Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

What’s the Matter with Britain?

February 24, 2019

I am an Anglophile. I love Great Britain and particularly England. I am a great fan of English literature, English history, English culture, and the English language. Although I am a patriotic American, there are times when I when a certain regret over the misunderstandings of 1776 that led to our separation from the mother country. The world might be a better place if America, Britain, and the other English-speaking countries were all part of a globe spanning Anglo-American Empire.

But then, I read stories like this one in the Telegraph and am grateful that we did separate from Great Britain, and write a constitution that includes the first amendment. England seems to be even more in the grip of political correctness than we are and they have no first amendment to keep the Fascists from throwing thought criminals in jail.

A docker from Humberside has been investigated by police over a limerick he posted on Twitter after an officer claimed it constitutes a ‘hate incident’ against transgender people.

Harry Miller, 53, from Lincoln was contacted on Wednesday by a community cohesion officer following a complaint that had been made about the plant and machinery dealer’s social media posts.

Citing 30 potentially offensive tweets, the PC singled out a limerick Mr Miller had retweeted which  questioned whether transgender women are biological women. It included the lines: “Your breasts are made of silicone, your vagina goes nowhere.”

Even though no crime was committed, sharing the limerick online was recorded as a ‘hate incident’.

PC Mansoor Gul told Mr Miller: “I’ve been on a course and what you need to understand is that you can have a foetus with a female brain that grows male body parts and that’s what a transgender person is.”

After Mr Miller questioned why the complainant was being described as a “victim” if no crime had been committed, the officer told him: “We need to check your thinking”.

“I can’t believe what is happening in the UK in the name of transgenderism and, worse still, we’re not even allowed to think never mind talk about it,” Mr Miller said.

The married father of four was alerted to the investigation by his company directors after they were approached by officers trying to make contact with Mr Miller.

The complainant had managed to identify Mr Miller’s place of work, despite there being no reference to his business or his full identity on his Twitter account. As part of the complaint to police it was alleged the firm was an ‘unsafe environment’ for transgender employees because of Mr Miller’s comments on social media.

Let’s get this straight. Mr. Miller did not commit any crimes. He did not assault or even make any disparaging remarks to anyone in person. He did not even compose the allegedly offending tweet. He simply liked or retweeted tweets that someone found offensive. The only reason the police were involved was because it was a “hate incident” and they needed to check his thinking.

What is the matter with Britain? Why are they putting up with this petty tyranny over there? What has happened to the liberty loving English of the past, the people who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, who chopped off Charles I’s head for being an overbearing tyrant, who fought the good fight against Hitler? When did the British people become a herd of sheep?

What exactly is a “hate incident”? If a hate incident occurs whenever one person says something that another person does not like, than no one is safe saying anything at all. Any comment, no matter how innocent could be taken as offensive. In fact, such rules against “hate” cannot be applied objectively and even-handedly. They are almost always applied in favor of “marginalized” groups against less favored groups. If a White, cisgender, heterosexual, Anglican had complained about a hate incident, I doubt anyone would have cared, no matter how hateful the tweet.

Does anyone really believe that banning hate speech will actually eliminate hate? It seems to me that it would only succeed in driving it underground. The people who are silenced will not change their opinion. They will only have the additional grievance of being silenced, and if the silencing is not objective or even-handed, as in fact it cannot be, the censorship may have the effect of increasing resentment against any favored groups.

There is also the problem of what actually constitutes “hate”. All too often, hate is defined simply as an opinion someone doesn’t like, especially if there happens to be some truth in the silenced opinion. The tweet that Mr. Miller shared may have been crude and not very nice, but it does express a truth. Gender is a biological fact, not a matter of personal choice. It is not possible to change gender, no matter how strongly a person feels as though they are really the opposite gender. A transgender man is not a woman, no matter what hormones he has taken or operations he has had. By punishing such sentiments as hate speech, the authorities in Britain are in the position of punishing a man for speaking a truth anyone can see and coercing people to affirm a lie, they cannot really believe.

If truth or a widely shared opinion becomes “hate”, than this blurs the lines between unpleasant pr inconvenient truths and statements that really are hateful. Punishing hate speech might have the unintended effect of making real hatred more acceptable, not to mention putting both the dissident stating unpleasant truths and the hater in the same position as defenders of free speech and free thought.  In general, I think the best way to deal with hate is to have everything out in the open rather than to let in fester in darkness.

I guess it was just as well we had that disagreement back in 1776. I prefer to live in a country where free speech is protected by the first amendment. Maybe the US should annex Britain as our fifty-first state so the people there can have the benefits of the first amendment.

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The Decline of Christianity and Reason

January 14, 2019

Organized religion, especially Christianity has been declining in influence in the West for at least the last century and this decline only seems to be accelerating. The most recent generation of Americans, the millennials, tend to be the most secular, or least conventionally religious, generation of Americans in history, One might expect that this decline in traditional religion would be accompanied by an increase in the influence of science and reason. Certainly, that is what the so-called New Atheists would have us believe. Men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others have held that debunking religion, especially Christianity, would lead to a new golden age of enlightenment and reason, in which the human race, freed of all its past religious superstitions, would move forward into a bright future of reason and logic.

This isn’t happening. In fact, the most secular, least religious generation in American history rather than embracing science and reason, seem to be turning to pseudoscience and superstition, witchcraft and neo-paganism, as this article I read at Marketwatch, found courtesy of Hot Air, seems to demonstrate.

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”

“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.

Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”

“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said. “For a generation that grew up in a world of big industry, environmental destruction, large and oppressive governments, and toxic social structures, all of which seem too big to change, this can be incredibly attractive.”

Like the existence of God, however, there’s no actual scientific proof. Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.

“It’s very different from the way we usually work and live and date, where everything is hyper-mediated and rational,” she said. “There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

The New Atheists are wrong. Human beings are not rational creatures. We seem to have a strong need to believe in the irrational, to believe that the universe around us makes some sort of sense, to believe in something greater than ourselves. Whether from some quirk of evolution or the intention of our divine creator, we humans are dissatisfied with the materialist outlook. We tend to reject, as if by instinct, the idea that all that exists are atoms and the void, or that we are nothing more than crude matter. For this reason, if one seemingly irrational belief system or religion is debunked or discredited, the result will not be a golden age of reason, but the ascension of some other irrational belief system, perhaps one worse than the previous one. It is not a coincidence that the rise of such quasi-religious political movements such as Fascism or Marxism only occurred after the decline of belief in Christianity among the intellectual classes of Europe.

It also may not be a coincidence that as the influence of religion declines, our politics have been more contentious and divisive. Politics requires consensus and compromise to be functional, but if politics takes the place of religion and people begin to view their own side as representing goodness and light with the other side being the side of darkness, than every political debate becomes a holy war. The other side is not just made up of patriots with different ideas but devils. This might explain why so many secular people on the left are so intolerant and hateful.

It is also not true that Christianity and science are opposed to one another, as the New Atheists and secularists assert. This idea of an eternal struggle between science and religion was largely developed by certain nineteenth century secularist thinkers and is largely discredited by modern historians of science. In fact, Christianity was instrumental in the development of science. It is not a coincidence that the intellectual discipline we call science arose in Christian Western Europe, and no where else. The Medieval Scholastic philosophers built up much of the intellectual foundations for modern science with their integration of Christian theology with Ancient Greek philosophy, particularly with by asserting that the world God created is reasonable, and follows natural laws which can be discovered through the use of reason, as opposed to pagans who viewed the world as arbitrary or the eastern religions, which saw the world as illusionary. It might not be too surprising that the decline of the influence of Christianity in the West is accompanied by the decline of scientific thinking and the rise of pseudoscience.

These millennials are looking for something to fill the void inside them. If traditional religion is not there to fill it, they will turn elsewhere with perhaps disastrous results for themselves and for the country. Christians really need to work harder at reaching these young people.

The Nativity According to John

December 22, 2018

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

 

The Nativity According to Mark

December 21, 2018

The Gospel of Mark does not actually include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and them came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.

Star Wars

December 12, 2018

Not long ago, I saw the original Star Wars for the first time in many years. What I found most interesting about this movie is how well it stands up after all these years. The plot is a little silly with holes you can drive an X-Wing Fighter through, but so what? Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch. The special effects still look impressive, not even a little dated or cheesy, as one might expect after forty years. George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic was truly a master of producing special effects in that primitive pre-computer generated effects era. For this reason, I really wish that George Lucas had not decided to enhance the original Star Wars trilogy with digital effects.

The digital additions didn’t really advance the plot and weren’t much of an improvement on the original. It was interesting to watch the scene with the confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was cut from the original. The scene did help to establish Han Solo’s mercenary character and his motive for taking Ben and Luke’s commission to transport them to Alderaan, but it wasn’t essential. The computer generated Jabba the Hutt somehow didn’t look very realistic. Jabba didn’t seem to fit in the scene.

Changing the confrontation between Han and Greedo so that Greedo shot first ruined the scene. Han Solo was supposed to be somewhat amoral, in the beginning, growing more altruistic as the trilogy progressed. Changing the scene changed the arc of Solo’s character development.

However, even if the changes and additions had been an improvement, I still would have preferred that George Lucas had not made them. The special effects of the original Star Wars movies were truly ground breaking. Before Star Wars, science fiction movies had always looked rather cheap, no matter how much money was spent on the special effects, they never really looked good. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, but it had Stanley Kubrick as director. It didn’t help that science fiction was not taken very seriously as either literature or as cinema. Science fiction movies were all too often relegated to a low budget ghetto to be enjoyed by children and nerds. Star Wars changed that. Yes, the plot was thin and it was kind of a kids’ movie, but the awesome special effects showed what could be done. Star Wars made science fiction a mainstream genre. When George Lucas went back and added in the digital enhancements, it was as if he was denigrating his accomplishments. It is as if D. W. Griffith had gone back and put a sound track in Birth of a Nation.

Watching Star Wars as an adult for the nth time can never be the same as the first time I saw it as a child, particularly after seeing the sequels and prequels. It is harder to fear Darth Vader as an evil villain when you know that behind the mask is a weary old man who hates what he has become. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi seems to be less of a noble mentor and more of a cunning manipulator when you know he lied to Luke Skywalker about his father. (Yes Ben, that was a lie, not a truth from a certain point of view.) Even the whole premise of the movie can be called into question. Was the destruction of the Jedi by Darth Vader and the Emperor really such a bad thing? The prequels show the Jedi as being more than a little arrogant and narrow-minded. Maybe it is not such a good idea to rely on a small elite of people who happen to be blessed with a high midi-chlorian count. Is the rule of Emperor Palpatine really a bad thing? The Republic that preceded his rule was shown to be corrupt and ineffective. Maybe, from a certain point of view, the Empire stands for law and order and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization. After all, George Lucas said the Ewoks were inspired by the Viet-Cong, meaning perhaps that they were genocidal fanatics just as the real life Viet Cong were. That would make the Stormtroopers the Americans, the good guys.

Then there is the similarity between the award scene at the end and the Nazi rally depicted in Triumph of the Will

But now, I am overthinking it. Star Wars has never born close examination, either of its politics or its science, and George Lucas is not as profound a thinker as he would like to pretend. Star Wars is flashy, mindless fun. This is, by no means, a criticism. There is certainly a place for flashy, mindless entertainment. In fact, I think one of the problems with Hollywood these days is that they are taking themselves too seriously. They are more intent on preaching left-wing politics than with making movies people actually want to see. Even the Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this plague of political correctness. We need more of the original Star Wars.

Seventeen Years

September 11, 2018

It has been seventeen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.   A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only three on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us. I suppose that even memorializing 9/11 is considered Islamophobia today.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day seventeen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

Red State Blue State

August 10, 2018

I have started to read Kurt Schlichter’s “People’s Republic” and its prequel “Indian Country”.  The premise of these two stories is that the United States has split up between the red states and the blue states. The red states have retained the name, and presumably the constitution of the United States of America. The blue states have named themselves the People’s Republic of North America and have adopted a new, progressive constitution. The protagonist, Kelly Turnbull, a former soldier who now assists people fleeing the tyranny of the People’s Republic, is charged with rescuing a young Texan woman who has defected to the People’s Republic, and may not want to come back.

Indian Country is a prequel, telling the story of a previous adventure of Turnbull’s, in which he engaged in an undercover operation to assist people in southern Indiana who are fighting against the tyrannical regime of the People’s Republic. Here is where I begin to have some problems with the story.

Here is the cover of People’s Republic, which presumably shows how the United States is split between red and blue.

 

Now, as a life long Hoosier, I can attest that there is no way that Indiana would voluntarily be part of anything called the People’s Republic. Indiana happens to be one of the redder, more conservative states. We are the home state of Mike Pence. Don’t be fooled by the fact that we currently have a Democratic Senator and have sent some Democrats to Congress. In Indiana, particularly in southern Indiana, even the Democrats are red.

Perhaps Kurt Schlichter believes that in the give and take of the Split Indiana has to go with the blue states because we are surrounded on three sides by blue states and the Ohio River would make a logical border between the two states. That really doesn’t work, however. Ohio is not a blue state but a purple state. That is, Ohio is a swing state that can go either way in presidential elections. The state is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but I suspect that there are just as many rednecks and hillbillies in southern Ohio as there are in Kentucky and West Virginia. Illinois is a deep blue state, but that is mostly due to the densely populated region around Chicago in the north. The Illinoisans in other parts of the state tend to resent Chicago’s domination and there is even a movement for the rest of the state to secede from the Chicago region. Like Indiana, Illinois becomes redder as you move south. It is not unlikely that if Chicago dominated Illinois seceded from the Union to join the People’s Republic; the southern half of Illinois would secede to form South Illinois, just like West Virginia in the first Civil War.

The truth is that few states are entirely red or blue. California is another deep blue state, perhaps the most liberal state in the Union. The whole state of California is not populated by the loony left, only the urban coastal regions from San Francisco to San Diego. The more rural interior of California is conservative, by California standards anyway. Texas is a very red state, but it turns blue along the border and in Austin. Indiana is, as I have said, red, but there are blue enclaves in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and the northwest corner adjacent to the Chicago area.

Here is a map of the 2016 election results by country.

What we see here is a country divided between a small, densely populated region and a large, sparsely populated region. The division between red and blue is not so much a division between red and blue states as a division between red rural areas and blue urban areas. What this means is that any split between red and blue would not occur along neat, geographical lines, as was the division between the Union and the Confederacy. Actually, even the results by county map is somewhat misleading. In every red or blue space, there are still a number of people of the opposite color.

A split between red and blue would be messy. In the preface of People’s Republic, Kurt Schlichter that his story is not any sort of fantasy he wants, but a warning of what could happen if present trends continue unchecked. He is being overoptimistic in assuming a neat, relatively peaceful division. The Civil War is often described as, “brother against brother”. This was not true, except in a metaphorical sense. Except for the inhabitants of the border states, and the small, pre-war officer’s corps, few of the soldiers who fought were related to anyone fighting on the other side. The new civil war would be literally brothers fighting brothers, neighbors fighting neighbors. It would be less Grant and Lee meeting at Appomattox Court House and more Bosnia or Rwanda.

A red-blue split would be messy not only in political terms but also in economics. Part of the reason Kurt Schlichter wrote People’s Republic seems to be to demonstrate the superiority of the Red economic model over the Blue. The capitalist, free market United States is shown to be prosperous, while the People’s Republic has adopted Venezuelan-style socialism with predictable results, an increasingly impoverished country unable to feed its people. This seems fair enough. When you compare North and South Korea or East and West Germany, cases in which both sides share a common language and culture, the superiority of free market capitalism to provide needed goods and services is evident. The problem is that I do not see how it would be possible to divide a country with an economy as interconnected as America’s into two separate states, with no trade between them, without causing massive economic dislocations. I would think that even a peaceful separation would bring about a depression. A civil war would cause an economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look like the height of prosperity. Nor is it clear that the red states would flourish on their own. Losing the coasts, with their population centers and wealth would be a terrible blow. It seems likely that even a decade after the split both sides would be trying to recover.

Kurt Schlichter wrote these novels as a warning. The future he describes is an unpleasant one, but not all that realistic. The actually consequences of a red-blue split would be far worse than anything in these books, which is good reason to extend any effort to make sure nothing like this scenario every takes place. We really need to tone down the rhetoric we use with each other and stop thinking of our fellow Americans as the enemy. We have to accept the results of elections, provided there is no provable fraud, and not delegitimize our elected officials for political gain. Everyone has to start playing by the same rules and not change them whenever they are inconvenient for one side. Most of all we have to learn, or relearn the practice of disagreeing with someone without hating them. If we can’t manage this, then we are all in for a very bad time.

Infowars Banned

August 7, 2018

Facebook, YouTube, and Apple have decided to remove content from Alex Jones and Infowars. Here is the report from CNN.

YouTube, Facebook and Apple have taken steps to remove content associated with InfoWars and its Alex Jones.

Each social media platform said Monday that it had removed content from Jones or InfoWars because it had violated their policies. The companies’ moves shut down key distribution channels that had given the controversial media figure easy access to millions of internet users.

The most dramatic action came last, from YouTube, which is owned by Google (GOOGL). It removed many top channels associated with InfoWars, including The Alex Jones Channel, which had 2.4 million subscribers and videos that were viewed over 1.5 billion times.

“When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.

 

But in a message posted Monday on Twitter, Jones encouraged users to access live streams directly from the InfoWars website. He described it as “the one platform that they CAN’T ban.”

Earlier on Monday, Facebook removed four pages associated with InfoWars and Jones for repeated violations of its policies.

The social media platform said in a statement that it had “unpublished” the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page.

 

BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday that Apple (AAPL) had removed five podcasts associated with InfoWars from iTunes and its podcast app.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” it said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.

“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

Apple confirmed the accuracy of its statement to CNN.

This is not a First Amendment issue and technically it is not censorship at all. Apple, Facebook and YouTube have every right to decide who can and cannot use their services and if they decide that Alex Jones is not someone their want using their platforms, they do not have to host him. Having said all that, however, I really wish they had not made this decision.

To begin with, there is already a growing perception that the tech industry is heavily biased towards the political left. Many conservatives are starting to fear that such social media giants as Facebook and YouTube are beginning to use their near-monopolies to systematically marginalize and deplatform conservative voices. For Facebook, YouTube, and Apple to almost simultaneously shut down a right-wing crackpot conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones does nothing to allay such fears, particularly when there are any number of left-wing crackpot conspiracy theorists spewing just as much hatred that the tech industry apparently has no problem with hosting on their platforms. It doesn’t seem as if there is really any objective standard that has been applied. Perhaps no standard can be applied. The whole problem with banning hate speech is that there isn’t really any kind of speech that can be objectively defined as hate speech, beyond speech one happens to dislike. One person’s hate speech is another person’s speaking truth to power.

This leads to another reason I really wish they hadn’t done this. For three separate companies to decide on the same day that Alex Jones is unacceptable looks like collusion. I have no idea whether executives from Facebook, Apple and Google were working together on this, but there is no way this doesn’t look like some sort of conspiracy to shut Alex Jones up for speaking out. If it was their desire to silence Alex Jones, they have miscalculated badly. They have managed to validate all of his paranoid rantings in the minds of his audience and have made him a free speech martyr. A quick visit to Infowars shows that Alex Jones is making the most of this perception of persecution, referring to his radio show and website as banned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the traffic to Infowars hasn’t tripled in the last twenty-four hours.

The truth is that this kind of censorship, okay, not really censorship but you know what I mean, doesn’t work all that well, unless you have a totalitarian government enforcing it by not allowing any dissent at all. The sort of half-way “its technically banned but somehow still available” kind of censorship only makes the censored material more attractive because it is forbidden and the people seeking it out feel brave and rebellious. There was is a reason Banned in Boston used to be considered an endorsement by makers of risqué films and why the Streisand effect is a thing.

Although this attempt by leading tech giants to silence Alex Jones is not technically censorship because they are not government agencies, in a way it really is a kind of censorship. If the owners of the printing presses, broadcast stations or internet social media platforms collude to exclude certain political or social viewpoints, then they are practicing censorship. This is a more insidious kind of censorship than throwing a dissenter in prison where he can become a sort of martyr but of simply quietly denying the dissenter any means of disseminating his views. He may have freedom of speech, in theory, but without the means to make his speech heard, he does not have freedom of speech in practice.

This seems to be the goal of the left. They cannot pass laws against speech they dislike, at least not yet, because the First Amendment forbids it. They can mobilize private institutions, such as businesses, to censor dislike speech. They will not succeed with this rather crude attempt to silence Alex Jones. They are likely to succeed in creating a climate of intolerance throughout our society. Their goal is to fundamentally transform this country into the sort of place where you are always looking around to make sure you are not overheard, to keep your mouth shut except to say accepted platitudes, to be on the lookout for the Thought Police. We ought not to let them get away with it, even if it means standing up for the rights of people we would rather not be associated with, like Alex Jones. After all, as the saying goes, first they came for Alex Jones and Infowars…

A Forgotten Battle

July 8, 2018

We ought to know history fairly well. While there may be all sorts of details to be filled in, the broad outlines of wars and revolutions, the rise and fall of empires, great migrations of peoples, etc, must surely be as well known as anything can be. Of course, our knowledge of history largely depends on written records and if no one thought an event was worth recording or if it occurred before the invention of writing, we may not know anything about it. For all we know, all sorts of things might have occurred before anyone was able to make written records. They may be whole cultures we know nothing of.

This article at Sciencemag.org about an forgotten battle in Bronze Age Northern Europe illustrates nicely how little we may actually know about our past.

About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea. The confrontation can’t be found in any history books—the written word didn’t become common in these parts for another 2000 years—but this was no skirmish between local clans. Thousands of warriors came together in a brutal struggle, perhaps fought on a single day, using weapons crafted from wood, flint, and bronze, a metal that was then the height of military technology.

Struggling to find solid footing on the banks of the Tollense River, a narrow ribbon of water that flows through the marshes of northern Germany toward the Baltic Sea, the armies fought hand-to-hand, maiming and killing with war clubs, spears, swords, and knives. Bronze- and flint-tipped arrows were loosed at close range, piercing skulls and lodging deep into the bones of young men. Horses belonging to high-ranking warriors crumpled into the muck, fatally speared. Not everyone stood their ground in the melee: Some warriors broke and ran, and were struck down from behind.

When the fighting was through, hundreds lay dead, littering the swampy valley. Some bodies were stripped of their valuables and left bobbing in shallow ponds; others sank to the bottom, protected from plundering by a meter or two of water. Peat slowly settled over the bones. Within centuries, the entire battle was forgotten.

This epic battle was forgotten until the twentieth century.

n 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men. Bones from hundreds more may remain unexcavated, and thousands of others may have fought but survived

No one knows if the men who fought at this battle were good men or bad, or why they fought and died. Archaeologists can uncover the bare facts about the battle, how many fought and with what weapons, but they cannot tell us why they were fighting or what issues they thought were important. enough to fight and die over. If any bard composed epic poems celebrating these warriors, we will never hear it. Any oral tradition has not survived. I am not sure if these warriors are any relation to the people currently living in the region. I would guess probably not. No Homer was able to preserve any epic poetry by writing it down, since these people had no knowledge of writing.

On thing is clear, however. This was no mere skirmish between villages or wandering tribes. These were small armies made up of thousands of fighters, which implies a level of political sophistication unsuspected in that place and time.

Northern Europe in the Bronze Age was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. Bronze itself, created in the Near East around 3200 B.C.E., took 1000 years to arrive here. But Tollense’s scale suggests more organization—and more violence—than once thought. “We had considered scenarios of raids, with small groups of young men killing and stealing food, but to imagine such a big battle with thousands of people is very surprising,” says Svend Hansen, head of the German Archaeological Institute’s (DAI’s) Eurasia Department in Berlin. The well-preserved bones and artifacts add detail to this picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.

Ancient DNA could potentially reveal much more: When compared to other Bronze Age samples from around Europe at this time, it could point to the homelands of the warriors as well as such traits as eye and hair color. Genetic analysis is just beginning, but so far it supports the notion of far-flung origins. DNA from teeth suggests some warriors are related to modern southern Europeans and others to people living in modern-day Poland and Scandinavia. “This is not a bunch of local idiots,” says University of Mainz geneticist Joachim Burger. “It’s a highly diverse population.”

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

There could have been whole kingdoms and empires in the northern Europe that we know nothing about, a whole undiscovered history. I wonder how much unknown history there remains to be discovered in other parts of the world where the people had not yet learned about writing. Perhaps we will never know.

Humanzee

April 8, 2018

The mad dream of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov lives on! You may recall that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was the Soviet mad scientist who sought to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, or a humanzee, back in the 1920’s. Ivanov never came close to succeeding in part because the technology of the time was not advanced enough and also perhaps because the Soviet government never really gave Ivanov’s project the funding it needed. It seems that even the most ruthless and amoral ruling class in history, Stalin and the Bolsheviks, felt a bit queasy at the prospect. This unease has effectively prevented any further attempts at creating a humanzee and no one has even suggested such an experiment, until now.

David P. Barash, writing in Nautilus has proposed that making a humanzee might be a terrific idea.

 

It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 percent of their nuclear DNA. Granted this 1 percent difference presumably involves some key alleles, the new gene-editing tool CRISPR offers the prospect (for some, the nightmare) of adding and deleting targeted genes as desired. As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility—eventually, perhaps, the likelihood—of producing “humanzees” or “chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.

If that prospect isn’t shocking enough, here is an even more controversial suggestion: Doing so would be a terrific idea.

His reasoning:

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

It is also possible, however, that my suggestion is doubly fanciful, not only with respect to its biological feasibility, but also whether such a “creation” would have the impact that I propose—and hope. Thus, chimpanzees are widely known to be very similar to human beings: They make and use tools, engage in complex social behavior (including elaborate communication and long-lasting mother-offspring bonds), they laugh, grieve, and affirmatively reconcile after conflicts. They even look like us. Although such recognition has contributed to outrage about abusing chimps—as well as other primates in particular—in circus acts, laboratory experiments, and so forth, it has not generated notable resistance to hunting, imprisoning and eating other animal species, which, along with chimps themselves, are still considered by most people to be “other” and not aspects of “ourselves.” (Chimps, moreover, are enthusiastically consumed in parts of equatorial Africa, where they are a prized component of “bush meat.”)

Let’s stop right there. What Barash is saying is that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. There is a continuity between human and animals and the difference in intelligence is a matter or degree and not of kind. In other words, we humans are no more than really intelligent animals.

This simply isn’t true. There is an actual discontinuity between human and animal cognition. Human beings are able to do things no other animal can do. This is not simply a matter of intelligence, There are some very intelligent animals and very stupid humans. This is a matter of a fundamental difference in mental ability. It is a difference of kind, not merely of degree. Every single human being, even the mentally handicapped,  has a special quality of mind that no other animal has and the advent of this quality of mind represented a quantum leap in evolution perhaps as great as the development of the central nervous system of the first vertebrates.

Barash disagrees. Very well, let him show me the ape Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s hear music composed by the primate Mozart or Beethoven. Let’s display paintings by the monkey Rembrandt.  No doubt there is a chimpanzee Edison somewhere making new inventions to benefit us all or a gorilla Einstein offering us new insights into time and space. For that matter, where is the ape Hitler. The special human quality can be used for evil as well as good. Chimpanzees have been observed to commit “genocide” against rival bands of chimps. There has been no chimpanzee Holocaust, however, because chimpanzees lack the ability to organize to commit such great evil. I’d even be satisfied if Barash can show us an ape that can read and write, tell stories, or create representational art as well as a child in kindergarten.

Would a humanzee have this special quality of mind? It is hard to say. I have a feeling that it might but not so much as a full human. The humanzee might be just intelligent enough to know it is lacking something. Such a being would probably not be as intelligent as a human being. It might also not be very intelligent by chimpanzee standards since it may lack the instincts that a chimpanzee has. The humanzee would be neither human nor animal, belonging to neither worlds. Chimpanzees would probably reject his society, probably violently. Humans would see him as a freak, a laboratory curiosity. Like a mule, the humanzee would be sterile, unable to bring forth more of his or her kind into the world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the humanzee may have just cause to hate his creator for bringing him into a world in which he has no place.

Barash recognizes these possibilities, but then instantly dismisses them.

Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates. It is also arguable, moreover, that such individuals might not be so unfortunate at all. For every chimphuman or humanzee frustrated by her inability to write a poem or program a computer, there could equally be one delighted by her ability to do so while swinging from a tree branch.

What lesson would a humanzee teach human beings about their true nature? What great benefits might derive from such a creation?

ooking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life.

By establishing that we humans are nothing special, that we are simply animals like any other, albeit with more intelligence, Barash believes that we will come to treat animals more humanely. Notice how we use the word “humane”. People who argue against cruelty to animals believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is the Humane Society. Why do we use a word derived from the same source as “human”. Perhaps because humans are the only animal that has been observed consistently treating other species with some degree of kindness, as well as deliberate cruelty. The case against cruelty to animals is made precisely on the basis that we are ourselves, somehow more than animals and thus are obliged to exercise more responsibility in our treatment of other animals than they use in treating each other.

But, if we are nothing more than merely another species, simply a clever ape, then maybe we do not have that responsibility either to other animals or to our fellow human beings. If we are not created in the image of God, then maybe we have no inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, which we are required to respect. It is not really possible to raise animals to the status of human beings. It is possible to degrade human beings to the status of animals, and all too often in history groups of human beings have been regarded as less than human and treated accordingly. If we are regarded as nothing special, the result will not be that we will treat animals as though they are the same as humans. That really is not possible. The result will be that we will treat humans like animals, or worse. That is all too possible.

The creation of a human-chimpanzee hybrid is a truly terrible idea, proposed for the worst of motives. It is possible that such a thing could be done, though less easily than Mr. Barash believes. It is certain that it ought not to be done.


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