Captain Arrrgh

In what follows, I do not harbor any intention of making myself clear.

I went to school in the hope of knowing, but I discovered that university is concerned primarily with learning. After flirting with industry, it became apparent that corporate lexicons exclude terms such as knowing and learning to save space for synonyms for earning. So, I settled for academia in the hope that I could stomach the substitution of learning for knowing more readily than earning.

I am wrapped in the flag, but sometimes, it itches.

I have gone in for “isms.” Though, I must say that I am rather suspicious of some of the more popular “isms” in the last 100 to 200 years. Totalitarianism, Facism, Communism and Fundamentalism come to mind.

The word “blog” causes static in the verbal processing centers of my brain. The word conjures images of torture, sinks filled with dirty water, animals rolling in mud and places where one loses a boot or two. It sounds too much like flog, clog, hog, bog and other less than savory “og” words.

This is the beginning; goodbye.

Homosexual Marriage: Civil Right of Self-Interest?

The debate over homosexual marriage is simmering again in California. Opponents of Proposition 8 are making their case in the California Courts, arguing that California’s recent constitutional amendment violates the civil rights of those engaged in homosexual practices.

To gain clarity on this discussion, one can put it in a different context. Consider a sandwich shop on Crow Street, U.S.A. A white man walks into the sandwich shop, looks at the menu and orders a turkey on rye sandwich. An attendant prepares the sandwich and gives it to the white man. The white customer pays the attendant and walks out. Then, a black man comes to the same shop, orders the same sandwich but receives a very different response. The black man is told that this shop cannot serve him.

This is an example of what? If all else is equal, we clearly witnessed an example of a civil rights violation. Specifically, we are seeing Jim Crow racism in action. Why? Put simply, the white man could get something the black man could not simply because of his skin color.

Now, let us look at a modification of the previous scenario. A black man walks into a sandwich shop on Main Street, U.S.A. He walks to the counter without viewing the menu or glancing at the order board above the attendant’s head. Then, he asks for a Brontosaurus on Soylant Green sandwich. Dumfounded, the attendant replies, “Well, sir, that’s not on the menu.” He continues, “The brontosaurs went extinct millions of years ago and Solyant Green is just a mythical construct invented for a 1970s movie starring Charlton Heston.” The resigned though still hungry black man walks out, passing a white man on the way into the shop. The white man, astonishingly, asks for the same brontosaurus on Soylant Green sandwich. To this request, the attendant counters, “look, pal, I do not know what type of joke this is, but that’s just not on the menu.”

Now, this is an example of what? A civil rights violation? Racism? No. They received equal treatment. Both the white man and the black man asked for the same thing, and both were refused. The reason was simple; the request was not on the menu.

Moving closer to our targeted issue, imagine a justice of the peace’s office on Getto Street in Warsaw, Poland in 1940. A blond haired, blue eyed Methodist (a protestant Christian denomination) woman walks into the office arm in arm with the man who hopes to marry her. After explaining their intentions, the German appointed justice of the peace asks for their papers. He reviews them, abruptly stops and harshly says, “You, sir, are a Jew. A Jew will never marry an Aryan in Hitler’s Poland!” The couple withdraws in fear. A month later, the same woman returns with a Methodist male companion and requests a marriage license. The same justice of the peace reviews their papers and grants the happy couple a marriage license.

What is this? A civil rights violation has occurred. In this situation, we see religious discrimination. The Jewish fiancée was denied the right to marry his gal, but a protestant man was able to marry the woman without a problem.

Let’s return to Ghetto Street. As a way of compensating for losing his one love, the Jewish man finds three Jewish women willing to enter into a polygamous marriage with him. So, he braves the justice of the peace once more to ask for a marriage license. Without even looking at the papers of the four people before him, the justice exclaims, “You want to marry how many girls! This is, of course, entirely illegal, and I cannot do it.” Moments later, a Methodist man arrives with three blonds in tow. He says, “I can’t wait to marry these gals; let’s get the paperwork out of the way!” To this the justice responds, “This must be international polygamy day! However, the law remains; you cannot marry more than one woman, sir.”

In this scenario, we again see the difference between a civil rights violation and fair application of a rule. Neither man could marry his trio. The discriminatory religious preference of the justice of the peace did not affect his decision. The law stated that one person could have but one spouse at a time, and the justice applied the law fairly.

Connecting the two situations and four scenarios described, one can see that both highlight the difference between civil rights violations and fair applications of societal prohibitions. Civil rights violations occur when a particular group enjoys privileges fundamentally denied to others. When you strip the emotion and religious arguments away, it is fairly easy to see and understand this.

Let’s apply our newfound clarity to the homosexual marriage issue. We need to answer one fundamental question. Are homosexuals asking for a privilege given only to heterosexuals, or are they asking for something denied to both groups? In the former case, homosexuals would be the victims of a civil rights violation, but in the latter, they are simply asking for something “not on the menu.” Homosexuals are asking for the ability to marry people of the same sex. Heterosexuals have not asked for this ability, but under current laws, same sex marriage would be denied to heterosexuals as well. Neither group benefits from its sexual practices. Neither group enjoys a privilege denied to other. Therefore, homosexuals are not suffering a denial of rights. They are merely asking for a change in existing laws meant to benefit their group, a case of simple self-interest – not civil rights.

Crude, rhetoric-roasted peanuts!

Gasoline prices burned a hole in the wallets of most Americans over the summer, and McCain attempted to use this problem against Obama by highlighting Democratic support for an offshore drilling moratorium. McCain’s, “Drill baby, drill,” refrain sloshed bold and black into newsprint and e-print. It coated the tongues of conservative commentators and oozed into the halls of Congress. Even Obama eventually slipped on the slick, adding an offshore drilling provision to his energy platform.

With the U.S. Presidential Election mere days away, I thought it prudent to douse the burning offshore oil debate with cold, liquid facts. The U.S. consumes about 20.8 mega barrels of oil per day. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that the moratorium zone contains 15.8 giga barrels of crude. If true, oil from the moratorium zone would only supply U.S. demand for 2 years and 1 month. One might argue that further exploration could lead the EIA to raise its estimates. But, how much more might one reasonably expect? Is 10% reasonable? Is 25%? Or, maybe, you think 100% might be reasonable. Even in the final case, the moratorium zone only supplies US demand for less than 5 years.

Anyone with a shred of common sense and access to Energy Information Agency (EIA) data could have evaluated McCain’s proposal and put it to rest in under an hour. Drilling the moratorium zone begets a trickle of oil that starts flowing in 5+ years. Crude, rhetoric-roasted peanuts!

Letter to a US Representative

Greetings Web Community,

I drafted the following letter with the intent of sending it to my representative in the US House of Reps. Before executing my plan, I wish to gather comments from this online community.


Our country’s current foreign, budget and resource policies compel me to take up the pen. This is the first in a series of letters intended to present these issues in a potentially different context and to suggest alternate approaches to confronting them. This letter deals specifically with our nation’s policies concerning prisoners taken during the war on terror.

Prisoner abuse, such as the incidents at Abu Garade, drew condemnations from the highest levels of government and the military. Yet, reports of abuse at the hands of our troops continue to surface. According to President Bush, the United States does not torture prisoners. Yet, the administration refuses to support Senator McCain’s efforts to make such practices illegal. The administration declared a “war on terror.” Yet, prisoners taken during this war are not identified as prisoners of war; instead, they are labeled detainees, enemy combatants and other such ambiguous designations – excluding them from the protections given by the Geneva Conventions. Such statements and actions smack of hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that tarnishes our nation’s image. Moreover, the actions which contradict our words imperil our brave service men and woman deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. When the United States abuses and tortures, others are emboldened to do the same. Worse yet, as these occurrences become commonplace, the global community grows less sensitive, reducing the global outcry against terrorists and their deeds.

Unfortunately, the matter of abuse and torture fundamentally connects with the current administration’s efforts to stop terrorism. The president responded to September 11 by declaring a war on terror, but he never defined the enemy or desired end conditions. (Few, if any, politicians considered the logic of using terror to defeat terror.) In democracies, wars tend to be limited periods when the rules of normal conduct are bent to serve martial purposes. The current administration effectively committed our nation to an indefinite period in which the military and intelligence agencies can bend the rules. This policy placed our nation on a moral slippery slope with consequences beginning with evasion of the Geneva Conventions, proceeding to prison abuse and, now, reaching an implicit endorsement of torture. Should this continue, I am afraid that our nation will not stop there.

As a Representative in the United States Congress, you have the responsibility to take a stand against this moral ambiguity and the slippery slope policy underpinning it. The following steps will help set the nation on a path to the moral high ground where a great democracy such as the United States belongs.

- Support the House’s version of Sen. McCain’s anti-torture bill.

- Call for a public inquiry into the CIA’s alleged “black site” prisons in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. If you know this allegation to be true, lobby the administration to end this practice.

- Work to close detention facilities such as the one at Guantanomo Bay. These facilities are breeding grounds for abuse.

- Prepare legislation that reclassifies detainees in our custody as either criminals or prisoners of war. This act would clear the way for the ethical passage of detainees into criminal court systems (ours or their countries of origin) or prisoner of war camps satisfying the requirements in the Geneva Conventions.

- Change the slippery slope mindset by first changing the language. The nation is not conducting a “war against terrorism.” The nation is leading a campaign that seeks to end the threat of terrorism using social, economic and, where necessary, military means.

- Encourage your fellow representatives to take similar steps.

“Collapse: Why Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” By Jared Diamond

Overall, Diamond’s latest book lacks the strength of Guns, Germs and Steel. With statements about getting to things later laced throughout the text, he seems rushed. His discussions about societies that executed face-plants are quite interesting, but the picture he paints of the underlying forces leaves something to be desired. Given that my research relates to this line of thought, many of his observations were not new for me. Injunctions to curb and halt population growth, prevent deforestation and avoid farming marginal land did not surprise me. Most failed civilizations deforested marginal land to feed unrestrained population expansion.

After identifying the positive feedback loop, one must identify the governing negative feedback loop(s) that failed in each instance. It is not sufficient, for example, to tell Brazilian soybean farmers with growing families to stop slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon because their new plots of marginal land will be exhausted in 5 years. They have families to feed, and the ever-growing Chinese population is willing to pay for soy. While informing the farmers might help, changes in societal and economic signals would prove more effective. For instance, strong societal traditions of small families working ancestral plots of land discourages slash and burn agriculture, and placing a high economic value on the rainforest (natural capital) discourages destroying it. Diamond does not explore such signals at length. He repeatedly mentions the importance of adjusting social values but stops short of discussing the important question of how.

Passion and Death of Jesus Christ: Comparing the Movie with the Gospels I

Some months ago, Zack and I watched the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. Zack wanted me to say a few words about the movie on the blog. I recently decided that late is better than never in this regard. So…

In this first installment of my comparison between the movie and the Gospels, I compare the movie’s presentation of Jesus’ time in Gethsemane and his ordeal before the council of high priests with the ones in the four Gospels. The comparison begins with a bulleted synopsis.

Before reading the synopsis and discussion, I must insert a disclaimer and beg the good reader’s pardon for I have not screened the movie since last spring. I wrote the Gospel synopses with the bible in my left hand, but the movie synopsis flows entirely from memory.

• Jesus prays that the awesome burden of his Passion and Death be lifted from his shoulders. He submits to God’s will and accepts his fate.
• The devil speaks to and tempts Jesus.
• The devil’s final temptation is an offer of escape through a quick death at the fangs of venomous serpent. Jesus refuses in dramatic fashion by crushing the snake.
• A party of armed men comes to Gethsemane in search of Jesus. The armed men appear to be temple guards.
• Judas identifies Jesus by kissing him.
• As the armed party closes with Jesus, one of the disciples draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a slave. Jesus stops the violence by rebuking his disciples, and then, he heals the wounded man.
• A chained and tethered Jesus is dropped from a bridge by his guards. He encounters Judas beneath the bridge.
• Demons are beginning to torment Judas.
• The armed party presents Jesus to a council of high priests.
• He is mocked and accused by an attendant crowd. His admission that he is God’s son seals his fate. Upon hearing Jesus’ admission, one of the council tares his priestly robes.
• Later, one of the more influential priests accepts responsibility for the decision to kill Jesus in the name of all present and future Jews.

Matthew’s Gospel:
• Jesus leaves his disciples and commands them to keep watch.
• Jesus prays for the removal of his “cup of suffering” on three separate occasions. He accepts God’s will.
• After each session of prayer, he finds his disciples asleep. Sleep is considered a temptation.
• The devil is NOT mentioned.
• Judas identifies Jesus for an armed crowd sent by the priests and elders by kissing him.
• A disciple cuts off the ear of a slave, and Jesus rebukes the offending disciple
• Jesus does NOT encounter Judas again.
• A council of high priests and elders preside over a meeting in which many unnamed individuals bare false witness against Jesus.
• When accused of claiming to be God’s Son, Jesus does not deny the charge.
• At this, the accusing priest rips his priestly robes, and the council condemns Jesus to death.

Mark’s Gospel:
• Jesus divides his disciples into two groups. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him and leaves the other disciples in an undisclosed location.
• Besides naming the disciples in Jesus’ watch party, Matthew and Mark agree on Gethsemane.
• Judas identifies Jesus with a kiss; then, the armed mob sent by the priests, elders and teachers of the law seize him.
• One of the three disciples strikes at the high priest slave, but Jesus stops the violence by rebuking the mob.
• A boy follows the party until the guards try to arrest him. He sheds his linen clothing and flees.
• The interrogation proceeds as recounted by Matthew, but in Mark’s version Jesus clearly states that he is God’s Son.

Luke’s Gospel:
• Jesus takes his disciples to the Mount of Olives to pray.
• Leaving them a “stone’s throw” away, he prays in private that his “cup of suffering might pass.”
• An angel comes to strengthen him.
• He accepts God’s will
• He returns to find his disciples asleep; so, he rebukes them.
• A crowd arrives to arrest Jesus, and Judas identifies him with a kiss.
• One disciple severs the right ear of the high priest’s slave, but Jesus stops the violence by admonishing both parties. He heals the slave’s wound.
• The men guarding Jesus mock and beat him.
• An indeterminate amount of time passes between Jesus’ arrest and his presentation to a council of high priests, elders and teachers of the law.
• The council asks if he is the Messiah. Jesus does not deny the charge; so, they condemn him to death.

John’s Gospel:
• Jesus takes his disciples across Kidron Brook to an unnamed garden.
• Judas leads a group of Roman soldiers and Temple guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to the garden.
• When Judas’ party approaches, Jesus identifies himself.
• During the arrest, Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear. Malchus is the High Priest’s slave. Jesus stops the violence by censuring Peter.
• The guards take Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest. Annas’ questioning leads nowhere.
• Annas sends him to Caiaphas, the High Priest.

In the Catholic tradition, all four gospels serve as sources when recounting the last hours of Jesus’ time on Earth. So, one should not find it surprising that the movie contains elements drawn from them all. Particular lines of presentation and extra-bibilical scenes deserve note, however.

In these first few scenes, the movie follows the presentation of events contained in Matthew and Mark. The healing of the slave described in Luke is added. Jesus’ interrogation before the high priests most closely resembles that described in Matthew.

Matthew, Mark and Luke give Jesus a somewhat more passive role during the arrest; Judas identifies him with a kiss. In John, Judas simply leads an armed party to a garden where Jesus is praying. Jesus identifies himself, and the armed party initially falters. The composition of the armed party is interesting in that John includes Roman soldiers, but the other three Gospel writers and the movie do not.

The presence of the devil and Judas’ demon tormentors is extra-biblical. Luke states that an angel “strengthened” Jesus during his time of solitary prayer, but no other visitors are recorded. Interestingly, the Gospels do associate falling asleep with succumbing to some form of temptation, which raises questions about the nature of the disciples’ drowsiness. No mention is made of Judas after he delivers his fateful kiss; at least, no mention is made during the scenes currently under analysis. The movie is either taking significant poetic license or is drawing upon exotic sources.

Fading Stars and Fraying Stripes

In the past few years, a thought has grown in my mind. The seed of it, a nod to inevitability, long layed dormant, but the events of the past few years prompted germination.

The steady erosion of the nation’s manufacturing base and malignant mediocrity of the nation’s primary educational system serve as the soil in which it took root. But, the rain of events following the attacks on the 11th of September brought forth the sprout. First, the shock of the attacks combined with the current administration’s financial recklessness to produce the largest deficits in the nation’s history. As one might expect, the public and private sectors of the nation turned their attention to defensive measures, measures which may protect and will certainly prove costly. Then, the current administration’s arrogant misuse of American Military might to dipose one of many tyrants, secure the free flow of oil and give a swift wack to the hornet’s nest that is the middle east fertilized it.

Rooted in long-standing systemic deficiencies, watered by the current economic downturn and fertilized by growing arrogance at the highest levels of government, the seed sprouted and bloomed. I find the resulting question holding a place in the sun of my attention. Is the United States in a fundamental decline?

John: (extends cape and takes a bow)

In what follows, I do not harbor any intention of making myself clear.

I went to school in the hope of knowing, but I discovered that university is concerned primarily with learning. After flirting with industry, it became apparent that corporate lexicons exclude terms such as knowing and learning to save space for synonyms for earning. So, I settled for academia in the hope that I could stomach the substitution of learning for knowing more readily than earning.

I am wrapped in the flag, but sometimes, it itches.

I have gone in for “isms.” Though, I must say that I am rather suspicious of some of the more popular “isms” in the last 100 to 200 years. Totalitarianism, Facism, Communism and Fundamentalism come to mind.

The word “blog” causes static in the verbal processing centers of my brain. The word conjures images of torture, sinks filled with dirty water, animals rolling in mud and places where one loses a boot or two. It sounds too much like flog, clog, hog, bog and other less than savory “og” words.

This is the beginning; goodbye.