumps other moral guideposts available to the modern man.
  2. The non-bible based Christian. Many Roman and protestant Christians fall into this category, notable examples include , Mr Kerry & the Episcopal Bishop Robinson. These Christians believe Christ is their Savior (faith, hope, and grace) but do not derive their concept of "ethic" (see above) from the Torah. Most in this age, have some melange of post-renaissance mostly humanistic understanding of good.
  3. Secular humanists. Most derive their ethic and worldview from the same sources as the non-bible based Christian. Many of them might claim to be Christian, but in analogy to RINOs (from the political arena (RINO == Republican In Name Only)) are actually CINOs (Christian In Name Only). A fellow parishioners of mine calls them CEO Christians. CEO stands for Christmas and Easter Only. Many others claim to be agnostic or atheist, or just too damn enamored of lazy Sunday mornings. At any rate they get their ethic from a mishmash of enlightenment philosophers, but in the large do not live a life "examined" enough to know from where their strongly held beliefs derive.
  4. Jews and Moslems. To be honest, I haven't become close enough to any of members of these groups to form an opinion of their beliefs.

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Damned with faint praise indeed.

OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today:

"Other Than That, He'd Make a Great President--I
'I know few people enthused about John Kerry. His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless United Nations, in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong. His campaign's constant and excruciating repositioning on the war against Saddam have been disconcerting, to say the least. I completely understand those who look at this man's record and deduce that he is simply unfit to fight a war for our survival. They have an important point--about what we know historically of his character and his judgment when this country has faced dire enemies. His scars from the Vietnam War lasted too long and have gone too deep to believe that he has clearly overcome the syndrome that fears American power rather than understands how to wield it for good.'--Andrew Sullivan, endorsing John Kerry, The New Republic, Oct. 26

Other Than That, He'd Make a Great President--II
'I can't remember ever voting for anybody I disliked as much as I do John Kerry, at least not for president, but vote for him I will. I didn't have much use for Al Gore either, but I don't remember any real sense of hostility before punching the hole next to his name. . . . I can't persuade anybody to vote for a candidate for whom I can muster so little enthusiasm, but there must be an awful lot of people out there who are going to cast votes next week for Kerry who are, like me, discouraged by the prospect and needing one of those you-are-not-alone talks.'--Mark Brown, endorsing John Kerry, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 27

Other Than That, He'd Make a Great President--III
'I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry. Outside of his opposition to the death penalty, I've never seen him demonstrate any real political courage. His baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism during the 1990s were all followed by hasty retreats. His Senate vote against the 1991 Gulf War demonstrates an instinctive aversion to the use of American force, even when it's clearly justified. Kerry's major policy proposals in this campaign range from implausible to ill-conceived. He has no real idea what to do differently in Iraq. His health-care plan costs too much to be practical and conflicts with his commitment to reducing the deficit. At a personal level, he strikes me as the kind of windbag that can only emerge when a naturally pompous and self-regarding person marinates for two decades inside the U.S. Senate. If elected, Kerry would probably be a mediocre, unloved president on the order of Jimmy Carter.'--Jacob Weisberg, endorsing John Kerry, Slate, Oct. 26"
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Tuesday, October 26

Honesty and Kerry

We hear Kerry's campaign is preparing an ad campaign about the missing RDX/HDX cache in Iraq. Alas, his accusation is baseless and discounted by ABC (Correction: NBC) embeds who were on site when the US armed forces first went into the cache. It was already empty. According to Kerry then, it is Bush's fault that Saddam moved the cache prior to the invasion, as if Saddam were a GOP representative overseas or something. On the heels of the Bush "October surprise" which was confronting a memory of Kerry's of a meeting with the complete UN Security counsel that had taken place in January and had been "seared" into his memory. This meeting it turns out was not the complete security council as claimed. Apparently either Kerry is not as honest as he would lead us to believe or his memory is dangerously leaky. Actually the truth of the UN matter is more likely that for Kerry, the "little countries" that might have been part of council and were not present, don't matter. This in itself is not an ringing endorsement of a man who faults his opponent for poor diplomacy.

The kicker however is that Kerry, the man whose campaign is largely based on the claim that his opponent is dishonest, is himself dishonest. Now it may be that the Swift Vets are right, and Kerry has been a dishonest shill his whole life. In which case, his "Bush lies" claims are camouflage intended to avert attention from his own duplicity. After all, failing on the attack is preferable to failing on defense. But, at any rate the moral high ground so precious in the minds of the left is yet again lost. Someday the lefties will concede that vaunted position and join the rest of the fallen human race in the muck. Until then, they reside in the muck and just pretend to live "elsewhere".

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Monday, October 25

Sound and Fury: 10/25 Wrap up

So the last full week before the election begins. It seems like both camps sprung their October surprises. Here's my rundown.

Kerry's camp popped up with these boners:
  • a camp that may have held al-Zaqawi had been identified pre-Iraq invasion in Iraq. So much for the no al-Qaeda connection with Iraq, eh. But anyhow, the way they want to spin it is that we didn't hit the camp because it might have upset our plans to invade Iraq. The WH says they didn't trust the intelligence. Sounds like more 20/20 hindsight stuff to me, but hey, I'm just a biased observer. On the other hand it is rich to hear the left declaiming the accuracy of our intelligence community when just yesterday they were saying just the opposite. Have to hand it to those boys, they sure are consistently inconsistent. (some references: here ).
  • Their second big surprise is that 240-270 tons of high explosives went missing in the confusion of the invasion. Now it might seem suspicious to you, the gentle reader, that this information would come to light just a week before the election. The boys over at LGF point out that 250,000 tons of munitions have been recovered and much destroyed since the invasion. But this seems to pass right over the head of the truly left biased (reality based community indeed!?). I guess they expect lightning quick blitzes across a country the size of California should be a tame ordinary affair and nothing unplanned or unexpected occur. If this is their big October surprise, it might be a black Tuesday for the socialistas. (see here and here and here).

The Bush crowd countered with just one "surprise":
  • Kerry lied. The accusation was that Kerry had bolstered his claim to Diplomatic finesse by recounting a "hours long" meeting with the "entire" security council. It seems that many of the "entire" security council never met with Mr Kerry. The left has spun back with, ok he exaggerated a little, but he met with some of them! Now this will probably count for nothing (as noted here) with the rabid anti-Bush crowd, most of whom would vote for Judas Iscariot if he was running against Bush (and even if they knew who he was). But amongst the swing voter, who hears over and over "Bush Lied" as a reason for displacing him. "Kerry Lies too but so what?" makes for a poor refrain.
Some quiet questions:
  • If the left wants to keep calling themselves the "reality-based community" when do those deluded "left-wingnuts" propose they will explain to the rest of us what the word "reality" means to them? They certainly show no signs of hewing to the standard English definition of reality.
  • Does the left really think campaign violence is the best way to swing the undecided voter? See the previous question for a possible explanation.
  • With respect to the various blossoming of random violence by the dems in this election. Do you think they might bring back the "good old" Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood slogan that worked so well in the "Terror"? They certainly picked a good franco-phile for a mascot.
  • How does marshalling a flotilla of lawyers pre-election balance with wanting a "fair" election? Is it just me, or do lots and lots of lawyers not make me sleep easier knowing my rights are protected? (assaulted?)

Update: A must read by Chrenkoff.

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Thoughts on Leviticus

Several posts (like this) I've seen in the last few days have pondered how to read Leviticus. Given today's political climate there is much sound and fury over the two verses declaiming homosexuality as an "abomination". One side declaims that this is to be obeyed and is perfectly clear. The other that, since we (as Christians) don't eat Kosher or perform animal sacrifice, golly, why don't we feel free to ignore all of Leviticus. This last position ignores the fact that the two verses they are anxious to toss straddle the verse from Leviticus they most want to keep, namely love thy neighbor. Commonly as well, "separation" is pointed at as the main thrust of the dietary and other practices in Leviticus. This, according to Milgrom in his Anchor Bible volumes, is wrong. I will disclose at the outset that I am largely indifferent to this issue, in that it is not a sin (if sin) which personally affects me. I am not tempted by it and my children are both pre-adolescent and as such I don't have the parental wrestling to do that may be my fate. However, it is a current issue in the modern Church so I choose to consider it briefly here.

At any rate, Christians have been taught that it is permissible to ignore some of the teachings of Leviticus. It is instructive however, to examine how this process works. I believe that before a we decide to "discard" a directive from Leviticus, we must understand the motivation for the law and why it may or may not apply to us today.

For example:
  • With regard to the sacrifices we (as Christians) believe that Christ the Lamb was our perfect sacrifice. We in fact, remind ourselves of this every time we participate in Holy Communion. In fact, the Israelites today do not perform the sacrifices as the temple has been destroyed and not rebuilt.
  • Take many of the "kosher" dietary laws which involve separation, e.g., wool from flax, different grains, or dairy from meat. Why were these practices asked of the Hebrews? Recall that Leviticus (and the Torah) call the Israelites to be a "Priestly people". By following these Laws, the daily practices of the Israelites reflects theology. The separation which is written in Genesis 1 is mirrored in dietary practice. Just as God separates night from day, heavens from earth, and dry land from water, the people remind themselves at their table. Kind of like, for the Christian, in Lent we remind ourselves of our relationship with Christ through fasting (or at least giving something up). Much of the message of Genesis 1 was one of monotheism and that God was Creator. However, in today's world, unlike when Leviticus and the Torah were given to the people, we don't fight the pull of polytheism. We don't need the constant daily reminder (as much?) that God created the universe and that there is only one God. So we ignore these laws. Perhaps, in the last century, the reminder that God is Creator is warranted, but this was not the case during the Early Church which had decided on disregarding these precepts.
  • Incest is warned against in Leviticus. The "reason" this Law would have been given would be that in Genesis we are told, that "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Gen 2:24)".This law we retain, because the reason it is in place has not changed in our time. With incest, we never leave.
  • Sacrifice to Moloch is an abomination. We are told this was child sacrifice to the pagan deities. Modern analogies of this sacrifice to abortion have been made, and I don't know of any strong reasons to disagree with this. Even if pro-abortion (I hate the phrase pro-"choice") advocates claim the fetus is not a "human" it certainly is analogous to a germinating "seed" of one. As such, I can't see how its "sacrifice" could be sanctioned either.
  • Homosexuality follows much the same argument as incest. However, it occurred to me that the reason for disregarding this law is different. We are no longer a patriarchal society. In fact, one could argue that in modern times, this stricture in an age of abundant population and a low infant/child mortality rates that we should be able to take a pass on this law. However, we still have a need for strong families. Thus this could be in dispute. Also this does not explain why the author of Leviticus uses the phrase "abomination" (a strong phrase indeed) instead of the weaker phrase like "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of XX" which was used for incest.
The point I am trying to make is that, yes we as modern Christians ignore some of the laws given to us in Leviticus. However, before we do so, we should remind ourselves what the original theological reason those laws served and from that decide how relevant to our life they might be.

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Saturday, October 23

Christian government Part II

I've been working most of the day today, and got home late so this will be brief. I started this here, and got an interesting comment on it.

Peter Epps points out:
I would be very hesitant to derive a scheme of government for America from either the laws God gave to Israel or from the principles God has laid down for the church. The State is the sword, and the Church is not supposed to wield that sword; we have an awful lot of Western history to warn us about that. It seems that we must "render to Caesar" the power to repel force and fraud and reserve to God those things that are His: His church, His Word, His glory, and His right to dictate to His children how they should conduct their lives.
However, what I have in mind is less ambitions than a obviously Christian government. Look for example at our current government. Our founders had a strong Unitarian bent, and felt that religion is an individual/personal affair. They wrote some of their laws and comments at the founding in that light and what do we find? 200 years later, this idea is not a new strange thought for the New World, but here in America it is dogma. In fact, this idea, that religion is a personal thing is very strange to Christianity. I think as a result of the schisms in the church post-Reformation and beyond, this idea gets very much easier. But "back in the day", heresies were treated with utmost seriousness.

Anyhow, I'm getting off track. My kernel of an idea is that law and custom are married like chicken and egg. You can't make laws that are completely alien to a culture, but at the same time, laws can move the center of gravity of a culture to a place it didn't start.

By setting some laws in motion, a few generations later, these ideas can become unquestioned dogma. So the smaller challenge is for our Christian legislators is to pen laws that promote Christian ideals. The larger challenge is to consider if any larger schemes of governance might form a more fruitful garden for our Christian faith.

And I'm not yet willing to admit that our founding fathers may not have struck a winner with our Constitution. It is an amazing document. After all, it got us through the 1800 election, and I'd bet it will probably get us through 2004 as well.

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Friday, October 22

Thoughts on a Christian theory of government

Joe Carter posted a question earlier this week, wondering whether a Christian could be a Libertarian. I also ran across an interesting post pointed to by a comment in Joe's discussion following his post here. Anyhow, the direction Joe's question pushed me in a different direction.

Here's my question:
If one were starting from first principles, what sort of government would one derive, based on Christian scripture and tradition?

Alas, it is late, and I'm not going to finish tonight. But here are a few starting thoughts from which I'm going to start "working":
  • A societies laws and its peoples personal ethics are intertwined. Take for example, Ancient Sparta. The Spartan peer had a strict moral personal ethic to which he rigidly adhered. At the same time, the Laws of Lycurgus which shaped him had to start somewhere. Which came first, the law or the people?
  • Leviticus teaches us the same lesson, but from a different angle (and perhaps with not as much success). Leviticus teaches us that the Hebrews were to be a priestly people. For example, they were taught not to mix "things" (many things, foods, clothing, etc.). Why? Because this was to remind them of Genesis 1 in which God separated "things" (day/night, water/earth, etc.). So their lives practices should recapitulate their theology.
  • As Christians our "laws" should reflect what we learn from the New Testament & Torah, as well as the Nevi'im, Kethuvim, and our Christian traditions, i.e., especially the "Early Church Fathers".
So the challenge is to brainstorm/think/talk about what laws/customs one would have like order for the society to reflect a "Christian" priestly (monkly) people?

Part 2 is here.

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A "Good" closer

Kerry is said to be a "good" closer in close elections. The next 9 days will tell.

However, this campaign unlike many previous years has been intense for much much longer than any previous election (in the modern era). As a result, I introduce an analogy from my sport, bike racing. The fast finishers in a short race, is rarely the same person as a winners in a long hard race. The winner of a one-day classic is not the same kind of man as the winner of a grand tour. The winner of a 35 minute criterium is not the kind of rider as the winner of a 5-7 hour road race.

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Two possible futures

What might come 2005-8 given the outcome of Nov 2. (my predictions):

Bush wins:
  • Iraq will calm down over the next 4 years. Troop levels will drop below 50-25k by the end of his term. The left wingnuts won't admit they were wrong (they never do). However, for most of that time, the media will continue to sing out loud and clear emphasizing everything that goes wrong.
  • Iran's mullah's will be overthrown by their own people.
  • As happened in Hong-Kong and China, capitalism will begin its inexorable march across the middle east.
  • Bush as a lame duck may be able to push some real Social Security reforms through the system. But real reform will evade us, because Washington still hasn't cottoned onto the problem yet.
  • Three Supremes will retire.

Kerry wins:
  • He will arrive with a mandate of "I'm not Bush", which will buy him zero political clout in Washington.
  • Gridlock will commence bigtime with a Repub Senate and House.
  • Supremes retire, but the furor over replacements will cause us to forget what the word "Borked" meant.
  • Kerry will be so bad that he may become the first sitting president to lose his parties nominations for re-election.
  • I can't tell if he'll stick it out in Iraq. My "gut" as he puts it, tells me he won't. The middle-east will remain a bleeding sore for the world to bear.

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Mars on the Cheap

With the fabulous results of the X-Prize, I now suggest how we can get to Mars cheaply.

What the President, whomever he will be in the next term, should do is announce a series of X-Prize-like contests; graduated hurdles to get private consortia vying for intermediate prizes. This will give us necessary technology to bump us over technical challenges of getting to Mars. And as anadded bonus, the government will not be in charge of space and it will save the tax-payers from footing the entire bill:

For example how about:
  • XP-2 - Orbit once.
  • XP-3 - Spacewalk
  • XP-4 - dock
  • and so on
  • finally XP-N -> walk on Mars.
Let the America seed the prize pool and NASA and some experts come up with a reasonable and useful set of intermediate "Prizes". The let the games begin!

It's not like government challenges/contests haven't worked in the past on other large technical hurdles, see this.

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Thursday, October 21


One argument I heard recently, is that Bush "misled" or "lied" to America concerning the reason(s) to go to war with Iraq. Besides pointing out that peace had never been declared after the first war, I would hold that he did not "lie".

First, if you examine the speeches he gave and the document drafted by the Senate declaring war (as a reminder the President does not have the power to declare war), WMD were not the sole reason for the war. But those who feel they were "lied to", have pointed out that the main reason for going to war was that we felt Saddam wanted WMD (which is supported by the Deuffler report), that the sanctions were failing (also supported by the same report), and finally that he when he got them he would not have much compunction against using them (supported by the fact they he had in fact used them against Iran and the Kurdish people in Iraq). After 9/11 Bush (and America) seemed to agree we didn't want to react after an attack. We needed to prevent one. They also argue that the case for WMD was in fact weaker in fact than how it was presented.

Well, the argument that "Bush lied" because he did not dwell on the points that did not support his case, I would say, .... duh! When has anyone, when trying to persuade has not emphasized points in support and de-emphasized those contrary (aside from perhaps Jesus as interviewed by Pontius Pilate)? To one arguing that the case made to the public did not give all the facts, well those facts were available to the Senate who did declare war. If those facts satisfied those 100 men, and they did by an large margin, who are we with our 20/20 hindsight to gainsay them? And what, are they complaining that no 1000 page report was publicly made available. That would involve releasing information that we wouldn't want made public at the time, who would read it besides those paid to?

Let's face it, Saddam played a "tricky" game trying to convince Iran he had WMD to keep them at an arm's length and hoped to finesse the French and Germans and through them the UN into keeping us at bay. He did manage to convince the world that he had WMD for at time, to his undoing.

As an amusing side-note, on the left one of the reasons for not going to war was the threat of WMD. As soon as few WMD are found, they are the reason also that we shouldn't go to war.

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Returning to a debate question

BoiFromTroy: BFT Debates Kerry and Bush Archives: "Question: Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years according to The Washington Post. We're paying more. We're getting less.

I would like to ask you: Who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government? Is it the insurance companies? Is it the lawyers? Is it the doctors? Is it the administration?"

Three answers are given, Mr Boi's, Bush's and Kerry's.:

Boi's answer has 3 parts:
  1. The disconnect between the recipient and the payer.
  2. Lawsuits.
  3. Unnecessary burdens placed by State Laws.
Bush's answer
  1. Need health savings accounts
  2. Lawsuits
  3. Need Information technology in medical practices.
  1. Need generic drugs imported from overseas
  2. More insurance for all.
However, these answers all miss an important facet of the problem. Health care needs to be rationed. Now, and increasingly in the future, health care will be limited not by what we can do by what we can afford to do. As more and more medical miracles become possible, people will desire that they be performed. However, the costs of ever more complicated procedures must be borne. At some point, soon if not already, the system will not be able to do everything possible for every patient. Rationing will be required. How rationing will be implemented is a serious issue that all three of our debaters here have dodged.

These issues should be on the table for politicians to discuss and come to a reasonable answer. We need more politicians like Mr Madison or Mr Adams. We need more politicians in Congress with the moral courage like that displayed by Pres. Bush in his decision to go into Iraq. Agree or disagree with that decision, all involved must recognize that it was a great risk and took great political courage to take the steps he felt needed in the face of the enormous risk. Too often, Congressional leaders (and the rest) seem unwilling to tell the American people that difficult decisions need to be made. They would prefer to promise them, whatever it takes to stay in power.

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Everyone Just Stop at Once

It seems in this political frenzy, everyone (perhaps more on the "left" side of the aisle) is spending time divining the motivations of their opponents be he Bush or Kerry.

Stop it right now!

I claim that any attempt to divine the internal dialog or motivations of an opponent with whom you:
  1. Do not share a common worldview and
  2. Despise (or worse)
will almost certainly fall wide of the mark.

However I will admit, if the end of your project/essay/post/column is not to actually truly understand your counterpart, but merely spread your ideological message. Well, go ahead, write away. But you should realize that the "implied" goal of finding an understanding into the thought processes of your 'adversary' is doomed from the start.

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Wednesday, October 20

Augustine Confessions Book III

Again, if you are just joining in this exercise of reading the Confession then, please start here and here, Then this post and finally here, will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exercise.

In our Companion we are guided through this Book 3 by Todd Breyfogle who hails from Denver where he is Director of the University Honors Program at the U. of Denver. Also, apparently, he spent time at my alma mater, the U of Chicago, albeit in Humanities as opposed to Physics. His dissertation was on the intellect and will of St. Augustine in a political context.

Alas, Mr Breyfogle has a different take on the structure of the Confessions. Last book, our expert witness led us to believe that we would be marching orderly through three sins (from 1 John 2:16) and then unwinding them after Augustine encounters Ambrose. However, Breyfogle has a different take on the book. He tells us that in book 1 we encountered the infantile desires, book 2 led us too our need for the love of fellows. In book 3 Augustine comes to see that (quoting Mr Breyfogle):
.. The body's desire for bodies and the soul's desire for friendship as increasingly elevated species of a higher desire for the truth of the intelligible world. Physical needs and fellowship culminate in philosophical desire; the several misplacements of philosophical desire described in Book Three set the stage for subsequent books.

In fact, unlike Mr Cavadini who had felt Book 7 was resolved in book 7, Mr Breyfogle holds the resolution to Book 8. That certainly raises the level of interest. Mr Breyfogle claims that Book 3 will set up three questions which will set the stage for subsequent books. These questions are not small ones. From where does evil come? What is the nature of God's existence? What is the relation of change to permanence? These questions will be answered over the course of Books 3-9 and depend of the theological accounts contained in Books 10-13. In Book 3 we will also "draw together the three lusts alluded to by Mr Cavadini (pride, curiosity, and pleasure).
Without further ado, Mr Breyfogle then gives a guide to the chapters which make up Book 3. Largely quoted from him here as follows:
  • Truth does not lie in physical satisfaction (ch. 1)
  • in fiction or aesthetics (ch 2)
  • or in a sense of self-satisfaction (ch 3)
  • Augustine does discover (from Cicero (ch 4) the mode and object of philosophical truth.
  • He rejects scripture as vulgar (ch 5) (Note: the Augustine is referring to the initial Greek New Testament, and recall he disliked Greek. Also, I know Greek not at all but I've heard the Greek of the New Testament unlike the Hebrew of much of the Old, is not poetry but very pedestrian in it's language).
  • and his insights into permanence are shared by the Manichees' religious and philosophical doctrines (ch 6 & 7).
  • Where the Manichees' fail (ch 8-10) is how variations in the world can be underpinned by a God which is fixed and unchanging.
  • Monica's dream (ch 11) is a flight of imagination with orgins in truth (?)
  • The promise of Augustine's' eventual conversion is predicted (ch 12) and the Book ends.
Well there is a lot of meat on those branches. I'll cherry pick and examine chapter 4 and 12 in more depth.

Chapter 4: Cicero's Hortentius is the work, "whose language (but not his heart) almost everyone admires" (quoting Augustine). Continuing, "It gave me different values and priorities.... I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor of the heart." His older self realizes that he is seeking for the right thing but is on the wrong path. He quotes St. Paul, "See that none deceives you by philosophy and vain seduction following human tradition...".

Chapter 12:
We find that Monica (Augustine's mother) has shunned him, because he has fallen away from faith. She has a dream which informs her that this is uncharitable. She also dreams of his eventual conversion. Augustine at this time does not accept this, his resistance is not "intellectual but a deliberate resistance to the movement of the divine", Mr Breyfogle informs us. Monica's bishop, himself a former Manichee, tells Monica that Augustine must learn for himself when the time is right.

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Tuesday, October 19

Classical Heroes for Bush

An interesting exercise proposed by N.Z. Bear here:

Campaigning from fiction:

Henry V:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Vote for Bush

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Vote for Bush

Henry II

Will no one rid me of this turbulent Senator? Vote for Bush!

Jupiter (adapted from the Iliad book five:
The sire of gods and men smiled, and called golden Edwards to his side. "My child," said he, "it has not been given you to be a warrior. Attend, henceforth, to your own delightful matrimonial duties, and leave all this governing to Dubya and to the GOP. Vote for Bush"

Eomer of the Rohirrim, Lord of the Mark:

Vote! Vote! Ride to ruin and the world's ending. Vote for Bush!

And with that the host began to move. But the GOP sang no more. Vote they cried with one voice loud and terrible, and gathering speed like a great tide their battle swept about their fallen and passed, roaring away southwards

adapted from Return of the King JRR Tolkien

More to come.... (this is great fun)

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One thing bugs me about all the people who complain about the lack of intelligence of our President. They commonly ascribe any and all astute maneuvering by the WH to "all the smart people around him".

Just think of all the truly dumb people you know in your life. How many of those morons do you think could actually "surround themselves" with smart advisors without botching it up? Doesn't it take a fair helping of perspicacity to recognize intelligence in others?

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Monday, October 18

Augustine: Confessions Book 2

Never fear gentle reader, this process will at some day come to an end. This book is not City of God, that is to say, much much shorter. It has 13 books, which is a countable (in fact not large) number. And beginnings (like say Genesis vs the Bible) often require more attention because the stage is being set. If you are just joining us for this exercise, please start here then, here, finally this post, will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exersize.

For this Book, I will start with our Companion guide. Our guide for this book is one John C. Cavadini. Mr Cavadini hails from South Bend (U of Notre Dame) where he is an Assoc. Professor of Theology.

Mr Cavadino beings by telling us this book (the whole work not just this "book") is "one of those texts beauties emerge gradually to the person willing to read and reread over time". Book two he tells us is one of the "infamous" books, in that it is often quoted to demonstrate Augustine's alleged "propensities for overstatement". It is in this book where Augustine discusses his adolescent emergent libido and a teenage theft of some pears. The act of theft is discussed in very great detail and with much melodrama. However, Mr Cavadino suggests a more fruitfull way of examining the text. He indicates that in the over-arching structure of the book a pattern emerges. With the next three books, Augustine will examine the three sins from 1 John 2:14 (concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and ambitio saeculi or worldly ambition). The in book 6-8, after meeting Ambrose, these sins will be unwound (that is dealt with in reverse order).

Mr Cavadino continues by warning us that the direct examination of the story of the pears will fall short because at the heart of it, we will always be reminded (through the flowery rhetoric) that the crime remains quite petty. Mr Cavadino instead draws our attention to the last phrase of the book, (which he translates as), "I had made myself a land of emptiness". This is where he concludes his escapades in following the desires of the flesh lead him. By not explicitly mentioning the nature of this sexual sins, Augustine leaves us to ponder only the causes and the result. Fornication for Augustine is a fruitless (because it will not be fulfilled) attempt seek that what it cannot find except by returning to God.

As for the pear, Mr Cavadino tells us this a direct commentary on the Genesis narrative of the fall. However, I will confess, this takes some work to ferret out, for Augustine does not intimate this connection directly. But the actual nature of the crime (stealing fruit) makes this plausible. The main point of this book then is the following (from Mr Cavadino):

Every soul that commits fornication, turning away from its Creator and Lover to set itself up against him and apart from him, thereby tries to replace God, that is, "perversely imitates" God. But such a soul only achieves a "crippled liberty" ... At bottom evil is unglamorous and irrational...

One final point, Augustine makes observation that the crime of the pear, like Genesis 2, was not committed alone, he like Adam, had companions. The fellowship was in important component to the crime. Pride is not a sin you can commit without society.

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Why vote Bush?

Hugh Hewitt has a shorter symposium entitled, Vox Blogoli IV: Why vote for Bush, and what's wrong with Kerry?

I've already discussed this once (here) but in brief:
  • If you think 9/11 was a nuisance, vote Kerry.
  • If you want bigger (more expensive) government: vote Kerry
  • If you want federal support for stem cell research and abortions: vote Kerry
  • If you think late term abortions are a good thing: vote Kerry
  • If you want a candidate whose primary claim to his candidacy is, "I'm not Bush": vote Kerry.
  • If you think being wishy-washy is a good thing in a leader: vote Kerry.
  • If you think a leader should check his morals at the office door: vote Kerry.
  • If you think personal responsibility is too hard on individuals: vote Kerry.
  • If you think a wealthy billionare and trial lawyer empathize with the plight of the common voter: vote Kerry.
If you read this far, vote for Dubya.

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Sunday, October 17

Augustine: Confessions Book 1. revisited redux

In my last post on the Confessions, I had indicated that I needed return to two topics. The first of them, was this:

Chapter 3-5. The next five chapters start a long discussion about the relationship of God to the Universe and Augustine (and his soul) to God. I confess I do not comprehend the thrust of his argument. I hope to return to this later.

This seemed important, but I didn't follow the argument. Here is Chapter 3.

3. Since, then, thou dost fill the heaven and earth, do they contain thee? Or, dost thou fill and overflow them, because they cannot contain thee? And where dost thou pour out what remains of thee after heaven and earth are full? Or, indeed, is there no need that thou, who dost contain all things, shouldst be contained by any, since those things which thou dost fill thou fillest by containing them? For the vessels which thou dost fill do not confine thee, since even if they were broken, thou wouldst not be poured out. And, when thou art poured out on us, thou art not thereby brought down; rather, we are uplifted. Thou art not scattered; rather, thou dost gather us together. But when thou dost fill all things, dost thou fill them with thy whole being? Or, since not even all things together could contain thee altogether, does any one thing contain a single part, and do all things contain that same part at the same time? Do singulars contain thee singly? Do greater things contain more of thee, and smaller things less? Or, is it not rather that thou art wholly present everywhere, yet in such a way that nothing contains thee wholly?
This seems to be saying it is hard to understand the true nature of God, but using more words. This is reminiscent of some of the Psalmody.

And the next chapter (4)

4. What, therefore, is my God? What, I ask, but the Lord God? “For who is Lord but the Lord himself, or who is God besides our God?” Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working, ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou dost love, but without passion; art jealous, yet free from care; dost repent without remorse; art angry, yet remainest serene. Thou changest thy ways, leaving thy plans unchanged; thou recoverest what thou hast never really lost. Thou art never in need but still thou dost rejoice at thy gains; art never greedy, yet demandest dividends. Men pay more than is required so that thou dost become a debtor; yet who can possess anything at all which is not already thine? Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy Joy, what is this that I have said? What can any man say when he speaks of thee? But woe tothem that keep silence--since even those who say most are dumb.
Ok, now I'm getting somewhere. In the previous chapter (3), he asked "what is God?". In this chapter (4) he answers it, in some detail. So where do we go next? Well, Chapter 5 what else?
5. Who shall bring me to rest in thee? Who will send thee into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace thee, my only good? What art thou to me? Have mercy that I may speak. What am I to thee that thou shouldst command me to love thee, and if I do it not, art angry and threatenest vast misery? Is it, then, a trifling sorrow not to love thee? It is not so to me. Tell me, by thy mercy, O Lord, my God, what thou art to me. “Say to my soul, I am your salvation.” So speak that I may hear. Behold, the ears of my heart are before thee, O Lord; open them and “say to my soul, I am your salvation.” I will hasten after that
voice, and I will lay hold upon thee. Hide not thy face from me. Even if I die, let me see thy face lest I die. The house of my soul is too narrow for thee to come in to me; let it be enlarged by thee. It is in ruins; do thou restore it. There is much about it which must offend thy eyes; I confess and know it. But who will cleanse it? Or, to whom shall I cry but to thee? “Cleanse thou me from my secret faults,” O Lord, “and keep back thy servant from strange sins.” “I believe, and therefore do I speak.” But thou, O Lord, thou knowest. Have I not confessed my transgressions unto thee, O my God; and hast thou not put away the iniquity of my heart? I do not contend in judgment with thee, who art truth itself; and I would not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie even to itself. I do not, therefore, contend in judgment with thee, for “if thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
Well, we established in 3 that God was hard to understand and vast. In 4 we learn more of Augustines understanding of the nature of God. However, there is now a vast chasm between Augustine (a man) and God. He cries to God for salvation. And says he will "confess his transgressions unto thee". Thus we receive the motivation for this text.

Finally, I'll apologize to you the reader in that I had indicated I would return to the Original sin chapter, but I'm going to keep you (and me) in suspense until a later time.

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Kerry is again "Damned with faint praise"

This time by the grey lady.

The Command Post - Op-Ed

The New York Times: We Do Not Endorse Bush
By Michele Catalano
>> Go here to visit Michele Catalano's weblog.

The New York Times endorses John Kerry for President.

Wait, that’s not right.

The New York Times does not endorse George Bush for President.

23 paragraphs in the NYT endorsement. Only three of those paragraphs detail why the NYT supports Kerry. The rest is an anti-Bush manifesto worthy of Democratic Underground.

You know if this Kerry fella gets elected. He is going to get absolutely nothing done. His mandate is going to be to "not be Bush". Well that covers a lot. Combine that with a Republican dominated congress and if you thought we had gridlock in the beltway before, oh baby, we ain't seen nothing yet.
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Fisking the Dowd

Maureen Dowd published the following column The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Vote and Be Damned: "
Published: October 17, 2004":

First Dick Cheney said that supporting John Kerry could lead to another terrorist attack.

This is not exactly what he said. He was pointing out that Kerry's mistaken opinions on the GWOT will make us more vulnerable. Among Kerry's erroneous opinions are the belief that (a) al-Qaeda is the only enemy and (b) We will never win in Iraq. Leaders who hold these opinions will make us more vulnerable. Of course we will want to return to the world-view wherein 9/11 was "just a nuisance".

Then Dennis Hastert said Al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry presidency than under President Bush.

Yeah. What is your point? It's probably true. So, you think we should vote for Bush then?

Now the Catholic bishops have upped the ante, indicating that voting for a candidate with Mr. Kerry's policies could lead to eternal damnation.

I'd lay good money on the bet that isn't what they said.

Conservative bishops and conservative Republicans are working hard to spread the gospel that anyone who supports the Catholic candidate and onetime Boston altar boy who carries a rosary and a Bible with him on the trail is aligned with the forces of evil.

Altar boy is not a theological qualification that holds very much water. "Was an altar boy" is not a real exclusive club. He "carries a bible". Is that why he misquotes it during debates?

In an interview with The Times's David Kirkpatrick, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said a knowing vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that would have to be confessed before receiving communion. "If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" the archbishop asked. "Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."

Well put.

As Mr. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein wrote, Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate, many concentrated in swing states. These bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are organizing voter registration and blanketing churches with voter guides that often ignore traditional Catholic concerns about the death penalty and war - the pope opposed the invasion of Iraq - while calling abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate "nonnegotiable."

Uhm, there are actually Catholic doctrines on "just war". The pope is now in support of the reconstruction. Death penalty is opposed by the Catholic church currently, but there have been both long periods where this is not the case and are cases in which the Catholic Church admits that the death penalty is warranted. However, they firmly state that abortion is not at the same level of concern for them.

"Never before have so many bishops so explicitly warned Catholics so close to an election that to vote a certain way was to commit a sin," the Times article said.

Uhm, Bravo!

Once upon a time, with Al Smith and John Kennedy, the church was proud to see Catholics run for president. The church was as unobtrusive in 1960, trying to help J.F.K., as it is obtrusive now, trying to hurt J.F.K. II.

So your point is that a Catholic in name only like Kerry doesn't make the church proud. Duh.

The conservative bishops, salivating to overturn Roe v. Wade, prefer an evangelical antiabortion president to one of their own who said in Wednesday's debate: "What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith. I believe that choice ... is between a woman, God and her doctor."

Ok, you seem surprised that Catholics would prefer a person who shares their beliefs to one who doesn't, but likes to use their name as camouflage.

Like Mr. Bush, these patriarchal bishops want to turn back the clock to the 50's. They don't want separation of church and state - except in Iraq.

You need to read the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Get a clue, or read this. The separation of Church and State prohibits the establishment of a state religion. You are following the athiest party line that feels church vs state is a reciprocal transaction. There is no restriction on the Church's activities in the Constitution!

Some of the bishops - the shepherds of a church whose hierarchy bungled the molestation and rape of so many young boys by tolerating it, covering it up, enabling it, excusing it and paying hush money - are still debating whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion.

Hmm. Since some leaders of the Catholic church are sinners, they should get out of the morality business altogether? That's like saying because some democrats are corrupt, the democrats should all get out of politics. While that might be good for the nation, I don't think you would espouse it.

These bishops are embryo-centric; they are not as concerned with the 1,080 kids killed in a war that the Bush administration launched with lies, or about the lives that could be lost thanks to the president's letting the assault weapons ban lapse, or about all the lives that could be saved and improved with stem cell research.

First of all, they aren't "kids", we call them soldiers or warriors. Second, 1080 is a damn small number for 300,000 troops in the field for 18 months. Considering all they've accomplished, I should think, our military has made us damn proud. To bad you're rooting for the other side. Furthermore, I guess the 1,000,000 slain embryos don't matter a rat's ass to you. As for stem cells, clue in. There is not restriction on stem cell research, and hasn't been. There is a restriction on federal funding for stem cell research. This is not the same thing.

Mr. Bush derives his immutability from his faith. "I believe that God wants everybody to be free," he said in the last debate, adding that this was "part of my foreign policy."

Bush gets his immutablity from his faith. And what, Kerry derives his flip-floppiness from his un-belief? "I believe that God wants everybody to be free". And what, Maureen Dowd thinks some people should be slaves and others rich like her? Why the hell do you take issue with that statement?

In today's Times Magazine, Ron Suskind writes that Mr. Bush has created a "faith-based presidency" that has riven the Republican Party.

Doesn't make it true.

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official for the first President Bush, told Mr. Suskind that some people now look at Mr. Bush and see "this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do." He continued: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them."

"weird, Messianic idea of that he thinks God has told him to do" and "He believes you have to kill them all". That is why he says (and you quote above!), "God wants everyone to be free". On what planet to you come from where "wanting to be free" and "seeking the light of freedom" is a dark Messianic idea. You're must be one of those wackos who's brain turns off whenever someone says the word "God". If you want to see some initial reactions to Bartlett's piece, go here.

The president's certitude - the idea that he can see into people's souls and that God tells him what is right, then W. tells us if he feels like it - is disturbing. It equates disagreeing with him to disagreeing with Him.

You're just making this up, right?

The conservative bishops' certitude - the idea that you can't be a good Catholic if you diverge from certain church-decreed mandates or if you want to keep your religion and politics separate - is also disturbing.

That's the funny thing about churches. If you don't believe a core set of beliefs, then "you're not one them" isn't "disturbing", it's exactly what a church is. Clue in. Kerry's desire to keep his religion and politics separate is what is disturbing. See my take on that here and here.

America is awash in selective piety, situational moralists and cherry-picking absolutists.

Err, no. America is awash in goofballs like you who can't figure that if a Christian doesn't believe exactly the way you do he must be inconsistent? Like your brand secular humanism is not awash in it's own particular brand of problems. Hah! Surely you jest.

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Saturday, October 16

Augustine: Confessions Book 1. revisited

For my start at this "project" see this.

For today: Again I return to book 1, which I mistakenly called chapter 1 before. This time, instead of concentrating on the "Companion" reader and his comments, I am going to turn to the original source. Book 1 is divided into 20 short chapters. In this post I will try to relate a highlight from each chapter. The style of the narration is that of Augustine relating to God his recollection of his life. I hope my endeavour here will serve also to help me learn to perform a "close" reading of text and not be without value to others as well.

Chapter 1. As has been noted previously, this autobiographical sketch begins with a hymn of praise to the Lord and Creator. It not just praise but acknowledges a relationship between God and Man. We now recognize the Lord as the primary audience for this narration.

Chapter 2. Is written in much the same tone (that is to say filled with praise to the Lord) as the beginning of his autobiography. This time he notes that the Creator of all created one thing in particular, that is to say Augustine himself.

Chapter 3-5. The next five chapters start a long discussion about the relationship of God to the Universe and Augustine (and his soul) to God. I confess I do not comprehend the thrust of his argument. I hope to return to this later.

Chapter 6. Birth. He wonders about his life, and muses that he has forgotten much of his infancy, but that God has not. Where could an infant come from if not from God?

Chapter 7. He notes that Scripture informs him of his Original Sin. But he wonders what are the sins of the infant? He has personally observed infants acting with jealousy perhaps that is a sign of our sin. He concludes with not more to say concerning his origins. Given the contortions about this throughout the ages, I will also try to return to this in a future post and look at what he says more closely.

Chapter 8. We continue on to boyhood. He starts with a theory of language development. I recall that the commentator did not think highly of this. Apparently the commentator felt theories of language development have progressed since the 6th century.

Chapter 9. In school, he was sent to learn to read and write. He tells us he was beaten if he was "indolent" at his studies. He like many children, prayed to God for relief from the difficulties of study.

Chapter 10. He confesses being a sinner and that he learned the sin of pride of accomplishment from his childhood games. He asks the Lord to look on in mercy at his follies.

Chapter 11. In his youth, he had a bout of illness. In his infirmity, his Mother (a believer) had him baptized, and his father (who was not) did not object. She attempted to convince him that it was the Lord who delivered him back to health.

Chapter 12. He observes that as a child he did not relish study. But that it was forced upon him, and that was all for the best. He does not think the people who had him study were doing it for the right reasons, as they were not to glorify God, but to allow him to seek wealth successfully. He observes that whatever their motivation was, the outcome did achieve the ends God would want.

Chapter 13. He observes that he never liked studying Greek and that he did love the Aeneid. He muses about fiction. Does it matter if a story is true? He seems to come down against fiction. I hope he returns to this later.

Chapter 14. Returning to the question of Greek (Homer). He wonders if it he liked his first language because it was taught by those who loved him. Greek was taught by tutors who didn't.

Chapter 15. Starts with an entreaty to the Lord to allow him to use what he learned in childhood to His glory (that is words and letters).

Chapter 16. He then declaims Homer (and through him the Pagan deities enshrined therein). However in his studies he excelled and yet now his memory of this time troubles him.

Chapter 17. He recalls a poetry reading contest from his youth. Praise was the prize. Caning is for not doing well is what he feared. He never tells us how it turned out, but expresses regret both that the poetry was not scripture and that the exercise was one of vanity.

Chapter 18. The people put forth to him in his youth as models to emulate all drew him away from the Lord. But the Lord moves in his own time.

Chapter 19. He confesses committing various small petty sins all children do.

Chapter 20. Finally, this book ends (or is bookended) with another paean of praise to the Lord and Creator. This time praising God for all the gifts and talents showered upon himself.

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