Archive for the 'Politics & Opinion' Category



28
Nov
10

Libertarianism vs. Man-Made Disaster

Libertarians, in a panoply of forms, emphasize individual liberty over group control. Even I, your favorite blogger (right?), am somewhat Libertarian, leaning in the direction of Egalitarianism and Pragmatism. During recent political events, the most-publicized form has been Conservative Libertarianism.

A frequently-asserted mantra of Conservative Libertarianism has been that less (preferably zero) government involvement leads to more rational and inherently altruistic choices. This is especially consistent with the laissez-faire business ethic, which insists that businesses will not act in ways which are self-injurious or inconsiderate of broader needs of society. Laissez-faire is extended to individuals as an argument against government-sponsored social support. For instance, it has been claimed that people would rather languish (or here) on unemployment compensation benefits than work. It is also claimed that these benefits make some workers too expensive, according to a simplistic view of supply and demand that an undergraduate college economics class disproves. This overly-broad hypothesis asserts that providing no unemployment benefits is the best way to get people back to work. Recent extended unemployment for many Americans (with brief benefits) contradicts much of this: the jobs have not existed in this recessionary cycle.

Politicians such as Rand Paul are ardent Libertarians, except for when they aren’t. Many advocate interventionist government policies that directly impinge upon individual liberty. This blog will not attempt to add comments about this Libertarian treason. They are noted for the purpose of distinguishing real Libertarians from those who blatantly follow political expedience.

I offer a few examples of how real-world decisions have had consequences that were not merely non-optimal, but actually disastrous.

The American Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was our largest environmental disaster. The effects of a prolonged drought would have been terrible, but not unprecedented. Poor tillage and crop practices made a natural event into a man-made disaster. The fledgling Roosevelt administration started immediate government intervention. It was in the form of farm programs which changed these poor practices (including paying enducements) and several coordinated environmental measures, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps planting of millions of windbreaks. The loss of soil was effectively mitigated, providing a basis for improved farm yields in the 1940’s.

There is now a comparable Central Asia Dust Bowl, despite good farm practices being well-known. Farmers have been unimpressed with the implications of these practices for their future, choosing instead the immediate benefits of practices which maximize income. Human nature belies the claims of Libertarianism, that unregulated markets can be optimal.

Saddam Hussein was an example of a comparable myopia. He chose to not acknowledge his lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction – WMDs. The needs of domestic & regional politics conflicted with global politics. He was much more concerned with bluffing Iran (which continues to pose a substantial threat to Iraq) than with heeding the blustering of his dear (former) friends, the Americans.

Before Saddam was a Bad Guy, the Shuttle Challenger disaster provided a lesson in delusional or superstitious thinking. If Libertarian philosophy is good for government policy, it should be just as good for individual government agencies. In this case, the agency was NASA.

The disintegration of Challenger was completely the responsibility of management decisions. Engineering had established safe-certain launch temperatures. When launches nudged the lower limit, management pressured Engineering to modify the guidelines. The political ratcheting which progressed for 2 years ended with the launch of a vehicle which have icicles hanging from it. The temperature at launch was below the operating specification for the O-ring engine seal which failed.

There was a degree of superstition at work also. Thoughts such as, ‘We launched before at 36 degrees, what difference can 2 degrees make?’ were self-reinforcing with successful launches at succeedingly lower temperatures.

The NASA (and Morton-Thiokol, the engine contractor) managers made judgements which were not effective in risk management. Their performance was evaluated by such tangible metrics as launching on-schedule. Intangibles, such as risk probabilities and avoidance of catastrophe, have only poor means for being used in evaluation of managers. This resulted in tunnel vision.

Free-market environmentalism offers the same level of hubris in risk management. It is significant for extending this hubris to considerations which have the potential for regional and global disaster.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill looks, from interim testimony in the investigation, to be comparable to the Shuttle Challenger disaster in basic cause. Managers placed expedience and profit ahead of risk management. We shall (I hope) soon learn the extent and specifics of the government-regulation-free decisions that produced this mammoth disaster.

Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is an actively-fought concept by advocates of free-market environmentalism. They are making the same mistake, a mistake allowed by Libertarian philosophy, as was made in the Dust Bowls, Iraq War I, the Challenger Disaster, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

If (and this is a rapidly shrinking if) climate scientists are incorrect, what will we lose, and how will we recover those losses? We will lose some capital, spent to ameliorate, in addition to CO2 emissions, energy dependence and other urgent concerns. If advocates of free-market environmentalism are incorrect, what will we have left to recover? We do not have the luxury of rolling the die a statistically-confident number of times with Anthropogenic Global Warming. AGW now has 5 sides of that die. It will have to come up ‘6’ for us to survive without major disruption in the world. We don’t really have that slim luxury. The die will be rolled just once. We must manage the risk.

27
Nov
10

Founded Upon Christian Principles

Some folks assert that the United States of America was founded upon Christian Principles, and that the Founding Fathers relied upon Christian Principles {or here or here} in formulating the guiding documents of our nation.

I have no argument today against that assertion. I do believe it to be irrelevant. When the Founding Fathers provided the means to amend our Federal Constitution, and almost immediately exercised that means via the Bill of Rights, it guaranteed that the Constitution would remain a living document, subject ultimately to what the citizens of America wished it to be. No ‘Strict Constructionist‘ can offer an authoritative exegesis of ‘Original Intent‘ regarding a Constitutional Amendment which was enacted after every Constitutional author was deceased.

The relevant discussion is what an America, guided by Christian principles, would be. It would have been impossible, either shortly after the death of Jesus of Nazareth or just after Christian scriptures had been largely fixated by Emperor Constantine in 325 CE, to predict what Christianity, guided by Christian principles, would be. That does not deter me from attempting to offer some possibilities for America.

Consider first the several ways in which Christian principles have already been used to guide governmental policy.

The Founding Fathers, who are assumed for the purposes of this commentary to have been guided by Christian principles, wrote in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, that apportionment shall include “… three fifths of all other Persons.” That is, slaves were counted as a fraction of a person. Slavery was allowed, de facto, constitutionally. The best exemplar for this, the Christian principle guiding this result, is 1st Corinthians 7:21:

Were you a slave when God called you? Let not that weigh on your mind.

America had a prolonged disagreement with Native American peoples about land rights, etc. Take the Indian Removal Act as an example. The Christian missionaries who opposed this genocidal Act were apparently misguided, since in 1830 there were still Founding Fathers available to correct deviance from Christian guidance. The resulting land cessions and forced migrations brought death and misery to thousands of Native Americans of all ages. I am not a good-enough Christian to provide the basis for this Act of Holy Governance. Most Teabaggers should be able to describe the savage, un-educated and un-Godly lifestyle that prevented Native Americans from being worthy to retain land and rights which only the White Man might use advantageously. Perhaps, as with the Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:20-27) being applied to black-skinned peoples, the often-dark-skinned Native Americans would have been deemed to only exist as ‘servants of servants’.

Such humanitarian scourges have not been confined to racial matters. All Christian religions (it is not just one, don’tcha know?) and denominations (for which there is insufficient space to list here) have disagreed and fought with each other in explicit ways. I was reared as a Southern Baptist. My church would not accept a baptized Christian for membership unless he or she were re-baptized as a Southern Baptist.

And what of a future America, fully guided by Christian principles, instead of being guided by the haphazard application of such principles? European governments of the past are a good model. It was common for non-Christians for have second-class legal status. The word for this in Islam (for non-Moslems) is ‘Dhimmi‘. We can expect, analogous with Saudi Arabia or Middle Ages Europe, to have Dhimmitude of non-Christians. Perhaps we would count Dhimmis as 3/5ths of a person.

I believe that one currently-prominent public discussion would be resolved by Christian principles. Tax policy would be greatly improved by tithing to the government as we all already do (we all do, right?) to our churches. No maximum tax rate of 33% – it would be 10%. No social manipulation by providing deductions for mortgages, medical expenses, or child care. No corporations like ExxonMobil, General Electric, or 2 of every 3 U.S. corporations which paid zero Federal taxes from 1998 through 2005.

We could easily solve a multitude of social problems as a genuinely Christian nation. Poverty would disappear as we followed the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth – Matthew 19:21:

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

My Grandparents took in a ‘5th son’ during the Great Depression to help families who were even poorer than my Grandparents. We could eliminate government departments of social services in this way.

The earliest church, which most intimately knew and understood the teachings of Jesus, did choose such a form of governance – Acts 2:44-45:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush (and an eminent Conservative), described the dominant non-republican aspect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said, “in Iran, you have a theocracy … Iran is governed by jurisprudence that comes directly from Allah. … If the law comes from God, and the only people who can really understand it are the Mullahs, are you really gonna have a vote on whether you agree or disagree with God?” America, which Bolton later described as “the most libertarian country in the world”, would not accept such a system.

Teabaggers, simultaneously seeking minimal and Christian governance, are, in fact, already at war with themselves.

06
Nov
10

I Knew That It Was Reprehensible

A criminal on trial for a postal crime (circa 1965) gave the following testimony, as quoted by a St. Louis Division Postal Inspector who attended the trial. The Prosecutor asked the defendant, ‘Did you know that what you did was illegal?’ The defendant was not the stereotypical dumb criminal. His literate, if ill-considered, response was, ‘I knew that it was reprehensible, but I didn’t know that it was illegal.’ It was a jury trial. The jury was probably unimpressed by his candor. He was convicted.

We don’t always have such candor by which we may judge a person’s actions. Sometimes, there are other ways to observe that which is intended to remain a secret.

We now have news that former President George Bush has acknowledged, in his pending memoir, approving the waterboarding torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. More than mere acquiescence, his approval was in the form, “Damn right.”

There has been plenty of argument already about the legality of torture in general, and of this form of torture in particular.

When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.
– President Richard Nixon

I suggest that we stand the Prosecutor’s question on end and ask, ‘Did you, President Bush, know that what you did was reprehensible?

This is not a question we are likely to ever be allowed to ask directly. It is a question for which, by his own actions, Bush has already given his answer.

The Prosecutor’s question, ‘… illegal?’ was asked of Bush. His administration’s answers were consistent in denying illegality. He answered that he relied upon carefully considered legal opinions (Alberto Gonzales, et al.) in his administration’s policy of “enhanced interrogation“.

We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture.
The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.
– President Bush, 22June2004

But his response to questions about his direct involvement in approving this policy was uninformative. It was barely possible from his responses to determine who gave the actual approval for the policy. It was ultimately ferreted out that Donald Rumsfeld – no, Dick Cheney – no, somebody – gave the order to proceed. Each person illuminated by this guessing game played the good soldier by falling on his sword. That is, falling on it after carefully turning the sharpened edge downward.

There is no ambiguity about the reprehensibility of torture. That is proven by the fact that Bush allowed others in his administration to be examined for responsibility, while being silent about his own responsibility until after he left office.

This is the man who “didn’t appreciate speculation” about his personnel, who referred to himself as “The Decider“. He allowed the speculation to continue, uncorrected. He decided to tell the truth only now, when he is safe from consequences.

That he was adamant about the legality and practical necessity of torture, but reluctant to reveal any responsibility but oblique involvement in the formulation and implementation of policy, speaks as loudly to the jury of history as a defendant’s words from 1965:

I knew that it was reprehensible, but I didn’t know that it was illegal.

09
Oct
10

Free Market Fallacy

One of the candidates for Roy Blunt’s Congressional seat, in Missouri’s 7th District, is Kevin Craig. Craig is a Libertarian. He expressed his Free Market attitudes in the recent candidate debate in Joplin. The Free Market philosophy is a distinctly Libertarian approach to Economics.

There are several fundamental and severe fallacies of the ‘Free Market‘. Such fallacies have been described repeatedly and effectively. This is my approach to a persistent impediment to sound economic judgement.

The first fallacy is the Rationality Fallacy.
Free Market philosophy is fundamentally a belief that individual decisions will be, collectively, ‘correct’ or ‘best’. Unfortunately, attempts to seek a definition of ‘correct’ or ‘best’ typically find a circular answer: that it is the collective result of a free market. This has some chance of being correct if the individual decisions are essentially rational and informed.

The second fallacy is the the Information Fallacy.
Free Market philosophy’s dependence upon rational and informed decisions is unrealistic. Individual participants in a market often do not have the information necessary for a rational and informed decision. Other market participants may actually actively hide such information to deceive others and cause them to make decisions which are not truly in their own interests. in addition, some market participants are simply ignorant. Even those who are reasonably informed may not receive the most essential information: feedback.

The third fallacy is the Linearity Fallacy.
The famous eponymous Laffer Curve assumed a smooth (monotonic low-order derivatives) function. Various economic relationships are known, or can be expected, to be highly non-monotonic. These relationships are also dependent on a large number (economic models can be plain scary) of variables. Changes in some variables result in changes in the character, not merely the degree, of a functional relationship.

The fourth fallacy is the Stability Fallacy.
The stock markets (which are heavily intertwined) have suffered several catastrophes instigated by automated trading. Feedback in various markets can produce situations which are un-correctable (by any means) when they have reached a certain level. Markets are filled with dependencies which have widely varying time constants and functional relationships. Some relationships are not functions. They may even be chaotic: unreproducable even if ‘initial conditions’ were to be re-created.

The combination of the Linearity Fallacy with the Stability Fallacy could be termed the Determinism Fallacy.

The fifth fallacy is the Independence Fallacy.
Markets are no longer isolated. Local U.S. craftsmen and manufacturers compete with the products of low-wage labor in foreign countries which (may) have highly centralized government control. Foreign governments are often not adherents of Free Market philosophy. They may artificially control prices, often to their short-term disadvantage, to gain market control. The Japanese conquest of world-wide television production in the 1980’s and 1990’s is a classic example.

The sixth fallacy is the Altruism Fallacy.
It is a fundamental tenet of the Free Market philosophy that market participants, in acting acording to their own (and selfish) best interests, benefit the market as a whole. That is, selfish individual actions have a collective altruistic effect. Unfortunately, some market participants are not rational or benevolent. Suppose that a certain (hypothetical) country thought that a military arms competition with a certain opposing country could eventually promote the economic collapse of the opponent. It might then (hypothetically, of course) waste many billions of dollars and the sweat and blood of its citizens to pursue that gamble. This is clearly a strategy which does not maximize wealth. It sacrifices wealth (even that embodied in people) for a particular (and not exclusive) form of power.

The ultimate adherents of Free Market philosophy would accept, and even applaud, some of these flaws which I have described. Market participants who act deceptively, for example, are recognized as being consistent with the ultimately competitive nature of the Free Market. That is believed by such adherents to be (yes, an example of circular logic) a good result.

I have a formal name for these ultimate adherents of Free Market philosophy: Anarchists.

29
Sep
10

Questions & Abortion

During this election cycle, it is a more prominent position for candidates to advocate the outright ban, without exception, of abortions. Exceptions which are currently legal include the cases of incest or rape.

This is not the limit of reproductive control. Abortion is defined as occurring after implantation of a zygote on the placenta. Some activists and politicians also advocate banning the destruction of a zygote prior to implantation.

I have several questions regarding either of these total bans of abortions.

Abortions occur with the participation or involvement of one or more people. Examples of individual participation would be: a pregnant woman who intentionally or neglectfully does something which results in abortion; a doctor who intentionally or neglectfully does something, without knowledge of the pregnant woman, which results in abortion. Examples of multiple participation would be: a standard abortion, with a consenting pregnant woman, an attending doctor, and nurses, assistants, and staff.

In the case of a violation of law, who is the responsible party?
For a standard abortion, would the doctor (who overtly performs the proscribed act)
be the responsible party, with others as accessories?

The proponents of Colorado’s proposed ‘Amendment 62‘ to their Constitution write,

“It won’t threaten the death penalty on doctors who do legitimate invasive surgery that could unintentionally harm a child in the womb.”

The proposed amendment does not specify such a limitation – the proponents refer to how existing law is implemented.

To what penalties, ostensibly less than death, might such doctors be subject in Colorado
– or in other jurisdictions which might have either of these total bans of abortions?

The proponents of Amendment 62 also write,

It won’t open the door to criminal investigations of women who miscarry. …miscarriages are completely unintentional…
It won’t ban surgeries for women who have tubal pregnancies, also known as ectopic pregnancies. The crucial issue in criminal law is always intent.

Establishing or eliminating intent or negligence requires investigation by government prosecutors. They do not have the discretion, under comparable current statutes, to dismiss investigations without even a perfunctory investigation. Miscarriages, for example, have resulted from stress, alcohol consumption, and abuse as well as from unintended causes.

Do proponents of either of these total bans of abortions want state or federal governments
to investigate episodes which are currently regarded as medical conditions?
Do proponents of either of these total bans of abortions want state or federal governments
to investigate such episodes beyond the current practice of investigating the situation
as it regards the pregnant woman’s welfare?

Many criminal statutes are written to both outlaw a specific act, and also ancillary acts. These ancillary acts include conspiracy, aiding & abetting, etc. Some prosecutions for conspiracy are successful despite an inability to prosecute for direct violation of statute. Assuming statutes written in conformance with such common practice:

Would even non-medical staff of a doctor who performed an abortion be subject to prosecution?
Would people be prosecuted for planning an abortion – perhaps to be conducted outside of legal jurisdiction
– regardless of whether or not an abortion occurred?

For pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, the pregnant woman would, with the total ban of abortions, necessarily carry for nine months and give birth to the child of a blood relative or of an attacker.

The Colorado state Constitution states:

[Section 3.] All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, … the right of enjoying … their lives … and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
[Section 25.] No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

A pregnancy due to rape or incest would be a arduous experience. It would often be psychologically (and even physically) damaging to the pregnant woman.

What consideration do the proponents of abortion bans give
to the effects of such pregnancies upon a woman?
Does a ban’s “due process of law” obliterate the damage done to a woman’s rights under Section 3?

That potential for harm that a pregnant woman faces also exists for a child who is the result of a criminal act. It can be shattering to learn, for instance, that Grandfather is also Father.

Who decides for the yet-unborn child?
Does government decide that a pregnant woman must always either abort or not abort?
Or should the pregnant woman decide – sometimes to abort, sometimes to carry for adoption,
or sometimes to actually carry, birth, and parent the child?

Abortion bans often are proposed in the form of defining personhood for a zygote or embryo. That is, they would make abortion legally indistinguishable from the killing of any other person.

What would the legal penalties be for violations of an abortion ban?
Is there any way, consistent with the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, for penalties
(compared to post-birth killings) to be reduced or for death penalties to be proscribed?

The proponents of abortion bans have never specified how they believe that total bans could be implemented. I do not know whether they have not considered the need to write implementing legislation (as is required for all other legislative or constitutional initiatives) or they choose to avoid the subject.

What might be some unintended consequences of this amendment?

Are people who support efforts to totally ban abortions buying the proverbial pig in a poke?
Do they have the slightest notion of the significant ramifications of such laws?
Do they want such laws to apply to themselves, their family, their doctors, and others?

26
Sep
10

Separation of Church & State & Guns

Today was ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday‘. Nearly 100 American pastors were to intentionally violate U.S. law which serves to implement Amendment I of the Constitution. They seek a lawsuit and potential change of law. Similar resistance is common regarding Amendment II.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Folks who like to look at things from an absolute perspective often regard these amendments to the U.S. Constitution as uncomplicated. Maybe they have an argument for what should be – but they are utterly wrong about the status quo.

These advocates of a simplistic interpretation are associated in my experience with geniuses who harangue Congressmen with “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” You, my dear readers, are not confused to the point of such rabid self-contradiction. Perhaps you are a bit hazy on the realities of how our country handles Amendments I & II. Despite a fair general knowledge, some of my research surprised me.

There are laws respecting an establishment of religion. How would we determine what is a religion, other than by legal (that is, government) definition? Without this obvious and essential “law respecting”, Amendment I would be a recipe for anarchy.

This most fundamental issue is largely irrelevant for such basic religious activities as worship, study of scriptures, and congregational activities. It is very relevant for money – taxes and other government levies. IRS Form 8274, ‘… Exemption From Employer Social Security and Medicare Taxes’, refers to a couple of complicated sections of the U.S. Code defining churches.

Given recognition as a church by the IRS, a church has plenty more “laws respecting” to consider. The IRS makes an effort to inform churches and their employees with Publication 517, ‘Social Security and Other Information for Members of the Clergy and Religious Workers’, and Publication 1828, ‘tax guide for Churches and Religious Organizations’.

One item that was a surprise to me was IRS Form 5578, ‘Annual Certification of Racial Nondiscrimination for a Private School Exempt From Federal Income Tax’, usually for church-run schools. Religions in America must, in this and many more ways, conform to civil law. Some of these laws, such as the reporting requirement of Form 5578, are “laws respecting” which facilitate a larger exemption.

Some folks are actually angry about Form 5578 and other things. Check ‘30 Ways the IRS Controls Christian Churches‘ by Col. William Flatt, Senior Brigade Commander, Indiana Militia Corps. For example, they don’t like the promotion of miscegenation (#20). Gee, I woulda never guessed.

Just as the practical application of Amendment I necessitates some “laws respecting”, Amendment II’s “shall not be infringed” is qualified in practice.

Yes, qualified. No, you can’t* make or buy bombs, regardless of how “necessary to the security of a free State” they seem. You can’t have a shotgun or rifle with a barrel shorter than 18 inches. You can’t freely purchase or possess a full-automatic weapon.

*Actually, many things described as “can’t” actually CAN, if a person jumps through the right hoops and pays appropriate fees. Even that is something of an infringement, ain’t it?

Folks such as the NRA pose Amendment II in the role of protecting us ordinary citizens from a tyrannical government. Think about that a bit: the U.S. military is much better prepared for armed conflict than are civilians. I include civilians who have served in our armed forces and are highly trained in warfare. Despite our eminence as the most heavily-armed civilian populace in the industrialized countries, we would not be a match for our own military. If we were a match, then our national defense capability would be abysmal.

The best defense that we have against armed tyranny is a military controlled by civilian government. The President is Commander-in-Chief, outranking all career military officers. The Secretary of Defense is (usually) a civilian.

The NRA does not (I understand and hope) advocate the legalization of unresticted access to bombs, full-automatic weapons, etc. They do not advocate the keeping and bearing of arms adequate for the threat of which they warn us. They seem to avoid the subject of weapons regulations which they choose to not oppose. They accept, as do most church members, the realities of implementing Amendments I & II.

I very much wish that folks who rant about violations of their rights under Amendments I & II would become informed. They need to either shut up or develop proposals for how “make no law respecting” and “shall not be infringed” are to be implemented in practice. It is not easy.

10
Sep
10

Our Moslem Neighbors

It is a boast to describe America as a ‘Melting Pot‘. We have been a strong country for many reasons. Some are accidents of geology or history. A major reason, derived from the complexities of the flow of history, is that we are many. The fact that America is a composite of many cultures gives us unique qualities in the same way that glass fibers and epoxy, individually deficient for structures, form a composite – fiberglass – that is both strong and resilient.

Tomorrow marks a day of anguish for us. It will remain in our national consciousness in the same way that Pearl Harbor Day has. It will always be 9-11.

The events of that day, and subsequent events, have tested our American ideals. Many folks have not been confident enough, loving enough, and insistent enough to stand for American ideals and keep them as realities. Some folks have gone out of their way to fight enemies who are imagined, only existing in their anxieties.

Some of those imagined enemies are fellow Americans and neighbors who are not yet Americans. Some of them are otherwise accorded the deepest trust in their work for others as doctors, engineers, attorneys, and in a host of semi-professional and non-professional jobs. They are good and productive people who are worthy of our friendship. They are Muslims.

A while back, my friend Kasim (Craig) invited me to visit The Islamic Center of Joplin for a worship service. The Moslems in attendance that day were enthusiastic in their warmth and interest in Kasim’s friend. It has been too long since that day, so tomorrow is a good day to visit again. {Note ‘Prayer Times’ at the link.}

I invite you, fellow American, to embrace a neighbor in friendship on 9-11. I hope that some of you seek a Moslem neighbor to affirm that we are still the great Melting Pot.

PS I have a kufi – a cap worn by Africans of all faiths – which is good headgear to wear to a Muslim service. To be extra neighborly, learn the Islamic greeting, “Assalaamu ‘alaykum“!

Note that men & women worship separately at the mosque. That’s why I was reared as a Southern Baptist instead of a Methodist. Dad insisted upon being with Mother for Sunday School!

24
Aug
10

Self-Defense – or – Self-Delusion?

It is an American mythology that access to a handgun is equivalent to effective self-defense. No other country maintains the persistent attitude that individuals may not be safe unless they own and sometimes carry handguns.

This subject came up during my last visit to the shooting range. The Fort Crowder Conservation Area has an excellent outdoor range, with 25, 50, and 100 yard stations and a clay-target field. It is a good example of the effective use of public revenues to serve hunters & recreational shooters, practice for self-defense, and law enforcement. There is also a separate archery range.

Some fellows shooting .40 cal and 9mm discussed the difficulty of hitting a target that is shooting back. After a while, I settled into conversation with ‘Doug’ (pseudonym), who is a 75 year-old former policeman. He described having been a former champion in Cowboy Action Shooting. CAS is an awesome sport. Baseball may be America’s Pastime, but CAS, Rodeo, and Lumberjack Competition are the Great American Sports.

Doug made a distinction between private and law enforcement use of handguns. Law enforcement officers cannot have the same options as private citizens. Sometimes, they must pursue a dangerous, armed suspect. Even with significant advantages in training and practice, they are vulnerable to the low-probability shot from a desperate fugitive. If there is some distance between a private citizen and an assailant, this reality dictates that the best defense is additional distance and use of cover.

Even with close encounters, Doug noted that law enforcement officers cannot be assured of effective handgun use. Encounters of 5 to 20 feet distance may result in very few hits on an assailant. Their placement, crucial to effectiveness, is at least as problematic. Doug could not describe how much poorer the situation would be for a private citizen who is not highly trained and practiced in such a tactical situation. My own performance is not especially good under ideal conditions: the 25-yard 17×11-inch target had just 14 hits in 21 shots from my .380 Beretta Model 1934. It was my Dad’s backup handgun (ankle holster) in the Postal Inspection Service. His aim was much better than mine.

After my brief discussion with Doug, I was determined to seek the comments of another Cowboy Action Shooter. ‘Dee’ (his real name!) is a former Army Sargeant with extensive experience. He served in the Persian Gulf War, Central America, and many other places. He was a military competition shooter, trained in tactical operations. He also practices open carry with his dual revolvers.

Dee uses a dual holster with cross-draw on the left. This allows him to shoot with the right hand while reining his horse with the left. With his dramatic handlebar mustache, he certainly looks like a Cowboy Action Shooter!

Dee says what many experts say about self defense (with or without firearms): situational awareness is vital. Self-defense situations are too varied and complex to depend upon any panacea. One generality which he did offer was, “The goal should be to get out of the situation”, with an exchange of gunfire being an option of last resort. He expressed concern that “dilettantes” regard firearms use as comparable to scenes in movies and games, without realistic regard for the danger to neighbors and family. Such folks have, as primary deficiencies, a “lack of committment” and a failure “to assume that whoever you’re facing is better than you”. It is clear that Dee, a person who is prepared to use handguns for self-defense, does not think that very many folks can do so safely, effectively, and with a likelihood of an improved outcome from dangerous encounters.

Dee confirmed my advice about firearms: most people who choose to have firearms at ready should have a 20 or 12-gauge shotgun with birdshot loads. Long-barrel weapons are more likely to be well-aimed under stress, and they are much less likely to endanger their owner or people outside of the nearest walls.

There is much research material for those who are interested in the profound complexities and difficulties of shootings. The New York Police Department has an ‘Analysis of Police Combat‘. The Rand Corporation has also studied the NYPD firearms training & review process. The “Practical Firearms Training” video series by Philip Van Cleave is a cautionary lesson from an advocate of firearms.

Thanks to Dee for his contributions to this blog.

31
Jul
10

‘Flame Wars’ Ignited By Tiny Sparks

My preceding post, ‘Plagiarism, Integrity, & Dialogue‘, was also a Joplin Globe editorial: ‘Jim Stone, guest columnist: Punditry bane to honest dialogue‘ {22Jul10}. It was prompted by my discovery of plagiarism in a guest editorial. That incident was significant both for its rarity (the Globe has controls for published content) and its egregious nature. The responses online and in a subsequent editorial included many heated or obtuse comments. Many of the comments were pristine examples of the poor dialogue decried in my editorial.

One misguided commenter suggested (repeatedly) that my use of a quote, with citation, was plagiarism! One critic of that commenter questioned his grade-school success. Another noted that he was building a coffin for the commenter. Both were fine sarcasm and poor dialogue.

Other folks displayed their insecurity openly by responding defensively: “is this just another condescending piece where we are told we don’t even know how to argue?!” (signed, ‘Is it me, or…..’) ‘Is it me’ does know how to argue, but that is not the same thing as dialogue.

Hot-button topics trigger some insecurities: I used the phrase “confiscate our guns” as an example of a falsehood, and an undiscerning commenter utterly confused “confiscate” with other forms of regulation which are, indeed, common. Local (and other) regulations of the possession and use of firearms are common. Joplin and most communities have such regulations. Confiscation is rare and limited, not impending or wholesale.

Derision “A piece like this should be read wearing tweed, smoking a pipe…” (signed, ‘Properly snoody’) is dandy argument. As with other polemics, it is not dialogue.

The most common anti-dialogue technique is to ignore facts, and repeat (or shout) discredited arguments. That gets us nowhere, and fast. Anson Burlingame’s Globe editorial, ‘Opinions not necessarily plagiarism‘, illustrates this.

Anson devotes much of his comments to ‘opinion‘. Opinions, simply as opinions, were not a subject of my editorial criticism. Anson wrote, “…don’t denounce his expression of his/her opinion. That I think is called freedom of speech.” In fact, my editorial had no such denunciation. I object to the uniformly, dismally low quality of opinions and to the resistance too many folks have to exchange their opinions in a productive manner.

The prior editorials regarding the Jones Act, and Anson’s citation of a Canadian news organization, provide my last example of poor dialogue. Commenters provided citations of fact (not mere ‘news reporting’) that have been ignored. I refer readers to Wikipedia’s ‘Merchant Marine Act of 1920‘, Factcheck.org’s ‘Oil Spill, Foreign Help and the Jones Act‘, and even to Openmarket.org’s ‘Readers Contest Factcheck.Org’s “Oil Spill, Foreign Help, and the Jones Act” ‘. The last source, which attempts to affirm Jones Act problems, actually cites a Voice of America article confirming that Anson is incorrect about delays in Dutch assistance being due to the Jones Act.

I definitely come down on the side of “letting anyone submit whatever they want” (Burlingame). I will also continue to note that opinions are similar (to you-know-what) – everyone has one. Who has a willingness to sort out values in a genuine dialogue?

22
Jul
10

Plagiarism, Integrity, & Dialogue

Plagiarism, noun – the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work. [Dictionary.com]

Most decent folks don’t need to be told that a misrepresentation, such as plagiarism, is wrong. Our parents gave us some general guidelines about lying, and we have understood most related issues ever since. Unfortunately, a few people feel that “the end justifies the means“. For them, ‘borrowing’ a few professionally-written sentences from a respected source is justified by the importance of either their message or their ego. So we occasionally find examples of such deviousness in school papers, literature, or even in readers’ contributions to a significant Ozarks newspaper.

In addition to the theft of intellectual property, such misrepresentation is dishonest because it misleads us about the writer’s personal feelings and attitudes. We are presented with a sort of chimera (a blend of two species) that purports to be an individual like us, perhaps even a trusted neighbor. We are mislead to believe that we are having an honest exchange of ideas with that person. We are not – we are actually being manipulated by someone who is more interested in achieving supremacy in argument than in having a dialogue with neighbors.

There is an insidious form of misrepresentation which many of us don’t recognize. In fact, many folks do it often. Wherever people have exchanges about politics, religion, and other sectarian topics, someone will do it. The pages of blogs, newspapers’ on-line readers’ opinions, and similar forums are filled with examples. Face-to-face discussions, even between family members, may be thick with these misrepresentations.

These misrepresentations are the myriad ways of engaging in polemics: disputing for superiority instead of seeking understanding. Propagandists, now our constant companions in public life, have taught us to respond to an incisive point with counter-attacks, not dialogue. A citation of fact is met with demonizing comparisons such as ‘That’s the same thing Hitler did!‘, or ‘Big Lies’ like ‘They will confiscate everyone’s guns!‘.

Even these techniques are sometimes overkill for avoiding honest dialogue. A writer in the Globe‘s Opinion section recently published his opinion that a certain federal law should be waived to allow a better response to the Gulf oil spill. Commenters pointed out the fact that the federal law was largely inapplicable, it had not impeded any foreign assistance, and it had not affected the clean-up at all. In a genuine dialogue, the original writer would have responded with either: facts supporting the original assertion; mitigating or special circumstances negating the commenters’ points; acceptance of the gist of comments, with an alteration of the point being made; or acknowledgement that the comments are fully correct.

What actually happened was that the writer ignored the comments. He even published another opinion, simply repeating his original false assertion. What could a person be thinking when doing this? Is this how any of us would have a discussion in person? I hope not. I fear that this example is, in fact, repeated too often. Such unresponsive exchanges are certainly common in opinion pages, where arguments are countered by changing the subject, by attacks on personalities, by use of ‘straw man’ arguments, and by numerous other disingenuous (and basically dishonest) rhetorical ploys.

Such exchanges are common in political, religious, and other discussions of a sectarian nature. Our democracy – which relies upon an informed electorate – is jeopardized by the vast number of folks who can only say what they have heard from their favorite polemicist. They blind themselves to their true feelings and attitudes by adhering to fearful commentaries and believing superstitious untruths. I doubt that our pioneering citizens could afford the luxury of believing in imagined enemies instead of the realities of a harsh and unexplored land. I doubt that they could afford to listen to purported experts while they could feel life’s facts in the wind, rain, and dust on their faces.

We are no less in need of intelligent, thoughtful, and honest dialogue than those pioneers. We need to stop parroting the words of pundits and favorite news sources. We need to honestly listen to each other, respond constructively, and pursue a dialogue that actually makes our nation progress.

13
Jun
10

The Sanctity of Marriage

I have told you before that I am somewhat (“diminished form”) Libertarian. Today you get an example of something Libertarian that would benefit society. The U.S. Constitution is overtly Libertarian regarding religion, so religious connections to marriage – such as those intended to preserve The Sanctity of Marriage – seem like fair game to me.

Equal-rights laws are typically applicable only for taxpayer-supported or public organizations. Fraternal organizations may restrict membership in ways that are not acceptable or legal outside that organization. The last time I checked, the KKK was not required to allow blacks, Jews, or Catholics to be members. They have not gained advantages from this ‘freedom’. It has served to define them and inform society of their true nature (as if, in this extreme case, it were not obvious).

Let churches have internal rules which are not ‘fair’. If they want to hire only members to work for the church, then those members must know to expect treatment according to the church’s standards. If they dislike that treatment, they can work for a secular employer. If a church chooses to be a place of public accomodation in offering employment, then the government has a legitimate role in protecting the rights of the public. That is ‘fair’.

A church-related organization that serves charitable or educational purposes should be treated exactly as the church itself. If it takes public money or provides publicly-accessible services, then it may expect its fair share of public influence.

In any case, there are limits to religious conduct. Human sacrifice is illegal, and it is the secular government which enforces this limit on any and all religions. Such limits are appropriate and will continue even if some restrictions on churches are loosened.

Religious organizations, associations, or societies may have exclusive control over their beliefs and practices about marriage.

Marriage has been, in many cultures and for eons, tied to traditions, superstitions, and other social strictures. The issue we are arguing about – gay marriage – is only a problem because marriage is confabulated with religion. Governments have maintained this strange (although understandable) combination with laws which give some emphasis in marriage to churches and clergy, while providing no legal distinction between a church marriage and a civil marriage.  One aspect of this is that a religion or church has no unique legal control over its members’ marriages. For example, the Catholic Church (among others) maintains that divorce affects the standing of members – yet the Catholic Church cannot legally prevent members from divorcing.

It is time to remove the artifice of this combination of religious and civil marriage. We need marriage laws which serve secular governmental interests apart from religious (or other social group) interests. This can be accomplished by having a ‘civil union‘ secular marriage which establishes the marriage status required for income tax filing, joint property and inheritance, other legal, financial, and medical issues, et al. No, I do not know what this would be called; many folks have objections to the terms ‘civil union’ and ‘marriage’, for differing reasons. A separate ‘social union‘ religious marriage would have only one secular provision: that the members of the marriage could legally refer to themselves as married and use appropriate titles. Government-recognized religions (and possibly other social groups) would be free to conduct and regulate ‘marriage’ according to their specific rules and beliefs. For example, Denomination “X” might choose to require that marriages of their members cannot be dissolved without clergy-directed counselling. Or they might require members to have children, or live in a 1-story house, or keep pets. None of this would affect the secular standing of the married parties. A denomination might even require that members not have a civil union in addition to their social union. Hence, they would be married for their church but not for taxes, property, etc.

If a religion wishes to sanctify certain relationships, then let us place the burden for maintaining that sanctity on the religion.  The public, and secular society, has enough to do with maintaining the public mechanisms (of those relationships) that serve public, secular interests.

I wish to be open with my motive for this proposal:
legal exceptions can be effective in isolating, confining, and diminishing
an organization which deserves less tolerance than it offers to others.




♥ Help for Haiti ♥

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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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