Octavo Dia

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Three Strikes

I was just reading about three strikes laws, and how they're supposed to deter crime by making sentences more certain and severe. It seemed to me that a one strike law would be much more effective. You have to pay the full, maximum penalty with no time off for whatever and no plea bargaining for first-time offenders. Then I thought, well, a cagey criminal would get arrested for jumping a turnstile before he started robbing gas stations. Then I thought, that would be a really funny society, in which people were voluntarily turning themselves in so they could commit other crimes and the police had to go out and prove that the people did what they said they did. Then I thought, that would be a really funny movie about a guy who planned a huge heist, but had to get arrested first so he could plea bargain should he be caught, and was unable to get arrested no matter what he did.

Dictatorship

My tarot cards have added a third country, joining Columbia and Nigeria, to my list of countries about to become dictatorships. This one is also no surprise, though the crucial step has not yet come to pass. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is trying to change the Constitution to allow him to serve at least three terms, perhaps more. Can't anyone just launch a revolution anymore?

Ports

Ah, political humor. An article from Lebanon's Daily Star asks why "no one was worried about the U.K. being involved with U.S. ports, although the British Army once burned Washington."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Humanitarian Aid

Interesting article about Afghanistan, which once again underscores that aid is not about how much money is spent, but how it is spent.

The Battle For God: Part Five

Didn't have much time to read today, only fifteen minutes.

Page 159: Armstrong refers to a tenet "of all religions" the "absolute sanctity of human life." Can we say, "human sacrifice"? How about "ritualistic murder?" Turn to the Old Testament and we find what we would describe as ethnic cleansing and genocide commanded by God. Turn to the New Testament, and we find such verses as Romans 13:4, "For [rulers] are God's servants to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing." In short, it's a generality, and a not very well supported one either.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Battle For God: Part Four

This part takes me through age of enlightenment, and runs me smack into the colonial era, but with reference to the Muslims, about whom, once again, I know little, so my review peters out in that area.

Page 94: Here I take issue with parentheses. I know. I have stooped to that level. In reference to Darwin's works, she said that "animals, plants, and human beings had not been created fully formed (as the Bible implied)." To this I say hoooey. There is no implication. Read Genesis chapter one, in which it refers to fruit trees, seed-bearing plants, sea creatures, birds, livestock, reptiles, men and women. At every stage it refers to things which would require billions of years of evolution. The Bible states that things were created fully formed, they were, after all "very good."

Page 95: "But this was to miss the point, because, as a myth, the biblical creation story was not an historical account of the origins of life but a more spiritual reflection upon the ultimate significance of life itself..." And the point of the spiritual reflection is that God is lying to you because you can't handle the truth. Man that sucks.

Page 110: This part is more interesting than controversial. Religious disputes begin not by striking a blow against the threat, but in disputes with fellow believers. The future fundamentalists start by accusing their correligionists of making too many concessions to the threatening ideology. They then retreat into an enclave, from where emerges a religious counter-culture to retake the conquered ground.

Page 111: Armstrong speaks disparagingly about the reactions to modern secularism among traditional religious groups, because the fundamentalist approaches are very much modern in their perspective, i.e., they incorporate modern logical, scientific, and attitudinal approaches into a traditional form. I counter that rather than a corruption of religion, this demonstrates that religion adapts to meet the changing needs of its time, only adapts is too weak a word. If one starts with the assumption of an active God, one would expect that He would alter the religion to suit the challenges against it, all while maintaining the veracity of what was said. When one is challenged at the main gate, would you not redirect your resources to that area, rather than reinforcing battlements in the rear? To fight modernity with modernities weapons is to face the enemy with belief in terms that they can understand. In short, such adaptation is sensible and necessary, and, most likely, divinely directed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Battle for God: Part Three

Okay, we're through the Jews and Muslims, and back into the Christian part of the book, about which I am far more knowledgeable.

Page 55: (this is still from the Muslim section) The Shias, traditionally, viewed that the Word of God contained illimitable truth. "Fresh insight was always possible, and no single interpretation could suffice." This view is equally applicable to the Christian canon, but I would like to place limits on the "illimitable" nature of divine truth. Truth is required to be without falsehood. Anything that is not true, that is contradictory with the truth, is therefore false. The illimitable divine truth must, therefore, by internally consistent. If there is a fresh insight which contradicts other, established doctrines, they cannot both be true, so one must be rejected.

Page 66: I hadn't quite realized how esoteric my beliefs were until she started to discuss the doctrine of communion. The whole, "in, with, and under," concept with which I was raised is completely lost on her.

Page 67: Here I am disagreeing with John Calvin rather than Armstrong. Calvin argued that the Scriptures are the divine equivalent of baby talk. Our minds are too feeble to comprehend the majesty of God, so he has delivered it in baby talk, which must then be interpreted, and cannot necessarily be accepted as literally true. (For example, "I'm going to EAT these widdle toes!" is baby talk that one hopes is not literally true.) I argue that the baby talk argument unnecessarily limits God. An omniscient creator God is capable of constructing a revelation which is both and simultaneously so simple that the most feeble-minded of his creatures can understand it, but so complex that the greatest genius cannot plumb its depths. He can make such a revelation that is literally true, but still comprehensible. If one accepts the active management of God over his revelation, he can provide new translations to meet the changing needs of the time, and guide those who need it to a version that most suits what they need to hear.

Page 68: Armstrong argues that Copernicus introduced subjectivity into modern life. By demonstrating that one's perspective was not reliable, Copernicus forced people to rely on science and expertise for their views. It seems to me that this should have precisely the opposite effect. Why, if one's perspective cannot be trusted, should the perspective of a human expert be more trustworthy? It seems that introducing such subjectivity would make one rely more on the spiritual, not less.

Page 75: In reference to the witch hunts of the colonial period, Armstrong states, "[the witch hunts] showed that a cult of scientific rationalism cannot always hold darker forces at bay." This is a beautiful dichotomy, isn't it? A distinction used by all religions and philosophies to explain atrocities. The good that is accomplished is tabulated fully into the column of achievements, yet the evil is ascribed to the actions of those who are not fully consistent. The Crusades were either the natural result of Christian piety, or they are the worldly corruption of a pure faith. The genocide of the Tasmanian aborigines for museum specimens was the result of a misinterpretation of Darwin's theories. The Gulag Archipelago was denounced by Kruschev as the result of the mad reinterpretation of Stalin. People who otherwise ascribed to the cult of scientific rationalism, so soon as the committed atrocities, were no longer behaving rationally.

Page 79: Armstrong seems to contradict her thesis at this point, when she says, "One faith was conceived as irrational, and the inbuilt constraints of the best conservative spirituality were jettisoned, people could fall prey to all manner of delusions." In my words, without a solid foundation in real history, without a logical basis for faith, fundamentalism occurs. This is precisely the reverse of her thesis that it was the modern combination of logos and mythos that led to fundamentalism.

More is coming when I have read more... Yes that is a threat.

Ports

After reading the arguments about the proposed takeover of six U.S. ports by a UAE shipping company, I would like to say that I support it. I support it because there will be tighter security. An Arab firm charged with protecting American ports will know, first of all, that they are under constant scrutiny, and that, second of all, should there be a failure of security, they would most likely not only suffer a thorough investigation with a dozen congressional committees, but would be roasted in the fires of public opinion. If a British port authority messes up, people will view it as a tragic oversight (in other words, the port authority would most likely continue to operate). If a UAE port authority messes up, they'll lose their business. The UAE has a much greater incentive to keep America's ports secure than does Britain.

The Battle for God: Part Two

This second section wasn't nearly so controversial to me, probably because I am no expert in medieval Jewish history. It was much more interesting and enlightening than strident.

On page 34, Armstrong discusses the collapse of the Roman empire, and how the destruction of centuries of painstakingly acquired knowledge led to a conservative, rediscovery approach to knowledge, rather than an aggressive, experimental approach. The stability of the modern system, in that we have difficulty imagining a realistic collapse of civilization, seems to impart an ethos of progress to the modern mind. Unlike previous societies, modern man views things as getting better and better every day, in every way. Interesting, to say the least.

On page 37, she taught me a new word. "Orthopraxy". Unlike orthodoxy, which is correct doctrine, orthopraxy is the correct practice, or the proper means of performing a ritual.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

We need some help.

Churches Urged to Back Evolution.

I was actually going to say something about this, but I couldn't think of what to say until today, so I posted it anyway, and now I'm commenting on it. This article reminds me of a quotation from Lenin, "The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Transparency

I've been wrestling with an idea lately. What would happen if the government were to have completely open books? What if every penny that came in was recorded--exactly how much was taken in, from whom, for what reasons, and at what time--and every penny disbursed was similarly recorded. People could go online and see, if they had the time, exactly what the government was paying to whom for what purposes. In essense, it would add several million auditors to the government's accounts.

The downside is that the government would be rather unable to do anything requiring secrecy. On the other hand, half of what the government does that requires secrecy is things that we don't want the government doing anyway, but, on the other hand, half of what it does secretly is research and development that we don't want our enemies to know about anyway.

Still, it's an intriguing thought.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dictatorship

I hereby predict political repression in Uganda. Why? Security reasons. The President has been attacked by unidentified gunmen, which will just happen to be linked to some political opponent of the president. I wish that dictators would be a little more creative in their moves. First, you modify the Constitution to let you serve multiple terms (already done). You build a large military to protect against some threat or other, much of which should be under your person control (already done). You adjust the electoral rules in the name of "unity" to keep most of your opponents from running (already done). Then, you miraculously survive an assaut by the remaining, and heretofore peaceful, opponents (just happened). Now, you jail all opposition, which gives something serious to complain about, so you shut down the remaining free media. "Shutting down" is not necessarily literal, since, if you compare the coverage of the insurgency in the main government publication, the New Vision, you'll find upbeat, militarist reporting. If you compare it to the main private publication, the Monitor, you'll find a large number of human-interest type stories, but very little coverage of the actual conduct of the war. Why? Take three guesses, and the first two don't count. (If it rhymes with "attesting the creditors," you're right.) I don't know how much time to give it before Museveni becomes "president for life", but it's coming.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Battle for God

I'm reading The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong now, and I thought I'd give a running commentary of my thoughts on the book. I'm reading it at work, so there'll be gaps every now and then, or she might stop saying provocative things, which would also work against my blogging idea.

Anyway, these are my comments on the introduction and pages 1-22. I don't have the page numbers to reference the introduction, since I hadn't thought about doing this till after the intro, and I didn't feel like rereading it.

In the introduction, the author states that the religious origin myths are not meant to be taken literally. How do we know what the author's intention was? This statement is delivered without any reference of any kind. Unless the author has stated elsewhere that the origin myth is solely allegorical, or what not, the assumption that it is not to be taken literally is iffy at best. Furthermore, I think that a literal origin myth is necessary for all monotheisitic religions with a personal diety (such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the subjects of the book). An eternal God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and ominpotent would not produce a story that, in effect says, "This isn't what I did, or how I did it, you'll have to figure that out on your own, but here's a nice story that will make you happy." Taking an origin myth as a myth denies the godhead considerable power and authority, something which a monotheistic faith cannot allow.

Also in the introduction, the author claims that miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, are symbolic, in this case as a right of passage. I agree that the parting of the Red Sea is symbolic, but that does not preclude a literal event. The parting of the Red Sea can be symbolic and literal. I think the major problem she has at this point is the concept of a God who is both active and outside of time. Such a God can quite easily perform miracles, and perform them in such a way that they will be a symbol of, foreshadowing, if you will, events which are yet to come. Just because there is a symbolic meaning to a miracle does not mean it did not happen.

Finally, from the introduction, the author claims that peoples in the past had a different view of time from modern man. They saw time as fluid, containing a thread of history. Events were not then unique, but representative of some theme or other. First, how does she know? This is also without reference of any kind. Second, seeing a theme in history does not mean that they did not see it chronologically. The categories are not mutually exclusive. Third, referring to the active God in the point above, such a God could make prophetic typologies throughout history, so that history could repeat itself. Fourth, our modern view, that time is relative, is much more mystical than anything the ancients came up with. We cannot experience relative time, but our sacred symbology has deduced that it is necessary, so we believe.

Page 11-12: Ms. Armstrong claims that scriptures are quite capable of yielding multiple meanings, which is true, but she errs in using this as a supporting argument for her "non-literal interpretation" argument. Multiple meanings, once again, do not preclude a literal meaning. It can be both true and symbolic simultaneously. (Perhaps the best argument in favor of a literal interpretation is that when there are internal references, they tend to refer literally, for example, Christ in Matt 19:4-5, "Have you not read that..." or in Mark 12:6 which refers to the burning bush as a literal event.) Literal events can also be deliberately symbolized after the fact, as in Joshua 4:21, in which they build a cairn to symbolize the crossing.

Page 14 and 22: The author states that "religion is only meaningful in a liturgical context." I wonder if this has anything to do with cognitive dissonance. If one does not practice religion, how can one maintain religiousity? The "rational" mindset to which Ms. Armstrong ascribes does not require any activity. Thus a lack of activity creates no dissonance. If one is religious, how does one worship? Eliminating such practices would very quickly cut the soul out of worship, making it "unsustainable," as she terms it.

That's all for now, I need to read more to comment further.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Caricatures Again

After reading yet another article about the caricatures of Mohammed, I would like to say two things. First, the freedom of speech is the freedom to offend. Without the ability to offend, the freedom of speech is essentially meaningless. Perhaps only math can speak with offense, but as soon as it is applied to the real world, math gains the ability to offend, whether in the realm of astronomy or statistics. Without offense, there is not freedom.

Second, what do the rioters hope to accomplish? Those images have made their way into cyberspace. They have essentially achieved immortality. Somewhere, those images remain, and will remain.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Reader's Digest

Not that I want to mock the Reader's Digest, except that I do, since it is a highly irrelevant publication living off the subscriptions of people who have always read the Reader's Digest. So I would like to draw your attention to the cover of this month's issue, which has, taking up approximately half of the front cover, the headline: "Money Alert: 10 New Scams to Avoid." Well, let me see, um, DUH! Unless the article was about which scams to get in on before all the suckers got soaked and there was none left for you, (which, I must admit, would be a very interesting article) the very nature of a "scam" is that it is something one wants to avoid. If a publication needs to explain to its readers that scams are to be avoided, I should hack into its subscriber database and set myself up as a Nigerian businessman.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fire

I read an article yesterday about how five churches were torched in Alabama. My favorite part of the article? "No motive was known." Let me reword the first sentence of the second paragraph for you, "Fires broke out at five churches (mosques/synagogues)--all within about ten miles from each other..." Replace the word "churches" with either of the options in parentheses. Had the story involved either of these options, there would be no sentence "no motive" in the article. It would, instead, be filled with angst-ridden quotations from legions of professional hand-wringers.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Caricatures

If you've been following the news at all, you've probably run across the protests about the caricatures of Mohammed. Of all the articles I read, I could only find one blog that actually published the caricatures. No one else would even link to them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dictatorship

I have now officially marked a second country as slouching towards dictatorship, as Nigeria is now changing their constitution to allow a third term for the president.