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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?

Venting,


Ed

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Superpower!

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.

Ed

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.

Ed

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.

Sometimes
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 http://www.worldwar1.com/pharc005.htm.

"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 http://popularmechanics.com/science/extreme_machines/2004/5/largest_gun/. 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. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6413598/

Thanks, little green men!

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

This just in: John Ashcroft has submitted his letter of resignation. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/09/politics/10ashcroftcnd.html?hp&ex=1100062800&en=6f9653d9bea836b3&ei=5094&partner=homepage

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.

http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/11/04/specter.scotus.ap/index.html

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.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Blessed are the Peacemakers, pt. 1

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."--Matthew 5:9 (NRSV)

Death of a Statesman

Today we gather to mourn the (surely?) imminent loss to the world of a great man of peace. His name is Yasser Arafat. Yeah, go on and laugh. Done yet? No? Well, continue, I'll still be here when you finish.

All right. Glad to see you got that out of your system. Arafat-A man of peace? It's understandable to laugh considering how the mainstream media has catered exclusively to the theory that the failure of the Camp David Accords in 2000 between Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and President Bill Clinton was entirely do to "that terrorist Arafat, that thug Arafat, that Jew-hating, Hitler-loving, goose-stepping Brownshirt, Neo-Nazi, piece of pond scum Arafat", who hated Israel, wanted to destroy it, and didn't want peace, even if peace were handed to him on a silver platter. After all, the Israelis offered the best offer they had ever made, all of the Gaza Strip and 95% of the West Bank, and Arafat spurned this very generous offer.

It is what I thought, too, for a while. Until I found out that the Israelis had previously offered all of Gaza and 94% of the West Bank as the "best and final offer" a couple of months before. A couple of years before that, the Israelis' "best and final offer" had been at 92% of the West Bank. And even before that, Arafat had been assured that the Israelis would never offer more than 90% of the West Bank. Arafat had heard it all before. If you were in his shoes, and every "final offer" had been soon followed by a more generous one, wouldn't you expect that to be the case this time? Sure enough, at Taba resort in Egypt in December 2000, after his "final chance" at Camp David, after violence broke out again in September, a more generous deal (96-97%) was indeed offered, although it was short of Arafat's stated goal of 100% of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. So, realistically, Arafat would have been a fool to have taken the offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000. But he failed to count on the rise to power of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon. More on them later.

See, people often fail to understand Arafat's character. I've thought a lot about this over the years and have come to the conclusion that he has two overriding goals: to establish a secular Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and to maintain his power. The last is crucial. You cannot understand Arafat unless you understand his lust for life and power. This is a man who, I believe, is haunted by the fate of other Middle East leaders who took a gamble on peace. Anwar Sadat signed peace with Israel and was assassinated by his fellow Egyptians. Yitzhak Rabin, the man who shook Arafat's hand at the White House to begin the Oslo peace process, was dead within two years, killed by a fellow Israeli.

Arafat earnestly wants a Palestinian state and peace with Israel but his (justifiable) paranoia prevents him from taking the bold steps necessary to compromise. An editorial cartoon I saw in the Greensboro News & Record after the failure of Camp David illustrated the point rather nicely. (I wish I could find it again) The top box was captioned "Arafat being greeted by his countrymen after rejecting Camp David." It showed Arafat descending off a plane with armed Palestinians holding guns in salute. The bottom box was captioned "The greeting Arafat would have received had he accepted Camp David." The only difference in this box was that the guns were now pointed at Arafat! Arafat could have accepted Camp David, but then he would have had to plead for asylum, for he could not have returned home and lived to implement the accord.

The fault lies not just with Arafat. The problem was the "peace process" to begin with. Instead of seeing it as a process that would bring the peace everyone wanted, but only through painful compromise, the leaders in Israel and Palestine persuaded their people that it was simply a non-violent way to get everything they wanted and had not been able to get through years of war. There is a saying that diplomacy is "war by other means." Both sides viewed the peace process as "war by other means". No matter who was Prime Minister, no matter which party had a governing coalition, the liberal peacenik doves in the Labor party or the War Hawks in the Likud party, the Israeli government continued to allow, and even to expand and build more Israeli settlements in the lands Israel was now committed to give up. If you actually intended to withdraw from certain territory, would you continue to subsidize further settlement there?

No Israeli leader ever told his people that most, if not all, of the settlements would have to be withdrawn. Arafat never leveled with his people that few, if any of them, would ever be able to go back to their old homes in Israel which they had had to leave behind in the turmoil of the 1947-48 war. The sad truth is, neither side was ever really serious about making the sacrifices necessary for peace and neither side educated their populace to expect to have compromise anything. They wanted peace without effort. That is the true failure of Oslo, and it can be laid at the feet of both Israel and Arafat.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. Believe it or not, Arafat was more committed to peace than the Israeli leadership. The Israelis kept falling behind the deadlines established at Oslo. Arafat threatened to unilaterally declare independence when the deadline expired on May 5, 1999. He let the deadline slide to prevent the inevitable bloodshed. He also let the next deadline of September 15, 2000 slide as well. Arafat was willing to make sacrifices to keep the peace process alive, postponing the date every Palestinian lives and breathes for. He could have taken the easy and popular way out. Wisely, he didn't, in order to prevent bloodshed. So, yes, Arafat was a man of peace. He deserved his Nobel Peace Prize for his comittment to Oslo.

Now of course, Arafat is not, and has never been perfect. Yes, back in the days before Oslo, before about 1990, Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was responsible for a number of terrorist attacks, some of them planned by Arafat himself, that killed many Israeli soldiers and civilians. Arafat is a heavy-handed dictator, who probably rigged his 1996 "election" to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) Saddam-style and has refused to step down or hold another election--or "election"--even though his term under the Palestinian Constitution is over. He has even been known to pull a gun on his own cabinet members to keep them in line. Yeah, Arafat is a thug.

Arafat is no idealistic Jefferson, no political theoretician like Madison or Hamilton; he has not the commitment to democratic rule that Washington had. But he is all the Palestinian people have, the deeply-flawed Founding Father of the Palestinian nation, and its enduring symbol, the one force that unites almost all Palestinians. If we can do business with such paragons of democracy as Pervez Musharraf and Vladimir Putin, if we could find common cause with such a bloody tyrant as Joseph Stalin, we should be able to put up with a two-bit dictator who earnestly desires peace.

For more on the life of Arafat, I recommend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasser_Arafat

Arafat did commit himself to peace at Oslo, and the record shows that he kept that commitment right up until the peace process met its untimely end. At that point, Arafat was either unable or unwilling (a distinction I will examine in a later post) to stop the Palestinian terrorist organizations that, far from sharing his pragmatic recognition that an independent Palestinian state will have to coexist alongside Israel, are convinced that they have a divine mandate to "drive the Zionists [Jews] into the sea."

For despite all of Arafat's patience and his commitment to peace, violence engulfed the Occupied Territories at the end of September 2000, sparking the current spate of violence, the Second Intefadeh, or the al-Aqsa Intefadeh, sending the peace process down in flames.

Enter Ariel Sharon from stage left.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Philosophy, Politics, and Election Analysis

By: Michael Akerman


I've been thinking about how much having someone to listen to your problems heals the pain. This latest contemplation, for the record, was evoked by Scrubs. Dr. Cox (a very good rendition of the archetypal hard-shelled man with a heart of gold) was working with someone who had lost her son, and, having no one to listen to her pain, dealt with it through denial. When Dr. Cox finally listened to her, she, of course, broke down sobbing, but she was happier afterward for it.

I think listening is one of the best ways to heal. Perhaps, it's the best. And I don't mean active listening. That's a hollow and false psychological trick. I merely mean truly listening, for when someone listens truly, you need no cues to know you were heard.

It's hard to know where the divine stops and the mundane begins. We tend to forget how truly miraculous something is when it happens commonly. Sometimes, we are even irritated by it.

The obvious thing to consider as part of this is love, but I don't think that's an accurate assessment. No, people retain an awareness of the divinity of love, due to its rarity. That doesn't change the fact that I did think of love first, and that led me to a very rapid set of conclusions.

Men and women are different (obviously). Furthermore, men and women are different enough that we love each other for it. As much as we all lament the inexorable chasm between man and woman, society, nay, life itself would lose much of its balance without it. Considering there is a paucity of reasons it should be an evolutionary adaptation, yet it clearly is, I think this is one of those oft-overlooked miracles.

As a side note to these conclusions, I further theorize that this is yet another reason homosexuality is amoral: the homosexual relationship waylays this divine spark, forgoing a gift intended for everyone.

Furthermore, this reminds me of an earlier conclusion I made. People often decry the old statement that a woman should prostrate herself before her husband as cruel. I disagree. I believe that statement is accurate, but has grown misunderstood over time. You see, the wife should serve the husband. Contra-positively, the husband should serve the wife.

A marriage is a relationship between two mutual servants, both of whom should aim to please the other as much as possible. I think the man was never included in the statement because it's implied. We serve the woman we love naturally, because we really want sex, so the man must keep the woman happy.

Additionally, I think the feminist movement may be the event that seriously damaged marriage, leading to rising divorce rates. Now, the husband is expected to please his wife, with no socially expected reciprocal. Not only do husbands miss the joy of marriage, but the marriage's spark quickly evaporates for the wife as well, who is remiss the joy of causing joy.




Concerning Abortion:

Abortion is wrong. However, it is not a black-and-white issue. I promised I would speak both ethically and morally about abortion, so, ethics first.

Abortion, in most cases, is merely the means of avoiding the consequences of a willful act. This, effectively, means, abortions being legal in all cases, a woman (and her lover) can remediate all consequences of her own actions with a very simple procedure. This is very wrong. One should not be able merely remove the consequences of willful acts entirely. In layman's terms, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." Even STDs, most of which are now curable, cause consequences before they are cured. Curing takes time, and most STDs, by the time one would seek treatment, are quite uncomfortable, if not outright painful.

My one exception to this is rape. Abortion should be legal in the case of rape, as otherwise the woman is being punished for another's actions.

Though pure reason tends to convince me more than religion, I'll never convince most people based on reason. So, now, morally.

Life is sacred. That much is clear. Additionally, life signs are evident even in the first trimester. Thus, abortion is wrong. However, the fetus in the first trimester is just barely living. As such, its life is not yet something that absolutely must be preserved. Rather, it becomes another factor in determining what is right, much as one considers how it will affect the children before getting a divorce (I know, Ed. It's a sin in the eyes of the Church).

Consider: if the child of consensual sex (I know, Ed. It's a sin in the eyes of the Church) comes to term, it is obviously where it is supposed to be, regardless of quality of life, as it was born from a relatively minor sin, and born from extremely limited chance. The child is where God intended it to be.

However, a child of rape is born of a most heinous sin. Personally, I don't think God uses wretched sins to create good. No, the child is Satan's child, so to speak, although God has the power to co-opt the child and save it. Furthermore, the child will likely live with the stigmas not only of being an unwanted child but of being a reminder to the mother of the rape and being blood-related to a heinous sinner. I think the chances are, if the mother isn't willing to have and raise the child, he is likely to have a better existence in Heaven (and I suppose God could always reincarnate him as a wanted child).

So why doesn't God just cause these children to be stillborn? Some of these children are welcomed by their mother, and that changes everything. A loving mother can save the child through baptism and worship, and raise it to live a fulfilled life.

You know, I always feel like I'm making stuff up for religious arguments. I suppose I am. Not that I don't believe in God, just that I'm a wretched Biblical scholar (I don't believe being able to quote scripture makes you a better Christian), and the Bible is an old and probably mistranslated record of God's opinion, filtered through human writers. I suppose sometimes you just go with what feels the most righteous.




Shall we analyze the recent election, then?

The question on most Democrats' lips is, "Why did Kerry lose?" Well, in large part it's because the Democrats rely on the youth vote, and, while they certainly tried harder than ever, they still only got less than a quarter turnout.

It looks like the Dems. need a new strategy.

Fact is, a party cannot rely on the youth vote. It is unpredictable and, almost always, less magnitudinous than the rest of the vote. So, they must reach for an older vote. The problem at this point with this strategy: they don't support the same stance on social and moral issues as most of America.

I was talking with Smith about this yesterday, and Smith readily admitted that the Democrats have lost the battle over society. This is not the 60s anymore. The Democrats simply cannot stand as far left and hope to maintain electoral votes. They made ingrounds to some degree with Kerry, who, while he is considered, largely, more liberal than Mondale, took a position that stood more to the right on the traditionally non-valence issues: gay marriage and abortion. This certainly gained a good chunk of votes for him. It's not far enough to win, but it's close.

So close, in fact, that I found myself wondering why no state was close enough to demand a recount (Ohio was close, but even Kerry felt he had little chance of closing the gap. Kerry's a smart man, and he does understand statistics). I think it boils down to this:

The largest complaint from Democrats about Bush is that he is an imbecile. Obviously, the data stacks against this charge: he's a graduate of Yale and Harvard and was a pilot in the Air Force. Regardless of how he got into Yale and Harvard, fact is that he didn't fail utterly.

Granted, he is probably of a lesser intellectual ability than most of the readership of this blog. However, the fatal misassumption for the Democrats was assuming people cared how smart their President is. Intelligence, at least to an extreme degree, is really not important to a President. He must be able to make decisions based on evidence, obviously, but a middle schooler can do this, by and large. What's more important to the American people is to be able to stand behind your stance. The ability to change your stance on an issue is admirable, yes, but only when there's strong evidence showing you should. A President cannot pander. He cannot support the war for a pro-war crowd, but complain about it to the anti-war crowd. Kerry was notoriously bad at this, and I think it was the death of him. I'm inclined to believe Dean, or perhaps Clark, would have fared better.

Too bad Dean killed himself in the primaries with the "Dean scream." At least he'll live forever as an overplayed sound bite (I've seen it used lots of places already. Heck, one Halo CE map uses it for the energy sword lunge).




Until next time, when I'll post the AIM conversations about Smith's prediction from his immediately pre-election post (about the expanding power of the Presidency). I'd post them now, but one of the conversations (the most important one) is living on another computer at the moment.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Lights Are Going Out

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


This is a Black Day in American History. Kerry ran the best campaign he realistically could have, as a reasonably moderate, not-too-liberal, Clinton centrist Democrat, actually to the right of Bush on national security, but it wasn't enough. Perception is everything, and the media allowed Bush to "own" the issue without pointing out his almost-criminal incompetence, in letting bin Laden and Zarqawi get away on multiple occasions and strengthening the terrorist's ranks by occupying Iraq. After September 11, we had the support of the entire civilized world, yet today our standing has never been lower. We were lied into a war that has killed more than 1,100 Americans, and Americans don't even seem to care. I don't even know this America anymore. I can't even recognize it. For more thoughts on these matters, I recommend Eric Alterman's blog at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3449870/.

Bush won the day because of the use of wedge issues, valence issues like abortion and gay marrige, which he inaccurately tarred Kerry as supporting. The Republicans learned from 2000 that mobilizing the base is crucial. As in 2002, this year they simply mobilized more supporters than the Democratic party did

Yeah, I know, "With malice toward none, with charity toward all", etc. Yeah right! They will say, "Get over it." If the shoe was on the other foot, and Kerry were now the President-elect, would Republicans compromise away their core values in the name of "getting over it"? Of course not. This election exposed the real divide between the parties on the issues and we Democrats will continue to stand in forceful opposition to any reactionary actions coming out of this administration. It's not being a "sore loser". It's being true to our convictions. As Shakespeare advises us in Hamlet, "This above all else, to thine own self be true."

Yes indeed, they will say, "Get over it." But there is no way to get over this travesty. Criminal incompency and reactionary far-right extremism rule the day. We will be regretting this decision for many years to come, both here and around the world. The majority of the American electorate has spoken and we will all have to pay for their decision with untold blood and tears, we will all have to reap the foul harvest that they have sown. And we will all of us be the poorer for it.

"The lights are going out all over... we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."--Sir Edward Grey, August 1914

Monday, November 01, 2004

Pre-Election

By: Michael Akerman


Well, I suppose I should, as a conscientious Blogger, write a pro-Bush post in a desperate attempt to gain a few more voters (and I mean desperate in the way of all political things. Smith's post was desperate too), but I'd rather just point you here.

As far as Smith's accusations... well, I have to agree with him about the Patriot Act (I've said it before). It should never have passed Congress. However, I still disagree with him about this election being the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

Smith has drawn a parallel here between the Roman Republic and the American Republic (we discussed this several weeks ago). He claims Bush has sequestered more power than any other President. In fact, this may be the case. However, Roosevelt, I would wager, sequestered a larger percentage of power in his time. It is simply due to the current magnitude of power that the office of the President has gained so much.

And it is because of war and tragedy that this happens. Any person would have attempted to gain power for themselves, were they any kind of influential leader, after an event such as 9/11. The problem is that people are willing to give the office more power (it makes things simpler and more expedient). It would be no different for Gore or Kerry, just as it was no different for Julius and Augustus.

As far as the Iraq war... I highly doubt there are any swing voters relying on any opinion of the Iraq war to convince them. Besides, I feel like I've treaded this ground before, and I'd rather not rehash old battles.

~Michael Akerman

Electoral Elucidations: What This Election Is Really About

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Well, this is it. Tomorrow, voters go to the polls to decide the fate of America for generations to come. Sound like hyperbole? I know, we've all heard the pundits pontificate about how this is the most important election in our lifetime. Why? Because, the next president could have an opportunity to choose the next supreme court justice, many say. Well, guess what? They said that last time, too. And no justices have died or stepped down in the past four years. So the same could be said about any election. No, the true significance of this election is what the press is not telling you, because it sounds too alarmist, yet that does not diminish the fact that it is also true: the continued existence of American democracy itself is at stake.

First off, the abuses of this administration at home. The abrigment of Constitutional rights by this administration, particularly by John Ashcroft, in the name of fighting terrorism, through the PATRIOT Act in particular, are well known and need little explanation. Just to sum up, though, the USA PATRIOT Act (and yes, in all caps; it stands for: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism; get the feeling they were trying to come up with this abbreviation?), an attempt to fix the vulnerabilities in the legal and intelligence systems that facilitated the September 11 hijackers, allows the government to clandestinely spy on American citizens even without having "probable cause". For more scary stuff in the PATRIOT Act, I recommend http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/, but you can find other liberal and conservative criticisms of the Act through a quick Google search.

Even more troubling is what is not contained in the PATRIOT Act: The Bush Administration has claimed that the president has the right to designate not just foreign nationals, but American citizens as "enemy combatants", subject to being secretly arrested, never informed of the charges against them (violating the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus), not being able to choose legal council, having the government monitor any and all discussions with the government appointed-lawyer to provide incriminating evidence for the prosecution to use against them in court (thus violating attorney-client privilege, as well as all basic standards of fairness), and trying this said non-enlisted American citizen in a secret military tribunal, with the possibility of the death penalty being applied. Think about this for a moment. The government appoints the prosecutor, defense attorney, and the tribunal judges. The government is accuser, criminal investigator, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, jury, and yes, even hangman, all rolled into one. No appeal is possible, and all of this can be carried out in complete secrecy, without anyone else--the accused's friends or family--being any the wiser. The individual would simply have been "disappeared", as they would have called it in Chile under Augusto Pinochet, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, Germany under Adolf Hitler, or in any third-world dictatorship today. This is an unprecedented assault on our nation's constitutional foundation.

It is also an unjustified one. Sure, Abraham Lincoln suspended writ of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt tried foreign nationals in military tribunals in World War II. But these were understood to be emergency war powers to be used only to ensure America's continued existence when it was seriously imperiled, powers to be used only until the end of the war and then abandoned for the constitutional tools of peace. The Constitution had to be violated in order to save it. But no one can seriously claim Osama bin Ladin or any other terrorist poses the kind of imminent danger to Constitutional governance that the Confederacy or the Axis Powers did. This administration claims the right to use these powers for as long as the "War on Terrorism" goes on. Since terrorism has always existed, and since the United States is the dominant force (read target) in the world, and is likely to be so for decades to come, these war powers could be exercised indefinitely, as long as a president can claim there are terrorists, somewhere in the world, who wish Americans harm. At this point, we will have given dictatorial powers to our president. The Bush Administration has set a new precedent, shifting power to the presidency alone. And, as Lord Acton so aptly put it, absolute power does indeed tend to corrupt absolutely. If this President does not seize total dictatorial powers and abolish our democracy, some other president down the line will. Anytime you allow unchecked power to be concentrated in one office, eventually an unprincipled individual will attain that office, and our American Republic will be dead. The actions of this administration have put in jeopardy the continued functioning of American democracy. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." And they will receive neither.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has seen the light of reason, and struck down both the military tribunals of foreign nationals at Guantanamo Bay and the military tribunals of American citizens. American civilians have a right to face their accuser in a civilian court of law, the court has held. But the Bush Administration has been slow to comply with these new rulings, where they bother to enforce them at all. Bush seems to be saying, like Andrew Jackson did, "The Supreme Court has made its decision. Now let them enforce it."

Most worrisome about all this, is that there is little real congressional oversight. The Founding Fathers wanted to check the power of the chief executive, so they gave Congress the "purse strings" to enable Congress to provide oversight over the executive branch. Yet this administration has gone out of its way to avoid any kind of oversight altogether. From Cheney's attempt to keep the minutes of his energy task force secret, to administration attempts to get appropriations--in reality, blank checks--with "no strings attached" (such as the money Congress appropriated to respond to September 11, which they were told would go to fighting our enemies in Afghanistan, but which was instead secretly misappropriated and misdirected to begin the buildup to war against Iraq, according to Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack), this administration has in numerous ways, actively sought to undermine the elaborate system of checks and balances and the separation of powers the Founding Fathers wrote into our Constitution. This has been made possible by the fact that the Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, so the majority party in Congress has willingly ceded its oversight authority to a White House that pleads, "Trust us, we know what to do better than you do, just do what we want and don't ask any pesky questions. Trust us, come on, take a leap of faith".

This is troubling, but just as troubling is what is happening abroad. The president has claimed the radical right to preemptively attack any nation that he, and he alone, deems to be a "threat", or which he claims could become a "threat" at some future date. This was the same right claimed by Japan at Pearl Harbor and Germany in both World Wars. It is the excuse of tyrants, the code of conduct of common street thugs: get him before he can get me. It is an inherently immoral doctrine, condemned as such by the Pope and the leaders of most major Christian denominations, as well as by respected Jewish and Muslim leaders in America.

Lost in all of this is the reason why we actually went to war in Iraq. The anti-war protesters were right to oppose the war by hoarsely screaming, "No Blood For Oil!" But the oil of Iraq wasn't coveted by the Administration for the sake of enriching American oil companies. Think. What one commodity is at the heart of the world economy? Oil, of course. And if you control the majority of the world's oil, you have a stranglehold on every nation dependent on that oil. Orwellian, isn't it? He who controls the past (fossil fuels) controls the future.

See, it all started with a group called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The Twentieth Century was called "The American Century", mostly by Americans. At the end of the Cold War, the United States stood like a Colossus, the world's only superpower. And the good people at PNAC wanted to ensure that that status quo wouldn't change anytime soon, that the Twenty-First Century would be another "American Century." Of course, there were other nations that might become America's equal or even its superior over the coarse of the next century. The economic potential of the European Union already rivals that of the U.S. China, India, or even a revived Russia might also challenge America's economic, or eventually military, superiority. So, to prevent this, the PNAC advocated taking over the oil supplies in the Middle East America did not already control, namely those of Iraq, Iran, and Syria. During the 1990s, European, Russian, and Chinese companies did business with Saddam's regime, gaining oil concessions, while U.S. businesses were frozen out by U.S. sanctions. The Iraqi oil supply had to be controlled by the United States if long-term American hegemony was going to be established over all these nations.

And so, the PNAC advocated "regime change" in Iraq, always publicly at least, relying on the pretexts of spreading democracy in the Middle East and ending the danger posed by Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton Administration wasn't interested. But the incoming administration of George W. Bush expressed intense interest from the very beginning. Maybe this was because Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle were all members or supporters of the PNAC back in the 1990s.

Suddenly, much that was incomprehensible, now makes sense. The penchant for unilateralist action, the disdain for international treaties, the willful alienation of our traditional allies, why the military didn't bother to secure Iraq's artistic treasures, ammo dumps, and suspected nuclear program sites, but did immediately secure the Oil Ministry in Baghdad--all of this makes sense if the hypothesis I have outlined is true. Of course, I too wish to see America maintain its position in the world, but only an ultra-paranoid person would wish to squash the peaceful future economic development of other nations. The United States military outspends the militaries of the next 20 nations combined. We have such military superiority, there is no need to worry about being surpassed anytime soon, so this is a moot point. Plus, despite the dominance of the United States, most of the problems we face, from international terrorism to AIDS to global warming are transnational problems. We need the support of the entire world to solve these problems. And we can't get it if we insist on dominating the rest of the world by force and intimidation.

So, look at the Big Picture. We have a domestic policy that includes the taking away of constitutionally-protected God-given rights and a foreign policy that consists, quite literally, of a plan for world domination. Thus we see, under George W. Bush, the beginnings of an American Empire. Many of the neoconservative elite already speak approvingly of an "American Empire", while around the world the critics of this administration's policies also worry about the new "Empire". If there is one lesson history teaches, it is that democracy and empire are completely incompatible. For how can we be a beacon of freedom for all the world, Reagan's fabled "city on a hill", if the rest of the world fears and resents us? This was the great fear of the Founding Fathers, that like the only previous republic in history, the Roman Republic, the United States would succumb to the temptations of empire and lose its democracy in the process.

Never before have the American people been confronted with the question of America's destiny--republic or empire--in a presidential election. In contrast to President Bush, Senator John Kerry is in favor of repealing those sections of the PATRIOT Act that infringe upon essential liberties. Having been a Senator for 20 years, Kerry is unlikely to exhibit the same tendencies to undermine the Constitution's checks and balances as Bush, who had no legislative experience before arriving at the White House. Abroad, Kerry has built his campaign largely on a platform of mending our relations with our allies, something Bush probably would not be able to do in a second term due to all the bad blood he has engendered in his first term. The best way to stop America's progress toward empire, if not reverse it, is to elect John Kerry and John Edwards tomorrow.

Again, I return to the words of that wise sage, Benjamin Franklin. After the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what this new government would be. Franklin responded, "A republic--if you can keep it." This is the challenge of every generation of Americans. Democracy is not a self-perpetuating institution, not the default setting of a nation. It must be willed to continue to exist by each new generation of citizens and leaders. It must be fought for, and some in every generation must make the ultimate sacrifice to defend it. That is ultimately what this election tomorrow will determine: If we can continue to keep this grand republic.

~Michael J. Smith


Taxes?

By: Ed


Does anyone know why Kerry's tax plan is not socialism (or at least sever welfare liberalism)?

My poli-sci teacher said all he needs are more companies (manufacturing) under government control and the US will technically be socialist with his plan.

I haven't looked too in-depth, but it sure bothers me. For example:

There are two families. One makes 195k and the other makes 205k. They both have equal deductions ect. The second family makes 10k more than the first, but takes home $5 less than the first family.

Looking for comments,

Ed