Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Charity, Meals, and Feeding the Bears

Bill Briggs at NBCNews.com (as well as a number of others) has reported the following story:

In it we learn that 33 cities have adopted or are considering blocking individuals and ministries from feeding the homeless. Four of them -- including Myrtle Beach in my home state of South Carolina -- are singled out in the article as having "recently fined, removed or threatened to jail private groups that offered meals to the homeless instead of letting government-run service agencies care for those in need".

This has led to a healthy discussion in a political discussion group, and some of this will necessarily be a summary of those arguments. And please understand that the arguments I'm presenting below are representative of those I've heard (and sometimes made) over many years. I was merely fortunate to find them gathered in one place this week. I'm addressing this post to the composite "author" of these widespread beliefs. Unavoidably they will strike very close to home for at least a few people.


Now, while I understand the importance of tourism and the concept of "feeding the bears" (i.e. the enabling of dependent behavior), I have said there and continue to maintain that...
...in a country that claims to be the Land of the Free, restricting the ability of individual citizens to act charitably as individuals is simply bad, no matter how eloquently it's rationalized.
I'd like to discuss some of that rationalization, and also expand a bit on the subject of charity.


I have read how undesirable the homeless are, for reasons such as:
  • a high percentage are mentally ill without medication
  • a high percentage are drug abusers
  • a high percentage are ex-convicts
  • a high percentage are criminal sex offenders
  • aggressive panhandling is intimidating.
  • the homeless make people nervous
In general, we're told, the homeless bring far more that your average citizen/parent/consumer has to be leery of, so this is really just a "zoning issue". And since the homeless don't pay taxes, it's only right that those who do... businesses and the wealthy... expect their government to keep their parks and city common areas free of these disruptive and uncomfortable reminders that there are far greater things to be uncomfortable about in this world than whether there's a man on the same street who hasn't had a bath.

I've heard all of these arguments over the years, and held some of them myself before growing out of them. I'm not likely to be swayed by arguments that I've already rejected on firm matters of principle. And they're always mixed in with a number of very reasonable issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with restricting individual charity, and thus, for the purposes of this discussion, are (mostly) ignored.

Let's start with the concept of a "zoning" issue, and the primacy of taxpayers. We have progressive tax rates in this country, and obviously some people do pay more to the government in taxes than others. However, it is only the most severely uninformed who would conclude from that that this confers upon a person a greater share of citizenship. IT DOES NOT. And I'm quite certain that if I were to say it outright to your face, you would agree with me. You would realize immediately that it's a failed argument. You might not viscerally agree: you may feel that a business is "important". But hey, sidewalks are important, too, and the right to use them. In America, all are afforded equal rights and protection under the law, no matter how inconvenient or nervous that might make you. The plain fact of the matter is that these people... the homeless.. are every bit as much citizens as restaurateurs, politicians, bankers, lawyers, baristas, hoteliers, housewives, plumbers, swim suit and souvenir shop owners, etc.

Every citizen has the same right to the public Commons as any other citizen, be he mayor or beachcomber. And all these other citizens can transact personal business in these areas; can eat in these areas; and can wander around aimlessly and enjoy the famous Southern sunshine without it being called loitering.


As citizens we have an obligation to be tolerant. I didn't make that up, either. It was regularly taught in Civics classes back when Civics classes were taught. When asked whether my statement about the Land of the Free and restricting individual charity would look a little different if someone were to announce that he was going to start feeding the homeless every weekend at the entrance to my neighborhood, my answer was, "No." I not only begrudge no one who is charitable toward another human, I don't try to control what they do on their property on their time with their own hard-earned resources. It's called "tolerance". When the discussion is firmly limited to "public spaces", my response is just as firm. Those public spaces belong to all of the public. Not merely those with nice suits, fancy dresses, and neighborhoods with "entrances". They are for citizens, not taxpayers. I don't believe in second-class citizens.

Of course if you're reading this and you've previously made arguments such as all of the bullet points I've listed above, and the "zoning" argument in which the landed gentry get to impose their will on the serfs; you may become a bit defensive when it's pointed out to you that these arguments are completely and utterly indistinguishable from the proposition that there are "second class citizens". No matter how strenuously you might deny such an opinion, your actions and prior arguments are far more convincing. Having had it pointed out, it might be possible that you can still convince yourself that you don't believe in second-class citizens. I only hope it is more difficult for you to do so. It is very important to the common good that if you're going to be class-minded, you are aware of what you're doing and honestly own your opinion.

It is the intolerance of the poor that leads governments to construct laws that make it effectively illegal to be poor... or at least to be poor there. It's okay if you're poor someplace else. Of course they can't get away with actually saying that, so it's sanitized in sterile language such as "zoning". And it's couched in the comforting thought that we can provide "proper places" for such things, managed by Mama Municipality, of course, so that there isn't a need for the charity which is banned. And by removing food from the homeless, and making it illegal to provide the homeless with food in an area rife with restaurants, you remove the problem by force. To put it plainly: the rich folks force the poor people out by making it a crime to aid the poor. I'm not just talking about food. Imagine for a moment that you gave a homeless person a ride... to find that it's illegal and you're fined for "operating a taxi" without a license. Or that you fall foul of hotel laws for allowing indigents to sleep over. Little charitable acts easily become illegal, and you a criminal because of intolerance.

But is it "force"? I quote from the NBCNews.com article: "Police in at least four municipalities – Raleigh, N.C.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Daytona Beach, Fla. – have recently fined, removed or threatened to jail private groups that offered meals to the homeless " Yes.... I'd say "force" is the proper term.

It's very easy to be distracted by extraneous issues and imagined complexities to muddy the very clear principles at work. People in this country must be afforded equal rights. If your law doesn't facilitate that, it's bad, even if business picks up.

I'm not suggesting that you're not personally charitable. Almost everyone is when it's convenient, or prudent, or popular. But we must never allow charitable acts to become the moral equivalent of "carbon credits"... letting a couple of good deeds justify getting by with a few bad ones here and there. And we can never separate our politics from our principles. In every meaningful sense, our politics are the purest expression of our principles. As Heinlein observed, all politics is force. Your exercise of political power precisely measures the degree to which you would force others to your will.

I certainly hope you've never considered your politics in those terms on your own. I think if you had you'd likely not conclude that some other citizen doesn't have as much right as you to "your" parks and libraries due to their misfortune of being poor.


Now, there is an excellent point to be made (and which has been made) that even the Bible states that those who refuse to work should not eat. But let's keep in mind the context of that statement shall we?
For you yourselves know how ye ought to follow us, for we did not behave disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man’s bread for naught, but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you, not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat. -- 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10
Note that this refers to a personal commitment to work for one's own keep. It is a role model providing an example, and I'll further talk about obligation, below. However, this verse assuredly does not command withholding charity for any reason.  Now I'm going to reproduce a statement from the discussion here verbatim because it's important that you know where the advice comes from.
"One of my best friends is formerly "homeless" and his first words in these conversations is that you shouldn't give to most of them. He's a devout Christian and one of the most compassionate people I've ever met. He will tell you that those whom he and others scammed were simply enabling him to remain in destruction."
I don't disagree. I simply warn against the dangers of reading that and overgeneralizing.

I've written on the subject of Charity in this blog before [Jan 16, 2010: Charity]. In that post I describe a case where my wife and I took in people with the understanding that they could stay with us for six months, paying no bills, buying no food, so long as they get a job and save the money. That way, at the end of the six months they would have a first and last month's rent, security deposit, and enough to get utilities turned on, with a small cushion beside. And they were not allowed to pay us back. They must in the future help someone else in need, and likewise ask nothing in return.

One thing I sort of quickly skim over there is that we've taken in a number of individuals; however, that's not entirely without conditions:
  1. Our help is predicated on your active involvement: looking for work and working, and helping out when you're not. 
  2. If hanging out with a bad crowd got you where you are, give 'em up. I can't pick your friends, but I can choose who I allow on my property, so dysfunctional influences are strictly verboten. 
  3. Save your money, no fooling. This is a limited-time opportunity to turn your life around. That doesn't mean no movies or dates. That would be silly and beyond reasonable bounds. But if you're being a spendthrift and living with us for free, then we're being taken advantage of, and we won't stand for that.
Our track record of success is four out of five, meaning that of the five people we've attempted to help, four of them saved their money, got jobs, got back on their feet and are now paying taxes and rent, etc. I think eighty percent is a pretty good success rate. The fifth one is the only one who wouldn't give up her "friends". She landed right back where she was and when she wanted to come back the answer was "No. You know how to do this, but now you have to do it without us." 

This habit of ours has admittedly helped but few people. But it has helped them thoroughly. And it has crossed my mind more times than I can count that there are many, many more times the number of fortunate people in this country than homeless. If everybody wanted to do what we did for even one homeless person, not all would be able to, because there aren't enough homeless to go around.

I'm going to reproduce part of what I wrote, because it cannot be said enough.
Isn't it a comfort to know that if someone truly needs help there's someone else in the world who is willing to give that help? Isn't that nice? 
But you can't know that. You can't know what's in anybody else's mind and heart. The only person you can speak for is yourself. If you want to know... for a fact... that someone in this world is willing to help a total stranger, the one and only possible way to know that is to be that person. 
That's the point that you can realize that no person is truly unique. We all share our humanity. There are many people like you. And if you're willing to help, they are too. Get it? If there's one person who's willing to help, there are millions. But the only way to ensure that there is one is by being that 'one'. 
This is why we as individuals must be charitable. If we're not, then there's no guarantee that anyone will be. And it's not enough to just let the government do it. That is a solution reserved for the lazy, the cowardly, and the apathetic. It's a way for them to not be charitable and say they are. It's a little lie they tell themselves because they don't understand what and why they should do for others.
This summarizes neatly the primary social advantage of individual charity, It gives us the opportunity to fill society with truly compassionate people... not pseudo-compassionates who pay others to keep the problem out of sight. 

But there's more. "Charity" literally means "Love". When the government provides something, there's nothing of charity in it, and the recipients know it. People react to the news of free food, free phone, free whatever with a sense of entitlement: "It's yours, come and get it." But charity is fundamentally different: Charity is not a job, and it's not an entitlement. Nobody can force you to be charitable (that would be "theft"). Charity is a gift of love, freely given, and the recipients know it. Charity begets charity. There's an obligation associated with receiving charity that anyone who's been on the receiving end knows all to well. This isn't the obligation to earn it (that's what paychecks are for), but the obligation to deserve it, which is a vastly different matter. Feeling the obligation to deserve it literally makes you a better person. As such, individuals have a greater impact on the people they help than the government does.


This doesn't mean that it's bad to have government-sponsored soup kitchens, or to place them outside of downtown areas. I'm not arguing against that at all... merely the folly of criminalizing individual charity. And I'm not suggesting that the homeless are in any way exempt from the same trespassing laws that other citizens must obey. We keep out of private property except with permission. But this truism highlights the silliness of also making public property off-limits.

But I do have this observation: If you run a business in the city and homeless people make your customers nervous, you can do a lot more than the city to change that perception while at the same time enhancing your business' image and bottom line, simply by contributing privately directly to a shelter. It's not something that you need a city government to do. Not only is government action less effective; it's not something that you benefit from directly if you allow the city to do it. Charity is also good business.

I'll leave you with this quote from another of my friends:
"Just because something is legal doesn't mean you should do it. Just because you shouldn't do something doesn't mean it should be banned. It is all about personal choice and personal responsibility. I should add ...just because you don't think I (or others) should do something is certainly not a good reason for it to be banned." 


Is Copyright a Right?

Louis Menand presents us with this article in The New Yorker:

The lede is an indictment of all that is wrong with modern copyright law:
"Rod Stewart is being sued over the rights to an image of his own head."
Seriously. We've gotten to the point where someone feels as though they actually own the concept of snapping a picture of someone else's head. Imagine all of the pictures that have been taken of the Eiffel Tower, or Big Ben, or Mount Rushmore, and the death of photography if we as a society were to allow such an idiotic concept to stand. Nevertheless, I fear that it completely plausible that our government and our courts have become exactly that stupid.

I encourage you to read The New Yorker piece. It's SO close to right, with a couple of minor flaws. Here's one:
"...if you are a natural-rights person and you think that individual rights are inalienable, then you don’t recognize the priority of the public domain. You think that society has no claim on works created by individuals. The right to control one’s own expressions, to sell them or not, to alter them or not, is not a political right. It’s a moral right, and it cannot be legislated away."
No cigar. I am a "natural rights person", and my take on this is completely different. It's obvious to me that the Menand's understanding of the public domain is severely skewed by interpretations of modern copyright. It certainly does not jibe with the classical understanding of the public domain:
"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
That's the purpose of copyrights and patents according to the Constitution of the United States of America. Note the language. That "right" is not secure. It is not inalienable. It is granted by the government. In point of fact, you do have an inalienable natural right to those concepts contained in your brain, but if you want full and unfettered control of them, you should shut your mouth and keep them to yourself. Once you communicate them to another, they become the contents of the receiver's brain, and that person has the same natural rights as you. Those ideas that you have are built upon the input that you received from your senses, as much as from your imagination. When you communicate an idea, you have released it back into your environment, where others may build upon it in turn.

This just makes sense: Everyone has the same natural right to think, to observe the world around them, and to build on what they learn. There is no person anywhere on the face of the Earth who has any legitimate claim to any right to control the contents and workings of another person's brain. Think about how mind-bogglingly obvious that assertion is.

This is why copyright is not a "natural" right, but an artificial one imposed purely by law. It's not to protect your "right" to ownership of an expression of thought... in natural terms you have none. Rather, it's intended to get you to share in spite of everyone else's natural rights. Society has agreed to give you limited exclusivity in exchange for your sharing. And even 14 years is very generous; the only exclusivity you have by nature is in not sharing.

In short, the entire concept of "copyright" is a matter of appeasement to encourage you to contribute to public commons when you may otherwise be inclined to be a tight-lipped, close-mouthed, and generally non-communicative miserly oxygen-sink. Of course, it's your right to be those things. You can keep inventions to yourself (we call them "trade secrets" and protect them by law), and you can keep your writings to yourself. You have the unassailable right to hide your light under a bushel. But it benefits society to have you contribute to the public discourse, in that it enriches our intellectual environment and feeds our creativity. It benefits our natural right to create and build in a responsive fashion.

And it's a great deal for you. Copyright is in direct opposition to freedom of expression, which is a natural right. The citizenry have agreed to subordinate their natural rights in order to encourage you, dear Author, to contribute something. And it's only fair that this generosity have limits, lest you abuse it. And abuse it you have. Copyright has been extended from 14 years to 28, to 70, to 95 years after death to 125 years, depending on the nature of the work. And still there are those who think it's not long enough, or comprehensive enough. For all practical purposes it is now unlimited, and society suffers to the point where it's seriously argued in a court of law that Rod Stewart must pay someone to use the image of his own head. And worse... that argument is seriously heard and considered.

Copyright has been repeatedly abused and twisted until people who generally have their hearts in the right place have their heads screwed on backwards, like poor old Menand up there. He's sadly accepted the fallacy that you somehow have a "natural right" to control the public discourse from the time that you injected a statement into it. Preposterous!

It has been said, with justification, that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself. And the misstated purpose of copyright is a lie that has been repeated oh, so many times. Our currently broken system is the result.

When the law ceases to provide for the public good, the public will either change the law or find ways to work around it so that the public good is satisfied. The time has come. Thus we the Public have invented the Creative Commons. Free software, free artwork, free music, free literature, made free not by the ridiculous laws that constrain a work by default and trample natural rights; but by the express wishes of citizen-creators who truly understand how the commons work and should work. Free, not in the sense of price, as should and do get paid, but free in the sense of liberty.

I encourage you to not only contribute to the Creative Commons; but to preferentially use creative commons-licensed works, and contribute financially to their creators when some means for payment exists.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Things I Don't Like To Do...

There are some things I don't like to do, at least not consistently. Given the things I do, it sometimes surprises people that I don't do the things I don't do. So I thought I might devote some space to listing a few here (and may revise the list from time to time).
  • Conventions: I like science fiction, but I don't go to many conventions. Conventions don't really interest me. In part, that's because I'm far too stuffy about certain things. I have been to conventions, but I don't go out of my way for them. 
The last one I can say I enjoyed was one at which I met James Doohan in Greenville, SC.
  • Filk: I write music, but I don't write filk. See Conventions. Also, I'm not really a "joiner", and filk seems to me to be a thing for joiners. Also, far too much of the filk I've heard is "sung to the tune of", and with some notable exceptions for parody, I'm completely not-fond of songs that are "sung to the tune of" anything.
I've written songs that could be considered both filk and "sung to the tune of". For instance, The Twelve Days of the Campaign. I don't do it often, and it is not a preferred form for me. I pick the genre as an aspect of a song; I don't write songs to conform to a genre unless I've been challenged to.
  •  Performing music: When I say my hobby is "music", I mean I really enjoy composing music. For me there's a tiny moment of disappointment when I hear someone mention "music" as a hobby with the meaning of listening. And while I enjoy listening to music occasionally, I don't do it as a rule because it interferes with composing. Most of the time my car radio is off, and when it isn't it's tuned to a talk station. 
I do perform my songs, but only because nobody else will, and it's faster than writing them down. I like composing music, but I'm not the sort who can stand in front of a group with an attitude of "look at me, I'm going to entertain you!" In print it's a different thing entirely. I don't mind putting on a curmudgeonly persona for blog posts here, for instance... but I can think of no more tedious and mind-numbingly boring profession than going in front of audience after audience and playing the same set of songs over and over, night after night. I have nothing but respect for the people who can
I think that wouldn't mind a bit if William Hoover and I were the Boyce and Hart behind somebody else's Monkees. But actually performing, or consistently putting in the work to polish recordings...? Nah. This is a hobby, not a career.
  • Acting: Just about everything I said about music goes for acting as well.  I do it, and have done for years, and I'm pretty good at it; but it's not out of love for acting. I do community theater for the creative aspects (everything we do locally is original and unique), but by the time the tenth performance is nigh I'm ready to be done with it. I just couldn't do a long run.
  • SCA: Since the mid-1980s I've had people tell me how much I'd enjoy the Society for Creative Anachronism, but my idea of "enjoying" it is in a voyeuristic, "oh, look at what they're doing" sort of way. 
Honestly, I can think of no better era to live in than the one in which I have lived. I started in a world where, other than radios, electronics were all but untouched by the general populace. I grew into computers, and they grew with me, so I have an understanding of my profession that eludes many people who were born later. I have been fortunate to have seen the inception of a science-fiction dreams, and done my small part to help it along. At the same time, I grew up with rotary phones, having done farm work and ridden horses. I've pumped drinking water from a well not because it was a fun novelty, but because that's where the water was. And I've dug my share of latrines on the farm. I have no desire to experience an age much earlier than that (though Victorian England sometimes beckons, and I love low-tech solutions over high-tech). I certainly have no desire to "experience" a feudal political system. 
  • Talk Politics: This one's often a shocker, because I do it a lot, particularly here. But often when I do it, it's as a response rather than something I'm initiating. The plain fact is that as much as I don't like to talk politics, I like it even less when someone else is doing it badly. So I respond. I gravitate to libertarian ideals because to me the ideal political environment would be one where everybody minded their own business and weren't dicks to each other; and the ideal political structure would enforce that and only that. 
In all my years I have never heard a convincing argument from anyone whatsoever, no matter how highly placed, that would convince me of their right to intrude on my freedoms or my responsibility for the success or failure of another person's independent exercise of his own freedoms. Charity is charity only when freely offered; otherwise it is theft. Assistance is only assistance when unforced; otherwise it is enslavement. As I do not support theft or slavery, my politics are libertarian. Having heard all the failed arguments, when I hear you repeat them in an attempt to convince me that theft is not theft and slavery is not slavery, you sound like a mindless parrot and reinforce my opinion.
  • Talk Religion: Again, often a shocker, because I do it. While I am personally religious, I'm not evangelistic. My religion matches my politics, with heavy reliance on the Golden Rule. There are so many religions in the world that most, if not all, of them are probably wrong about a great many things. I don't exclude my own religion from that probability. And more than one is probably right about some very important things. It seems to me important that we put great stock in the Big Message and not sweat the small stuff. The more detailed we get, the more likely it is that we're wrong. In general, it seems to me that as easy as it would be for an omnipotent and omniscient God to appear in a blaze of Glory and dispel all need for faith, there must be something unique and precious about Free Will that transcends everything else; otherwise he'd do it, often. Why is evil allowed to exist? Because our choices are real and unfettered. And if there is no God, then our choices are still real and unfettered, and Free Will is unique and precious because it's all we have. 
So it seems to me that both the devout and the faithless should make their choices as if they actually matter in the here and now... because they do, regardless. I'm perfectly content to discuss what I believe without trying to convince you that what I believe is correct. You've made your own choices, and if God is content to allow that, then I'd be a colossal dick if I were to impose my decision about what I believe about what I was taught on you. Sadly, all too often when I'm discussing religion with others, whether they be religious, or spiritual, or atheist, that's exactly what they want to do. Screw that. I am not content to have you impose your beliefs on me. I don't care who you are. If you're human, you are no more competent than I am to know the will of God. Conversing at length with people who think they are is tedious.
In general, I don't give a rat's behind about what anybody believes, but I do have two exceptions to that. First, the Universe is real. Physics are real. If you think God created the Universe, then surely the rules governing His Creation must have singular importance; and if your religion is completely at odds with science, which exists solely to objectively discover those rules; then there must be something wrong with your religion. The words of men are subject to interpretation and corruption, but Physics is Physics... there is no arguing with it. Second, I think Scientology is a bullshit invention from a hack science fiction author who expressly intended to bilk people out of their money. I think it is phenomenally successful at that. It is also phenomenally dangerous, as it is, I believe, scientifically unsound and destructive to the human intellect. As an "owner's manual for the human mind" I find Dianetics to be an abject failure. None of L.Ron Hubbard's other texts or recorded statements strike me as being any better. I have a special disdain for Scientologists that far exceeds my capacity for tolerance. While they have the legal right to spout bullshit, I have the legal right to call them on it.
 Huh. So what DO I like to do?

Well, I program... that's my job. So I have to keep up with technology. I like to spend time with my family, though my kids are as independent as I am. My wife doesn't understand that. My mother did. I think a lot about religion and philosophy, and keep well-read, particularly on other religions. I don't watch network television, but I do watch some shows on-line, mostly science fiction. I enjoy an occasional debate as a logical exercise. I write music when I feel like it, and even write lyrics when I feel like it, but mostly set music to someone else's words. I like puzzles of a sort. I like puns. I invent things for my own use. A great deal of my time is spent reading. I have so many books that if I were on house arrest for the rest of my life I could keep myself quite busy for the next thirty or so years. And occasionally I pontificate on a series of blogs that few people read, with no purpose but my own amusement. Most of what I write is reactive because I know that at least someone is interested in those topics. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

...And I Can Take Or Leave It If I Please

Today I'm writing about one of those areas where my Libertarian politics are at odds with those of my conservative friends, and even with my personal religious beliefs, so it's not a position I hold lightly. You may, in fact, be completely adamant in your personal convictions on the matter. I'm stating in advance that this isn't about your personal convictions, or mine. It's about our duty to respect that other people have solid convictions of their own.

I've shared a fair number of Matt Walsh's blogs because I agree with them. Today I'm sharing one because I don't.  It appears at his new home on TheBlaze.com, and it's entitled...

In it, Matt argues against suicide and assisted suicide because... well... because you shouldn't. That's really the entire depth of the argument.

Brittany Maynard
(AP Photo/Maynard Family)
Now, let's put this in context: Brittany Maynard has a terminal brain tumor, and has chosen to end her own life on November 1st, peacefully, quietly, at home, surrounded by family and friends, while still in possession of her faculties. Brittany is 29 years old. Now, if you don't think that decision takes some honest-to-God serious guts, try it. Seriously. Don't actually commit suicide, of course, but try honestly contemplating that action right now as you read this. Not as someone who is down-and-out and depressed and lost everything, but when you're still outwardly in the fullness of life, as a conscientious decision. How much willpower and determination would it take for you to swallow the pill? Not as an act of desperation, but as a willful, logical choice. When people do it to save others we call it "sacrifice" and celebrate their heroism. Suicide is not about cowardice.

Now I've read enough of Matt to have a very good idea of what he's desperately trying not to say here and why he's dancing around it; instead going with the weak argument that he did. I strongly suspect that Matt's position is purely religious, and he believes that a person making the decision to commit suicide isn't heaven-bound. Given closer proximity to death they may still have time for an awakening. And he has the romantic notion about the bravery and dignity of "a woman who fights to the end, survives for as long as she can, and withers away slowly, in agony, until her very last breath escapes her lungs?"

Matt says he hasn't witnessed this kind of choice personally, but I have. My mother died of lymphoma, inoperable and terminal. Now, it is a fact that there was no cure for her. It is a fact that the treatment she took had no chance of saving her... she took it only for the slim possibility that the doctors would learn something from her that could be save someone else in the future. It is a fact that even this eventually had to give way to the reality that further "treatment" was useless. And it is a fact that no amount of pitiful, pathetic, impotent, useless "fighting" would prolong her life even a second.

Now, my mother did not commit suicide, though she certainly had enough drugs on hand to finish the job. NOR did she fight tooth and claw to the end. What she chose to do was wait patiently for the end, submitting to God's will on the matter. And she died peacefully, quietly, at home, surrounded by family and friends, mentally alert, though no longer in possession of her physical faculties.

Just so you understand the difference between my mother and the "woman who fights", when her caregiver Peggy saw Mom wince in pain near the end (and her lymphoma was systemic... quite literally everything hurt), she asked "Are you scared?" My mother replied, "No darling, I'm impatient, and God is dragging His feet."

To steal Matt's words, "Is that person not brave? Is that person not dignified? I thought we applaud that kind of person." And I do, every day. Sadly, Matt didn't apply these words to someone like my Mother, who represents a third choice that doesn't fit into the false dichotomy he advances. Futility is not bravery, nor is it dignified, though Matt argues that it is. What my mother chose... acceptance of God's will... takes far more guts, and far more grace.

Now please note that from our perspective the end result for my mother and the fighter are the same... both are dead. But there is a vast difference in how they died. One saw the inevitability and gave herself to God; and the other just eventually dies, kicking and screaming, not wanting to go, but dying anyway. One is looking ahead to what she will gain; the other behind at what she will lose. Sorry to phrase it so harshly, but the point needs to be made: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. So am I. So is Matt. Nothing will prevent that. Absolutely nothing whatsoever. Nothing.

But we do have the choice in how we face death.

Unless it's taken away.


Now, we live in a society designed by founders who would today be called Libertarian. Individual freedom is the highest goal of such a society. It trumps religion, as it guarantees that everyone is free to worship or not as he or she pleases. It trumps our secular differences, as we are guaranteed equal treatment under the law. It trumps the interests of the government itself, as we are guaranteed the right to protest and means to take arms against that government should it turn hostile. Our Constitution guarantees even those natural rights that are not explicitly listed.

So where is Brittany Maynard's individual freedom in Matt's argument? Why is it completely absent?

If we truly own a thing, we control that thing. We can buy possessions just to destroy them if we choose, because they are ours. If you own nothing else in this world, you own your skin and the flesh it contains. You own your own mind, and by every natural right in the Universe, you should have the power to do with it as you please, to include destroying it, so long as you don't harm another in the process. And since we all die eventually, we can exclude mere grief as a "harm"... we will all experience grief and must learn to deal with it.

The only even briefly viable argument against this is that we do not own our lives... they are "on loan from God"; but a quick refresher on the First Amendment washes even that away. You may believe that, and you may even be right, but it does not change the fact that others may not believe the same thing, and they still have the right to control their own existence. You can try your damndest to argue against this, but you will fail every time. It will always come down to an inconsistency between your stated support for individual liberties and your actual desire to force others to act as you yourself prefer. Denying the choice is base hypocrisy to those who claim they believe in the rights of the individual.

Personally, I see great similarity between Brittany's attitude toward death and my mother's; there being two distinct differences; one religious, the other physical. Both women accept its inevitability with courage and dignity. My mother was content to let God act as He will, but Brittany may not share those beliefs, and that's her right. But my mother's ailment was purely physical, while Brittany's is of the brain, and will eventually affect her mind. If she is to make a decision at all, it needs to be while she is still in the possession of that ability. I cannot deny her right to do so, nor begrudge her exercise of that right.


There's just so much wrong with Matt's piece I have to take the points one at a time.
  • Matt writes, "we do not own our lives". If so, we own nothing. Slavery was abolished on the exact principle that we do own our lives. Cogito ergo sum is the beginning of philosophy. Our sovereign ownership of ourselves is the foundation for all property rights.
  • Matt continues to use the term "suicide". It means "to kill one's self", and while technically accurate it is not descriptive of what Brittany's doing. Hers is not an act of despair, but the choice of a good death. "Good Death" is the literal meaning of "Euthanasia". If you have a beloved pet that is suffering, you grant it a good death via euthanasia, and this is out of compassion; not malice or despair. Surely we can grant that a fellow human being might desire at the very least the amount of compassion that you would expend on a dog.
  • Matt tries to make Brittany's religious argument for her. That assumes she's both ignorant of it and didn't take it into account. Bah. One doesn't make such a decision lightly.
  • Matt uses the phrase "celebrate suicide". Again this is inaccurate. Supporting someone's decision is neither a celebration nor an endorsement of suicide-for-all. Nobody is suggesting that 27-year-olds start downing curare and hemlock en masse. It's simply support for Brittany's decision and acknowledgement of the fact that it was difficult. We can provide equal support for the woman who is a fighter and the woman who submits to God's will. We will all die.
  • Matt repeats "LIFE HAS VALUE" over and over again, as if it negates everything else. Yes, Life has value. So does Free Will. So does our choice of what we leave to those behind. Even the least consideration... economic... has value. The value of Life is but one factor in a complex decision. When one knows that one will die a horrible, prolonged, agonizing death, and nothing will come of it but death itself and financial ruin for one's heirs, then it is surely reasonable to factor that in, and decide whether the value of living that agonizing, prolonged death outweighs the burdens you place on your family. Not just the economic burden, but the emotional turmoil and the horror of watching you descend into hellish agony as well. Especially when the alternative is a party, reminiscence, fond farewells, hugs and kisses with the inevitable tears, loving "goodbyes" and a peaceful exit.
  • Matt writes, "Life is valuable because it is life. If you deny this, then you deny everything." This is irrelevant. One can accept that Life is valuable without concluding that it is more valuable than every and all other factors combined. For instance, we celebrate the heroes who selflessly give up their lives to save others, be they firemen, police or other first responders. We celebrate the military men and women who bravely sacrifice themselves for the purely abstract concept of "freedom". That sacrifice is made, by the way, for the very same freedom that Brittany is exercising. Denial of this simply stems from the fact that you don't like how she's exercising it. That doesn't make it your call.
  • Matt writes, "After all, euthanasia happens not when the individual decides that her life has no value, but when the medical and governmental authorities decide it." This is pure hogwash. It completely ignores the case at hand. Here, Brittany herself is choosing euthanasia, not some distant authority.
  • Matt writes, "How can we allow doctors to prescribe death?" More hogwash. This isn't about a doctor "prescribing" death; it's about a person choosing a good death over a bad one; with "good" and "bad" defined by their own criteria, not someone else's.
  • Matt writes, "If euthanasia is legal, and if it is only legal under certain strict circumstances, then we are saying that life, under those circumstances, is objectively undesirable." Again, hogwash. What we are saying is that under those circumstances the individual is empowered to determine for his or her self whether Life is subjectively undesirable.
  • Matt writes, "We are already cheering on Brittany Maynard’s suicide because we apparently think it foolish or even cowardly to live when suffering is certain and death is on the horizon." Once more, hogwash. We are supporting her decision because it is her decision to make. There are no easy decisions here... we'd support whatever choice she made, merely because it's hers and in the end it will make no difference. She will die, and she deserves at least that bit of validation of her final act of free will, whatever that may be.
  • Matt writes, "Death is not a solution."  Prolonging agony is not a solution either. Death will happen anyway. Your religion may offer a solution, but again I refer you to the First Amendment.
  • Matt writes, "Suicide is not dignified." Yes, it can be, and far more so that futile denial of the inevitable.
  • Matt writes, "If suicide is heroic, then everything we’ve previously called heroic isn’t." Pure unadulterated hogwash. Much of what we've previously called heroic is exactly suicide. When a soldier sacrifices himself, it's suicide. He deliberately puts himself in the path of a bullet or bomb. We give out medals for that kind of suicide. We celebrate it. We make movies about it.
Also, Matt is decrying Brittany's support for a group called "Compassion and Choices". I've linked you to them, although Matt links instead to a page that talks about them. They say nothing more than I have here... that it is your life and your choice.

Now, I want to make this very, very, clear. When I say that I have the right to dispose of my life whenever and however I see fit, that does NOT under mean that I intend to do so now, or tomorrow, or ever. Rather, it acknowledges that I do, in fact, have that right. Frankly, I don't think it's successfully arguable that I do not. Nor is it successfully arguable that if I were determined to do it, you could even prevent it. I don't have to share my intent. You need not know about it until it's done. Matt Walsh himself has argued in favor of keeping lethal weapons on my person for the express purpose of taking other people's lives should the need arise to defend my own. I agree with that as well as to defend the more abstract right of "freedom" with lethal force if need be. but if I have the right to take their lives, what denies me the right to take my own?

There is nothing whatsoever that can be done to deny someone a suicide. What can be denied, though, is a "good death": peaceful, painless, surrounded by loving family and friends.

Also, acknowledging someone's right to make a decision does not mean that I encourage or "celebrate" the choice of death. It means that I acknowledge that it is their choice. I will certainly offer alternatives if they exist; and certainly prefer my mother's attitude to that of Matt's "fighter". But when a person's choice is made about their life I will respect it and not call them cowardly and undignified for choosing differently than I might have chosen under the same circumstances. That behavior, Matt Walsh, is very, very sad indeed.


The title of this piece is taken from the lyrics to the theme song of the movie and TV show M*A*S*H, Johnny Mandel's "Suicide Is Painless". The final chorus reads
...suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
And you can do the same thing if you please

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

There's A Parable In Here

In a discussion thread I have neither the time, formatting tools, or space to explore a concept thoroughly, which I really wanted to do for this subject, so I'm expanding them here. Carrying on with my previous post's theme, it's amazing the things you learn in a Facebook conversation. Yesterday I stumbled into a conversation in which I learned a few things in a discussion revolving around this bit of commentary:

The commentary was written about this exchange:

I'll point out quickly that when Bill Maher talks about "liberal principles", these are not principles that are exclusive to leftists. Rather they are classically liberal policies to a great extent. While Americans debate about details of abortion and gay marriage; the concepts of women's rights and freedom of religion are pretty much universally held across political lines. Most cases of disagreement between the two major parties in the US are based in their varying emphasis on the points where they have chosen to depart from classical liberalism.

Now, if you've read my last post ("I'm An Anti-Genocidal Bigot") or if you just pay attention to what both Sam Harris and Bill Maher are saying, then you know that this isn't a matter of racism. Nevertheless, rather than employ thought, there are those who cling to the irrational belief that this is racist despite all evidence and logic to the contrary. Or as one wag who I'll name "Facebook Pundit" puts it.
'It's still racist, no matter how much it "logically" makes sense.' 
In other words, it's brain switched off, but don't expect him to stop typing.
"Islam is flawed, in the very same way that Christianity is. They are born of the same base religion, with the same bronze age foolishness and violence built into the system. That's what happens with a rather small and oppressed tribe of people try to justify their existence with the limited understanding they had." (emphasis added)
And the above is what happens when someone completely ignorant of Christianity attempts to make moral equivalence arguments based on inadequate research and a poor understanding of the source material.


When someone tries to apply moral equivalence to the subject of Christianity, they pull out some Old Testament verse.  For example, when one participant pointed out a verse from the Quran:
Quran 5:38 - "As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise."
Facebook Pundit replied with
Exodus 21:16 - "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death."
...thus comparing the Islamic penalty for property theft with ancient Israelite penalty for slavers.

I'm sure that the people who use this sort of argument think they're very clever. But they are thwarted by the fact that none of that describes Christianity.

Allow me to briefly illustrate what Christianity is about: Please be a little patient, as this isn't intended to convert you, but to educate you; and it's so very, very simple that you should be able to see immediately why people look so astonishingly ignorant when they get it wrong.
Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Now, that's it. That's Christian morality in a nutshell. 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor as you would yourself. That's it. Whether you believe in resurrection or in a Messiah or not, this is the message that Jesus himself preached while living and breathing on Earth; and it's the beginning and the end of the commandments a Christian is required to follow.

If it's not clear enough that none of the Old Testament "horrors" are applicable,
For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. - Romans 10:4 
Got it? You'll also find it explained again in Galatians 3:23–25 and Ephesians 2:15. And when Jesus says,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them." - Matthew 5:17
It means that it's done. Fulfilled. Served its purpose, as opposed to being a mistake or a correction. What it does not mean is that Christians are still bound to Mosaic law.

Jesus himself underscored how simple this is when he said:
It [the kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground— when it is sown, it grows up, becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds can nest in its shade." - Mark 4:31-32 
The very core of Christianity has just about the smallest doctrinal component imaginable for a religion. There is no "bronze age foolishness" in its commandments. There's nothing about hate in it. There's nothing that qualifies the love you should have for your neighbor. There's nothing that limits your "neighbor" to members of your own tribe, or of your own faith; and in fact there are a number of verses that specifically illustrate this point. Now, there are points regarding forgiveness and grace and the divinity of Christ; but right now we're interested in the moral rather than religious aspects, and if you're going to find flaws in the moral structure of Christianity, you'd better find them in those two commandments, because that's all there is. Love God. Love your neighbor. They are the mustard seed. From those two simple commandments, everything else is built. You can't love God and not want to please him. You can't love your neighbor and not aid him. The very word "charity" is from the Latin caritas, or "love". Christians give.

Now there are a boatload of Christians who get this wrong in practice, or over-think it to meaninglessness, but the high and the low of it is that those are people who are getting it wrong. But as for "Christianity" as taught by Christ, you just read it. To the extent that you wish to treat "Christianity" as a monolithic structure, any comparison of Christianity's moral code must focus on these two commandments.


So let's compare this to Islam.  This should be easy, as there is not one word of the Quran that was not given by (or through) Muhammad. And, by the way, do not take my word for anything. Read it yourself. I have. There are numerous translations in print, or you can read it online, though this gets to be tedious. I prefer using an Android app on my phone and tablet. I use this one: [The Holy Quran - English] from "Peace Through Understanding". I don't read Arabic, so I can't gauge the accuracy of the translation, but judging from online parallel translations, they're all pretty close.

Now, when I stated in a discussion that everything in the Quran is current, the comment was met with raised eyebrows by at least one Western liberal, feeling ever-so-much like the polite condescension reserved for those "outside the religion" by one who is himself outside the religion. I see nothing to revise. I didn't make up the claim. Rather I base it on the many Muslim orators who proclaim the perfect nature of the Quran, the last and final revelation of Allah. There is no "Old Testament" in the Quran. There are no discarded or superseded teachings. "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet"... there has been no one since, and there won't be. I doubt you'd find a single Muslim cleric anywhere in the world who would take exception to the statement, and if you find him I seriously, seriously want to know. To the contrary... I think they'd universally agree that every word of the Quran is current and relevant today, and that the key is understanding.

The word "quran" itself means "recitation". It is the recitation, by Muhammad, of the word of Allah as given to him by the angel Gabriel. Unlike the previous books of Islam -- the Taurat (the Torah of Moses), the Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the Gospel of Jesus) -- the Quran was written within the lifetime of Muhammad and is therefore closest to the source and is incorrupt. That brings us to an interesting point... the "bronze age foolishness" that Facebook Pundit claims of Christianity -- which to Christians are historical and superseded -- is an active and current component of Islam (to the extent that it is preserved). Please direct all claims of them being "bronze age foolishness" to Muslims yourself, as I will not.

Now, these books of Islam are NOT the Torah, Psalms and Gospels as you would find them in the Holy Bible. In practice they no longer exist. They are the lost original, uncorrupted versions of these books as revealed to Moses, David, and Jesus. Muslims care nothing for the Gospel according to Mark... they want the Injili Isa (the Gospel of Jesus. For a comprehensive lesson in how these books relate to Islam I recommend any of numerous lectures by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat. Reserve adequate time to watch one, as he did not hurry. He was, however, a very good speaker; knowledgeable and not at all boring. But do not listen unless you actually want to learn something about Islam). But we do see these components in Islam. Whereas we read in Exodus,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe -.Exodus:21:24-25
In the Quran we read
And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the wrongdoers. - Quran 5:45
This, again, is scripture. So are commands to behead infidels and amputate the hands of thieves, The wearing of burqas may or may not be there depending on how authorities interpret verses like sura 24 ayat 31.

Though there are some attempts to explain such things in a way compatible with Western mores, you cannot deny that they are indeed there, and they are actively used by some Muslims against those they deem to be their enemies, as well as (in countries where sharia law prevails) against their own citizens. There are also two cases where the Quran prescribes the death penalty. The first is for murder... however, the victim's family are encouraged to accept blood money instead. The second is for "corruption in the land".  Wikipedia reports that it is carried out in Saudi Arabia for murder, rape, false prophecy, blasphemy, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy (that is, leaving Islam), adultery, witchcraft and sorcery. As this second point is wide open to interpretation, it would seem that it could be imposed upon any crime or none at all, depending on who interprets the law. And please note that in countries where sharia law prevails, the law is interpreted quite broadly. It is not uncommon for seventh-century punishments to remain in use in the 21st century.

And let's be fair here: if you believe, as Muslims do, that these are punishments prescribed by God then there is no need to explain them away. As I'd mentioned in my previous post the "very best argument" (according to a sheik who was present) about why Muslim beliefs were "not radical" took this very approach, which was, (paraphrased from memory) "This is not radical because all Muslims believe punishment, if it is decreed by Allah, is the very best possible punishment." I was very surprised to find that this argument had been removed from Islamnet.no. I do recognize, though, that while it may be a very good argument among Muslims, it's not politically convenient in the presence of kafir.

Separating the moral component of Islam from the religious component is not possible. "Islam" itself means "submission"... if Allah decrees a punishment, it must be the best possible, and you do it, regardless of how you might otherwise personally feel about it. I ponder over Islam's reputation as "a religion of peace", and marvel to see a man as learned and logical as Sheikh Ahmed Deedat decry the Islamic nations' inability to drive the Jews into to the sea despite having attempted many times to do it (in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973). Either peace is a limited concept in Islam, or Christians aren't the only ones who can "do it wrong".

Now, if you're a classically liberal American who believes in true freedom of religion (which includes the freedom not to worship if you so choose), equal treatment for women, and free expression; and if you are capable of acknowledging that a Christian will not maim and cripple you for infractions of the law; then you might be able to draw some conclusions as to whether you believe sharia law as practiced is morally equivalent to "love your neighbor as yourself." Then again, you might not...


Please note: Christians and Muslims alike are famously evangelical. There is nothing racist about either religion, as both seek to embrace all races equally. Of course, in the case of non-Muslims alone, Facebook Pundit would call this "erasure", and declare it to be racist.
"His [Sam Harris'] blatant racism hidden under his criticism of Islam. Too many times I have heard him write on Islam and, disguised under the terms academia, paint with the same brush a religion that stretches from Morroco [sic] to Indonesia. And before you say a thing about Islam not being a race, I must say this: it is not his criticism of Islam that, but the fact that he erases a number of ethnic and racial groups to speak on the matter. Erasure means broad stereotypes applied to a wide range."
Pundit digs down deep under layers of what Sam Harris did say to infer what he did not. And when I say "infer" I mean that poor Pundit wants a racist so badly he'll invent one. This doesn't even get the concept of cultural erasure right. Erasure doesn't mean the application of broad stereotypes; it's the literal erasing of a culture. Whereas stereotypes may misrepresent a group whose culture is otherwise untouched, erasure is permanent, in that not even the descendants of the erased culture are aware of their lost heritage. Rather, this is a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to salvage a lost argument. When criticising a religion that crosses racial boundaries, and your criticism is of the religion; then it is perfectly reasonable and proper to limit your criticism to the religion. If you're not criticising someone's race, then race is irrelevant, and need not be mentioned. Facebook Pundit mistakenly takes obvious non-racist comments, then flails at pseudo-intellectual liberal labels in an attempt to make Harris say what Pundit wants him to say.

Also, it completely ignores the actual cultural erasure that is practiced by the very people that Sam Harris is criticising! Please remember that these are the aggressive jihadists who espouse violence as a path to dominance; who in no way display the behavior one would expect of a disciple of peace. Note this Newsweek story:

Please note the qualifier "(especially anything about elections or democracy)". Also note:
Students will instead learn all about "belonging to Islam," and how to "denounce infidelity and infidels."  
Teachers will also be barred from using the phrase "Syrian Arab Republic," the official name of the country of Syria. They must instead refer to the territory as the Islamic State.
This is EXACTLY what erasure looks like, and this same thing will happen everywhere the Islamic State (ISIS) is allowed to expand. And their intention to expand is clear. Already they have threatened to attack the US. It may not be tomorrow, but it will come, and we have made ourselves increasingly unprepared.
But in several telephone conversations with a Reuters reporter over the past few months, Islamic State fighters had indicated that their leader, Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had several surprises in store for the West.
"They hinted that attacks on American interests or even U.S. soil were possible through sleeper cells in Europe and the United States.
"The West are idiots and fools. They think we are waiting for them to give us visas to go and attack them or that we will attack with our beards or even Islamic outfits," said one.

Are all Muslims threats? Of course not. But the threats are overwhelmingly Muslim. The Reuters source knows what he's talking about. The West is filled with idiots and fools who cannot make these connections.

For some bizarre reason many American liberals are incapable of thinking a specific thought... that one thought which results when a reasonable mind ponders a culture that tramples on your ideals in their own country while promising to do the same in yours. It's this failure of American Liberalism that Bill Maher is complaining about, and it's this same failure that I've seen firsthand. It is a gaping mental wound that is self-inflicted through astonishing levels of political correctness that make the answers to simple problems literally unthinkable.


I have a parable, in the form of a test, that I think is completely applicable. The question is put to you:
"You're in a room full of snakes, and I mean full of them: the floor is covered. You're not familiar with the species. Five percent of them are poisonous, but you can't tell them apart. The door is on the far side of the room.  So what's the reasonable, rational person to do?"

Now when I posed the first version of this "problem" I truly thought it was a no-brainer, and would merely serve as a rhetorical question to illustrate the rational approach. I was completely shocked to discover how immensely difficult this question must be. So I asked it of someone else who knew I had been discussing Islam. Similar results! Rather than simply answer it they attempt to "pull a Jim Kirk" and change the Universe. Or they question the simplicity of the parable. They want to know how they found themselves in such a situation. They ask about things that aren't in the test. They hope they can just ignore making a decision. They know the answer, but they will not go there. And while I don't intend to make a study of it, I conclude that this is purely because they know it's a parable, given in the context of a discussion of Islam.
For the record: The reasonable approach is to treat all of the snakes as if they're poisonous until you can establish a method of identifying them and either eliminate the poisonous ones or avoid them and thus safely reach the door.
This is anything but difficult. When I put the same problem to someone without Islamic context, they had no problem immediately giving the correct answer. The number of snakes may only be 5%, but the chance of being bitten are significantly greater if those snakes are aggressive; and the penalty for getting it wrong is death. Likewise, when we are talking about Islamic jihadists, the threat of attack is not a function of their population, but of their aggression. We saw that in New York. We saw it in Fort Hood, We've seen it in Boston, and London, and elsewhere around the world. We have experience with groups like Al Qaeda who threaten to attack, and then follow through. And we now have experience with groups like ISIS who likewise threaten to attack and are putting themselves in positions of power so that they may. It is quite frankly suicidal to assume that they will not, or that their distance from us will shield us when we have done everything we can as a country to undermine our own security, from porous borders to the adoption of mental blind spots such as are tested by my parable.

I draw the conclusion (which I'm sure my test-takers will protest) that moral equivalence may lead to potentially fatal indecision.

As many people have pointed out, Americans are so deathly afraid of being labeled "racist" that it borders on a phobia of its own. I've looked in vain for a word for it, but we could seriously use one. It has grown to such proportion that it is no longer applied to race, and bizarre, wild leaps of logic are required to make racists of those who are not. Leaps such as assuming that "Muslim" is a code-word for "Arab". And, I have to say, the fear of this label is much closer to a real phobia than "Islamophobia" itself. A phobia is an irrational fear. Nobody shouts down a coulrophobe on behalf of clowns. But PC phobias aren't phobias, they're euphemisms for deliberate hatred. "Homophobia" isn't fear of gays, but hatred of them, and Islamophobia could not be portrayed as despicable if the fear of an attack by jihadists were truly irrational.  Irrational fears are medical conditions; rational fears are justified; and PC "phobias" are weapons of mass delusion of which I suspect a growing number of Americans are fed up.

I'm going to end this with a qualification that I had to give elsewhere. If I were talking about "all Muslims", then my parable would obviously have involved a "room full of poisonous snakes" and not a mere 5%. I do, however, expect that the same people who blindly misinterpret Bill Maher and Sam Harris will also misinterpret me, and claim that this is a "racist" discussion despite its apathy toward race. As I said... irrational.

PS: Sam Harris has now published his own "post mortem of the encounter. It's definitely worth the read [Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?]

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I'm an Anti-Genocidal Bigot.

Dean Obeidallah writes in The Daily Beast

Yeah, and anti-Nazi bigotry is going strong too.

You know what good, decent Germans did after the Nazis were deposed? They condemned and outlawed the Nazis. Sadly, that didn't happen until after the entire world was dragged into a destructive and deadly war.

Good and decent Muslims have the opportunity to prevent that kind of conflict by standing up and doing the same to radical jihadists. But the vast majority do not, and contrary to Obeidallah's claims, it's not just because of a lack of media coverage... I go out of my way to view Arabic sources for assurances that the radicals are a minority, and the very best explanations offered by the very best of them fall short... and that's when they're trying to show that Islam is peaceful at its core.

Oh, they cry, look at the horrible Americans, who are so "bigoted" against poor, peaceful pious people!
This is completely non-factual and misses the point, which is this: In WWII, our Allied parents didn't fight the Germans simply because they were German; they did it to defeat the NAZIS who were fucking up their world. Likewise, people with eyes and ears and working brains aren't denouncing Muslims for being Muslim; they're denouncing terrorist Jihadists who are fucking up OUR world. Jihadists who are hateful, intolerant, homicidal maniacs. Terrorist jihadists who, by the way, are in Western countries trying very diligently to disguise the fact that they are terrorist jihadists. It's a bit much to expect someone who is unfamiliar with your religion and culture to grasp subtlety and nuance, so if you don't want to be painted with that brush, it's your own responsibility to stand up and declare your side.

Like Obeidallah, they may toss out a mildly pejorative adjective when describing a specific act (e.g. "grisly beheading"). But note that he doesn't actually condemn the practice any more than the very "civilized" imam who reluctantly admitted to Richard Dawkins that the penalty for apostasy is death; or the girl who coldly told David Horowitz, a Jew, that she was for having all the Jews gathered in one place so the Muslims didn't have to hunt them down:

Keep in mind, please, that she was there to speak in defense of her religion. Likewise does this speaker, who prompts an entire audience of Muslims to placidly assented that death as prescribed by sharia law was "the best possible punishment".

I'll update this with a link to video for that one if I can find another one.  Det Islamske Nettverk.had it removed, claiming "copyright violation", although to my knowledge they haven't enforced this against other videos that didn't accidentally make Islam look terrible. This was not only a case of someone botching an explanation of sharia, but doing so horrifically. By "botched" I don't mean that he got it wrong... he didn't. But it certainly could never have the effect on a non-Muslim audience that they had hoped for. Nevertheless, a sheikh present asserted on-camera that it was the very best explanation he had ever heard.

The charter of the popularly-elected Hamas government in Gaza that unambiguously promotes genocide. [link to full text]. At almost every turn an opportunity for condemnation becomes an exercise in apologetics aimed at convincing us that being put to death for choosing a religion other than theirs is not a "radical" view.

This is the sort of things that non-Muslims see, and this is the sort of thing they oppose. Not Muslims for being Muslim; but killers for being killers. If you really want to combat "Islamophobia", then Islam cannot defend these killers, and cannot deflect opposition. Muslims have to do a much better job of opposing radicals. "We're not all like that" is not "I'm against them, too". "I'm against them, too" shows us that you're not like that, and that your differences don't stop at your choice of weapons.

Fortunately, there is opposition, and it may be growing. I was encouraged to see this clip from Iraqi television [via MEMRI] in which one of the participant broke down and cried at the plight of Iraqi Christians at the hands of ISIS, and the young Muslims who have chosen to identify themselves with the #notinmyname declaration.Sadly, many of these people chose to post in a way that they cannot be identified; not for fear of Western society, but from fear of their own.

Salim Bolat declares that it is absurd to protest against ISIS because there is no one to protest to. ISIS doesn't have an embassy, and his country already opposes them, so there is nothing to protest... except the Israelis, the Iraq War, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and education. He misses the point of such protest. This isn't about something happening on the far side of the planet. It's about what's happening and could happen in your neighborhood. Terrorists have invaded the UK and other countries... the US; Germany; France; Australia; etc. in the guise of students, law-abiding citizens, and tourists, in having entered they have bombed, killed, and destroyed. Buddhists monks aren't doing that. Not bad lads from Chad, either. A protest against radicalism and terrorism is not for the benefit of ISIS. It's for your neighbors in the country in which you live, and if you can't set aside your pride long enough to assure your neighbor that you mean him no harm, then what kind of Muslim are you?

We need to see more speeches like those given by Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman
"I don't have the right to abide or not, I have to abide by [my country's] laws. This is what Islam teaches us, or else walk out of this country. Get out of here. Go to your Muslim country."
Remember, most "good" Germans didn't publicly condemn the Nazis until after the war was lost, and it was their consent through silence that brought the Nazis to power. Given every opportunity and every prompting, it seems that most "good" Muslims, excepting a vocal minority, are ready and willing to sit through a repeat of that disaster. Mere silence is not enough.

I'm a libertarian. I believe that the law should be such that you can practice your religion and I can practice mine, so long as we each respect the other. I believe that the wielding of force by a government should be limited to one notable exception -- against aggressors, in defense of innocents. These radicals will never be defeated by diplomacy, and will never back down from platitudes. If these radicals will not be defeated from within by Muslims, then they must be defeated by overwhelming outside force, in order to save the millions of lives that will otherwise be lost in the inevitable larger conflict. And what happens to innocent Muslims then? To innocent Christians, Jews, and all others?  Stand up. Speak out.

More later.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Childhood's End

As reported in Gizmodo,

Now, the current Cable Generation is saying, "What are you talking about? There are cartoons all the time!" That being the case, a little explanation is in order.

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s there were three big commercial television networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- and the government-backed public broadcasting system (PBS), plus (in big markets) a smattering of independent stations. On the Big Three, Saturday morning television was the exclusive province of children. With no school and no church, you'd sit glued to the set and watch Johnny Quest, Scooby-Do, The Jetsons, Super Friends, etc., etc. etc.. This wasn't just a low-rent parking spot for the kids. The networks competed aggressively for those eyeballs with full and half-page newspaper ads and ads in top-selling comic books. Witness (click on an image to "embiggen" it):

This once lush market is now completely barren. No broadcast channel devotes any time to cartoons as of this weekend. Saturday morning cartoons started to die out in the 1990s, were all but dead by 2002, and gone the way of the dodo as of today.

Now, this is interesting to me for a number of reasons beyond the plain nostalgia of it. After all, the cartoons are still around on cable, on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang. If you, Reader, have some confusion about their non-disappearance, it's probably because you grew up in a world of cable television. Not too long ago I actually had a discussion with someone who, like 90% of you, doesn't even have a television antenna; and who did not believe that free broadcast television even existed anymore. Well, it does, and it's now digital, and every channel is basically two, and you still don't have to pay a monthly fee or TV Tax in America. Any mook with an antenna can get receive television for free. I can receive about a dozen free broadcast stations at my house, but I digress...


The first point of interest is that Saturday morning cartoons were there for a reason. It was the very capitalistic, commercial reason that they were amazingly lucrative. Saturday morning was when the kids were both attentive and not competing with their parents for the only television screen that most households had. It kept them busy when Dad was mowing the grass and Mom did mom-things. So it was a natural time-slot for child-centric programming. But more than that, with all the little darlings in one spot (ok... three spots), the advertisers knew exactly what demographic was watching each show, and how old the audience was likely to be. Also, the children of Baby Boomers were a very spoiled influential group. If you were Kenner, or Mattel, or Post or Kellog, you wanted those ad spots, because they absolutely sold product. As a result, every commercial was for some toy or some sugary cereal. Kids saw the products, wanted them, put them on their Christmas and birthday wish lists and begged their parents for them. Those ad dollars really got competitive in the pre-holiday sales seasons. The kids wanted that programming because it was entertaining: they didn't want to come home from a work-week of being force-fed education at school only to have the same done at home. It's intuitively obvious that they need some down-time. It was great for advertisers, and they wanted that programming. The government, not so much. Also not so much... weak-willed parents who were constantly nudjed by their little heirs. Rather than saying "no" to temptation they lobbied the government to remove the temptation.
Here, have a study: [PDF]. This one's about the quality of food advertisements on Saturday morning. It's one of a quintzillion studies that bolster the victim mentality of those indulgent parents. It's so much easier to blame someone else than take responsibility for what you yourself buy and put on the table. And the first conclusion that a reasonable person might draw when faced with the fact that "thousands of children spell relief R-O-L-A-I-D-S or can name more beer brands than U.S. presidents" is that perhaps we should look at ways to employ the obviously effective techniques of advertisers in the classroom. Is that even considered in this study? Read and find out.
Nah, I'll save you the trouble. Ads work by rote. Rote is not fashionable in education, although it absolutely, undeniably, demonstrably works
There has long been a rule regarding public airwaves that a certain portion of them be devoted to educational programming. A condition of the FCC granting a television broadcasting license is to require at least three hours of educational programming. And for this bit of discussion you'll have to set aside the obvious questions like, "so what is PBS for, if not for that?"  We'll get to that later. Just know that the rule exists. Now in the 1970s, programs like Shazam and Isis were introduced. Not only were they cheaper to produce than animation, but the stories often revolved around some moral. By the end of the show the characters (and the viewers) "learned a valuable lesson", which made such programming "educational". Animated shows like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids were similarly morality-based. Perhaps you were aware that Bill Cosby holds a doctorate in education. Well, that show is how he got it.

Oops... did I say "morality"? Scratch that. Let's say "life lessons" instead.

But in the 1990s the climate changed. As you've already read in the Gizmodo piece, the FCC cracked down and more strictly enforced the educational programming rule. Bound by the rules, and unwilling to give up Prime Time, something had to give, and that was cartoons. BUT... by this time, cable was becoming ubiquitous. The Cartoon Network was launched in 1992. It's no coincidence that this channel became commercially viable at the same time as the broadcast networks were forced aggressively encouraged to give up the Saturday morning slots to educational programming. Cartoon Network was started by Ted Turner, who himself was one of those independent broadcasters I previously mentioned before he saw the potential of cable and launched CNN and TBS on the wire.

So. The Cartoon Network launched. The broadcast networks gave up kid's programming on Saturday mornings. Nobody noticed but the networks because of the economics, which went as follows:
  1. government intervention stifled the broadcast market,
  2. competitors saw an opportunity and began competing on cable,
  3. customers ran like rabbits from broadcast to cable,
  4. broadcasters lose money on three hours a week just for the privilege of staying in business.


Here's the funny thing about this... educational programming doesn't have to be forced on anyone, and in the right timeslots, with the right audience, it sells itself. Nothing about the government's intervention was necessary.

Don't believe me? Just put a good show on and see. PBS struck gold with shows like Masterpiece Theater and Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and struck a limitless vein with Sesame Street. But the government has long told us, and still do during the yearly beg-fests on PBS, that "if we don't air programs like these, no one will".

And don't get wrapped around the axle because I call the yearly fund-raising telethon a "beg-fest". I'm a contributor, and yes, they beg me for it far more strenuously than is required to separate me from my money. Most people don't realize that the majority of funding for Public Broadcasting comes not from the government, but from the public. PBS stations are restricted from showing advertisements, but are allowed to acknowledge contributors, which they do with short statements like, "Cooking With Kelp is made possible by a generous donation from the Soylent Corporation, and by the support of viewers like you." The long list of corporate sponsors who are willing to fund the programming; coupled with the vastly larger pool of individual viewers who are moved to contribute, puts the lie to the claim that "...no one will". But more than that, cable television is filled to the brim with entire channels devoted not only to educational programming, but are devoted to specific subjects.

Let's do this alphabetically, shall we?
American Heroes Channel; Animal Planet; Create; Discovery Channel; Investigation Discovery; FYI (the Biography Channel); History; H2; Military History; National Geographic Channel; Nat Geo Wild; NASA TV; PBS Satellite Service; Pivot; Science; Smithsonian Channel; Velocity; World.  Those are specifically listed as educational channels. Channels with mostly educational content include A&E, Bravo; Cooking Channel; Destination America (Planet Green); Food Network; Hub Network (Discovery Kids); TLC (The Learning Channel); Turner Classic Movies (for historical content);.
Each of these channels is staffed by people who not only would do what PBS do if PBS didn't, but who actually do do it despite the fact that PBS exists.  And the government didn't have to make them do it. And that's generally the case, not just with education. Given today's perspective and the ubiquity of cable news channels, it's easy to overlook the fact that a 24-hour news channel was a completely revolutionary thought in 1980. Of course, the "Big Three" have long believed their own press, that the press (meaning newspapers and themselves) are "the fourth branch of government"; so the idea that someone could swoop in and report the news on their own terms was a complete surprise to them. At the time, we heard complaints that they weren't "legitimate" press, as if some stamp of legitimacy even exists. It does not. Anyone can observe and report on what they see and hear, and what they state is "news". How much legitimacy there is to that is entirely dependent in how much you trust them. The advent of Internet news sources has revived that tired old worthless debate. A reporter is someone who reports. Get over it. Again I digress...

Commercial broadcasters very happily put on educational programming of their own when left to their own devices. People used to watch the shit out of shows like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and a king-sized helping of everything that aired on The Wonderful World of Disney was educational. A National Geographic Special was indeed a special event, as was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Education sells if it's packaged right. The reboot of Cosmos aired on the Fox network, not PBS. But when the government gets involved the government inevitably, invariably screws it up. Hence the commercial broadcasting dead zone that is now Saturday morning. On our first cartoon-free morning, at 9:30,
  1. ABC aired Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin, which explored how similar exotic sea creatures are to humans (not very); 
  2. CBS aired CBS This Morning, which no one watched; 
  3. Fox and NBC magically agreed to air local programming, having completely given up; 
  4. CW aired The Brady Barr Experience about why animals steal food from humans, which presumably concluded that they were HUNGRY; and 
  5. PBS aired Dinosaur Train, a highly educational depiction of pteranodons embarking on a world tour.
The children weren't there to watch them... they were off watching Boomerang and Cartoon Network.


So we have a rule that basically tries but fails to solve a problem that never existed. Not only does every television have a font of free educational television in the form of PBS, but that font is funded most directly by public contributions. Those who are not receiving terrestrial broadcasts have a firehose instead of a font, in the form of numerous channels dedicated to education. There is not now, nor has there ever been a need for the FCC rules that ineffectually mandate educational programming on commercial networks. Once again, the private sector does it better. Where educational programming is good, then it's sought after and watched. When it's forced, then no amount of regulation will get viewers to watch. They'll vote with their channel selectors.