Monday, December 27, 2004

An Urgent Call for Aid

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Well, Merry Christmas! Or Happy Kwanzaa, whatever the hell that is. I had originally intended to post a sentimental piece on the true meaning of Christmas, but it has been overtaken by events I must cover first. The other piece will appear later.

Unless you are an extremely self-centered individual or you are completely isolated from the rest of humankind, you know of the horrific events of Sunday. Off the coast of Indonesia, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the strongest in 40 years, set off monstrous tsunamis that have left an unparalleled and unprecedented swath of destruction across the Indian Ocean basin from Thailand to Somalia. At the time of this writing, more than 22,000 are confirmed dead in 10 nations and that number is expected to rise further.

For comparison, we lost less than 3,000 individuals in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In terms of loss of life, that makes this more than 7 times worse than 9/11, and about 4 times worse than the bloodiest day in American history, September 17, 1862, the day of the battle of Antietam in the Civil War. All the horrible bloodletting of those clear September days pales before the cataclysm that has now descended on Southern Asia.

The scale of this tragedy is beyond the ability of us mere mortals to even truly comprehend. So, perhaps the natural human reaction is to say, "That's really sad. Now please pass the sports page." But the people in this region need aid NOW! This is likely to be the costliest natural disaster in human history. Relief organizations are rushing to the scene, but they need our help. This is where you and I come in.

A good organization to contribute to is the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) I can personally vouch for UMCOR. Several years ago, a devastating earthquake killed more than 20,000 people in India. Wanting to help, I inquired as to whether the church that I attended was doing anything for the victims of this disaster. When the answer came back in the negative, I led a drive at my church that garnered almost a thousand dollars one Sunday for UMCOR's relief efforts in India. UMCOR does this kind of thing all the time and they are good at it. They have the infrastructure in place to respond rapidly to any disaster, anywhere in the world. They just need the financial resources to help. Other good reputable organizations just off the top of my head include the Red Cross ( and Doctors Without Borders (

It may sound like a tired, worn-out cliche, but no matter how much or how little you can give, every little bit helps. I implore everyone who reads this to ask themselves "What can I do?" Maybe, like Isaiah, a little voice inside you will respond, "Here I am Lord. Send me."

Saturday, December 18, 2004


By: Michael Akerman

Shameless Plug: Join the new forums!

'Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the web
People kept saying
That Christmas was dead
"It's just made up anyway,"
The Slashdotters said.

"The dates are all wrong
And Christ's story ain't said.
It's all about shopping
For presents and gifts;
About telling kids Santa
Will fulfill their lists."

But a voice out of nowhere
Reminded them this,
"God so loved the world
That he gave us his son,
Such that those who believe,
Have lives never done."

The Slashdotters went silent.
They thought upon this.
Perhaps they hadn't seen,
'Neath the presents and gifts,
That God's love still resided,
Christ's story was told.
Parents still told the tale
Of God's gift to his fold.

And it's true what they thought:
Through commercialism's veil,
Kid's still learn the story,
Parents tell the grand tale.
Christmas still lives,
It's heart still beats strong.
Those who worry for the season
Have their worries placed wrong.

Know this, my friends,
Christmas still lives on.
Through the ribbons and bows,
Under carols and songs,
Children still learn of,
Yes, people still know,
About that holiest child
Born long ago.

Yes folks, it's the week before Christmas: the one day of the year when Jesus rises from the dead, and we have to soothe him back into the grave by singing Christmas carols.

Umm... seriously, though, people worry about the overcommercialization of Christmas. They say we forget about Jesus. I think my poem sums it up nicely: they're wrong. People haven't forgotten. People still go to church, they still remember Jesus. The only thing that reducing the commercialization would bring is removing something that brings joy to many people.

Incidentally, some Christmas history:

People think that Christmas date is arbitrary. Well, largely, it is. Christmas is on the 25th in, as one may be surprised to know, a pagan tradition. Precisely, the Christian leaders of 336 A.D. wanted to eclipse the then-popular Roman Pagan holiday, Saturnalia, as well as several other prevalent pagan events based on the winter solstice. Not knowing Jesus' true birthday anyway, Christmas was set as the date of his celebration. Originally, this was a simple mass. No pomp, no circumstance, no tree.

Over time, Christmas grew more popular (like Microsoft) and absorbed several nearby competitors (like Microsoft). The Christmas tree came from a German tradition, but is reported to have been popular as far back as ancient Egypt. Mistletoe is associated with Frigga, the Scandinavian goddess of love, which is where the kissing tradition came from. Mistletoe was banned by the Christian church due to its idolatrous nature toward Frigga, and the church recommended the use of holly, for which they made up the symbolism that the red berries symbolized Christ's blood, and the pointed leaves his Crown of Thorns. Interestingly, holly itself was pagan before its acceptance in the Church.

The Yule Log came from a tradition of bringing luck upon the family by bringing in a large block of oak, which would sit in the fire and glow through the 12 days of Christmas (I'll get to that in a moment). If the log successfully burned throughout the 12 days, it was said to bring good luck.

Some traditions, of course, sprang from others. The Christmas tree tradition gradually spawned a tradition of decorating the tree. According to legend, Martin Luther was the first person to put candles on the tree. The twelve days of Christmas, similarly, spawned from the celebration of Jesus' birth, purportedly to commemorate the arrival of the Magi (who supposedly showed up 12 days later). By the way, the 12 days of Christmas do not start 12 days before Christmas, but rather, on Christmas itself. Christmas is the first day of Christmas, so you haven't yet missed 5 days of Christmas.

Christmas carols came out of medieval dances (also called carols) that were assimilated by the Anglo-Saxons into small choirs who stood in the town green singing for passerby. This became a Christmas tradition which eventually evolved into the roaming carolers we have today. Christmas carols, of course, created Christmas music, of which "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby (sung by Bing, rather. Written by Irving Berlin) is considered the most popular of modern times ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/With every Christmas card I write," and so forth). And Christmas music is played constantly in nearly every store because we've been psychologically conditioned to open our wallets when we hear it (I'm making that up, by the way).

Gift giving really got into full swing in the late 1800s, again to commemorate the Magi, but also because of an interesting marketing story. Gift giving really picked up after the modern Santa Claus evolved, practically overnight. Of course, St. Nick was originally a man who was exceedingly generous and performed several miracles centering on this generosity. However, he had no sleigh, no reindeer, no belly-shaking-like-a-bowl-full-of-jelly, and he didn't come down the chimney until one man wrote a short story for his children. In 1822, Clement Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas," in which all of these facets appeared. Santa was later developed more fully by Harper's Weekly in a series of engravings showing Santa's workshop, elves, and Santa making his list and checking it twice.

Santa's red and white suit, by the way, are based on the traditional robes of a bishop.

Rudolph also came about from a short poem, handed out by the Montgomery Ward chain in 1939. Again, Rudolph appeared practically overnight.

There you have it. A short aggregate of Christmas history. Most of this, by the way, is drawn from How Stuff Works, and no, I didn't simply plagiarize it.

So, this Christmas, celebrate Jesus, but remember the rich history of the modern Christmas. Commercialism's a good thing. Enjoy it.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Thursday, December 16, 2004

New Forums

By: Michael Akerman

I went ahead and changed forums. I liked ProBoards, but I found that I no longer checked it because it was s.o.o.o. s.l.o.o.o.w.

You can find the new boards (Invision powered) above and here.

~Michael Akerman

Sunday, December 12, 2004

If You Think About It...

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Of Armor and Responsibility

Rummy, Rummy, Rummy man! Can't you get anything right?

Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld went on a trip to the Middle East this past week. He was scheduled to appear at Camp Buehring, a base in Kuwait from which troops are rotated into Iraq. You know, one of those PR events where the civilian leader of the military takes questions from rank and file troops. Usually, this is a carefully choreographed ritual designed to show people back home how very supportive our troops are of our leaders. Except it didn't quite work out that way.

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, Tennessee National Guard, asked a disturbing question: "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?... We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north." Don't believe him? Read this:

(Tell me what's wrong with this picture: we have the greatest military force in the history of mankind, and our troops have to dig through landfills to collect enough scrap metal to armor the vehicles they are being sent into battle with.)

The other 2,300 or so troops at the "town hall meeting" cheered and applauded the question. The lack of armor on these vehicles was troubling to these soldiers soon to be deployed to Iraq. Soldiers are trained to show respect to their superior officers. To ask such a brazen question is an indication of the desperation these soldiers must feel. They felt they deserved an answer.

The response they got instead was classic Rumsfeldian obfuscation: "It's essentially a matter of physics, not a matter of money. It's a matter of production and the capability of doing it." "As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and it can [still] be blown up."

Interestingly enough, this was not the first time a soldier had asked Rumsfeld this very question. In Baghdad on May 13, 2004, according to Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers were asked this question: "The new -- (off mike) -- humvees they're bringing over with the -- (inaudible) -- those doors are not as good as the ones on the up-armored humvees -- (inaudible). We even lost quite -- we lost some soldiers due to them, and we're trying to make a change -- (inaudible). The question is, are we going to get more up-armored humvees?"

To which Myers responded, "You do not have all the up-armored humvees you need... Production is ramping up this month... We're trying to get them to you as fast as we can... It's not a matter of resources, it's a matter of how fast can we build these things and get them over here. And I review that probably daily, the status of those machines and that equipment that can help... So we're trying. We're trying hard... I understand exactly everything you said, and we'll do our best. And that's our responsibility." [emphasis mine]

So, let's see, a soldier brings this problem to the attention of Rumsfeld and Myers in May, and in December another soldier has to ask the same question because nothing has been done. That's right, the Army hasn't ordered its supplier of Humvee armor to increase production, despite offers from the company to do just that.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy their excuses. They knew about the situation before May, Myers looks at it every day, a soldier asks them about it in May, promises are made, nothing is done, another soldier in December is forced to repeat the question and gets the same empty promises. Why is the Pentagon giving our soldiers the runaround? It is, as you say, your responsibility.
Of Drafts and Insubordination
But Rumsfeld's public humiliation on Wednesday didn't end there. He was grilled on the recent unpopular "stop-loss" order, which requires some units that have already served in Iraq whose volunteer soldiers could otherwise leave the military when their commitments expire to remain to the end of their overseas deployments and up to another 90 days after they come home.

"Stop-loss" is also known as the "backdoor draft" because soldiers that have already served the time they agreed to are involuntarily forced to remain in the military, many of them in Iraq. This is the perfect way to depress troop morale and scare people away from volunteering for the "Army of One." Little wonder then that military enlistments are down.
Little wonder then that on December 6, eight soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait sued the military challenging the "stop-loss" policy, claiming the enlistment contracts are misleading because don't mention the policy and no one informed them they could be forced to stay beyond their discharge date. "Nothing in the contract that he signed says anything about involuntary enlistment," said Jules Lobel, attorney to one of the soldiers.

Little wonder then that 19 Army reservists refused to go on a mission in Iraq in October, because they would be forced to travel in unarmored trucks. Little wonder then the complaining and grumbling in the ranks of the National Guard and Army Reserve troops (now 40% of our force in Iraq) about how they are given substandard equipment compared to the Army, though both are in a war zone.
Little wonder then that the latest AP poll shows that only 47 percent of Americans think it's likely Iraq can establish a stable democratic government, compared to 55 percent who thought that in April.

Little wonder then that Iraqis can't even recognize the Iraq the administration touts as a success story.

Little wonder then that many in Washington are already beginning to talk seriously about how if the storm clouds of war with Iran, Syria, or North Korea materialize, we will have no choice but to bring back the draft.,,1-3-1397131-3,00.html

Although, somehow I am quite surprised to learn that now our soldiers in Fallujah are having to chase down rabid animals, rather than insurgents. Oh, the glory of war!

Of Treason
"If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can [still] be blown up." Here's something else for Rumsfeld to think about. If you think about it, a secretary of defense and an administration that knowingly send our troops into harm's way without the equipment they need to get their job done and without any apparent concern for their well-being, that refuses offers by manufacturers to provide more protection to our troops, that think it fitting and proper to keep soldiers in our "all-volunteer" armed forces in Iraq long after their enlistments have expired; and a president that encourages our nation's enemies to "bring on" the attacks on our troops--do not these actions constitute a betrayal of the armed servicemen and servicewomen of America? Nay, do they not even constitute treason, defined in the Constitution as "giving aid and comfort to the enemies" of the United States? Really, the only ones who benefit from unarmored or shoddily armored American Humvees in Iraq are the insurgents we are fighting. If so, treason is an impeachable offense under the Constitution, so then should Bush be impeached for all this? Can anyone tell me why not?

If you think about it...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I Think They Put Exams in December so Christmas Can Cheer You Up

By: Michael Akerman

Ah, December: that magical time when we don our gay apparel, pretty sidewalks are dressed in holiday style, Santa Claus checks his list twice (is that really enough? I mean, with 2 billion or so Christians, you'd think he'd still miss something), and college students march dejectedly toward final exams. Oh, and our Jewish friends do something with candles. And 2% of people celebrate Kwanzaa (Kwanzaa? Seriously?!)

As the title may infer, I'm unsettled about the idea of exams. Not that I did poorly. No, at worst I may have gotten a B on one, unlikely on two. I'm almost certain I got A's (bear in mind that I have two left, though, but they should be easy). My problem is the sheer weight that is placed on these: sometimes up to 40% of your grade is based on the final exam. That's one single test, which cannot be retaken, making up a plurality of your grade.

I'm never for all-or-nothing situations. There should always be a chance to fix your mistakes. This is why I think that someone who committed a single murder should only get life in prison. Any more than one, of course (except in rare cases where several people are killed in one incident, like shooting someone with a shotgun and accidentally killing a passerby) and they should be eligible for the death penalty.

For something more cheerful:

I think people misunderstand Santa. I'm a firm believer in Santa Claus. Not the North-Pole-living, elf-employing variety, of course, but something more akin to the editor's opinion from "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." Santa Claus is not a person. Like God, he manifests himself in each person. Granted, St. Nick's scope is more limited. St. Nick manifests himself as a spirit of giving. Santa is every parent on Christmas Eve, sneaking in the middle of the night, losing precious sleep to surprise their children. Santa is the selfless sacrifice of romantics to their loved when they give expensive jewelry, asking nothing in return.

Of course, it's folly to think that Santa is limited to the Christmas season. No, Mr. Claus is present the year round. However, he is never stronger than during Christmas. It's folly as well to think that you should just tell your children that Santa is a spirit. Fact is, it's hard to grasp the idea of an intangible being. This fact is the reason God is portrayed anthropomorphically. He's probably not human, or even human-formed. He probably didn't form us, physically, in his image, but mentally. However, people, especially children and the less rational people of the past ages, can better grasp tangible ideas: six days of creation, an anthropomorphic God, and a geocentric universe. None of these are true, but they're certainly easier to grasp than trillions of years for creation, an isomorphic God, and the Earth drifting around somewhere on the side of the universe.

No, it's better for children to know Santa as human. There will come a point when they will question this. For a while, it's better to fill in the gaps in reasoning for them, because they will be unable to understand the true nature of Santa. They will ask how he can travel around the world in a night: explain that he only has to cover a single time zone in an hour, and he has time-bending technology. But eventually, the time will come that they realize that Santa is not corporeal. I exhort you: don't call Santa false. Don't tell a child he doesn't exist. To do this is to err to a great degree. For, truly, Santa Claus does exist, he always has existed, and he always will exist.

How do I know? I feel him. Can you feel him too?

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Feeling Like Job: A Meditation on Mortality

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
--Job 1:21

Two Funerals

Well, this has been a stressful two weeks. I went home for Thanksgiving break a day early to go to my grandmother's funeral and I stayed a week late to go to my father's funeral. I apologize in advance if my writing lacks its usual eloquence or elan, if perhaps I ramble more than is my custom or cannot produce a witty turn of phrase, if the structure of my argument seems muddled and disjointed. Please bear with me, for it is very painful and difficult enough for me right now to formulate what I want to write, much less determine the best way to write it.

Where to begin? My grandmother on my father's side passed away on Saturday, November 20 at about 2:15 pm. She was 72 years old and had been battling lung cancer for several years. Her death, sad though it was, had been expected for sometime. Everyone got to see her and say what they needed to say. She died at peace with herself and the world. Her funeral, on the day before Thanksgiving, at the church she and her son and daughter attended, Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church in Greensboro, was truly a celebration of a life well-lived.

After the funeral, my aunt treated all the out-of-town relatives to a meal at the Revival Grill. I had no idea, when I said goodbye to my father that night, that I would not see him in the flesh again.

I had planned on coming back with my girlfriend on that next Sunday, as classes started back up the next day. I had packed up everything and was waiting for my ride, when Craig, my stepfather, called to tell me to stay where I was and not leave town. I assumed it was some doctor's appointment or something of that nature that I had forgotten about.

Craig got back about 2:00 pm and told my sister and I the news. There's really no way to cushion news like that. My father, William Kennard Smith, Jr., just "Bill" to everyone who knew him, had died in a house fire about 11:00 that morning, only 8 days after his mom.

Be Thou My Vision

The next week was rough. The arrangements for the funeral had to be made, and as I am 19 and his next of kin, I had to make many of the ultimate decisions. My father had wanted to be cremated like his mother. I decided on burying the urn at Muirs Chapel UMC so I would have a place for me to someday take my children to, to point to a gravestone and tell them about their grandfather.

The funeral was last Thursday. The sanctuary hall was full of people whose lives he had touched, old friends of his I didn't even know existed. It was emotionally draining. I rarely cry, but when they started playing the hymn I had "Be Thou My Vision ", I almost broke down. I had chosen the hymn by opening a Methodist hymnal at random, yet this simple ancient 8th century Irish melody resonated with my soul in my time of despair:

"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."

My father served in the army for about 8 years in Alaska, the Pacific, and in northern Virginia. He was entitled to a military burial, and I was sure would have wanted it, as that was the accomplishment he had always been proudest of. So after the funeral, we made the treck across the street to the gravesite, where 3 aged World War II veterans from the local VFW chapter played taps from a mechanical bugle and presented my sister and I with a flag folded military style and a letter from the President.

Friday was the roughest day of all. Craig, my mom, my aunt, and myself had to go into the now-condemned house to salvage what we could. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. To sift through my father's possessions, charred pictures of our family, was an emotional roller coaster.

Fire is a strange creature. The kitchen was scorched with flame and the plastic containers were melted, yet the roll of paper towels immediately adjacent was not even touched. It was like this throughout the house, even in the living room, where the fire started. On one bookshelf, the contents of the top shelves had been destroyed, but on the very bottom shelf we found, completely intact sheathed in plastic bags, Christmas presents for my sister Catherine and myself that he had already wrapped and labeled. All in all, much of what he had, antiques and family heirlooms, we were able to salvage, and for that I am thankful.

This has been a bad year for this sort of thing in my family. My 101-year old great-grandmother died in March. My grandmother and father followed in November. It's been that kind of a year.

I can't dwell on the negatives though. For my entire childhood and adolescence I never once had to deal with a close relative dying. I have lived my entire life geographically close to most of my relatives. And I have had 2 great-grandmothers in my memory, one of whom lived to be 101. How many other people are lucky enough to be blessed with all those things? I've truly been blessed.

The Lesson of Job

Job was a good, pious man. Misfortune struck him nonetheless. In the course of a single day, his oxen and donkeys were carried off by one group of desert raiders, his camels by another group, his sheep and shepherds were killed by "the fire of God", and all his sons and daughters were killed when a gust of wind knocked down the house they were in. Job felt all the things people feel after a devastating loss: denial, fear, confusion, sorrow, even anger. But rather than curse the Lord, as everyone around him urged him to do, he continued to praise the name of the Lord. As Job 1:22 records, "In all this Job did not sin or charge the Lord with wrongdoing."

But he did demand an accounting from God, challenging God for at least an explanation as to why He had allowed all these misfortunes to happen to him. God didn't answer the question, but instead launched into a sarcastic tirade, posing questions of His own:

"I will question you and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding?
Who determined its measurements--surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
Or who laid its cornerstone
When the morning stars sang together
And all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
"Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this."

--Job 38:3-7,16-18

The message is clear. We may want an answer, but since we are not omnipresent and cannot comprehend the true grandeur of the Lord's creation, neither can we question, or even understand, his motives. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away." It is certainly not satisfying from an intellectual standpoint. My inner Socrates continually pushes me to boldly challenge every assertion and skeptically examine every aspect of the world around me. But, for today, that answer is enough.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

On Bloggers

By: Michael Akerman

The blogger is a strange creature. Still a new species, as yet still developing, it is nonetheless remarkably varied. The news bloggers write simple sentences, pointing out interesting factoids, as well as sensational stories. They don't particularly achieve much, but serve a valid purpose, as TV and Hollywood do, in entertaining the world. One could make a name for himself in this manner, but the field is currently saturated. In a few years, when the top dogs rise above the rest, people may know the big names (my prediction is Slashdot will remain the strongest contender).

A far more influential blogger is the citizen journalist. These are the techies who watch the news adamantly, and, more importantly, write the news themselves. These are the ones who were invited to the party conventions, who noticed the discrepancies in the Rathergate report. Already, stories originate here. Their inside sources contact them with a small tidbit, and, using considerable reserves of current events knowledge, they make the crucial connections that reveal the latest scandal or market-shifting force. A dangerous creature? Some say so, due to journalist bias, but I think they are only so to the people for which the mainstream media is a threat. Never take information uncontested at someone's word. Reserve the possibility that it's false.

Of course, there are the bloggers that merely bore me: the personal journalists. These are the majority, who blog about their latest trip to the mall, and how school went. They do no harm, of course, but they gain no fame, they leave little mark. The LiveJournals and Xangas are merely entertainment, a background noise, a soap opera. They fulfill their purpose well.

Growing in numbers are the artists (see Philip's Realtime Delay and the Pictoblog) who can both make an indelible mark on the world and entertain. The blogging poets and novelists, photographers and artists are recognized for their skill by a large audience.

The final major category is the essayist. This is, of course, what IVIC is about. The essayists, I think, make the most difference in the world. They are today's Aristotles, Platos, Sophocleses. Their ideas become your ideas, and they change the face of the world stage. These are the bloggers led in the growth of the blogosphere by such names as the Instapundit. Interestingly, IVIC follows a somewhat Instapundit vein, though I didn't know it when I started. Instapundit is becoming less essayist and more newsy, so perhaps (Glenn is the Instapundit) is a better example. Even better would be the Volokh Conspiracy. They both are in the blogroll.

What's more, essayists get noticed. IVIC has grown fairly quickly. We now have about 3500 hits. It took us about a month to get the first 100. At that rate, it would have taken 35 months to get 3500, but it's only been 16. I think we'll see even more rapid growth in the future. We've been mentioned recently on (I don't live there anymore, but Ed and Smith do, so.... Incidentally, apparently there was a blog convention in Greensboro earlier this year. I wish I had known), and I think there'll be more mentions to come. Why? This is a rather unique blog. Most group blogs (there are a ton of 'em) have one political affiliation. It is merely a conservative or liberal group blog. IVIC spans the political spectrum, and I'm always looking for more members. If you find yourself disagreeing with everyone here, and are good at writing essays, drop me a line at drkashik(at) I'll look into adding you, after I see some of your work. Our Google PageRank's a-climbin'! Go ahead. Search for Michael Akerman on Google.

So, there you have it. The essayist is the most important blogger. Of course, I could be biased...


By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Aquinas and the existence of God.....

By: Ed

I must say first that the following is completely copied from another site....I just want to see what everyone thinks of these....Do they hold water?

On the Existence of God....(still me)

(Another person from now on)
First Way: The Argument From Motion St. Thomas Aquinas, studying the works of the Greek philsopher Aristotle, concluded from common observation that an object that is in motion (e.g. the planets, a rolling stone) is put in motion by some other object or force. From this, Aquinas believes that ultimately there must have been an UNMOVED MOVER (GOD) who first put things in motion. Follow the agrument this way: 1) Nothing can move itself. 2) If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in motion needed a mover. 3) This first mover is the Unmoved Mover, called God.

Second Way: Causation Of Existence This Way deals with the issue of existence. Aquinas concluded that common sense observation tells us that no object creates itself. In other words, some previous object had to create it. Aquinas believed that ultimately there must have been an UNCAUSED FIRST CAUSE (GOD) who began the chain of existence for all things. Follow the agrument this way: 1) There exists things that are caused (created) by other things. 2) Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.) 3) There can not be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist. 4) Therefore, ther must be an uncaused first cause called God.
Third Way: Contingent and Neccessary Objects This Way defines two types of objects in the universe: contingent beings and necessary beings. A contingent being is an object that can not exist without a necessary being causing its existence. Aquinas believed that the existence of contingent beings would ultimately neccesitate a being which must exist for all of the contingent beings to exist. This being, called a necessary being, is what we call God. Follow the argument this way: 1) Contingent beings are caused. 2) Not every being can be contingent. 3) There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings. 4) This necessary being is God.
Fourth Way: The Agrument From Degrees And Perfection St. Thomas formulated this Way from a very interesting observation about the qualities of things. For example one may say that of two marble scultures one is more beautiful than the other. So for these two objects, one has a greater degree of beauty than the next. This is referred to as degrees or gradation of a quality. From this fact Aquinas concluded that for any given quality (e.g. goodness, beauty, knowledge) there must be an perfect standard by which all such qualities are measured. These perfections are contained in God.
Fifth Way: The Agrument From Intelligent Design The final Way that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of has to do with the observable universe and the order of nature. Aquinas states that common sense tells us that the universe works in such a way, that one can conclude that is was designed by an intelligent designer, God. In other words, all physical laws and the order of nature and life were designed and ordered by God, the intellgent designer.

Immigrant Policy....

By: Ed

I was watching comedy central and heard an interesting immigration policy. Yes, I know it was a joke, but it is still interesting.

After 3 generations, if your family has not made its mark on America, your family is deported. Of course, it would be 3 generations after coming here. That is, Americans here now don't have this, only new immigrants.

Of course there are some problems. For example, not everyone can be upper class. Our economy would crash if this happened. So what is "making your mark"? I would change that to "off all government assistance in three generations." After three generations you show you can sustain yourself here and will actually contribute.

I am eager to hear what everyone thinks and how this could be tweaked to work in the US.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Fighter.... Mage... Thief...

By: Ed

Which are you?

In an attempt to do...ANYTHING..besides what I am supposed to (ie: writing this bleeping paper) I am posing a question and asking for comments.

I just saw a commercial asking which group you fell under in an RPG; Fighter, Mage or Thief.

I am normally a fighter, though I love magic in games. In the newer games you can mix and match so I am normally a top level fighter with some secondary magic attacks and healing power. (I hate buying health packs).

Which one are YOU??


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hugging trees gives you splinters

By: Ed

I am taking a wildlife issues class for a science requirement this semester. I am liking the teacher a lot more than I did at the beggining (she came off sort of like a fanatic) but some students don't seem to get reality.

My teacher is a conservationist (as opposed to a animal rights activist). I am more a conservationist in the environment area myself than anything. For those who have no idea of the difference, let me explain. Conservationists seek to...well..conserve. They want to keep animal populations and habitats up because they bring an ineffible quality to the world and provide stable living. Animal Rights activists are psychos. They are people that would save an endangered rat as opposed to a sick child needing the rats blood to cure him (not all mind you but many).

I can't understand some of their logic though (those in my class). They appear to be willing to say anything they think the teacher will agree with to be "a crusader for the cute and fuzzies". When it comes to less appealing animals they say "get on the truck" (food truck) to quote Dennis Leary.

For example, some had cats (I stand by my original assertion that cats are inherently evil but thats another post). When asked if they let their cats out at night they said yes. Then they were told that (even and especially well fed cats) killed many insects and birds native to the environment (which is now making them endangered). They were then given the numbers of cats (something in the millions) without homes. They were told the only way to curb this problem was to not let there cats out and either adopt or kill all the stray cats. They didn't like that one bit. "Cats don't deserve that" one says. "We can't sentence another living creature to death...who are we to do that" says another. We are human; thats who. We can do anything we want to them. Watch:

*picks up cat*
*kills cat*
*feeds cat to other starving humans and saves ecosystem*

See? Easy?



Tuesday, November 23, 2004


By: Michael Akerman

A friend of mine recently claimed that the US has a short future as a superpower if we maintain whatever practices are making foreigners angry. Aside from the folly of assuming that even diplomatic power is born from international appreciation, I find this foolish for another reason: the thing we would have to do to stop annoying foreigners is stop being a superpower.

To cite a recent example, consider the USSR. This massive powerhouse of a nation was almost universally aversive to other countries. Even with so much foreign antipathy, the USSR remained the only major competitor to the United States for fourty-odd years. Indeed, even to the end of the Cold War, it was not foreign antipathy that steadily damaged and destroyed the Union. Rather, it was almost entirely the economic disaster wrought by Communism (as well as intranational ethnic dissociation) that destroyed the USSR.

Entirely throughout history, superpowers have not been well received. It is the norm for the international juggernauts to be welcomed with cries of outrage and shouts of imperialism. The British and French were scum of the earth to the Germans, Norsemen, Welsh and Scots, not to mention the Irish. Rome, after its growth to an empire which quickly brought roads, wealth, science and the pax Romanus to its territory, was still greeted with outrage and rebellion, even from unconquered territories.

It's not easy being the biggest. Even now, former powers speak against the US largely because they yearn for their past influence. Some are still under the delusional impression that they are a superpower. This is not an unknown occurrence, of course: after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Rome attempted to exert influence over their now-sovereign territories. Indeed, they had moderate success, as the tactic of couching Roman controls as decrees of the papacy proved very effective within a short time of the collapse.

To be complete, there is danger from international antipathy. The single catastrophic risk to the US's status would be a massive invasion of our shores.

Bear in mind, this would only be possible through a uniquely concerted effort between dozens of large nations. Any single invading power would quickly and smoothly fail under the US's vastly superior military. Remember also that this is a virtual impossibility, as most antipathy comes from citizens, not leaders, and most citizens have an aversion to large scale war after the World Wars.

Even with a massive effort from many countries, I think there is reason to doubt the ability of even such a strike to succeed. We are a nation of individualists, fiercely loyal to our country and our rights, and we are absolutely ingenious in a pinch. Truly, Yankee ingenuity still exists.

I envisage the situation thusly: as foreign troops, Chinese, French and Middle Eastern, crowd on to our shoreline, there would be an immediate response. As we wait for the mobilization of the military, citizens everywhere would prepare to fight tooth and nail. The Bible belt would arm quickly with shotguns and rifles. The middle class families would pile into Hummers, Escalades, Chevy trucks, all manner of large vehicles, and plow through the invading infantry. As the invading forces' heavy armor gained the shore, the military would already be in force. As the tanks rolled toward each other, truckers would load their trailers with ballast: sandbags, scrap metal. Tearing down the beaches and city streets, line upon line of truckers from all sides will plow into the heavy armor, flipping it easily, slamming them into each other.

Others would play the role of hijacker. Bikers would tear up beside the rolling armor, leap on top, and quickly infiltrate the vehicles with crowbars and force of strength. The wealthy, with swift sports cars, would become special ops. Whipping behind enemy lines and nimbly dodging fire, they would take out the strategic objectives, plowing through the commanders' headquarters, tearing through the sleeping troops at night.

Surely, we are a nearly uninvadable country. I doubt severely that any force could ever take our land. For we are a nation of loyalists. Even the currently stunned and wounded Democrats, grumbling about secession, love this country, no matter its minor faults. All Americans stand by our flag; all would fight for Lady Liberty. We are a nation that loves its country, and we will never let it fall.

~Michael Akerman

Monday, November 22, 2004

Creationism vs Evolution again?

By: Ed

Well, looks like several states are arguing over evolution in the school system again.

This time a sticker placed in the science books of students in Atlanta (2002) angered parents supporting evolution. The stickers said evoluion was a theory not a fact and the it should be "critically considered". Well, yeah. How is that bad?

Evolution is a theory and has a lot of holes. Moreover, anything taught in school should be "critically considered". So whats the deal with all of this?

It looks like some people getting upset and uptight for nothing, but anyone who thinks otherwise let me know. I may not know everything about the situation.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

An Open Letter

By: Michael Akerman

Check out the link above the ads in the top bar. It's a video of my E 101 group's water bottle rocket launch.

I wonder at what has been lost, and what's left to gain. This is, in a way, an open letter to a lost love, or perhaps a misplaced love, of mine, but the ambiguity herein allows this to be used for essentially any lost love.

I find myself remembering you often. You take hold of my mind, grapple my intellect and bend it to thoughts of you. I don't avoid it. Rather, I bend willingly. Surely, he who has loved once and looks back with scorn, and does not remember fondly the soft movements, gentle voice, musical laugh, wonderful sentiment of his lot love isn't human. No, I embrace the memories, and they bring joy.

Yet, they leave pain. They are fleeting and ephemeral, as is memory's wont, and I am soon returned to reality. The imperfectness of memory leaves a deep longing, to see that perfect image once more: to hear her voice and laughter, to see her ready smile and form beauteous to the eye, and to listen to those sacred divulgences, those deep and astounding thoughts and feelings, most of all.

And I am set to wonder. Who have I been to her? Was I Lysander to her Hermia, or Demetrius? Worse yet, was I Hermia to her Lysander, or Helena to her Demetrius, begging "spurn me, strike me," loving her recklessly?

But I cannot believe that. She is no Demetrius. Perhaps she was my Juliet, willing as much as I to deny our fathers and forsake our names, if that were asked.

That was then, however. In losing her, I've realized my faults. In my heart of hearts, my true belief is that I was Cyrano to Roxane, too ashamed and confused to confess my love, though it would have been readily accepted. As I watched Christian after Christian woo her, willing their success for her happiness, I knew that they were tainted, fools with no mission but selfishness. To her, and to her alone, falls my white plume. For I think I shall always love her, even if I find another love. The human capacity for love, a final bastion of God's image, is limitless, a depthless pool of inky black, of dry rock yearning for crystalline-sweet water.

Now, it seems by my sword I have slain myself. While life moved on and the world moved her away from me, I lost her through inaction, though I knew the course. The path to regaining her friendship was simple, but I sought a more elegant close. She deserved heavenly perfection, the most beautiful of moments when I bared my heart, and I forsook to do so, biding for that moment. My folly was thinking that that moment could exist. As chances passed by, foolishly I thought a better would come.

Such is the great tragedy of my life: the hero stricken by his own flaw. And I've certainly learned lessons. But, the river of time has flowed past, and upstream is unchangeable. I have followed my fateful course through those rapids, and fell, and slipped. Now, I seek only to apply those lessons to the river ahead.

I know what to do now. Indeed, I've even had practice since. And she is still in my life, if only by the narrowest of threads. The question, though, is what she is to me now.

Does she seek me as I seek her, as the great loves of old? Would she brave the changing course to find me? I don't request it of her. Rather than a Juliet, I seek only a Penelope, who, though surrounded and intruded upon by suitors, waits for me, abiding the weeks, months, years as Odysseus finds her again, ready to greet him with open arms.

But, I accept the possibility that she is Cleopatra to my Caesar, ready to turn to the next Marc Antony she sees. I earnestly hope against it. I fear the most that she thinks herself the Naiad to Hermaphroditus, wondering why I shun her, even though, in truth, I seek her in earnest.

For now, I will do what I can. I can only take the steps allotted me in this dance. I shall wait with bated breath for the decision of fate.

If any would like to use that and adapt it, feel free. If it is sent to someone, I need no recognition. If you link to it on a website, or copy it on a website, I would like recognition, please.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Thursday, November 18, 2004

My comments on Snyder's comments... about Akerman's comments... Yeah, something like that! Plus, musings on the importance of both faith and works

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Well, as all the other participants of the theological chat room discussion in question have already posted their comments on the blogosphere, I suppose I should as well.

1. God does seem to want companionship, but not as we think of it. We are as far removed from God as prokaryotes are from us. There is a gap between us and God. But companionship, and an intimate relationship with God, implies coequal status between us and God. Friendship is not true friendship unless it is between two equals who can relate. We are obviously not God's equal, so it seems more than just a tad presumptuous and, yes, even arrogant of us to think that we can have a true intimate friendship with God. The relationship between God and mankind is indeed like that between a father and a son. It is a respectful relationship, but it is by no means, an equal one. This does not make any the less "real" or "intimate". We cannot reach to God, but God, through Jesus, who saw the world through our eyes and had human friends, can reach to us.

So, then, why did God create Humanity if not for companionship? Here is a possibility, though it has no more biblical basis than the companionship theory, that is to say, none at all. God created the heavens and the earth and all things in the Universe and thought that "it was Good". The wonder of God's creation was pleasing to God, but He had no one to share His happiness with. Of all His creations, only the angels were able to truly appreciate the glory of Creation, but they were servants. God wanted to create humans "in His image", mortals that could appreciate God's finite creation (not the eternal Heaven, but the temporary Universe) best because they were a part of it (as the angels were not) and because they alone of all God's mortal creations could reason. Only with Humans, could God share how pleased and excited He was with Creation. After all, when you do something you're really proud of, don't you want to show someone else?

This is, as I stated, just a possibility, to take or discard as you see fit. That is the beauty of God's creation of mankind: we have been given highly advanced minds of our own to ask our own questions and draw our own conclusions. In that way, we were created "in His image."

I fear I have wandered from what I set out to do. After all, not being omniscient like God, we cannot even begin to comprehend His motives in creating mankind, or in doing anything else for that matter. All right then, enough idle speculation!

2. On the matter of prayer, I don't think God needs to hear us pray for something we specifically need for Him to do it. He acts independently of our prayers. To believe otherwise is to believe that God is changeable, that His will is subordinate to the wishes we express in our prayers. This is not to say that God can't "answer prayers", just that He was going to do that anyway. Still, prayer is the only means of communication we have with the Almighty, so it is a good idea to pray. If you need things, pray for them, but not selfishly, only pray for what you truly need. After all, in the Lord's Prayer, we ask that God "give us now our daily bread," which we need so we don't starve. Perhaps more important is to pray for others, to pray for the resolution of conflicts and violence, to pray for friends and family and even complete strangers.

Above all, we should always condition our prayer requests with "thy will be done." Lord, I acknowledge that I need you. Please continue to provide me with what I need and what I want, but above all, Lord, your will, not my will, be done.

3. Our ability to reason is the very hallmark of humanity, God's greatest gift to man. The whole point of the Protestant Reformation was that every person is equal in God's eyes and therefore, every person is equally capable of reading the Bible and interpreting it for himself. We do not need to be told what the Bible says and what it means, we can read it ourselves and interpret what it means. To interpret, we use the rational intellect that God gave us to draw our own conclusions.

4. Moving on to something else. It seems to me that too often we lose sight of what the Lord requires of us. This is a trap that Evangelicals in particular seem to fall into: trying to have an "intimate" relationship with God and trying to convert others by talking about this personal "intimate" relationship. All of which is fine and good. So, you have faith. But God wants more of us than that.

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus tells us that at the end of days, He will separate all people who have ever lived into two groups. The group at his right hand He will allow into Heaven, because:

"'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

Vice-versa for the other group: those who did not help the "least of these", the disadvantaged in society, were condemned to "eternal punishment."

Pretty straightforward right? James, in his self-titled biblical book, chapter 2, verses 14-26, also concluded that both faith and works are necessary for salvation: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead." Our faith, if it is a true, living, vibrant faith, should lead us to do good works. The works should be a byproduct of our faith. If we, as Christians, do not help "the least of these", our faith is dead and God has no use for dead faith. That is a trap all to easy for Christians to fall into, thinking that merely professing a belief in God is enough. We know what the Lord requires of us: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" --Micah 6:8


What follows is part of an original AIM conversation on this topic between Akerman and myself that took place last night. I provide it in the hopes of clarifying my beliefs. The great Greek philosopher Plato wrote his philosophical tracts in the form of an imaginary conversation. This technique seems to me to be more useful than telling you straight out what I believe. The screen names have been changed to protect the innocent:

Michael Smith: I have noticed that Evangelicals in particular put too much emphasis on having a "personal relationship with Jesus" and converting Jews, Catholics and the "Unsaved" and not enough emphasis on tending to "the least of these."

Smith: After all, Jesus said it himself, that's how you get to heaven

Michael Akerman: I'm inclined to agree

Smith: And it is the humane thing to do

Smith: One might even say the Christian thing to do

Akerman: I think it's selfish, but I doubt God really puts much weight on it. I'm more inclined to think he lets people into heaven as long as they try their best.

Akerman: Just because their misinformed, doesn't mean He'll cast them out

Smith: Well, yes, if they try to help "the least of these", then they get in. If not, well... there's always the fiery inferno of Hell!

Smith: ;)

Akerman: Heh

Akerman: ;)

Akerman: Incidentally, I was thinking about the works thing

Akerman: I think the reason I was against it is that it makes it sound like you should try to do works

Smith: Well, you should

Akerman: But that strikes me as merely a puffed up selfish act to try to gain salvation

Smith: It should be a byproduct of your faith

Akerman: I think you should just do them, without trying

Akerman: Right

Smith: You do good works, not to get to Heaven, but because you are Christian and that's what we do, following Jesus's example

Smith: "And they'll know we are Christians by our love" [a song I learned a long time ago in Sunday school]

Akerman: I also think you can get into heaven without works, if you feel truly sorry that you didn't do more good.

Smith: Eh, don't buy it

Akerman: And accept Jesus, and all that jazz

Smith: Seriously, what excuse could you have?

Akerman: Misinformation and the temptation of sin

Akerman: The lost lamb is more beloved in heaven

Akerman: When he comes back, the prodigal son is fed the calf

Smith: "Gee, now that I know that I'm condemned to go to Hell because I didn't help the 'least of these', I regret I didn't do much good. Now can I get into Heaven?"

Akerman: Not that way

Akerman: I'm sure God would be snookered by that

Smith: Well, come on then

Akerman: The "truly" part is important

Smith: If you are Christian, you should obey Jesus. Everyone knows Christians should "treat others like they want to be treated," etc.

Smith: There is no excuse, if you are a Christian in a nation that doesn't persecute you and deny you access to the Bible so you can find out what the Lord requires of us

Akerman: But God forgives you for being lost, so long as you realize your wrongdoing. God did not put us here to be Christians, but to realize Christian ideals

Akerman: It's more important to understand what's right than to do what's right

Smith: No, if you understand what is right, you should do what is right.

Smith: Common sense

Smith: No excuse

Akerman: I know you should

Akerman: Have you ever read the Prodigal Son?

Smith: I think you're setting the bar for getting into Heaven too low

Smith: Yes

Smith: It is not entirely relevant

Smith: To this

Akerman: He who returns from sin is rewarded for such

Smith: Yes, he returned from sin. But that is drawing meaning from one parable and ignoring Jesus saying point-blank, "Those who help the least of these go to Heaven, those who don't, don't."

Smith: You're taking things out of context

Akerman: Give me the exact quote from the Bible where Jesus says that

Smith: Give me a few minutes, I'll find it

Akerman: A paraphrase just represents your views

Akerman: My contacts are wonking out. BRB

Smith: Matthew 25:31-46. Or, if you prefer, Luke 19:11-27. I'm not going to type it all out. It's too long and you're perfectly capable of reading it.

Smith: This is backed up by Jesus's other sayings and the book of James.

Smith: So, there!:-P
[Much extraneous material deleted. You're welcome.]

Akerman: As far as the passages about the least of these, you are correct. However, I think God judges not by action, but by intention. There is no reason that, given enough time, a Christian in America shouldn't do works. And they would if they were a real Christian, to please God. But there are many situations in which it is simply unfeasible, such as a murderer in prison who comes to a true realization of his wrongdoing, and is truly sorry. He has very few, if any, chances to do good works, but I think God would still admit him to heaven as a prodigal son

Akerman: I'm not saying it's alright to voluntarily avoid works

Smith: True. He is "the least of these". Christians should minister to him

Smith: And when he gets out, if he does, he should serve the least of these

Akerman: Just that it's not the most important thing. True intention to do works is more important, and if you truly intend to do works and you had the chance... well, you'd do them anyway, so it's exclusive

Smith: Right. A convicted felon on death row can't do works, true. But that is a rare case. In the Western world, anyone who wants to do good works can, providing they aren't breaking a law

Akerman: Most can

Akerman: Not all

Smith: Action should follow from faith/intention

Akerman: There are other exclusions, but they are rare

Smith: So, for most of us, works are necessary

Smith: As a byproduct of a living vibrant faith

Smith: Not as part of any special effort, just coming naturally. That's what James is saying

Akerman: I also think this clause of intention holds true right until death. If someone had done evil their entire life, but came unto the realization of God as they died, they would be saved. This is probably pretty rare, though

Akerman: Hard to say if it's rare

Smith: Right. So if Hitler had had a deathbed repentance, well, then, he'd go to heaven

Akerman: Because they're generally dead by the time they could tell us

Akerman: If it was a true repentance

Smith: Since he shot himself, this example is doutfull

Akerman: But he committed suicide, so he didn't

Akerman: Heh

Smith: Stalin then. He died of "natural causes." Or so the KGB always maintained...

Smith: ;)

Akerman: Yes

Smith: One momento

Smith: Read Micah 6:8

Smith: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God

Smith: Same thing

Smith: The one flows naturally from the other

Akerman: Right

My comments on Akermans...comments...

By: Ed

1. God doesn't need companionship...I agree. He had all the love/companionship He needed in the Trinity (Father Son and Holy Spirit). To say He needed companionship would take away from God's perfect nature. It would mean He was lacking in something that only WE could provide. That isn't true. Instead, God created us to share His joy and glory.

2. He will do whats best for us. When we pray, we do so mostly for our own good. By asking for specifics (and adding "in the end I trust in your will to be best") we acknowledge our reliance upon God for everything. You don't have to ask for specifics, but you can. God is also a parent that wants to give us anything we ask for. When we ask Him, and its good for us to have it, He grants it. He may have already had it in His plan to give to us, but we should still ask to show our reliance on Him.

3.Intimacy doesn't bring casualness, sloth does. Certainly you can love someone and not be disrespectfull. I believe God does want us to have an intamate relationship with Him. How else can we share in His life in Heaven?

It was brought up in the chat that the Bible may not be infallible. That is where things get iffy. If the Bible wasn't infallible, you could pick and choose anything to follow. Your individual preference would rule instead of God's Word. This essentially creates a "cafeteria Christian" society. No, the Bible is infallible. It gives us explicit ways to live and act as shown us by God.

"God provided us with reasoning and observation for a reason: these holy tools of intellect allow us to analyze the world to decide what's right and true, and to see what's right through consideration of the consequences." -Akerman

Spoken like a true scientist, but what happens when science fails? Surely you know there are things we can't know by science alone. Yes, intellect and reason give us great insight into the world and God's plan, but we can NEVER understand everything. That is where faith comes in. That is why we must trust that God knows best and His Word written about in His word (like the pun) must be followed.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Life and the Afterlife

By: Michael Akerman

This is yet another slightly misnomic post, I suppose, but it's largely a collection of small things, and titles are hard for those.

First I'd like to share a poem I wrote that I wrote myself. The things I wrote in this poem were made by me. It's a poem that's really a song that really ought to be read in a coffee shop. And notes are tedious to write on a blog. So here's the poem... as a poem...

Sometimes life throws you a curve.
You try to dodge,
You swoop and swerve
But you'll land
Feet off the ground.

Through tempest-toss
Through win and loss,
If life just flows
Than, I have found,
You'll see...

It all comes around.

When you
Roll with the punches,
When you
Swing for fence,
If you
Keep it between the banks,
You'll enjoy the consequence!

So just
Follow the river's course.
Let life lead your life.
'Cause if you let nature come on through
You will see
It's good for you.

Life just has a plan
That you must
Make the best of.
So go on,
Keep it going strong,
And you'll live well,
And you'll live long.

I think I need to keep going a few lines to really hit the correct ending to it. Ah, well.

Now, I'd like to reply to some things Philip said on Thoughts from the Jelly Master. He was talking about me, by the way.

You give far too little credit to God. I won't claim that it does harm to pray specifically. Just that it does no good. Consider the fallacy in your statements.

1. God wants companionship. He has something on the order of 20 billion people in heaven. I'd personally be all companioned out, but God has an infinite capacity, I know. Still, if he wanted companionship, he would merely have created us in heaven. Instead, he created us on Earth, where there are innumerable obstacles to effective communication.

2. God requires specifics to do something. I vehemently disagree. God will not deny what's right merely because we don't ask for it. He gives us an advantage if we worship him, obviously, but he doesn't need, and I doubt He desires, specifics. Furthermore, someone who unconditionally loves someone does not need the action requested to do it. All that means is that the person has doubts and imperfect love. God loves us perfectly, so he will invariably do what is best for us.

3. God wants to be intimate. The odds are very stacked against this. Intimacy brings casualness. If this is the case, we shouldn't have to capitalize "him" when referring to God. You will claim this is out of respect, it is obviously not. Respect is not borne out of tradition and ceremony. Verily, the argument of respect argues more for my view. When you respect someone, you defer to his judgment. You can offer suggestions, but God knows them already. Again, wasted words.

As a point of contention, you vastly misrepresent the statement to do what feels right. Things that feel right seldom benefit me. Generally, they hinder me. If I had said to do what feels good, that would have encompassed all the selfish acts. As it stands, the right thing is seldom the personally beneficial thing.

You claim that I mold religion to my needs. Hardly. I merely refuse to blindly believe ancient texts and the words from the mouth of man. God provided us with reasoning and observation for a reason: these holy tools of intellect allow us to analyze the world to decide what's right and true, and to see what's right through consideration of the consequences. God would not make something I should consider right have zero benefits. This is why I agree with contraceptives. There is very little detriment against a large amount of benefit. Overpopulation is not a good thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Armistice Day

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

A belated note about a day most Americans ignored this year, Veteran's Day. Even if you stopped for the official two-minutes of silence at 11 am, do you truly know its significance?

It was originally Armistice Day, the day that the cease-fire took effect, bringing to an end World War I: the costliest--both in money and in lives--conflict in human history until that time. It cost the Allies $125,690,477,000 and the Central Powers $60,643,160,000 (neither sum adjusted for inflation), as well as 22,104,209 and 37,508,686 casualties, respectively. America got off relatively easily, with only 364,800 casualties, and, as in the Second World War, Russia paid the heaviest cost in human casualties, at 9,150,000.

World War 1 is mostly forgotten today, because of the greater cataclysm of World War II which followed it. But the First World War is more important than any war in human history, for it marked the beginning of the modern era. Airplanes, submarines, tanks, chemical weapons, machine guns, all of these were used for the first time in this war. On April 22, 1915, Germans were the first to use chemical weapons, employing mustard gas against Allied troops at Ypres, Belgium. This created a huge gap in the Allied line, but the Germans were unable to exploit it, because the wind suddenly shifted, blowing the poison gas back on the German lines, killing the very soldiers who had unleashed it. Now if that isn't divine justice, I don't know what is! In all theaters, poison gas caused 1,296,853 casualties, including 91,198 deaths.

The First World War even saw the advent of the first ballistic missile: the Paris Gun. This weapon was used by the Germans to shell Paris. It could launch a 264-pound projectile "70 miles in about 170 seconds reaching a maximum altitude of 24 miles - quite a feat of German engineering for 1918. On the down side, the payload was only 15 pounds of explosive, accuracy was non-existent (you could hit Paris but not a specific target in Paris), and the whole gun would have to be rebored after 65 firings," according to

"Only 367 shells were fired by August of that year, and the gun's aim was often wild. Barely half the shells hit the city. Even so, the Paris Gun caused 256 deaths, a third of those when a shell struck the church of St. Sepulchre during Good Friday services.Though the Paris Gun had little impact on the outcome of World War I, it was a high-priority target for Allied troops. Yet none of the guns [There were 7 made] were ever found, even after the armistice," according to The purpose of the gun was not to score a military victory, but simply to terrorize the inhabitants of Paris. No man-made object would reach that height until the next generation of the Paris Gun--the V-2--was first employed in 1942.

More important than the weaponry employed were the political developments. The war began after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a terrorist group advocating for Serbian-majority areas in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to be incorporated into the upstart nation of Serbia. The Austrian government had every right to teach Serbia a lesson (when a nation or its leaders are attacked by another nation, the first nation has a right--indeed an obligation to its citizens--to respond, but all the other nations of Europe leapt on the assassination as an excuse to go to war to easily conquer whatever territory they had long been desirous of and be back home "before the leaves have fallen from the trees," in the immortal words of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Because so few died in the war-within-a-war, the original war between Austria and Serbia, its consequences are often overlooked, but at Versailles, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Dual Monarchy, was broken up into many independent states based on ethnicity, but not entirely (there were still many ethnic Germans in Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, and other Balkan nationalities sprinkled arbitrarily in many other states) thus leading to the "appeasement at Munich", as well as efforts in the post-Cold War era to "unify all Serbs everywhere in a Greater Serbia", causing the bloodiest genocide since the Holocaust.

Ditto for the Middle East. News commentators often say things like, "the ancient animosities in the Middle East go back to the time of Abraham in the Bible", usually used as an excuse to do nothing about the conflicts in the region. But Jews, Muslim Arabs, and Christian Arabs lived side-by-side in peace for centuries (except during the Crusades) under the Ottoman Empire, which, while it was brutal in attempting to wipe out the Armenians during World War I, maintained stability and, for its time, a high deal of equality in dealing with its subjects of all nationalities. The European powers, namely France and Britain, divided up the Ottoman Empire into "mandates"--colonies--based on arbitrary lines that did not correspond to nationality, ethnicity, historical precedent or the preference of the inhabitants.

Thus the constant conflict in Iraq, for instance, a land cobbled together from three separate Ottoman provinces: Basra (majority Shia), Baghdad (majority Sunni), and Mosul (majority Kurd). These varied peoples had associated little in previous history and had nothing in common to bond them together as "Iraqis" or to distinguish them from "Syrians" or "Iranians". These arbitrary lines, combined with the unbelievably stupid (or callously cynical) move of the British promising the entire land of Palestine first to the Palestinians and then to the Jews to win their support in the First World War and then taking Palestine as a British "mandate" and giving it to neither, are vastly more directly responsible for the past 80 years of unrest in the region than anything in the Bible or the Qu'ran.

The German government of Wilhelm II, seeking to destabilize Russia, gave safe passage across the front lines from Switzerland into Russia to a certain ideologue named Lenin. We all know how this story ends. The Bolsheviks won the hearts and minds of the Russian people, not because of the appeal of their ideology (which was not actually all that popular at the time), but because they promised an immediate end to the war, something Russians, weary from the horrible costs they had incurred from the Czar's incompetent prosecution of the war, were desperate for. The treaty they signed with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk was draconian. As the German Army was deep into Russia, even further than they made it into Russia in World War II, the Russians lost the Baltic states, Finland and the Ukraine, as well as additional Russian territory in the Caucasus. The treaty of Versailles nullified this treaty.

The Kaiser's ill-conceived plan had consequences he could not have imagined. Without Lenin, there would have been no Stalinist purges and no Cold War. No Cold War, no Korean War, no Vietnam War, no nuclear arms race, no "Iron Curtain", no Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe (they wouldn't have been there in the first place without Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union), and no Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to give the Islamic extremists like Osama bin Ladin a training ground for their "jihad" against the West.

The "what-ifs" continue. As I said before, there were 91,198 deaths due to poison gas in the First World war. If only there had been one more death. In the last month of the war, a young corporal in the German Army was gassed at the last Battle of Ypres. For a while, he hung between life and death. He went on to recover, to the great misfortune of all humanity. The corporal's name: Adolf Hitler. We tend to think of history in terms of inevitable historical trends. From that perspective, whether the final total of those killed by poison gas was 91,198, or 91,199, whether one individual lives or dies, is of little consequence. But that one man living meant that millions more would die in the Second World War and the accompanying Holocaust.

But perhaps the Second World War would have happened anyway, without Hitler, you say. The bitterness of the Germans at being defeated and the severe economic hardship brought on by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, might have led to some sort of far-right reactionary nationalist regime arising in Germany, although it hard to imagine all of this happening in the absence of the uniquely charismatic figure of Hitler. The bitterness of Italy and Japan at not gaining as much territory as they had wanted at war's end was utilized by Mussolini in Italy and the militarists in Japan to plunge the world into war, just as the pain and indignity of defeat was utilized by Hitler in Germany.

Either way, had there been no First World War, there would have been no Second. No Second World War, no Cold War; no Cold War, none of the post-Cold War nationalist conflicts due to the suppression of national identity during the Cold War. In short, had there been no First World War, had the Allies acted responsibly in 1914 and allowed Austria to clobber Serbia, all of the other conflicts of the 20th Century would have been avoided. Think of all the lives lost in all the wars of the 20th Century. How many future artists, musicians, poets, philosophers, writers, computer programmers, politicians, statesmen, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughers, would have lived on to enrich all of humankind?

That is the true lesson of Armistice Day. By calling it Veteran's Day and celebrating it like we do, as just another "Hooray for patriotism!" day (just like Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July [By the way, why do we call it that? We're commemorating our independence; calling it the "Fourth of July" just trivializes it]), it loses its meaning. We have enough flag-waving "Hooray for Patriotism" days. We should commemorate Armistice Day the same way the rest of the world does: as a day of somber reflection on man's inhumanity to man and the true cost of war; reflecting on the greatest tragedy in human history, the First World War, and what we lost because of it.

Lest we forget.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

You're All Hating Haters who Hate Things

By: Michael Akerman

EDIT: I've updated the Pictoblog. Additionally, I'm going to try to update it once daily with another picture, one per day, until I run out of pictures. Keep an eye on it.

I have a message for those Democrats who are grieving over John Kerry's loss. I speak for myself, but I believe I also speak for the Republican party and I hope I speak for most of the Democratic party when I say, "Stop being moronic!"

Since Bush's victory (incidentally, he gained percentage in every state but South Dakota and Vermont), I've heard plenty of Democrats saying they were going to move to Canada, or refusing to visit "red" states, or considering lobbying for their state to secede. I'm sure most of them are at least half-joking, but I know all of them at least partially mean it. This is disturbing, to say the least.

However, I must say that the "blue" states seceding is a tempting outcome. The secession of these states would mean lower crime and higher income for the remaining country. Besides, after you plow all your funds into butter, neglecting the guns, and your society collapses under the weight of the welfare state, we can always answer your inevitable cries for aid and reinstate democracy in your country. For the inevitable end of the "United States of Canada" (as labeled here) would be an uncontrollable morass of welfare that drains all the money from taxes faster than it comes in (low taxes for the low- and middle-income people, you know), leading to a downfall into hopeful fascism. Of course, the Democratic country would likely draw their major voters from the "red" states, effectively draining all the young minority males from the remaining US, and eliminating those who cause a plurality of crime (I'd say a majority of crime, but I'd have to research that).

But I digress. Back to the issue at hand. It's stupid to grieve over Kerry's loss. Why? Because you seem to be grieving over some very big misconceptions.

One: the President will utterly change the face of American law. This is a big one, because it's so astoundingly untrue. The President has very little legislative power. When it comes to ability to make law, he has the power of a well-respected lobbyist. That's about it. As I've said before, even the current Republican majority is not enough to ensure Bush's policy changes succeed. The Congressman, especially the House members, still have to worry about reelection (in just two years). Additionally, many Republicans come from rural states, so they will have to side with the Democrats on many economic issues (such as total privatization of social security, which I, personally, think would be great). Additionally, there are the Republicans from liberal states, who won because they were unopposed or because of incumbent status. They could, and would, quickly lose their jobs if they adamantly supported drastic "civil rights" encroachments (I say "civil rights" because I don't think gay marriage, or, indeed, marriage of any kind, is a right. I don't think abortion is a right... so forth).

The second reason, and the one I'm more infuriated by, is the notion that the Bush campaign was based on the premises of hate and fear. This is largely because of a ridiculously poorly worded exit poll question, which had six discrete options (taxes, economy, terror, etc.) and one very interpretive category: moral issues. Moral issues are everything to everybody. Liberals think it's moral to have gay marriage. Conservatives think it's moral not to. Conservatives think it's moral to charge every economic group the same percentage in taxes (or none at all, instituting a sales tax instead). Liberals think it's moral to charge the upper-income people extra for being successful. So, a loaded question such as this reveals that Bush convinced people based on hate. Do you honestly think it could possibly be so? A strong majority of people support at least civil unions for homosexuals. [sarcasm]Sounds really hateful to me.[/sarcasm] Honestly, are you so blinded by your own knee-jerk, emotional decisions that you think everyone decides politics based on emotions? Does it not occur to you that most of the Republicans have reasons for their stance?

Let's lay it down. There are Republicans like me who oppose gay marriage and abortion more on ethical grounds than religious. Then there are the religious Republicans. Conveniently, you all seem to forget that these people do believe this, and they're not making decisions based on untruths. At least to them (and, for the most part, to me) the word of God is truth. It's not a disputed fact. It's not a flimsy pretext for action. In some cases, it's the only pretext for action.

For instance, the complaint about the Bush administration's stance on gay marriage is that it's based on shear hate. However, aside from my oft-repeated stance that government should not have a hand in marriage, and, since marriage has a religious connotation, it is wrong to allow gay marriages purely because you think it makes them more "equal" than just civil unions, there is the theological argument. Remember Sodom? Religious people, believing it a distinct possibility that they will be smitten by God for allowing gay marriage (at least governmentally), oppose gay marriage on the grounds of the idea that they don't want to die and be damned to hell. I know, terribly selfish trying to protect everyone from themselves, eh?

So.... Arafat's Officially Dead

Right. So, French authorities announced that Arafat is dead yesterday. They also said that they have a "plan" to prevent violence. Smith and I agree this means they've already chosen a successor.

That doesn't make the situation hopeless. Remember, these countries like to pretend they're democracies by holding "elections" to choose the "president." Personally, I think it's time for a little action. If we want to create peace in the Middle East, we have to deal with the wedge that is Palestine to achieve it. What I think Bush ought to do is send in a token force to make sure the election isn't interfered with. Furthermore, invite other countries to send small forces, all to be used at the discretion of the Palestine Board of Elections wherever they wish to make sure the election is fair. The forces cannot claim to support a candidate, and they must be sure to leave as soon as the election is decided (this is why it must be a token force. If it's a large force, the Palestinians will feel threatened). Meanwhile, the force will be very nice to the people, giving out candy, and helping build sheds and such. I think the Palestinians yearn to be truly Democratic, and with a force from many countries, they will feel protected without feeling threatened, as the forces cannot work together as a unit, like a single large force from one country could.

Under the watchful eye of this multinational election force, the Palestinians could choose whichever candidate they actually want. If this turns out to be another dictatorial religious fanatic, so be it. The forces congratulate them on a successful election and pull out. The ideals of peace are still advanced, even if democracy is not implanted, and more effective peace talks can resume with the new leader.

The only danger I see is the threat of the famous Palestinian suicide bombers. This is why it's crucial to gain Palestinian agreement and keep the force small. The problem is that they will destroy the Americans out of pure hate, but I don't think they'll do it in Palestine itself. And, as long as the force is well-trained (perhaps Special Forces), they will be able to watch out for themselves. Besides, the force will be spread out (as security operations tend to be. The MPs stand alone, usually, or two at a time), minimizing the amount of damage from a suicide bomber and helping to convince the bomber that two American deaths are not worth 50-100 Palestinian deaths.

I think that's our best bet for peace in the Middle East. It will be easier, since there's no invasion, and no regime change. God did that for us.

~Michael Akerman

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Republican Party vs. The Republican Party: An Eerie Specter

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

I know, I should by all rights be posting my "Blessed are the Peacemakers, pt. 2". Don't worry, I will. But now for something entirely different...

France Kicks Butt?
First things first, an amazing true story out of the Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast forces bombarded the positions of French peacekeepers enforcing a cease-fire there over the weekend, killing 9 Frenchmen and 1 American. They claimed it was an accident. Unfortunately, the French didn't accept their apology. In the dead of night, French planes destroyed the newly-created Ivory Coast Air Force, consisting of "two Russian-built Sukhoi 25 aircraft and three helicopters... in what it called a pre-emptive strike." In responce, angry mobs of Ivory Coast(ers?) attacked French citizens living in the nation. In response to that, 50 French tanks have surrounded their president's home.

Wow. The French have finally found a nation they can defeat.

Does Energizer know about this?

Did you know that the NASA Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are still going? They landed in January and were only expected to last 90 days. Almost a year later, they're still roving around Mars. Dust was expected to have covered the rovers' photovoltaic solar cells to such an extent that they would shut down. Amazingly, dust appears to have been removed somehow from Opportunity's solar panel, thus ensuring continued longevity.

Thanks, little green men!

You can't fire me! I'm resigning!"

This just in: John Ashcroft has submitted his letter of resignation.

About friggin' time! A poll I saw this spring showed that Ashcroft had the lowest approval rating of anyone in the administration, below 35%. Ashcroft has always been a liability to Bush; you know you're attorney general is unpopular when your opponent gets his biggest applause lines by threatening to retire him, not you. Of course, Bush couldn't have fired him before the election; it would have meant he was admitting a mistake, something you don't want to do in an election year. But the minute the election is over, Ashcroft is jettisoned like ballast. That's gotta hurt.

From Ashcroft's letter of resignation, we read, "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts. Yet, I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration. I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons." Other challenging horizons... like writing self-serving memoirs, one would assume.

Of course, there is another reason Ashcroft was allowed to keep his job as long as he did. He offered complete uncritical obedience to Bush, something demanded by this president. Most presidents select people to put in their cabinets that will present them with all the options. Policy is shaped by the interactions of highly-qualified, highly-opinionated individuals, allowing the president to see all sides of an issue before taking any major action. Clinton had a Defense Secretary and a FBI director that were Republicans. You can find similar examples going all the way back to Washington including Jefferson and Hamilton in his cabinet (amazing they could stand to be in the same room!)

Not so with this administration. Bush stuffed his cabinet with yes-men, with only a few token exceptions. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made the mistake of telling the president what he thought, rather than adhering to the party line. For this act of disloyalty, he was forcibly "resigned"--allowing him to salvage some dignity rather than being fired outright. Ditto EPA director Christine Todd Whitman. Ditto John DiIulio, the head of the president's "faith-based initiatives" office. And of course, Vegas odds that Colin Powell will stay on for another four years?

Specter of the Future?

On a related note, but far more troubling, is the cautionary tale of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. On November 3, the day after the election, this moderate pro-choice Republican, next in line to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke up. He reminded Bush of the extremely hard time he had had in getting his extremist ultra-conservative (my words, not his) judicial nominees appointed in his first term and urged the President to not nominate an extremist to the Supreme Court in the highly-likely event of a vancancy. The Republicans have a majority in the Senate, but are still 5 votes short of the 60 necessary to end a Democratic filibuster.

Specter said,"But with 55 Republicans, you aren't at the magic number of 60, so you have to anticipate problems with the Democrats, as we had a lot of them in the past Congress." This man has been the Senate a long time and has seen many a contentious confirmation fight from Clarence Thomas in 1991 to Miguel Estrada in 2001. He was simply telling Bush to spare the already-polarized nation another bruising nomination fight.

Specter gave, as an example of nominees that would not fly, any who were on record for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. The Democrats would filibuster any nominee who took that position till Judgement Day. But this is the stuff the religiously conservative base of the Republican party doesn't want to hear. The religious right is hell-bent on imposing its morals on the rest of the nation and doesn't want to hear any dissenting opinion. Especially, from within the Republican party. His less-than-completely-unqualified support for the administration is inexcusable to party leaders, such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and others in the Republican party including newly-elected Senator John Thune of South Dakota, all of whom have criticized their collegue for his comments. Some in Congress and on the Religious Right are already calling for Specter to get passed over for the chairmanship of the Judiciary committee.

The Republican party, formerly a "big tent" party, has gone far down the road to being an ideologically homogenous party. The Bush administration cannot tolerate dissent, driving Jim Jeffords from the party in 2001, and countless others from its administration since. The warning has now gone out to all Republicans: toe the administration's line, support it 100% of the time, on every issue. The Religious Right has finally gained dominance over the Republican party, a party that is now at the height of its power nationally. Yet, pride comes before a fall. In a foolhardy attempt to purge the Republican party of all ideological "impurities", the Republican party is setting itself up for a mighty fall. And loud shall be the noise thereof.