Tuesday, November 28, 2006


When the Romans ruled the known world, they had, among others, a simple weapon of terror they used to keep the soldiers in their army literally in line during battle.

Decimation: a form of extreme military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth." A cohort selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group cast lots, and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were given rations of barley instead of wheat and forced to sleep outside of the Roman encampment.
Because the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in the selected cohort were eligible for execution, regardless of rank or distinction. As a result, the threat of decimation inspired fear and resolve into the Roman Legions. However, because a decimation significantly reduced the troop strength of an army, it is believed that the punishment was rarely used. (Wikipedia)

When an agent of an occupying army or government is attacked and killed by a resistance movement, this has, upon occasion, led to civilian reprisals.

“In warfare, a reprisal is a limited and deliberate violation of the laws of war to punish an enemy for breaking the laws of war. A legally executed reprisal is not an atrocity.
To be legally justified, a reprisal can only be directed against the party carrying out the original violation, can only be carried out as a last resort, after having given formal notice of the planned reprisal, must be proportionate to the original violation, must have the aim of persuading the original violator to comply with the legally accepted behaviour in future, and must not continue after the illegal behaviour ends.
Circumstances usually dictate that reprisals can only be taken against people innocent of the original violation, which increases the probability that the reprisals will themselves be viewed as hostile acts, risking a vicious circle of violations by both sides.
All four Geneva Conventions prohibit reprisals against, respectively, battlefield casualties, shipwreck survivors, prisoners of war and civilians, as well as certain buildings and property. An additional 1977 protocol extends this to cover historic monuments, works of art and places of worship. Despite this, in ratifying the Conventions, a number of states have reserved the right to undertake reprisals against civilians, including the United Kingdom and Germany.
In the United States military, the lowest ranked commander who can authorize a reprisal is a general in command of a theater.”

Many times throughout history, civilian reprisals have been carried out on the thin justification that the victims of the reprisal were suspected of aiding and abetting the perpetrators of a violent act. In fact, no effort was made to justify these suspicions because the reprisal itself was staged as a warning to the perpetrators to the effect that their continued actions would result in even more physical harm to their friends and neighbors. It was also an attempt to strike fear into the civilian population concerning what would happen to them if they were even suspected of rendering aid to the rebels. In short, this is another weapon of terror and an attempted extortion of good behavior.

When a government or other authority condones a massacre or genocide either through direct action or deliberate failure to take preventive action, that authority is said to have committed a crime against humanity.

“A crime against humanity is a term in international law that refers to acts of persecution or any large scale atrocities against a body of people, as being the criminal offence above all others.[1]
The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum states that crimes against humanity "are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. However, murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of meriting the stigma attaching to the category of crimes under discussion. "[2]

When the alleged Almighty God Jehovah decided that his allegedly chosen people had been slaves in Egypt long enough, he caused the death of the Egyptian’s firstborn children. There is no recorded age limit. Presumably, a young Egyptian couple with their first newborn suffered the same fate and lost their only child. These children were killed because their Pharaoh, their parent’s ruler and government, would not condone the release of the Israeli slaves. Setting aside the suspicious nature of the ten plagues (more on this later), and the possible agencies behind these “miracles”, if you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, then this took place.

When is this ever right? I’m not looking for excuses or moral justifications, I want to know when is it right to murder innocent human beings in order to achieve social engineering?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Concernedengineer has once again baited me into a response. This is my reply to his comment on the Ted Haggard post. If I have to work this hard, I'm going to post, rather than bury it in the comment section of a past post. This is long, but I think it belongs here because I think it illustrates the gulf between his worldview and mine.

”It is not wrong to desire justice and to speak truth. In point of truth, if you ever do become a Christian, I think that you would probably speak out with a strong, prophetic voice - something that the church needs.”

I was raised Methodist, and as a choir member, more active in the church than most young people. I met many good people that were doing their best to be good, upright citizens. I don’t object to the concept of fellowship, or human attempts at mutually assisted self-improvement. I object to hierarchical thinking, mind control techniques, and fanatical insistence that I believe a fairy tale. I also object to the scam-like construct that says I am a bad person if I do not believe without material proof (take it on faith). I am also not fond of the fear-mongering tactics of predicting dire consequences after death (of which the predictors can have no direct knowledge no matter how loudly they assert the “truth” of their beliefs) if I do not believe this fairy tale.

”You are right that authentic repentance is not just fessing up when you get caught. It is not false humility of acting humble and acting like you feel bad - as if by feeling bad you can somehow make up for the wrongdoing.”

I think we are close to complete agreement here. I believe that if a person was truly remorseful, they would seek some kind of help shortly after committing the act.

”When somene does wrong, they are lieing, cheating, stealing. The offense is real. Justice ought to be served. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.”

“Ought” and “Should” are truly dangerous words in the human lexicon. They can lead to lynch mobs and/or the victim mentality. The inherent problem with the “eye for an eye” construct is that it does not solve the original problem, even if it does provide a measure of karma-like justice. In some cases, it is fair for a perpetrator to live with the direct consequences of their actions, but we as a society have not put out eyes or cut off hands in a long time. We tend to think it barbaric when other countries indulge in this form of justice. The problem with the death penalty solution is the same as the reason that murder is immoral in the first place. If I take your life, I have taken something that does not belong to me and I cannot give it back. Executing a murderer doesn’t bother me, and might give some closure to the victim’s friends and family, and might prevent more murder, but it does nothing for the victim(s).

”But I maintain that if this exacting of justice is the end of the story, then the logical conclusion is that we are all failures. The logical conclusion is suicide. Just look at your life, and I'll look at mine. Do you really think it is possible to compensate for all of the wrongs you have done (including the right things that you have failed to do)? If you think it is, then your standard is really low and/or your opinion of yourself is really high. Either way, you are sticking your head in the sand if you think you have what it takes to justify yourself. So, then if you have a realistic view, you recognize that you do not have what it takes to live a truly just life. Acknowledging this truth is the first step to getting in touch with reality. Failing to acknowledge this truth is to play the ostrich mentality.”

This line of reasoning is a logical consequence of your worldview. The idea that we are all failures is a direct consequence of believing that there is such a thing as perfection or a perfect being. I see this concept differently, as sort of a Platonic ideal that acts as a logical limit, like zero or infinity in Calculus. As humans, we are born with antisocial and behavioral problems that, while possibly advantageous to individual survival, need to be extinguished as we are socialized.

"God is loving, merciful, and forgiving. "

One of the hymns I used to sing in church went:

(soloist) “The firstborn of the Egyptians he smote."
(chorus) "For His great love, Is without end.”

I think that was the first time my brain went, “Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson! Does not Compute!”

”I have a friend who was telling me a story about a guy trying to teach his children about the grace of God. He gave one of his kids a cookie. One kid got a cookie, while the other kid did not. When the kid without the cookie complained, the father said that the kid who got the cookie did not deserve it. It was simply grace.”

Wow. Convoluted, but hangs together on its internal, um, logic. “Deserve” is another one of those dangerous words. As in the example above, many times in social, and almost always in Natural situations, “deserve” only comes into play as the logical outcome of work toward an expected goal, or as a reward for actual or perceived behavior. Sometimes the results are disappointing in real life. In the example above, I would say that the father gave the child a good working example of “arbitrary”. I infer from the story that the one child did not share with the other, and note that he/she might not have even known that he/she was empowered to make that decision (or at least ask about it), having assumed that the decision was made by the handing of the whole cookie to just one child. Rigid authority often causes this kind of unquestioning paralysis.

If I see a dollar or five or ten lying on the ground, I have a choice. I can pick it up, or leave it for someone else to find. Chances are about 50/50 the next person will be no more in need of it than I, and will pick it up anyway, so I generally pick it up. I don’t think any invisible power has engineered this, I think I have experienced a synchronicity between two probable events: people lose stuff and people find stuff. Since I don’t need this windfall (usually) it will probably find its way into a charitable donation or an extra generous tip for some waitress. If I ever encounter a larger amount of money, I will seek to find the owner for reasons that I will leave as an exercise to the student.

”That's how it is with God. God has grace on people. It is a free gift that flows out of his love and mercy.”

Sounds pretty arbitrary to me, or is that covered under the “Mysterious Ways” clause?

”We are not all created equal. Some have certain gifts, talents, abilities, families, and opportunities that others do not. For some, refraining from telling a lie is really hard to do. For others, refraining from drinking too much alcohol is hard to do. For others, eating right is hard to do. One person's strength might be another person's weakness. One person might be gifted in an area that another person is not.

This knowledge ought to compel us to be compassionate toward one another.”

I think a new spin on the old gallows humor would go, “Until they perfect cloning, we’re all created equal, but the minute you’re born, some are more equal than others.”

I think this reality is enough to make a thinking person more accepting of another’s different strengths and weaknesses, but compassion is perhaps more complicated. I actually had to look up the word to be sure that common usage agreed with my understanding of its meaning (it did). Compassion as defined, encompasses both elements of pity, and a call to action. The ancient Greeks said, “The gods help those who help themselves” and I take a similar attitude. I feel no compulsion to help those who give all appearances of being ones who cannot be helped through their own unwillingness to change. Indeed, unless I am the proximate cause of someone’s suffering, I am under no obligation to choose to help that person. This does not mean that I won’t, it just means I don’t feel like I have to. Too, I think it is every person’s right to struggle against their own personal problems as a solo effort, if they so desire.

”Make no mistake. I was upset by the news about Ted Haggard. What he did was wrong. I hope that he is changing - really changing from the inside out. But I do not write him off as beyond hope or beyond redemption or reconciliation. He did wrong. He can't make it up. No matter how much he tries, he did what he did. He is incapable of making it right on his own. He should still do everything that he can to make it right. But ultimately, he needs to trust God - trusting that God will find a way to make it right.”

I’m with you right up to the last sentence. Isn’t that like asking someone else to clean up your mess? This seems like adding layers of insulation against responsibility. What is the logic here? God led/failed to lead in the right direction? God’s plan? Temptation? The excuses are many. The ownership is avoidable. Ted has feet of clay. He is not what his followers thought him to be. He does not need our forgiveness, he needs to tend his garden and shut the fuck up.

”The idea that you think you have what it takes to right every wrong you have ever done is arrogant. I do not mean any disrespect. I actually say that with compassion in my heart.”

Hmmm. It would be arrogant if I thought any such thing. While my wrongs are miniscule when compared to others, such as the deaths caused by the foreign policy of President Carpenter and Vice President Walrus, I do understand that some things once broken cannot be unbroken. I will have regrets until the day I die, unlike some who will rationalize horrific immorality away. I do not dwell on this, but I do not forget either. Every day I write the book.

”Jesus paid the price for us. This is the greatest gift of the world - the gift of God's righteousness. The gift is free, but it is not cheap. It cost Jesus His life.”

I was not there at the time. I did not exist. If this actually happened, I did not ask for this. You are no doubt familiar with the problem with this assertion that is stated, “I sacrificed myself to myself so that I would not have to break a rule that I arbitrarily made myself… even though I am all-powerful and nothing therefore prevents me from breaking my own rules.” In addition to that classic problem, I also have the problem of reconciling a “free gift” to one that apparently has strings attached. Have you seen the cartoon where the Devil says to Jesus, “I’m sorry? What was that you were saying about suffering for a few hours on the cross? We were just celebrating Confucius’ 2085th year of burning in Hell.

”Very rarely will anyone lay down his life for another, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If your god is truly omniscient, then he knew that he would rise from the dead in three days. So where was the sacrifice? Can you see the problem I have with this myth? If you read accounts of historical fact like The Charge of the Light Brigade, or A Bridge Too Far, or Iwo Jima, or millions of other sacrifices that took place so that we could live as free men, how does this compare to the big deal you make over one Roman-style hanging of an innocent man? How many dead throughout the centuries could lay claim to the same distinction? And, they stayed dead by all accounts too. Isn’t that a greater sacrifice? The story that sticks in my brain is not one of a poor bastard hung up on a cross. I once heard a tale of a Police Officer who dove into a storm drain in pursuit of a child who got sucked into same during a flash flood. The Cop had no chance of survival, and probably knew that, but could not stand by and do nothing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Near-Death Experience

Aaron, this one’s for you. Thanks for all of the good reading and for fighting the good fight.

October 27, 11:25 AM: I walk into an operating theatre at a local hospital. I’m there to have a piece of torn cartilage removed from my knee. Nothing life threatening, so I’m a little nervous, but not terrified. This is the first time in my life that I will be receiving a general anesthetic. I’m a little buzzed from the IV, and I lay down on the table as directed. The O-R nurse straps me down, fits a blood pressure cuff to my right arm, and then proceeds to place electrodes on my forehead. This sort of feels like being stuck with the scratchy plastic side of Velcro. The nurse quips that she is looking for signs of intelligent life in males. I play along and say, “Let me know if you find any.”

1:45 PM: I wake up in the Recovery Room. I have ten pounds of flannel blankets over me, I have no sensation of being cold, but I am shivering. I explain this to the nurse, and she tells me that it is a common reaction.

That’s it. No voices, no bright lights. No feeling of being pulled, pushed, poked or prodded… but that’s my point. For about two hours, I was completely switched off. I have no memory of that time; no dreams, no uneasy twitches, no feelings, nothing. While most of the rest of the human race ate, or worked, or played or screwed or slept, I was turned off. A doctor put two deep puncture wounds in my leg and chewed up and dragged out a piece of my knee joint. Nothing. One minute it was 11:30, the next it was 1:45. In between, nothing. No sleep is so deep that you don’t dream or fidget, or twitch when your neighbor slams a car door or something, but this was NOTHING!

Now that I’ve had this experience, this is what I imagine death to be: nothing to be afraid of, nothing to look forward to, nothing to experience, NOTHING! A blackout with no end, and no awareness of time or being, because you need some form of consciousness in order to be aware. No difference between the first millisecond and the rest of eternity and no discomfort because there is no perception of duration. No perception of anything else for that matter, because all of the mechanisms for sensory input and processing are shut down and gone.

So why am I telling you this? Because I am betting that many thousands of people have had the same experience that I just had. Do they get any publicity? The people who get publicity are those that have some hallucinatory experience or neural firestorm that leads them to believe that they have experienced a non-corporeal state of being. The activity in their respective brains bears no relationship to the lack of activity in a corpse. Their brain is putting on a show. The show is largely based on the expectations of the Producer/audience. In other words, the brain is showing the brain’s owner what that owner desperately wants to see. If this owner has spent a lifetime hearing what he wants to hear, and making self-supporting, delusional types of conclusions, why should this kind of behavior in a starving brain be a surprise? When there are people who get a financial reward by perpetuating these delusions, it is also no surprise that these experiences get talked about. You can’t buy that kind of advertising, but you can play it over and over again like an accordion. I think the average person gets the impression that “go into the light” type experiences happen to everyone. I don’t think that is true. I think the more common experience is … nothing.

* * * *

My blog is not accepting pictures again. Here is a link and desciption of what I wanted to post. I'll try again later.

Caption: An Egyptian-style burial at Tombos, a cemetery at the third cataract of the Nile in what was once the center of ancient Nubia and is now northern Sudan.
Credit: S. Smith
Usage Restrictions: None

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

…Or at least from the intelligent to the stupid.

NPR: Week in Review, Elections, Rumsfeld

NBC: Couple sees Virgin Mary, Jesus in Gold Nugget

This little nugget was carried as straight news by a bazillion NBC affiliates. It is alleged to be an image of the alleged virgin Mary holding the Baby Jeezus, found in a naturally occurring gold nugget. Why the fuck is it always the alleged virgin Mary? Why can’t it be any of about three billion other women with a baby? That high forehead and vertical profile looks sort of Irish to me. What, there aren’t any Irish women with babies? Is that a flower in her hair? I don’t remember the Bible mentioning any Polynesian habits in ancient Jerusalem. That Jaw kinda looks like the Tinman from The Wizard of Oz, or maybe like Sigmund Freud’s under the beard. Are you trying to say that the alleged Sexless Baby Blaster was a leper? If you see a profile at all, you see a clearly defined nose and lower jaw. Ya-sef’s pregnant bride would not have risked her life in public by not covering her face. Are you trying to say that the alleged virgin Mary was an unchaste slut? On second thought, it looks more like a gold-plated loogie that somebody hocked up into a deep fryer. Yeah, I can see some yokel fishing that out of the Fryolator along with the Twinkies and Coca-cola.

Would somebody please discover another habitable planet? I need to move away from this loony rock.

PS: The alleged Baby Jesus looks more like a baby Dr. Zoidberg to me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard! C'mon Down!

You're the next inductee into the Asshole Hall of Fame!

You'll be joining such notable preaching assholes as:

Cotton Mather

Oral Roberts

Jimmy Swaggart

Richard Butler

Jim Jones

Randy Weaver

Pope Innocent III

David Koresh

Kent Hovind

How many of these assholes have to be exposed before Bible Belt America starts to get a clue that they are being played like a Montgomery Ward harmonica at a house party? All of them?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What We've got here...

is a failure to communicate.” - Tagline from Cool Hand Luke.

It is also, unfortunately, what happens most of the time when any Realist/Pragmatist/Atheist/Naturalist gets into a discussion with a Theist. There have been several theories put forth to explain this phenomenon, and maybe they all have some bearing. The most frustrated explanation I ever heard goes, “It’s like arguing with a juke box. They are loaded up with their talking points, and if you try to pin them down, they just put on a different record.”

I have had similar experiences. What we’ve had going here with Concernedengineer is a little like that at times, but to his credit, he has tried to engage on philosophical grounds. Therein lies a problem: we don’t seem to have quite the same definitions for our terms.

In his earliest comments on this blog, CE wanted to make the point that Atheist/Realists have presuppositions too. There is a kernel of truth in that, but there is also a big “however”. CE’s objective in making this claim is to prove that atheism is a religious belief, and falls under the umbrella of presuppositional apologetics, a.k.a. Presuppositionalism. I find this logic to be twisted, circular, self-serving, paranoid, and delusional. To the best of my understanding, the core belief of this argumentum ad nauseum is that without Triple-strength Jehovamagod ®, nothing else, including your and my conscious thought, is possible. From this position, a statement like, “I believe there is no god” becomes a presupposition based on the knowledge of god, and the rejection of that knowledge.

The classic lawyer trick, “Do you still beat your wife?” is an example of a presuppositional statement. Whether answered in the affirmative or negative, it presupposes that you were a wife beater at one time. The confusion inherent in the presuppositional theistic argument, as I see it, is confusion between the knowledge of an alleged thing, and knowledge of the existence of the thing itself. The followers of Van Til, Clark, and the other verbose crazies get around this problem by asserting that we all know god, we just delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t. At this point in the lecture, I hear a little voice in the back of my mind that sounds like Peewee Herman going, “I know you are but what am I?” This attitude seems to be one of the pillars of the Presuppositional argument: turning arguments back against those who posit them in a sort of one-way fashion, denying that they apply at least equally in the manner originally stated. They excuse their dogma from like scrutiny by maintaining a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, using that as an argument from authority, and remaining in deep denial over the inherent flaws, contradictions, and historical inaccuracies of that disgusting document.

Allow me to juxtapose a few of CE’s statements as an example of this form of denial.

“Aren't all arguments from authority ultimately circular?”

“… how do we know that the doctor is a legitimate authority on medicine. Well, he went to Med school, and probably spent the majority of his 20's studying all the books. Plus, he probably interned under other MD's, where he learned and acquired valuable experience. But how do we know the books are legitimate and that the other doctors were legitimate authorities themselves?Well, the authors of the books were M.D.'s and/or Ph.D.'s, etc. And the other doctors read the same or similar books and interned under qualified doctors?You can see that this goes on and on and on. The doctor is a professional because he read all the rights books. We know that the books are "right" because they were written by doctors. We know that those doctors are authorities because they read all the right books. We know that those authors are legitimate because they were doctors themselves. Circular arguments. No fallacies.”

This is a deliberate double obfuscation. First, it confuses regression with circularity. Perhaps CE is relying on the Presuppositionalist circular premise-and-conclusion that all arguments are ultimately circular. Second, it ignores salient facts. This is a card-trick argument, and I recognize it from many Sunday School teachers that used its like, either through innocent repetition or deliberate molestation of uninformed minds. You have only been shown what the trickster wants you to see. What he has left out, is the training, certification, peer review, internship, etc. that goes into making a medical doctor. In short, he has left out the actual practice of medicine. I can memorize a book on brain surgery, but that does not make me a brain surgeon. The ultimate measure of a doctor’s abilities is the results of his career. This is the documentation that makes him an expert. The peer process prevents quackery and murder and malpractice and fraud. This is not infinite regression because medical science, like any other body of knowledge, is growing through experiment and development. One cannot use this as a parallel for religion because religion is not knowledge; it is programmatic dogma.

“By the way, there is evidence to back up Christianity. I presented the titles to several books a while back. There is historical and archaeological evidence of the existence, the teachings, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

In a courtroom, it is not necessary to present evidence to remove all doubt, but only enough evidence to remove reasonable doubt.”

Much of this “evidence” was “discovered” centuries after the alleged incidents by Constantine and his whacky wife. They were looking for a religion that they could turn into an Official State Religion, with themselves in charge, of course. What possible motive would they have had for checking the facts instead of making them up to suit their purpose? Most of these holy places came complete with a hermit-monk that would panhandle the pilgrims. What possible motive would they have for passing off some hole in the ground as the Holy Sepulcher? Then there’s this, and this, and this, and this. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the page on that last one. I think that more than qualifies as “reasonable doubt”.

“Circular logic is not necessarily invalid. Furthermore, if the premises are true, and the form is valid, then it is sound.”

Circular logic might indeed be valid, but it does not prove anything.