Monday, January 31

Challenge: Awakening Essay 2

In Awakenings, after the section of the book containing a long litany of medical case histories, Dr Sacks continues with some reflections putting it all in "Perspective" (which is how he coins the last sections). In this section he asks the philosophical questions so rarely asked by doctors today. Questions of sickness, health, and mental illnesses, are not simple. Mental illnesses
perversions of being ... are not simply measured by a "list of 'data' of measurements regarding one's vital signs, blood chemistry, urinanalysis, etc. A thousand such data don't begin to answer the essential question; they are irrelevent and, additionally, very crude in comparison with the delicacy of one's senses and intuitions.
Dr Sacks tells us that in the reams of articles about Parkinsonian patients produced in the 1960's, and there were hundreds, none of them discusses the human side of the disease.

North American aboriginal doctors (in non-PC elder days, called 'witch doctors'), we are told rarely treated the physical causes of the disease, instead concentrated on the spiritual and human side of the disease. Today's doctors take the diametrically opposite approach and, with the advances in modern chemistry and scientific lore have an impressive track record. However the do fail in large measure to hunt down root causes. Leaving Awakenings and the Parkinsonian world behind, patients flock to our doctors with a variety of disorders which can be treated by medical means, but which should not. When a patient arrives at a doctors office complaining of depression, obesity, or exhaustion all too often drugs are prescribed to "fix" the condition without pause to consider root causes. Our medical doctors have abstained wholly from the spiritual and emotional sides of health. Psychologists like Dr Sacks remain the sole bastions of this side of health in that industry. What doctor, when hearing his patient is depressed counsels them,
You are depressed because you are unhappy. Seek out your priest (or counselor) instead.
Witch Doctors healed with wisdom. Our medical doctors heal with their skill, craft, and tools.

Disclaimer: I am neither a medical professional nor pretend to be. I am making broad generalizations about an industry I have only had fleeting impressions of, but which in broad strokes I believe to be correct. I also do not mean to claim that none of the patients who complain of depression, obesity, or other malady have no organic causes. But, follow Dr Sacks call to not ignore the spiritual (he says human) causes of disease and its cure.

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A Promise

This blog will never have any essays at all concerning celebrity legal trials and tribulations, be they current, past, or future.

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Cycling: Pre-Season Update

Pre-season training has another two solid months to go. I'm aiming to peak in June, so my intensity still isn't too high. Twice a week, I'm scheduled for only two workouts with any high intensity effort, the rest is still devoted to building endurance. A few weeks ago, I obtained a new spinner (Indoor cycle) to train on, a CycleOps PT300. This is the first time I've had "real" power measurements as I train. I thought I'd share a few observations about the bike and winter training in Chicago.
  • At teammate of mine advised me not to take long winter rides when the temperature was below 32 to avoid bronchitis (which has plagued me in previous seasons). I'm trying that, so I've ridden inside a lot this year.
  • Thank goodness for the wonders of the "Complete Season of TV" style DVD compilations, which provide enough "film" time to avoid unnecessary repetition. I'm going through the 5 seasons of Babylon 5 right now (just halfway through season one), having finished 3 seasons of Farscape (actually 3 episodes remain). I also have 3 seasons of Alias, and one of 24 to call on in need (those last two are Mrs Pseudo-Polymath "shows", our tastes differ somewhat). So far, I haven't been bored. :)
  • I upload the training session afterwards each time. This certainly keeps me honest. No roundoff errors, no "adding in" stretching or preparation time for workouts any more. Overall, I think this is a very good thing for my training, I have a tendency sometimes make excuses for myself and then later forget I did so. And when an interval session isn't quite as hard, there is no hiding it.
  • Spinning bikes use felt brake pads on a 50 lbs flywheel to provide resistance (with no coasting mechanism in the hub). The resistance curve relative to effort/speed is not the same as riding (where air resistance increases roughly as the square of velocity). As a result, I will be curious how the road bike feels in March, when the weather warms up.
  • It is surprising to feel how much a 50 pound steel flywheel will heat after a 90 minute hard workout, considering the "work" exerted during the ride largely was expended as frictional heating of that wheel.
  • This weekend, I have a first "test" of my seasons fitness. A local club holds "indoor" time trial races using Computrainers (10k races). I don't expect to smoke the race, but it should give me an indication on how my training is progressing. Expect a short report on that Sunday evening.

For a real racers diary, check out John Liewswyn's diary. He pens one of the better pro-cycling diarists on the US racing circuit.

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To Read

Mr Chrenkoff has another Good News from Iraq, which isn't just about the election. If you haven't read this series before, they consist of a thorough rounding up of all the news that was fit to put in the back corners, because it didn't seem fit to spread around. All news is referenced with links and pdf's to the original source material. It is especially important to read, if you have the (mistaken) impression that most of what we are doing in Iraq is blowing stuff (and people) up and driving armoured vehicles around to serve as targets for IEDs.

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Visiting: Revenge of Mr Dumpling

After a hiatus on the weekend, we resume our Visiting series. Today we visit Revenge of Mr Dumpling who remains anonymous, but consists of the wild and meandering ravings of a 20-something Christian. Some recent (notable) posts of interest:
  • VOX APOLOGIA III: EUTHANASIA Mr Dumpling hosted the last Vox Apologia, the carnival for Christian apologetics. Alas, I had meant to write an essay for this, but didn't get around to it. However, that shouldn't prevent you (or me) from going and visiting the excellent posts in this series.
  • KNOW THY NEIGHBOUR II Mr Dumpling (also undoubtedly inspired by Joe Carter) is doing the same Meet your neighbor/visiting series as am I. In this post, he visits Amy's Humble Musings.
  • THE DISCERNING CHRISTIAN'S GUIDE TO FANTASY AND SCI FI : PART I The Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre is a wonderful venue for exploring moral and ethical questions. However rarely do they touch on explicitly Christian themes. In this review he looks at The Mote in God's Eye. For the Christian this book is a rarity in the sci-fi genre in which Christianity is not viewed as a prehistoric appendix on society but as a vital part of our future society.

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Sunday, January 30

Challenge: Awakening Essay 1

A few weeks ago, I issued a challenge to "unbelievers". I challenged my readers to read N.T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus and I would read any book of their choosing. After we read these books, we would pen essays concerning what we read and our impressions and comments. What follows is my first essay on the first book in fulfilling my part of the Challenge.

I've read a bit more than half of Awakenings by Oliver Sacks. This book relates the authors contact, case histories, and insights he derived from dealing with number of patients suffering from post-encephalitic Parkinsons. In the 1920's concurrent with the flu epidemic was a sleeping sickness epidemic. Patients who recovered from sleeping system almost invariably later developed differing degrees of Parkinsons. For many of the affected the results were profound. In 1967 a new miracle drug (for these patients) was discovered, L-DOPA (dopamine). This drug had surprising affects on these patients so affected. Most of the patients then went through three stages, awakening, tribulation, and accommodation. This book recounts the experiences (case histories) of several dozen patients, then discusses the disease and its implications in broader terms.
Dopamine is one of the neuro-transmitters in the brain. It seems clear that the virus that cause sleeping sickness damaged the regulatory mechanisms of the brain which control dopamine levels. For most, this meant dopamine levels went to a dramatically lower level. This had profound effects. When in the late 1960's L-DOPA was discovered as a drug used to affect those on Parkinsons this enabled doctors to restore dopamine levels, but in the absence of feedback mechanisms, levels of dopamine relative to other neurotransmitters was only crudely possible by carefully titrating and regulating dosages. Discovering the correct dosage was often problematic. Additionally, even after arriving at an optimal dosage, in almost no cases did the patient recover "normal" life, but usually arrived a less pessimistic outcome, for example varying levels of catatonia might be replaced with frenetic reaction and occasional outbursts which became more predictable.

In sterile medical terms discussing neural network activity, chaotic systems, dopamine levels, et al., misses the other half (often forgotten) of the medical picture, that is the human side of the patient. It is all well and good to say that the neural networks are quiescent or chaotic. It is quite another to be the conscious person living through the lull or the storm. The human side of disease is very often left out of reports of disease and its effects.

Akathisia and akinesia or conflicting urges to move (push) and cessation of absence of the motivation to move war in the Parkinsonian patient. In one of the profound cases of akinesia reported by Mr Sacks, one patient seemed to be frozen motionless all day. Later, when he was "unstuck" he denied it. He said he was merely brushing his nose. By examining a series of photographs over the course of the afternoon, it was verified, that the patient was indeed extremely slowly brushing his nose, except that it took him four or five hours. One the other side of the coin, one of his patients after being "awakened" by L-DOPA had an preternaturally fast reaction time. He estimated her reaction time at 1/30th of a second (instead of 1/8 to 1/4 for a normal person). Playing catch (with a ball) was almost impossible for she would catch the ball and return the ball faster than the eye could follow.

At least two more essays will follow. One on the Sacks ruminations about the medical practice (following Enlightenment thought) of mechanizing and abstracting the state of a patients health. This practice has allowed for great advances, but has left the human side of our patients (often) at the road side. Neglecting this side of the question I think also has led to the current state of ethical considerations and sophistication of the ethical debate surrounding medicine. Because we so rarely consider the human side of medicine (and science) we are blindsided when those issues arise. A second essay will consider some of the implications of these occurrences on the philosophical and theological considerations of what being human entails.

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Charity and the Institutions of Man (Part 2)

To Who do we give charity? Toward which of our brethren amongst us should we be moved by our charitable impulse to act? We have broken our inquiry into Charity and how that fits in with our institutions into four questions (part one here). The first for us to attack is who might be the recipients of charity. In this investigation, we will begin with secular arguments, pass to those based on teachings from scripture, and then attempt to tie it together neatly (wish me luck!). Be warned, as a Christian, I'm going to couch my secular arguments to arrive at the same conclusion as those based on scripture (and yes, I'll admit I wrote the later arguments first).

Forming a secular idea of Charity is difficult, for Charity is largely a Christian concept. Kant informs us in The Metaphysics of Morals that we should not take as a moral axiom that which we cannot universally apply. Those principles most easily find that all people should give of charity to their neighbors and all should receive of charity.

Leviticus tells us to "love your neighbor" and Jesus affirms this as belonging to the heart of the Law. Charity consists of putting that command into practice. From this it is clear who is to receive charity. Each of our neighbors should receive of our love, not just the downtrodden, not just the poor, but everyone. All of us are called to give of Charity to our neighbors, not just those who are economically well endowed. Economic well being should not be a factor in determining whether our neighbor is eligible for charity. Equally of course, should race, creed, or any other of the hundred dividing lines we draw to distinguish each other be used to judge who might receive charity.

Alas, it turns out then, the first question, To Who we give charity does not go far to separate the givers from the receivers. On the other hand, the answer we arrived at, is not the answer that often comes first to mind when the question of who deserves our charity is asked, so perhaps this meditation is not in vain.

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We Foolish Proud Americans

In our past election record setting turnouts were seen, 60%. The Iraqis topped that against the threat of RPG, mortars, suicide bombers even the crippled and blind walked to the polling places to vote. Hugh Hewitt announces that 70% turnout was seen. That is astounding. In America we have said that the election results showed 48% for Kerry, 51% for GW, but that misses out on the 40% that didn't even show up. 28% for Kerry, 31% for GW doesn't quite have the same appeal. Who were they those missing voters for? Did the fact that even more of our electorate didn't show up to the polls mean that our election was "invalid"?

If you hear any reports "invalidating" the Iraqi election because of low voter turnout, remember that it is higher than it ever was (certainly in the modern era) in America. If you hear that bandied about in casual conversation, ask them what they think of our voter turnout. If they opine, that the Iraqi turnout was high because they see that as how to get the US forces off their soil, point out that is a good thing, for we share the same goal.

Update: The 70% figure was an early optimistic estamate. 60% seems more likely.

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Saturday, January 29

On Iraqi Elections

For a secular prayer regarding elections, visit UTI, who will be live-blogging the elections results early Sunday morning as well. The army chaplain offers this plea. This election selects a National Assembly which will pen the Iraqi Constitution to be followed by Constitutionally supported elections at the end of the year. More thoughts on the elections can be found at the Chicago Boyz (here). I would hope the men and women they elect are more farsighted and less ideologically hidebound then the current crop of pols inhabiting our government. In the current political climate, farsighted and planning for the future, means making plans for the next round of elections.

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Friday, January 28

Charity and the Institutions of Man (Part 1)

Just last week (here), I started ruminating about Charity and our human institutions, be they government, NGOs, or the church. In that essay, I managed to run off a half dozen bullet points considering ideas on those topics. Now in a previous series, on Just War, this (bullet point strategy) worked well only because I could fall back on Aquinas' masterful division of the question into Who, Why, and How. What is needed is a similar division of the questions arising with respect to formulating a theory of Charity, for the individual, and for civil and religious institutions. Following the analogy set for us by Aquinas, let us try dividing the problem similarly:
  • To Who do we give charity.
  • What sort of charity is good.
  • When should charity be offered.
  • From Whom should the charity come.

These questions have particular urgency in today's political climate, for Social Security and Medicare are sold as a part of the New Deal, being a re-distribution of wealth for charitable purposes. Social Security is being re-examined and re-visited under direction by our President, who desires reform. How should we advise him. How can we help structure the debate. As I structure my arguments on Charity, I'm going to attempt to divide my reasoning into a first secular argument and an argument for what we should do based on Scripture. For while I think the second is possibly more important, the arguments based on secular reasoning will find more traction with the more liberal audience.

So then the programme is now laid out. But, before we start in on our process it, just as in my Just War series of essays it will be useful to consider a series of test cases to test the results of our reasoning for validity. Considering causes for charity:
  • Survivors of the Boxer Day Tsunami
  • The Poor in America
  • The third world poor.
  • Homeless Panhandlers you might meet on the street.
  • An Accident on the expressway
  • the terminally insane
  • AIDS victims in Africa
  • Refugees of War and Diplomacy
  • the elderly in America
If any of you gentle readers have items to add to my "test" cases, drop a comment and I'll add it.

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Visiting: Feeble Knees

Today as part of the visiting series, we come to Feeble Knees our host hails from somewhere in Massachusetts, but chooses to remain anonymous. Some recent posts include:
  • The Postcard a long essay on visiting a "friendly" church as opposed to the "legalistic" one she now attends. If this story be true, I would think it wise to be visiting more churches.
  • Almost One of 43 Million Ms Knees writes,
    Thirty three years ago I narrowly avoided becoming a part of that statistic. My parents already had "enough" kids. I was one too many. Though they had been using contraception, I still somehow came to be. In a rather characteristic way, I stubbornly refused to be dispatched by the IUD, even when it was roughly removed by my mother's OBGYN during an office visit. The news of my survival did not fill them with awe or joy, but rather conflict and dread. They began making plans to travel to another state to have me aborted.
    Read the rest.
  • Now Playing I leave you with an essay which reminds us that all is not crap on the radio dial. Read it.

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Modern Biological Ethics

Joe Carter, points to a recent announcement in the news of Chimeras being studies in various laboratories around the world, talk radio has also taken up the call as I heard discussion of this on my drive home last night (for I had no Book on Tape to listen to). Biological ethics have been at the forefront of public discourse a lot in the past year, but I think one line of thinking hasn't been explored, but which begs our attention.

Discussions of the ethics related to advances in biology and medicine concentrate mainly in a reactive sense. That is, they respond to what has been done, or what is recently being considered. But is seems more appropriate to formulate a theory of biological/medical ethics from a more fantastic perspective. That is, if we consider as possible everything we can imagine, then what from that larger list of possibilities do we consider ethical. After one comes up with a consistent theory in that "larger" space of what might be done, then when new technology appears, we have some context in which to frame our arguments.

As it is during the workday right now, and I can't take time out for an extended essay. I'm going to postpone further discussion of this for a later post. But I think it is a very important issue, and I will get back to this.

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Commenting on Just War

Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost has pointed out several other blogs are discussing Just War. I just completed a series of essays on this topic and was engaged in a Just War discussion in an e-mail exchange. Many of the detractors of the Iraq War, who feel that this war was not Just confuse issues regarding the prudence of going to war with the justification or the ethics of whether the War can be considered moral or just. Joe pointed out a series of posts at Mirror of Justice considering these questions.

One of the readers conclusion from that site was that if you believe a classical theory of Just War, then the Iraqi engagement was justified. If you believe a post-Enlightenment theory which has a stronger presumption that War is the evil to be avoided at almost any cost, then almost no wars are considered Just. It seems to me that if you use stringent criteria which mark the Iraqi War as unjust, then almost all wars in the past are also unjust. When I engaged in my exercise on Just War, I felt it necessary to re-examine past wars in the light of my results. If for example, I had determined that almost all past wars were not Just, then I think I would have to re-examine my criteria in light of my belief that many past Wars were in fact Just.

As to arguments that in light of what we learned after the invasion about WMD, et al, are arguments invalidating the Justification for going to war, this is specious. One cannot be held accountable with regards to Justification for actions in light of knowledge gained after the fact. If one believes that intentional deception was used to frame the cause for War, then that contention should be backed up with fact. I think arguing that 80+ Senators and the Administration all colluded to lie to the American people is not a contention that can be sustained without divorcing oneself from the reality of today's ideologically divided political climate.

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Thursday, January 27

A Thin Red Line

Dissent in wartime is a sticky thing. Especially in today's conflict where the foe is not a classic standup established state with a proud tradition and standing army, but a motley crew of terrorists. Terrorism by its very nature feeds on public perception and information. So the situation is a little unusual, in that much of the media feel the war is imprudent, unjust, or wrong, but the enemy needs their cooperation in order to exist. How then might they proceed in expressing their feelings, without helping terrorists, whom presumably they do not support.

One thing they might stop doing is what we all hear and read constantly. Tonight for example, while driving NPR reported on the day's occurrences in Iraq. Several IED's exploded attacking polling places, one mortar attack killed a US Marine, and there were several gunfights with small arms. What was left out, and there is not justification for this is what the American forces and our allies accomplished. For example:
  • Several IED's (car bombings) occurred. Were any discovered prior to going off? Reports that several are being found each day. Where's the scorecard? Why doesn't ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN have a scorecard of the allies successes, counting IEDs disabled?
  • A mortar attack occurred. What was the response? Was the attack foiled? Did they fire one mortar and run? Why is that not news?
  • Several small arms gun-fights occurred, no marine casualties were indicated. How about the terrorists? How did they fare.
  • If there is not information available today, were are the follow-up reports from yesterdays actions?
Why do we get no mention of what we are doing! These are our people. Why are their stories not important?

One suspects the reason is that NPR and/or the reporters in the field are feel more kinship with the enemy than with the marines. People who remember fondly the anarchist movements from the 70's, think Castro and "Che" were "heroes" of the people want to empathize with the little guy, the underdog, the oppressed. That this is not a very good description of Zarqawi, the Baathist thugs, and al-Qaeda operatives opposing the Marines in Iraq seems not to have sunk in yet.

But we would be amiss in not giving constructive advice. After all, their dilemma is real. They (rightly or wrongly) oppose our presence in Iraq, but are American. How then should they proceed? Earlier in the past election campaign, I proposed that the Kerry campaign and the MSM in criticizing a war in progress should be aware of the tightrope they walk between aiding and abetting the enemy and honest campaign rhetoric. The campaign is now over. I would ask, that the reporters ask themselves two questions as they write their reports on the war:
  1. Who benefits from this story? Keep a tally, if the answer keeps coming up, "the terrorists", then STOP IT and even the score up, do some reporting that benefits the Marines too.
  2. Remember your are an American. You have a vested interest in seeing us do well. Our troops will come home sooner and the War will cost less at the very least. Being biased towards your own country is a good thing.

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An Odd Observation

From Best of the Web James Taranto tells us that Seymour Hersh has been getting a lot of airplay lately. He quotes Mr Hersh:
The amazing thing is we are been taken over basically by a cult, eight or nine neoconservatives have somehow grabbed the government. Just how and why and how they did it so efficiently, will have to wait for much later historians and better documentation than we have now, but they managed to overcome the bureaucracy and the Congress, and the press, with the greatest of ease. It does say something about how fragile our democracy is. You do have to wonder what a democracy is when it comes down to a few men in the Pentagon and a few men in the White House having their way.
Now this is a lot like Ms Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy", except now it is "eight" neocons (whatever a neocon might be is left as an exercise for the reader). This demonstrates to one degree the biggest problem with the MSM vs blogging. On a blog, if such a statement was made, comments would immediately arise asking, "8 neocons, any of them got names!". But no, blanket bland allegations work in a paper, but not in a medium with any level interaction with your audience of opposition.

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Visiting: Ogre's Politics & Views

Today in the visiting series, we come to Ogre's Politics & Views hosted by Ogre (with a very cute picture on the header). Head on over and check it out. Recent notable posts by Mr Ogre include:
  • The Liberation of Auschwitz

    On January 20th, we marked the anniversary of the 1942 Wannsee Conference. In the course of that Conference, the Nazi hierarchy formalized the plan to annihilate the Jewish people. Understanding the horrors of Auschwitz requires that one be aware of the premeditated mass-murder that was presented at Wannsee.


    If remembering Auschwitz should teach us anything, it is that we must all support Israel and the Jewish people against the vilification and the complicity we are witnessing, knowing where it inevitably leads.
    This is part of a large blogburst occurring today. Follow, read, and remember.
  • Fixing the Democratic Party Mr Ogre has started a drive to elicit suggestions from GOP supporters on how the Democrats might reverse their trend at the polls. Unlike Mr Rauch, Mr Ogre is a little more obviously tongue in cheek.
  • A Blog Neighbor In which we visit Stand Up and Walk. Mr Ogre going to do the Meet your neighbor once a week. Cool, although it might take three years to get through the blogroll.
  • Choice Mr Ogre, reluctantly weighs in on the "birthday" of Roe v Wade weighing in with some links and
    Abortion and abortion "rights" are lies used for material gain. I honestly, with today's technology and scientific knowledge, cannot understand how poisoning a baby just before birth can be viewed as a "choice."

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Wednesday, January 26

Re-Voxing Rauch: the whole kit and caboodle

Jonathan Rauch has responded to the "blog storm" of essays engendered by Mr Hewitt's project that he has provided the whole text of his essay, available on Mr Hewitt's blog, for review. He feels that when we read the paragraph excerpted for our scrutiny, we will relent in our criticism. His broad thesis in the article is that the divide our country faces is not as extreme as painted by the political landscape. He feels that there might exist Gay NASCAR-loving atheists who voted for Bush and homophobic evangelicals who voted for Kerry. So count 'em. But as Mr Rauch says, "kidding aside" his point is that the political rhetoric emphasizes the differences and that we as Americans are not as divided as we might think.

There is some truth that claim, but Mr Rauch in order to make his point stretches it a little. I am not a political operative, but have been examining the Left/Right divide on this blog for some time. The left/right divide is real. Even the word "insurgency" which he used in the conclusion quoted by Mr Hewitt shows the divide. Mr Rauch thought nothing of that term, for on the left "insurgents" are the good guys. But, on the other side of the fence, the last "good" insurgents that come to mind, were our founding fathers 200+ years ago, and not the goofy flower children of the 70's. Today that term bears little good odor. And it is in our different use of language that is taking us further and further apart. For another example, the word "patriarch" means a far different thing to me, than to Ms Sanders of Left2Right.

Mr Rauch misuses polls somewhat. He quotes:
Asked if they would be "open to marrying someone who held significantly different political views" from their own, 57 percent of singles said yes.
But if asked whether they would marry someone whose worldview was significantly different, I think the answer would have been quite different. I think an different understanding of "political views" frames the response to that question. Right and Left differ somewhat these days in their worldview, which in previous essays I've tried to abstract as story, symbol, praxis and question. Praxis (everyday unconscious expression of the symbols in our life) for right and left are quite similar. Our stories on the other hand are quite different, and that will, more and more, I fear sway symbol and praxis with it.

Amusingly Mr Rauch's a little blind ideologically. He says:
The top leaders on Capitol Hill are the bluest of blues and the reddest of reds left and right not just of the country but even of their own parties. (This is especially true on the Republican side.)
He "pretends" that this is not true of Ms Boxer, Ms Pelosi, and Mr Kennedy, I guess. Mr Rauch must be far enough left that he can't see the extremists on the left for what they are. However, again this begs his point, those politicians aren't more extreme than the extremists prophesying out in the blogosphere.

One last point about the misleading nature of the study results. There is a joke, that an 90% of the Irish when asked if they are religious say no and 90% of Spaniards say yes, but 90% of the Irish go to church weekly but only 10% of the Spanish. When a study looks into those holding different worlview, questions mean very different things to different people.

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Visiting: Back of the Envelope

Today as part of my "Visiting" series, we are taken to Back of the Envelope hosted by Donald Crankshaw, Evangelical Christian and PhD in EE with an interest in Quantum Computing. He also features a sort of downloadable shareware novel as a link on the front of his blog. Some recent posts of note:
  • RSA Encryption and So, you want a quantum key distribution system? are somewhat technical posts which probably put off those people who don't the difference between big O, little o, and oy vey.
  • Women in Ministry Here Mr Crankshaw links bloggers post on a touchy topic in the modern church, the role of women. He promises to post on this topic his thoughts on a later date. I'll have to remember to keep an eye out for that.
  • Ye olde scienceIn this he quotes another blogger and continues,
    This is something I've considered before. The first thing to realize is that we're no smarter than our ancestors. I'd even hesitate to say that we're more knowledgeable. Certainly, as a society, we have a lot more data than someone who lived a few hundred years ago, but people today tend to be specialists, with their knowledge highly focused in one or two fields.
    I've said much the same myself, even going further to point out that those people in ages gone past had probably more insight into what makes us human, our nature and foibles, than today for today we are distracted by all that knowledge of a technical nature.

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Light this Afternoon

Posting will be light until the evening. I'm at a customer's site and a little busy. My hotel claims to have broadband internet, and I've got some ideas for posting, so drop by later tonight.

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A Historical Question

In First Things this month, Richard John Neuhaus starts of his The Public Square column with a piece on David Klinghoffer's book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Mr Neuhaus has little good to offer about Mr Klinghofer's book, but does make the following observation. He states:
Scholars generally agree that in the first century there were approximately six million Jews in the Roman Empire ... About one million were in Palestine ... Some scholars have noted that by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer it is suggested, is that they became Christians. What if the great majority of Jews did not reject Jesus?
Unfortunately these statistics are unattributed, which to be honest is not surprising in a book review or opinion piece. My question is, where would one look to verify these figures? Does anyone reading this have any suggestions?


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Tuesday, January 25

A Challenge to the Non-Believers: Update

Update: Rob Ryan has proposed a book. Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith. My library has it and I put it on hold. I will have it by the weekend.

Almost a week ago, I issued a challenge, which was that up to four of my readers would read Challenge of Jesus by N.T.Wright and I would read a book of their choosing. We would then write essays or at the very least write down some commentary on what we had read.

Jim (of Decorabilia) selected Awakenings by Oliver Sacks for me to read. As yet Mr Moderate and Rob Ryan have not yet selected a book for me to read, if either of you read this, please drop a comment and let me know what to obtain. My local library did not have Awakenings but I received it today via inter-library loan. I will be traveling on business tomorrow, and expect to have some down-time in a hotel tomorrow night. I should be able to pen a first essay late tomorrow night or Thursday morning. I will still entertain one challenger if one should wish to take it up.

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Ouch that hurts (a little)

Okay, in my defense a PhD in physics, 14 years having a job programming computers, and a family kinda pushes the testing in a certain direction. But, that far?!
I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

(HT: decorabilia)

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Voxing with Rauch

Hugh has kicked the ball rolling with another Vox Blogoli (Virtual Symposium) here. He asks us to comment on a Jonathan Rauch (New Atlantic) piece, to comment on the quote, and what it says about the author.
On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around
Mr Rauch manages to be wrong in not just a few ways all at once.

The first major fallacy is that religious conservatives are or have ever operated as "insurgents" or "provocateurs". In today's political climate, "insurgent" as we know is Reuters code word for "terrorist", which makes the comparison to American religious conservatives more than a little insulting. It has been popular of late, for the left elite media types to spend a little expense account money and venture timidly out into the frozen tundra of the "red states" in flyoverland. Mr Rauch apparently didn't want to put too much pain on the expense account and decided to mail it in. Mr Rauch, allow me to explain, all but a vanishingly small number of religious conservatives exhibit anything resembling "terrorist" activities. The average religious conservative does not only never bomb abortion clinics, he doesn't even know anyone who knows anyone who has. Painting religious conservatives with that brush is either rhetorical smoke or dumb ignorance. Acting from the "political inside" is how we normally operate.

The second fallacy is that the 60's and 70's "street warfare" by the left was because they were locked out of the political halls of their party at the time, and were not a counter-cultural movement which wished to make its statements bypassing the political arena. He proposes that what should have been done, was to allow those views front and center stage in the political arena. That if given the chance, it would have been a better thing if the "kill the pigs" activists were given political power and control of their party in that era. Hmm, yeah, that's right to control the wacky anarchists, give them the reigns of power. Exactly how Mr Rauch keeps his job as a columnist is begining to become a mystery.

The third fallacy, is not exactly a fallacy so much as bad advice. It is a chancy thing to take "advice" from your opponent, and Mr Rauch shows us why. Mr Rauch is of the left, he writes for a leftist rag and does not disguise his leftist bent. His advice for the right, is to give full stage to the radicals on the right, instead of the more moderate voices. This certainly would benefit his agenda. He points to how Mr Moore was given center stage at the Democratic convention. He, I guess, points to how successful that strategy was in the previous election season and wishes that we on the right would follow suit. Gee, thanks for your thoughts, Mr Rauch, I think we'll just have to give that the consideration it deserves.

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Visiting: The Grey Shadow

On with our visiting series. Today we visit The Grey Shadow, which I must say has a very cool name for a blog. The Grey Shadow is hosted by Eduardo from Asunción, Paraguay, Eduardo is currently on vacation and some of his friends are keeping up with the posting. Some recent posts that caught my eye include:
  • Summer Movies Galore: K-19: The Widowmaker which I must say as a movie review, puts my "Christian Dad's Movie Reviews" to shame. A long summary of the plot followed with a discussion developing issues brought up by the movie from a thematic and Christian point of view.
  • The Myth of Self-Esteem Here Josiah Ritchie (the poster) tells us
    One of the majorly destructive myths of US culture is that self-esteem needs to be built up to a healthy level. There are a few things patently wrong with this. Mostly, it leaves God out of the picture by assuming that we have the ability to do things in and of ourselves. Some Christian psychologists seem to re-define the term to fit a biblical view. This also bothers me because it results in misconceptions and smooths the path to acceptance of similary termed secular ideas, not to mention that I think they usually hit the middle rather than defaulting to a purely biblical viewpoint on the issue.
  • "Tron" or Windows vs. GNU/Linux Another movie review, this by a guest poster. Mr Ritchie draws an analogy between the villain of the movie (the "MCP") and Windows.
  • Why I blog in English As a native speaker of Spanish, Eduardo was asked why he blogs in English. His third reason is important:
    I blog in English because I would like to be a bridge. I’m sick and tired of reading that the Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures are different, divergent and in opposition. My position is that the greater Hispanic cultural complex (and note that I do not refer myself to Latino culture in the U.S., which is a subset of the latter) is in fact another expression of Western civilization, so we share a lot more than the things that obviously keep us apart. I take strong exception to everyone who would classify us Hispanics as non-Westerners.

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Monday, January 24

Just War Series

I've just completed my series of essays on Just War. These essays are:
  1. On Just War (Part 1)
  2. On Just War (part 2) Who?
  3. On Just War (part 2)Why? Which should have been part 3
  4. On Just War (part 3) How? and this should be part 4. Ah, well.
  5. On Just War: Conclusion

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On Just War: Conclusion

For my final post in the Just War series I've been running, two tasks remain. First, to run through my short list of historical conflicts and evaluate them with respect to my criteria and make sure that matches up with my common sense impression of the war. Second, I want to reflect how we might use these principles now established.

The Historical Wars in question were:
  • The assault by Agamemnon and the host against Ilium. This war was enacted and run by a number of Kings, so sovereign authority is correctly used. For all the kings except Menelaus, the cause was in order to honor contractual obligations. For that to be just, Menelaus cause must be just. Menelaus went to War seeking to have his spouse Helen, who was stolen from him, returned. Diplomatic efforts failed. In fact, diplomatic efforts were still being tried 9 years into the war, given a duel between Paris and Menelaus which was sought to end the conflict. As for the conduct of the war, a strict system of honor seemed to be in place regulating behavior of the combatants. Thus in conclusion, the Trojan War was just.
  • Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. This war was engaged by Caesar on behalf of Rome, by legal authority. It was a war of expansion. I don't recall all the particulars of the conduct of the war, but the Roman army did have standards, rules of conduct, and discipline. But, since the "Why?" was not a just reason, this war was not just.
  • Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, which was an unjust aggression, as it fails the first two criteria, Who? and Why? Caesar was not a sovereign and was engaging in Civil War for personal reasons.
  • The American Revolution. The American Revolution was engaged by a Continental Congress consisting of members selected from state governments, which did in fact provide civil government, so it was a sovereign body. It was a war to redress wrongs, and standards of conduct of war were followed. This was a just war.
  • The French Revolution. I'm going to have to read more about this war, as I can't recall enough of the particulars to judge. If any readers have any thoughts I'd welcome them.
  • Napoleon tramping around Europe. Napoleon's ventures were for territorial gain, which is not one of the just reasons for engaging in war. This was not a just conflict.
  • The American Civil War. Two sides to this conflict, North and South. Both sides were run by sovereign authority, both sides had just cause, and had rules and regulations in place regulating the behavior of their soldiers. Both sides had just cause to enter into war.
  • The Great War (WWI). The causes of this war are (if I recall) quite complicated. Like the French Revolution, I will have to study further to venture an opinion. Readers?
  • World War II (Hitler's aggression), which was unjust.
  • World War II American entrance. As for the American entrance into the War, the engagement was legally instituted by Congress, it was to redress wrongs, to redress charitable needs of the conquered, and to prevent injustice. The military followed codes of discipline and did not seek civilian life. It was a just war.
  • The Korean War (American involvement). This was a war enacted by a sovereign body, to redress wrong (naked aggression by North Korea) and to protect our Nation against the spread of global communism which was seen as a threat to our people. It was a just war.
  • Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. I again, beg ignorance of the details.
  • American involvement in Kosovo. This was a legal war, which was engaged for charity. It was a just war.
  • Iraqi War(s). In the course of the earlier essays I touched on the 2nd Iraq war as it is the one in contention today. This war (and the earlier) where just wars.
  • The Iraqi insurgency. The Iraqi insurgents are not a sovereign body, their "Why?" is just, but their "How?" is not. They do not wage a just war.
So where does this lead us. Many wars in the past were just. In the American Civil War, we see two armies facing each other both with a just cause. It is not a requirement that one side be just, and the other unjust. Because a war might be just does not necessarily mean that it is either prudent or required. It is just that in the light of my reasoning, the argument that the Iraqi war is not just does not pass inspection. One still may argue that it was not in our best interest or unwise. However, it is for a just cause and is a "Just War".
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On Just War (part 3)

The final part to Aquinas methodology for thinking about Just War, is "How?", that is to say: How to execute Just War? Certainly one could envision a war, which had just cause, was initiated legally by a sovereign ruler, but was executed in such a way that the war could no longer be considered Just. Aquinas also indicates that part of this question focuses on the intentions of those engaging in war, but I have enfolded that part of the question in the previous essay subtitled "Why?". The execution of Just War requires the following from her military:
  • That the military not specifically target the civilian population and try to respect civilian loss of life and property as much as possible.
  • That the military policies and procedures describing and enforcing a code of conduct. It should be recognized that infractions will occur in wartime.

Again, looking at the War foremost in the public mind currently, Iraq, it is clear that our behavior satisfies the criteria given. While detractors list Abu Graihb as a prime example of how our conduct is not just, but to the contrary the military had halted and was in the process of addressing (via court-martial) all involved before the press "exposed" the infractions. We did have procedures in place, and they were working to minimize such occurrences.

The final essay in this series will examine my partial list of many historical conflicts and to judge them by the criteria laid out.

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A Missed Opportunity

Wretchard at Belmont Club as a long thoughtful post on the current efforts with regards Islam, freedom, and the implications of the inaugural address. He makes some very insightful points, which indicate that perhaps the direction of American foreign will have an important shift in the coming years. He concludes:
Actual foreign policy is unlikely to be formed in such absolutist terms. The usual considerations of national security and commercial gain will probably play a large part in concrete decision making. But unless the 'proclamation of liberty throughout all the world' is wholly rhetorical, it undoubtedly represents a step into uncharted paths.
This issue does not naturally (as I see it) fall on a purely left/right ideological divide and represents an issue which should be pondered and debated. I plan to return his essay in a future post and try to digest what is being said more fully in a future essay of my own.

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Visiting: Blue Goldfish

Back again, into the fray. Today on our "visiting" series, we go to Blue Goldfish for which the host remains anonymous in name, but an extensive biographical sketch is included, which perhaps is more informative than a name. Some of the recent posts include:

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Sunday, January 23

On Just War (part 2)

When considering a doctrine of Just War, the question of "Why?" is the most contentious. What reasons can justify armed assault, in releasing the "dogs of war" on an opposing state? One thread that winds its way in amongst the discussions of those opposing the Afghan or Iraq conflicts currently propose that War is a last and final alternative and to be avoided at great cost. This position regrettably ignores the fact that many things are worse indeed than war. In the recent past, we have resorted to war (or at least armed conflict) to avert genocide. Was that a valid reason? To move further in this discussion it is useful to for a list of some (attempting for all) of the reasons that people have gone to war.
  • Charity War can be enacted as an act of charity. For example as the only method of halting egregious civil rights violations (or injustices) taking place within the borders of a foreign state.
  • Greed or Avarice Expansion, seeking of glory, pride, in fact megalomania (in the part of a ruler), and desire for that which another state possesses has driven many states in the past to use war as a means to satisfy these needs.
  • Defense When attacked, a state will virtually always use war to defend its borders. Additionally, defense can be stated as a reason to attack when it is felt that the opposing state has undeniable malicious intent. Also for example, the Korean war was entertained by the US not so much to defend its borders against a North Korean aggressor, but was seen as a defensive move against global Communism.
  • Expansion To expand the region of control of a state. This is not always just based on Greed or Avarice, but population pressures or for example the doctrine of the US in the 19th century of Manifest Destiny, which was not obviously "greed" but a feeling that the country should naturally expand from "sea to shining sea".
  • Revenge After suffering a defeat or loss, a state or sovereign may choose to lick its wounds and return measure for measure on those who had inflicted past injury.
  • Redress of Wrongs Similar to the previous, but of more virtuous intent, that is to say to recover that which has been taken (Helen of Troy), address the loss of liberty (taxation without representation), or to remove the shackles of an unjust treaty, e.g., one reason stated for Germany entering into WWII, addressing the strictures o the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Contractual Obligation To honor past commitments. Many of the states entering into the "Great War" (WWI) did so to honor treaty agreements. Arguably by numerical measure, most states entering into armed conflict in the 20th century did so to honor treaty agreements.

Which of these reasons can be considered just? Charity, Defense, Redress of Wrongs are Just causes. Contractual obligations can be just depending on the cause (just or not) of one's allies. The rest are not just causes for war.

A final point to consider is that a sovereign must gauge on the one hand the cost of the war with the benefit to its citizens. No sovereign has a accurate view of future events and what the true costs might be. That being said, these questions do not impact the evaluation of a war with respect of whether it might be just or not, just whether it be prudent, which is a different question entirely.

As to the current war which occupies so much of the current discourse, the Iraq conflict, Congress listed the reasons for the conflict as one of defense against suspected WMD efforts. Additional reasons cited were charitable intentions related to alleviating abuses of his own citizens inflicted various ethnic groups within Iraq.

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Saturday, January 22

On Just War (part 2)

One facet of Aquinas dissertation on Just War is inescapable. He breaks the problem into three:
  • Who can initiate and carry out war? Or Who?
  • What are just causes to enter into war? Or Why?
  • What is the just way to carry out war? Or How?
Each of these topics are large enough to fill the expanse (and more, certainly) of one post each. So, to get started, this post will concentrate on the first question, Who?

Aquinas answered this question in brief, indicating that war is only just if enacted by a sovereign ruler. However, it seems to me that on some occasions revolt against one's sovereign is justified, e.g., When in the course of Human Events .... To be a recognized sovereign ruler two conditions must be met. The sovereign must take on the responsibilities to his or its subjects which are expected of a sovereign and must be recognized by other sovereign bodies as a legal authority. Thus a group of rebels in the hills, revolting against injustice, are not engaging in just war if they have not assumed judicial and civil responsibilities for the people they claim to represent. If they do not, they are just private citizens engaging in a personal attempt to wrest control of that government. This may be an understandable motivation for engaging in conflict, but there is a gap between understanding and justification. Thus, going back to some of the examples from history, the Continental Congress and the Southern states in the Civil war satisfy this criteria while Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon does not.

One other point, I am not going to enter into technical pseudo-intellectual debate about implementation of the reflexive properties of "recognition", e.g., how does the first sovereign body get established or how many other sovereign bodies are required to recognize a given sovereign before it is valid. I'm going to let it rest as a practical common-sense definition.

Summarizing, I concur with Aquinas that a War is not Just when engaged by a group which is not a sovereign body. Further, one recognizes a sovereign body by its actions, in that it fills the civil and legal responsibilities natural to a sovereign, and by recognition. Recognition requires that other sovereign bodies in the international community recognize the body in question.

As to the current war which engages much of this debate (Iraq), Congress certainly had the authority as the sovereign body in the US to engage in War. It remains to be seen whether the other criteria are met, but justification on grounds of sovereignty cannot be questioned.

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Visiting: Damascus Road

On with Meet Your Neighbors inspired by the MYN series on Evangelical Outpost, or on this blog, my "visiting" series. Today we go off to Damascus Road brought to all and sundry on the Internet by Guy Cannon (the surname may be wrong, but that's the e-mail address on the front page). A beautiful layout on the header page for a blog, IMHO. Notable recent entries:
  • Jim His son Jim is seriously ill. Mr Cannon updates us on his status, and asks that we remember him in our prayers.
  • War On Terror is a post asking a question posed to the critics of the War on Terror,
    Will you, ummm….can you, offer one, just one, constructive alternative to the Bush policy as it exists today? Oh, and before you repeat the mantra that there is no policy, let me remind you of two very salient facts: First, to insist that we are at war with only Iraq, is to completely miss the point. The current conflict we are engaged in is not just a “war against Iraq". It is only one front in the ongoing global war against terror.
    I've asked that question here on this blog. I'm afraid, there us usually no response.
  • Love From Psalm 103: 8-14 Mr Cannon offers a reflection
    When I look back over the course of my life, I am so grateful for the attributes of the Lord that are expressed in the above passage. Where would my relationship with the Lord be if these verses from Psalm 103 were not true? I would be alone and alienated from the creator of the universe. ...
    and prayer
    Father, thank you for your love. Thank you that you took the form of man, came to earth, and willingly suffered the punishment that I so justly deserve. Thank you for your redemptive work on the cross. Thank you, that because of that work and my acceptance of you as Savior, I am promised a life eternal with you. Most especially, thank you that the same redemption is available to all those that call upon your name.

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Friday, January 21

For a laugh

A Response on the FMA/SSM Issue

Two very well written engaging and thoughtful posts addressing my FMA post which I wrote spurred on by an invitation from ~DS~ (here and here). I'd like to make a few comments in response. Since I have not the time today to write a organized well thought out reply, I'm going to resort to that ghastly last resort of the essayist, namely bullet items.
  • As I had said in my post, I didn't recall the source of the study to which I had referred and as a result was not able to go back and re-examine it in detail. As presented by Mr Kuznicki it is not a convincing study. I am not qualified to judge either way.
  • Mr Brayton implies that my reluctance to bring the study forth was a deliberate ploy to hide weak evidence. But, in fact, that was not the case, it truly was me recalling vaguely something I had read 9 months or so earlier. This issue is not a "hot" topic for myself. I've been blogging 2-3 essays per day since I started at the beginning of October. This was the 2nd post I've penned which even mentioned SSM (and I don't think it was the main point of the first) and I'm an Anglican.
  • My concern did (and still does) remain with the growing perception of marriage as a institution uniting two adults (for legal benefits) and not one designed for the protection and nuturing of our children. If SSM impacts that or not is up to question, but it seems likely it might.
  • As my contention of legal rights, as I said, my impression was that those rights were available to gay couples. Mr Koznicki says they are not. If they are not, that is wrong.
  • As for his comments regarding respect,
    Far too often, the gay community has been spoiled, immature, ignorant, and yes, purely anti-family. I don't seek to apologize for these people. In return, I ask that you do not judge me along with them. I ask to be considered as an individual--not as a member of some shadowy, vaguely-defined gay community.
    Uhm, that's exactly the point I was trying to make. SSM won't get my respect. Essays like you just penned, Mr Koznicki, will.
  • As for the political points with respect to the President which started this essay off, Mr Brayton insists that there was a strong political push to pass a FMA prior to the election. I am certainly not as sensitive to these issues as himself, but am not unaware of political events. I saw nothing like the push that would be realistically required to pass a Constitutional amendment in this regard at any time. So I think that the idea that this issue was just a cold blooded calculation to get votes doesn't pass muster. As I pointed out the voters energized and opposing SSM where never going to vote for Mr Kerry.
  • Finally, at Mr Koznicki's request, I will reconsider my opposition. However, I ask for your patience, I'm in the middle of three other "blog-projects" right now on top of my ordinarily busy life. I will get to it, but probably not soon.
  • One more thing, Mr Brayton ends by appealing to moral right. I'm in the middle of a lot of muddled thinking about Christian government, moral rights, and issues like that, which is why I avoided commenting on his points in that regard.

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Just a little bias eh?

Chrenkoff: Bad news from Iraq
Being avid consumers of news, most of us are aware of the consistent stream of negative reporting coming out of Iraq. Death, violence, terrorism, precarious political situation, problems with reconstruction and public frustration (both in Iraq and America) dominate, if not overwhelm, the mainstream media coverage and commentary on Iraq. The readers' reactions to my fortnightly 'Good news from Iraq' segments show just how little good news reaches people.
Mr Chrenkoff goes on to tabulate just how many stories came out today about Iraq. The negative stories out number stories with anything positive to say be a factor of 20-30 to 1.

(HT: Evangelical Outpost)
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Visiting Deep Calls to Deep

Continuing with the Meet Your Neighbors call of Joe's, today I visit Deep Calls to Deep (A New Kind of Christian) hosted by Steve Sparrow. This blog doesn't have a "mission statement" or states purpose, but a cheery welcome,
Welcome to my journal, take a look around and join in the conversation, say hello, say whatever you want really. Cheers - Steve
Some of the last few posts of note:

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Thursday, January 20

On Bush Not Supporting FMA

A frequent commenter who goes by the Internet nom de plume DarkSyd requested a comment on this essay by "Ed" (go read it, as they say, I'll wait). I have seen discussions about this issue elsewhere poking around the net today, but wasn't moved to write on it. The contention is the President is abandoning the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) push having just used it for political capital in the election campaign and then dropping it. This wouldn't be the first time a pol used such tactics, but it is always disappointing when it occurs.

First, to make my position clear, for myself, I currently oppose Same Sex Marriage (SSM) for reasons relating to social engineering. Studies done in Scandinavia have shown that with the passing of SSM, the rate of children left in single parent homes has very much been on the rise since SSM was instituted. It was proposed (and the study produced data to back this contention up) that this rise was correlated with SSM in that this has encouraged thought that marriage was not about family, children, and clan, but instead is a relationship (especially sexual) between two adults. This leaves children, all too often, out in the cold. But, alas, I no longer know where I saw the link, but it was on this web site, interested readers can search. Finally, one of the arguments in favor of SSM concern "respect" for the gay community. It is my understanding that all of the legal rights which at issue that might be resolved by SSM already are available to the gay couples desiring them. It is "respect" they wish. I fail to see how SSM will achieve that end. I think Joe Carter's "recycled" post on this issue is very relevant.

That being said, it doesn't necessarily follow that FMA was the Presidents highest priority on the campaign trail. It was my impression that both he and Mr Kerry skirted around that issue where possible. Backed into a corner by events in Massachusetts and San Francisco, this issue could not be avoided. However the idea that anything he might have said on that issue would have mattered very much to most of the electorate is a little naive. Anyone who thinks that the President doesn't now push this issue hard enough is dellusional if they believe Mr Kerry would have been a better supported of FMA.

As the claim that the president, in not spending the political capital earned by the election on pushing for the FMA is abandoning the fundamentalists who supported him based mainly on that reason. I'm a little confused by that, where is the voting bloc who would have supported Mr Kerry except for sticking point the FMA? I think that constituency was never in play. With Mr Kerry supporting state sponsored abortions anyhow, anywhere, for anyone and opposing parental consent for minors, well I think for example the intersection of the set of FMA opponents and the set of those whose opinions on abortion mirrors Mr Kerry's is vanishingly small. The President has chosen to spend his post election political capital to attack Social Security as his first major initiative. Currently, I support that idea (not necessarily his plan) 100%, although I reserve the right to change my mind pending the results of my ongoing reflections on entitlements and Christian charity.

There is one last point to address, one which ~DS~ has echoed in the past so it must be a familiar meme echoing out there:
If a Federal Marriage Amendment or an overturning of Roe v. Wade actually passed, they would have nothing to run against. They'd have nothing left on which to point the finger at those godless evil pagan usurpers, no way to exploit the issue and make people afraid. And fear, ladies and gentlemen, is the lifeblood of politics. You get out the vote by exploiting people's fear of Them.
Now an amendment takes a lot of political will to pass, 2/3 of Senate + House then it goes to the states. Overturning Roe v Wade requires a judiciary which will not sqawk when laws overturning it are written. I'm no expert, but I've heard no estimates that indicate either is a realistic possibility. The Partial-Birth ban passed, but enforcement is currently jammed in the courts. A more ambitious law likely would not fair much better. Drumming up support by emphasizing your differences is a definition of politics. Calling it exploiting people's fear of them is just a rhetorical ploy.

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Joe Carter today in his "outtakes" (Meet Your Neighbor) had a great idea. Using his new blogroll "The Church Directory" he created/sponsored, his idea was visiting day by day, one of the bloggers in the list. Then write a summary of his impression on viewing their blog possibly having visited for the first time. Praising it's good points, welcome it into the fold, and so on. Anyhow, I've taken his advice to heart. I'm going to visit one of these blogs as well each day (in random order) and write about what if find. Today, I visit hosted by Brad Mills, a blog about:
What's On the Menu: God, Family, Fresno, Politics, News, yada, yada, yada..
Mr Mills last posts were
  • Amber Frey book signing in Fresno
    Instead of trying to gain some privacy again, Amber has accepted her instant-celebrity status and taken it to the next level. She has been traveling around the country talking to anyone willing to televise an interview with her. Some question her motives, and wonder if she isn't taking advantage of an unfortunate situation. I believe Amber was caught in a catch-22. It isn't appropriate to expect her to disappear. Anyone placed in her shoes would likely do the same thing with this opportunity. My question for Amber is...How much of the books proceeds will be going to the Laci Peterson Fund?
  • Re-circulation of an excellent prayer
  • The Iraqis want to vote among other points (and pictures!) Mr Mills gives us
    "For us, right now, this is like a new birthday," said Ali Alhachem of Dearborn. "And we say thank you very much for the USA people, thank you very much for the USA government, thank you very much President Bush."

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On Entitlements and Christian Charity

There is a common meme on the left that the reason the right does not support their government sponsored charities is that the right is more concerned with amassing personal wealth and does not "care" for the poor. This is ironically an uncharitable misconception. When this misconception is addressed, we arrive at a more useful dialog, i.e., discussions of policy. I think it would be useful to arrive at a organized consistent formulation about how we should consider the relation between government, individual, and the virtue of charity. Following my start on inquiring into Just War, I'll begin with listing disconnected ideas on this topic before organizing them.
  • Objections from the right about Entitlements center on two primary concerns. First is the effectiveness of the programs, do they accomplish their ends? The second is the ethics of the programs, on what principles are they founded?
  • I've stated before, that charity when done via governmental authority distances individuals enough from the act that it does nothing to foster individual charity. When charity is provided for selected individuals by race or circumstance in our society that can engender resentment in those who are forced to provide said charity. Some may even oppose the charity they in which they are now forced to participate. Now, it has been pointed out, that some of the charity requested of our government is to "fix" injustices caused by that same government. Also, some charitable projects, disaster relief for example, are too large and too immediate for personal acts of charity to make a difference. So one must consider these points before taking (for example) an absolute position opposing government charity.
  • Governmental charitable acts while well meaning are very often inefficient, ill-managed, corrupt, and in fact counter productive. Diplomad lists today as one of his "Top Ten Wrong Ideas that People Around the World Still Believe", number 2
    Foreign Aid Helps Poor People. No. Foreign aid largely helps the High Priest Vulture Elite, airlines, restaurants, hotels, car-rental companies and other service industries that cater to the HPVE. Freedom, trade, capitalism and education help poor people. Plus it also matters that their culture teaches them a work ethic (see number 8 below). The old saw that "foreign aid is when the poor people of a rich country give money to the rich people of a poor country" has more than a kernel of truth. BTW, try to name any country that has been developed by foreign aid.
  • It seems that one of the problems with supporting entitlements, welfare, and material handouts is believing that they can rectify or fix cultural problems.
  • Considering incentives is a paramount issue when government intervention or entitlements are at issue. Considerations of the motivations and incentives that the aid in question will effect should be a primary consideration for anything but very short term aid.
  • It would be a better world if ... retirement benefits, cheap and plentiful medical care, affordable housing was assured for all. Some of these may be achievable. Some of these, like cheap and plentiful medical care are just legislation of a strong held wish. We can't send everyone to the moon, who might wish to go. We can't provide all the medical care available for everyone for the same reason. We can't afford it. Just because it would be nice if ... is true doesn't mean that government and taxation are either the best way to achieve your end, or even a good way. What you wish for may be a pipe dream (like IMHO medical care).
  • Efficiencies of government programs are always overstated. It is claimed SS suffers only a 3% overhead. IRS collections it is claimed have an astoundingly low cost overhead relative to business or NGO collections. However, neither of these agencies figure into their costs that the burden of the paperwork and collection is placed (by law) on the taxpayers and businesses from which they collect. The IRS is efficient, because they don't count as costs the blizzard of paperwork, time, and accounting required by individuals and businesses from whom they collect. If you factor that in, lo and behold, instead of the most efficient, the truth is nearer to least efficient.

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Wednesday, January 19

Alternatives to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit (Part 3)

Find part 2 (here) and from there the start of this particular project. We had arrived at a set of "rights" derived mainly from Torah (except I took a right to charity , they were:
  • A right to worship my God, or freedom of religion.
  • A right to raise my family in a righteous manner
  • A right not to be killed
  • A right to property
  • A right to a fair system of jurisprudence.
  • A right to charity
  • Finally we note, sexual freedom is not a right.
There was one unanswered question to address before diving in and trying to devise a system of government which supports these rights.

The first question was one raised by Mr Pierce (Parableman) two weeks ago when I came up with this list of rights. He asked, when does a moral right imply a legal right? Always? The answer seems forthright. These rights are (literally) God given. However, having been given these rights, I may still (not under duress) yield them in part to social contract. Thus it seems those moral rights are should also be legal rights where not ceded by all to the collective community for safety and security.

What form of government if any does this suggest. These rights as given do not in fact go far towards helping us establish the type of government, except that it needs some established common law and that all members of the society should be under that law for in order to maintain those rights all members must respect the structures put in place to establish these given rights. While the clan/patriarchy, judgeship, and finally kingdom was established by the people of Israel, there is never (to my knowledge) a firm indication from God that this is how things must be aligned. In fact, when the kingship of Saul is first established by Samuel, there is some indication that this is pressed upon Samuel, who doesn't think very highly of this idea.

How would this change our feelings about our government? Well, for our legislators and jurists instead of holding the truths self evident as stated in our Declaration, we would have to consider a different set of guiding principles (those listed above). I would imagine that common law would evolve quite differently in this philosophical environment. For the final essay in this series I will attempt to imagine how that might evolve. As for the rest of the government, a system much like that established by Mr Adams and perfected by Mr Madison et al, with checks and balances would be wise, because our set of rights and their origin (Scripture) indicate that man is inherently sinful. This was in fact a guiding principle for our founders which has held for some time now.

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A Challenge to the Non-Believers

Update: So far two takers, Jim and Mr Moderate. The books I have to be read have yet to be determined. Two more?

Update 2: The book I will be reading on Jim's suggestion is Awakenings by Dr Oliver Sacks. I have ordered it via inter-library loan.

Update 3: A third taker! Rob Ryan has me up on this. When he tells me what I'm reading, I'll pass on the update.

Off and on for a few weeks now, I've been commenting here and there about N.T. Wright. Mr Wright uses modern historical methodologies to examine the 1st century history, specifically questions surrounding Jesus, Paul, and the Early Christian Church. Just as we study Caesar, Cato, or Tiberias, we can use historical methods to study Jesus. Without question these historical figures and their doings have had great impact on our culture and its development, be you believer or not. See the extended post for some of my reasons for wanting to do this challenge.

So here's my challenge, you go out, get a copy of The Challenge of Jesus, from Amazon, a bookstore, or your local library system. I don't care. Read it (it's short only 200 pages), and post or e-mail me with your comments (I'll post your comments if you allow that). In return, I'll do the same. Pick a book, any book. I'll get it, read it, and post a few essay's concerning what I think about it here on my blog.

I'll take the first four offers (to limit my "reading" liability).

Here are some of my reasons:
  • Many of the non-Christian posters seem to have a poor understanding of the breadth of different interpretations considered "doctrine" in today's "shattered" church(es).
  • This is one such interpretation that seems to me might be more difficult for today's Enlightenment influenced agnostic or atheist to dismiss out of hand, as to do so would require dismissing much if not all historical inquiry.
  • The book is short, readable, and well written.
  • On a personal selfish note, I really do want to hear what a "differently" biased person might say when reading this.

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On Human Perfectibility

Frequent commenter here and on Evangelical Outpost, Dark Syd, writing on UTI, has penned a piece Monday about his "Dream" for our future. DS has put to "ink" his dreams for our future, and they read a lot like the utopian ideals of Star Trek. Alas, I think, that like the writers of "The Next Generation" his view of the perfectibility of man is not grounded in deep insights into the nature of men.

DS writes:
I dream that one day drastic divisions of wealth will be a historical oddity, that all men and women will be held as equally deserving of the benefits we produce, that no longer will some revel in decadent excess while other subsist in abject misery, fighting for scraps of food and a swallow of clean water. I harbor the hope that automation and artificial intelligence will engender a society in which expense carries no connotation of forced human labor, in which value is the sole propriety of talent and ability, instead of animal-like drudgery and industrial servitude. I see a world of wondrous machines, large and small, carrying out the mundane tasks and manual chores now foisted upon the bending, breaking, backs of humanity, and I see people reserving for themselves only those careers and interest they personally enjoy.
I dream that genetic research, medical treatments, and nanotechnology, along with items we have not yet even conceived of, will conquer all disease, banish birth defects, and radically extend our time on this planet. In my dream no longer will we have to rush headlong through our hurried mayfly lives. At last we will have time to live a hundred mortal circuitions, to learn the exquisite intricacies of the universe, and to love our fellows unabridged by fear or insecurities.
All well and good, but examine our current culture and our history over the last 3000 years.

Several millenia ago, an unknown author penned a book we call Genesis. In this book, DS's dreams were specifically anticipated and addressed. In the 11th chapter, that unknown author wrote:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel -because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Why did the LORD stop their efforts, confuse their language. Did he do it because, he might "fear" their project would be successful. The correct understanding of this, IMHO, is that the language was confused and scattered because the project was futile. The Lord wished to tell us that this project is doomed to fail. He wanted us to know that we needed keep trying to lift ourselves by the bootstraps, that maybe next time, we might get it right if only we avoid the mistakes we made "last time". Man is not by himself perfectible. While with our one language, Mathematics, the lingua franca of the scientific world, we can again plan to achieve the impossible, it will not gain us what we seek.

Later thinkers, Hobbes, Voltaire, through Kant were also pessimistic about the prospects of man perfecting the "goodness" in himself. As we perfect our mastery of our physical world, are we at the same time perfecting our master of ourselves. Are our baser natures getting less or more pronounced today? Our bodies are fitter, our minds are spoon fed the knowledge we need to use the technological tools we have acquired, but do we feed our souls? We spend our time learning the wizardy necessary to drive the technological gristmill on, but spend less and less time thinking about the ends to which we will put our mastery to use. Our technical advances have not been matched in any measure by advances in perfecting the relationships between ourselves. DS hopes that technology will give him the cure for the evils that lurk the hearts of men. Technology rarely deigns to reach into those realms. He hopes that in a land of plenty, we will not become Mr Well's Eloi or the drug hazed Alphas, Betas, and Gammas of Huxley's Brave New World. St. Paul tells us in Romans 5, that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character. In a world without suffering where would we get the character to use our talents wisely. Without mortality, for what will one strive? Of the great men of the past, on whose shoulders we now rest, how many of them were tempered by luxury into the men they became?

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Tuesday, January 18

A Good Read

A new blogger from the SDRU (State Department Repulblican Underground) New Sisyphus has a long and worthwhile post on competing philosophies underpinning Welfare (and some thoughts about how that relates to the EU and our foreign policy).

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A final word on the elections

Hopefully (from me at least). Ms Boxer held the House and Senate captive for 2 hours to grandstand about "unfair" voting procedures in Ohio. From Captains Quarters, we find
Captain's Quarters: "The complaints center on Cuyahoga County, of course, where Cleveland voters complained of standing in line for hours due to the lack of voting machines, a side effect of the higher turnout from 2000. However, what Kerry doesn't mention -- again -- is that Cuyahoga County election officials are Democrats, not Republicans. The county goes heavily Democratic in elections at all levels. If anyone screwed Cuyahoga County voters, it's the Democrats who have always promised their minority-bloc voters the moon and delivered below subsistence." Just as in Florida in 2000, the Democrats are up in arms about their own performance. The complain about "difficult" and "confusing" ballots, which were designed by their own committees. And the lack of voting machines and facilities in counties in which it is the Democratic officials setting it up. Captains Quarters has a related post here. One might wonder why Ms Boxer didn't point out those irregularities as well. Oh wait, I forgot there was that unexamined concept that more voters is always better.
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Shared Cognitive Dissonance

Right and left share a little cognitive dissonance with regards to their view on the role of government especially when comparing domestic and foreign relations. On the left, government is seen as the "last best hope for mankind" (apologies to B5) with regards to a plethora of social programs but at the same time the scourge of the planet with regards to its presence overseas. On the right, social programs are viewed as a necessary evil to be minimized wherever possible because of their corruption, inefficiency, and waste but at the same time seen as a ray of hope and bastion of democracy in a corrupt wicked world. The truth, as it so often does, most likely lies in neither of these two extreme positions. (That's all to this post).
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On Wishful Thinking

When it comes to Medicare it seems that this program and support for it is largely derived from a lot of wishful thinking. Thinking along the lines of wouldn't it be nice if we could insure that medical care will be cheap for all the elderly. Costs for medical care are high and rising fast. New medical technologies are developed at a blistering pace, but those new procedures are not at bargain basement prices. Now, I'm not going to be developing here a long post about entitlements, Christian thought, and conservative or liberal thinking. But instead, offer some ideas why those costs might be rising so fast.

Now it is claimed that torts, malpractice insurance, and the defensive medical habits engendered by excessive use of law courts to "perfect" our medical community contribute less than 3% to the end user costs of medicine. And that the doctors bear the costs for that insurance. That this cost to the consumer is so low, is a hard case to make for a citizen of Illinois like myself, since where I live there are no neurologists at any nearby hospitals. All have left because of those increased costs those doctors "were asked to bear". Costs certainly have risen indeed if a thing is no longer available at any price. I think in general our society goes to litigation far to quickly, but I don't have a good solution for that, as that is cultural not legal issue.

The FDA is probably the biggest culprit in the rising costs of medicine. I've seen some FDA regulations first hand in the workplace. FDA regulations remind me of the inefficiencies of NASA. There are consequences of insisting that paperwork, regulation, and umpteen layers of bureaucracy being required to protect us the consumer. So when you complain about the cost your drugs, recall that much of that cost is by "our" request. It might be nice if we could have a choice between paying for drugs protected by the best (most) bureaucratic machinery money can buy or perhaps get those made in a more open market. Recall also, it wasn't a hide bound bureaucracy that developed the SR-71. That FDA bureaucracy doesn't just make drugs and medicine cost more. It slows progress as well.

The last reason is how our insurance industry and incentives have lined up. Medical insurance pays for most of our health care these days. For the insurer is in the short term interest for costs to be kept down. In the long term, the higher those costs go up, while the profit "slice" received by the insurer will likely be regulated to a percentage of the costs, higher costs there mean more money to spread around, i.e., higher medical costs are very much in the long term interest of the insurance industry. This concept is almost certainly not lost on them.

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Monday, January 17

On Just War (part 1)

I'll start by collecting my thoughts. I promised a commenter (Mr Larson) a essay on Just War. I am not ready yet form a coherent essay, but I thought in preparation I'd jot down a few thoughts while I get organized, and perhaps elicit a few comments in the meantime. As I ponder this topic I realize it is a much bigger topic than the typical blog post, although I don't either count my "words" nor tend to write particularly short essays. So here's my plan. Today, I'm just going to bang a lot of short points out. Then tomorrow, I'll look at it and decide how I need to organize my thoughts and plan the layout of the "rest" of the posts on this topic. Then, I'll get down to work and start banging them out. So, on to random thoughts:

  • Aquinas theory on just war makes a good starting point. It is concise, to the point and can be applied to many situations. It also has the added benefit, from my particular political persuasion, of being easily applied to the current Iraq war and reconstruction and justifying those actions. On the other hand, I don't think it does apply very well to the Revolutionary War, which I would tend to also support. Or to restate, if Aquinas theory is taken as correct, a War may be un-Just, but still gain my personal support which makes no sense so I may have to revise my opinion of Just War. Aquinas theory take three main points
    1. The War must be started by legal governmental authority
    2. It must be done for "legitimate purposes", i.e., not for personal gain.
    3. The war must be conducted correctly
  • However, some of the other theories of war I've recently encountered find it hard to justify acting against Germany for example in World War II while at the same time describing the Iraq war as unjustified (these justifications also tend to ignore the fact that technically we were not at peace with Iraq when commencing with the 2nd Iraq offensive).
  • To my current understanding, having never read the actual charter, the UN is a malformed organization. As I've stated before, when we as citizens enter into social contract to form a state, we give up some of our individual rights for our collective good. The nation states in forming the UN wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They formed a UN, pretend that it has authority, but also state emphatically that they are not giving up any individual rights to that organization. Because they did not give up those rights, the existence of the UN is something of a collective fiction. To be honest, with the fact that perhaps a majority of the states which belong to the UN represent individuals holding sway over repressive regimes, that is probably a good thing.
  • Why am I discussing the UN in a essay on Just War. Well, the UN is a multinational organization which is in conception is supposed to regulate and legitimize such actions. The ethical/moral status of the UN does enter in as a factor in that regard. To whit, as currently constructed can the UN legitimately play a role in determining whether a war is just or not.
  • Aquinas conditions for Just War depend somewhat crucially on the motivations of the "leader". In this case, that would be the Senate for Presidents do not have the authority to declare war. How do we determine such a thing?
  • In light of the first point, lets make a list of some of the past Wars, which I will use in my future considerations on Just War. I won't comment on just/unjust today I have a strong opinion.
    • The assault by Agamemnon and the host against Ilium.
    • Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, .
    • Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, which was an unjust aggression.
    • The American Revolution
    • The French Revolution
    • Napoleon tramping around Europe
    • The American Civil War.
    • The Great War (WWI)
    • World War II (Hitler's aggression), which was unjust.
    • World War II American entrance
    • The Korean War
    • Soviet aggression in Afghanistan
    • American involvement in Kosovo
    • Iraqi War(s)
    • And the toppling of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan
  • I agree with C.S. Lewis that the position of the complete pacifist is not tenable. War is "hell" as they say, but it is not always the worst alternative. While I may turn my "other cheek" it is a different thing entirely to turn my child's cheek.
  • The discussion Abram has with YHWH prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis is a political lesson about the death of innocents sometimes being required for a greater good to be accomplished.

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