Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jindal, Biden, Jerry Brown, and Carl Levin

Just another Sunday moanin'.

California has sent Governor Jerry a Brown a bill which will ban one use plastic bags. If this isn't a feel good piece of legislation, then what is? It's simply too easy to make laws which have no practical effect yet look good. It sure beats dealing with infrastructure problems, eh, Sacramento?

Hooray for Bobby Jindal! The Louisiana Governor is suing the Obama Administration over the use of Common Core standards in education, saying it would violate states' rights (as education has always been primarily a state issue). We've never understood how liberals, the champions of diversity, have always went for large, nationwide mandates when it suits their purpose. Apparently, diversity requires large, ham handed government programs in order to survive. Who would have thought it?

Michigan Senator Carl Levin believes that any tax savings Burger King might gain as a result of buying the Canadian based Tim Horton's coffee store chain and moving its world headquarters to Canada would be offset by public displeasure of the move. That would mean an overall loss of revenue for the fast food giant.

We think the best conservative response would be to pick a day and eat at a local BK for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why condemn a company for doing what's best for itself? Each one of us as individuals do the same for ourselves and families all the time. Why blame a big company for wanting to improve its tax status? Besides, crying about Burger King simply won't stop most Americans from going to one. The average guy just doesn't care about national and international tax questions when he wants a Whopper with onion rings.

Vice President Joe Biden will be here in Detroit for Labor Day. We cannot wait for his visit. It will make our Tuesday column very easy to pen.

Ciao, friends.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is Football aslo a Blood Sport?

A genre of supposed sports which has been growing in recent years involves, basically, guys beating the devil out of each other inside cages. It goes by several names, such as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and under the umbrella of mixed martial arts. But however your view them, we can be sure of two things: that they are not true sports, and that they are immoral.

We will go a step further and add prize fight boxing into the mix. No athletic effort in which the primary aim is to hurt a human being is a sport. We have even found ourselves wondering whether American football is, perhaps, immoral, seeing as the only way to stop an offensive player is by sheer physicality. Intending to harm someone, as fighting (and pushing and grabbing too) until someone can continue no further is surely meant to do nothing save cause injury, is always wrong. Calling it a sport in an attempt at legitimacy is nothing less than an insult to our intelligence. We must see these things for what they are: gory rituals of false bravado.

There's no point defending them on the grounds that no one forces these guys to fight or play football. People at one time regularly agreed to duels and we put a stop to that inane practice for the very reason that it was wrong. Agreement between two or more folks on a plan of action cannot make that action moral. What we do must be moral in and of itself to have any decent bearing at all. Besides, we do force them to participate, in a way. We pay them to do it after all.

If we are not careful we will devolve into a nation which likes blood and harm for its own sake. We must remember that sports are intended for recreation, for fans and players alike. If all we want is blood, we may as well live in a slaughterhouse. Yet that would be thought insane.

Events which intend to inflict real physical harm are not sports. We need to rise above our animal lusts and see athletics in their best light: ultimately meaningless contests which allow us a respite from the daily grind. Anything more than that and we simply go beyond their scope.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

South Carolina Student Suspended for Using the word 'Gun'

A South Carolina High School student has been suspended for writing a story which was supposed to be written as though it were a Facebook post. It was intended to be listed as if it were a status update on a Facebook page. The student, Alex Stone of Summerville High School, was arrested and suspended because the 'update' used the word gun even when talking about having killed his neighbor's per dinosaur. you can read about it here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/s-student-arrested-writing-gun-dinosaur-article-1.1910447

Set aside if you will the general absurdity of the situation. We all know that dinosaurs no longer exist. We also should see that the reaction to the assignment was extreme: when you tell students to write a fiction then you should expect to get a fiction. Even the simple use of the word gun should not have been such a red flag. What we would like explained is why such an assignment was given in the first place.

To make school fun, perhaps? As an attempt to engage the student in the assignment? Neither reason is terribly stupid, one might suppose. But does address the real point of education when students are told to write a fictional Facebook post?

Not really. Why not give them a serious reading assignment and have them answer serious questions about it? If the intent is to teach good writing then it seems that they ought to be given examples of good writing and then asked to emulate that. We can hardly imagine Carl Sandberg or Robert Frost writing things willy-nilly as though merely sharing a quick tale with friends who might respond, LOL!

It is assignments such as these which make modern US high schools inferior to many others in the world. If we want serious education then we must take education seriously. This means teaching students to write not just anything, but to write well about things worth writing about. Until then, we shouldn't expect anything except silly tales about shooting dinosaurs. All that gives are easy grades for the teachers and inflated GPAs.

Education deserves better than dumb assignments and overreactions to them. Until we begin to truly educate, we will only have more such drama. In fact, in the current environment of the schools, we invite it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Darren Wilson's Past

Okay, we had hoped by now to keep quiet, at least for a few days, about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. But we simply can't.

It appears that Officer Darren Wilson began his police career at a department which has been disbanded because of allegations of racial tension. The Huffington Post reports that news here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/24/darren-wilson-jennings-police-department_n_5704133.html?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl1|sec3_lnk4%26pLid%3D519874

We actually have no problem with this revelation. Although it should not be a factor in whether Officer Wilson is guilty of murder or not we recognize that it's okay to look into the character traits of a person in determining whether they are capable of such heinous acts. Just like it's okay to look into Michael Brown's character to see if he may be the type of person to assault a cop, but being willing to set that factor aside should it be irrelevant to Officer's Wilson's actions against him.

What galls us is that we aren't supposed to look at Brown's history in determining his possible culpability in a very serious matter, yet are encouraged to study Wilson's past to see if we can glean evidence that he might be racist. If there's any such thing as a double standard, this is it.

Either stop looking at the past of both of the central characters involved in the incident or allow everyone in law enforcement to probe into them and draw their own conclusions. We can't presume Michael Brown a thug simply because of his personal history. And Officer Wilson isn't automatically guilty due to a past association with racism. All we ask is consistency, and a willingness to give the law a chance to follow threads wherever they may lead.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What Does Islam Support?

How we handle the Muslim world is obviously one of the trickiest tasks we face in the coming years. There is an awful lot of distrust of Islam and no real idea of how to allay the fears of it which many seem to harbor. Yet how we view and work with the Islamic world is nevertheless critical to our safety in the future.

So, how do we view Islam? That is a question which doesn't have an easy answer. The most logical point would be to look towards Muslim teachings for guidance. Yet that brings on a few difficult questions, not the least of which is: who exactly do we go to for answers?

There are many more sects within Islam than most folks imagine. A brief internet search reveals that there at at least five branches of the religion, dominated by the Sunni and the Shi'a with several smaller groups. Within Islam are four schools of thought, any of which are deemed valid to follow.

This rudimentary understanding of Islam really only heightens the problem. When there are many sects of a religion, coupled with the lack of any real hierarchical structure within it, then who actually speaks for Islam? The ones who preach peace or the ones who cry war?

Compare this to he Catholic Church, were we find a highly structured organization which can be approached as to the Catholic stance on such and such a question. We may not like what it says to us, but we cannot doubt what it means to say.

Unless we can find a source of Islam which speaks for all of Islam, can we actually ever know whether it as a movement can be trusted or not? This isn't to say that individual Muslims are bad people. As likely as not, the overwhelming majority of them are fine and outstanding members of their communities struggling with day to day life as most everyone else does. Yet do those folks speak for all of Islam when they speak, or simply for themselves as they see it no matter how heartfelt?

Without a final source on what Islam means it will be difficult to understand it more fully. And without such understanding, can the other hurdles ever be overcome?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why Distrust Police Authority?

One of the things which the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri have brought out is the question of distrust. So many people simply don't trust police authority. Why?

The are certainly socioeconomic factors involved, and there's no use denying that. Yet how far can that be used as an excuse for a lack of trust? Even conceding the point, don't we reach a time when they simply don't matter? Sure, crime is higher in high poverty areas than in the more affluent parts of the country. We get that. We get too that the temptation to commit crime is higher among the poor, and at times that's arguably a mitigating factor. But does that excuse the crime or the criminal?

We get as well that the higher crime areas attract greater police attention. But shouldn't they? It's where the crime is, isn't it? And it leads us to wonder if, maybe, just maybe, at least some of the mistrust is predicated on that: the people 'harassed' by the police know the cops will be looking for them because to some small degree they know they're in the wrong. They know the questions they're going to be asked will be ones they prefer not answer precisely because they understand that the only answers they can give are the wrong ones. And they know that certain actions are wrong: try stealing from a thief if you don't believe it.

Then we face what the Missouri Highway Patrol, Ferguson Police, National Guard and various federal authorities face with the nightly (though apparently decreasing) marches in Ferguson. Would you trust a group of angry looking young men walking towards you, their faces hidden with bandanas? No? Then why should a cop?

We know that poverty and all the ills it brings isn't necessarily the fault of the poor. But we also know that crime cannot be excused merely because you're poor. And we think a lot of distrust of police authority comes from that and not from the poor being held down by the broader society. At some point, you're responsible for yourself. If you stay clear of trouble you won't likely fall into it. And most people, even the poor, understand basic right and wrong.

Very often, yes, distrust of the cops is born of fear. Yet that fear might only be of getting caught.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looting Doesn't Bring Justice

The looting continued last night in Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, it has begun to spread to neighboring towns. Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in charge of security in Ferguson, has asked protesters to remain peaceful, and pledged to get things under control. At least 31 were arrested last night, at least 2 of whom were not from the Ferguson area.

What we have in Ferguson is little but a rabble. Yes, many people are genuinely peaceful and interested in simple justice. Yet why would peaceful people protest at night? Why would peaceful people gather especially late at night, except to engage in mob behavior and have less chance of being caught, while at the same time sewing together an undercurrent of racial hatred which doesn't really run that deep but for when Al Sharpton smells a soap box.

Capt. Johnson is right to call those inciting the mob 'criminals'. No one really interested in justice storms the businesses of innocent store owners. No one who truly wants justice for Michael Brown or even Darren Wilson hides under the cover of darkness. And you might just notice that no one who supports the idea that Officer Wilson deserves his day in court are rioting in Ferguson, nor shooting their way into stores let alone shooting each other. That's right, 2 people were shot last night, and not by the cops.

It's time to call things what they are, and to remind the presumed majority of peaceful protesters to assert themselves if they really mean to support nonviolence. We're skeptical that their intentions are all that peaceful if they're coming out so late at night; what are these folks looking for under such conditions? Yes, that's a pointed question. And yes, you can take it at face value. We must wonder if perhaps several of those assembling are either looking for an opportunity to do who knows what, or to gawk and rubberneck. Neither option is particularly useful to the causes of peace and justice.

Nor, again, do they help Michael Brown get justice. So we are left to question whether that's what they really want.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Time to Calm Down, Ferguson

The protests just keep on keeping on. Last night night saw more trouble in Ferguson, Missouri, ostensibly over the killing of Michael Brown. But are the protesters, even when peaceful, helping or hurting their cause?

Every rational person wants justice, in this case as in any sad incident. But it seems as though the actions of the Ferguson citizenry, or at the least a small number of them, may be stoking the fires to no good purpose. Isn't it time to take a breath and give the process of justice a chance? Whatever else may be thought, it isn't as though the case is going to go away. There are too many people involved and too many levels of government for that to happen. Marching every evening won't change that.

Yet, perhaps, justice isn't the point. It is that outlandish to wonder whether the protests are really thinly veiled threats? Is it within the realm of possibility that the people of Ferguson want Officer Darren Wilson convicted, or else? Many of those protesting have made it quite clear that he's guilty and that's all there is to it. Such are hardly calls for justice.

What everyone, those who think Brown a victim and those who fear Wilson may be railroaded, needs to remember is that very few people actually know what happened that night. As should be expected, there are conflicting reports of what exactly went on during the altercation. It is hardly justice for anyone to act too certain about culpability.

Let or at least give justice a chance to play itself out. This won't be over with for a very long time. But it's time to let the process go on, unhindered by any presuppositions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mike Brown: Does His Character Matter?

Who knows when or how it will end? We have been dealing with the Mike Brown situation in Ferguson, Missouri for almost a week now. Last night troubles flared anew when the store where the young man allegedly had stolen cigars earlier in the day when he was later shot by a police officer, was looted. We now see two potentially criminal acts skewed through a mob mentality.

It is important that we harbor no doubts about certain things surrounding the incident, the first of which is that the looters don't care about Mike Brown or justice. They're simply thugs taking advantage of a situation for their own ill gotten gains. They're using the genuine pain and anguish of the principals involved to get free stuff at little risk; the police officers on scene last night backed away from actually stopping the theft from the Ferguson Market and Liquor Store in an attempt to ease tension. But in the long run, those who began the robbery ought to be prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law.

Yet other issues remain. Why must we say that Brown allegedly stole cigars while the Brown family attorney repeatedly refers to the 'execution' of the Mike Brown? So far, we don't know the extent to which the young man may or may not have brought things onto himself. Even if the officer involved was overzealous, irresponsible, and indeed guilty of a criminal act, the police assert there is evidence that Mike Brown did something which set things in motion. We are each often responsible, to varying degrees, to the things which happen to us, even if in the end we were still treated badly. Would Rodney King have been beaten if he hadn't been speeding through LA? If Brown wrongly or stupidly instigated the incident which lead to his death, even if the officer is guilty of something as grisly and reprehensible as murder, then the he would not be a complete innocent.

Does character matter? The Brown family attorney, Daryl Parks, objects to the police releasing the video which purports to show him stealing the stogies. He says that doesn't matter with regard to the killing. In the strictest sense, he's correct. If an actual murder or other criminal act was committed then whatever Mr. Brown did earlier in the day and what type of man he was doesn't matter. Directly. Yet indirectly it might: if Brown was the type to incite others, if he wasn't the fine young we're supposed to blindly accept that he was, then at the least the current troubles are somewhat on him.

Daryl Parks would say we are demonizing Mike Brown. Yet isn't he demonizing the Ferguson Police by throwing around words such as execution? That doesn't sound like a man truly interested in justice and calm any more than the mob who trashed the liquor store last night supposedly had been.

The right response to the Mike Brown shooting is holding emotions in check and gathering the facts, objectively following where they may lead and acting accordingly. In Ferguson, that apparently is easier to do with a hot shot attorney and a free bottle of Jack Daniels.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

By now, surely everyone knows that actor and comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide. Certainly, everyone realizes what a tragedy it is as well. How could anyone who made so many people so happy have done such a thing? How could someone with such a profound ability to entertain and also make others reflect on important things (if you've heard him tell the story of The Fisher King you know what we mean) do something so final to himself? Suicide, really, is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

We are not trying to criticize Mr. Williams nor anyone else who has fought the demons which influenced them towards suicide. That we can't understand it perhaps ought to make us all the more considerate of the mind which contemplates such an act. Of all the things a human being might do this, being so very beyond what other ills a man might commit, stops us in our tracks. One can almost understand someone hurting someone else for personal gain or private pleasure. But taking one's own life? It seems about as extreme of a thing as possible to imagine.

Again, we're not condemning Robin Williams or anyone else who's committed suicide. That's not our job, and the very nature of the act appears to us so incomprehensible as may also make it easily forgivable. The trouble is that we can't do that too readily either. We don't want to be so willing to excuse suicide that we might however inadvertently encourage someone else to do it to themselves. We don't want people to believe that it's okay to do that if things become, at face value, too difficult to handle. And as difficult as it is to say or hear especially right after news like that of Robin Williams, it's within the realm of possibility that someone taking their own life fully understood what they were doing, but did it anyway. That is the basic rationale behind the late Jack Kevorkian's ideals, you know.

What we do affects what others do. We are all role models, whether we want to be or not and whether we think so or not. As such, we can't be too forgiving of suicide lest we make it a reasonable alternative, particularly for someone who is facing demons we can't imagine. We can't encourage a world which effectively says, if it were the only option Robin Williams saw, it must be all right. It may be splitting hairs to say love the person but hate the action. But we don't see any other acceptable outlook.

What we need to do is be on the lookout for signs of trouble among our friends and family and to encourage fortitude in dealing with the issues they face, and help them find better solutions to their problems. We ought to be charitable (we will not say nonjudgmental, because to be that would actually require us to a blanket acceptance of things like suicide if you think about it) if as a result of their battles something tragic may happen. If it comes to that, all we can say is, Rest in Peace.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. And for those interested in hearing his story of The Fisher King, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN3bcE7ldHg It seems specially poignant today.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Jersey Proposal on Drivers worth Consideration

The state of New Jersey may no longer provide other states with data on its citizens license plates. This would make it very difficult for states with red light and speed cameras to issue tickets to New Jersey residents who drive out of state. WE would more states to consider such options. Indeed, we would like to see such cameras go out of use.

None of the obvious arguments in favor of the devices really hold water. Keep the streets safe, get poor drivers from behind the wheel, more money for the police (we would be shocked if that wasn't a force behind the cameras, quite frankly) and so on. If we're going to punish people for criminal behavior then we should have to catch them the old fashioned way: either in the act, or with evidence collected after the act by actual police officers rather than with unthinking technology.

For starters, issuing a ticket to a car (which is essentially what is happening) punishes the owner of the car and not necessarily the driver. How often have you loaned your car to someone, or borrowed one yourself? Can the cameras determine who was behind the wheel? No? Then the owner should not automatically get a ticket even if an actual violation occurred. It's that old saw about the presumption of innocence. If you weren't actually seen behind the wheel then authorities should not, indeed cannot, presume you were driving when the incident happened.

It should added that, with cameras, you have no opportunity to defend yourself without going to a lot of trouble. The cameras put a hardship on the owner of a vehicle which may not be worth the effort to fight. If you live in New Jersey and get an automated ticket from, say, Iowa, is it worth the time, trouble, and money to fight it? Governments likely rely in part on that. They get the money without the hassles of court.

Speeding and red light cameras effectively presume guilt. They should not be used at all, not even within a state and only against that state's drivers. We hope that New Jersey's initiative passes, and that other states follow suit.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Say No to Year Round Schools

Would year round schooling make a difference in Michigan education? Apparently at least two districts, the Madison School District in Lenawee County and the Port Huron Area School District, think so. They have accepted money from the Michigan Department of Education in order to implement plans for year round schooling. Others have already taken state money for such purposes while one district, the Watersmeet Public Schools, have elected not to take state money for such purposes due to a lack of community support.

Call us skeptical that year round schooling is worth the effort. While it may be true that the first part of a typical school year involves refreshment courses we feel that point unimportant. Given that American schools typically don't actually teach, an extra few weeks in the classroom won't make much, if any, difference. Given also that summer vacation is seen as a boon to many Americans, especially the schoolchildren, we see no reason to buck the tradition.

If Michigan would be any better off with year long education we might encourage the idea. But knowing that education isn't much more than propaganda these days, we don't see the sense in giving schools even more time to indoctrinate our young. If schools were to actually teach kids to think for themselves and by themselves the idea might have merit. As it is, more of the same old same old simply won't make a difference.

Really, the fact that this idea has even come up reflects poorly on our schools. If they can't get the job done in the time they have (education isn't actually that difficult) then more time certainly can't be the issue, especially in the younger grades. Demonstrating that two plus two equals four or that George Washington was our first President just isn't all that mind bending, folks. And yes, we know full well that not all parents are supportive. But would two and a half extra months in the classroom mend that problem?

Leave the school calendar as it is. Changing it only feeds the notion that action, any action, actually helps make things better. It doesn't. Generally, it only stirs the pot.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Are Free Market Choices all that Important?

Is choice important? To hear many people speak, it is of the utmost importance. Look at all the options which the market gives us; compare that to the options Soviet citizens had back in the day. We can go into stores and buy all kinds of clothes, food, and recreational toys. Isn't that just great?

Well, yes, it is. And no, it's not.

To be sure, some choices matter a whole lot more than others. If you're thinking of using your free will option of grand theft, we encourage you vehemently not to give in to it. But in day to day things, the sorts of things which we are not saying are wrong in themselves, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the places we frequent, how important is choice, really?

We like what we like and so long as what we like is moral, we wonder whether it's worth the quibble. Yet we see so many people trying so many new things so much of the time that we can't help but ask, what are they looking for? What meaning is there to eating wings a third, fourth, or fiftieth style? To wearing the latest fashion? To sipping the newest brew or watching the current smash hit movie or TV show? Why all this apparent fascination with doing new, and this really seems to translate only into different, things?

What are people looking for that they can't be satisfied with what they have or is already readily available? Why do we live in a society which tolerates, nay, encourages, such consumerism? As a rule, the latest fad or fashion simply cannot be all that spectacular, really. What are people seeking?

We think they seek meaning. Long term, eternal meaning in what they might say or do or in how they act. In an increasingly relativistic world, a world where choice is in truth impotent, many folks still want, still need, things of value, things which really stand for something. So 'things' and 'events' and 'experiences' naturally become substitutes for real meaning. When the big choices don't matter, the little ones will fill the gap however feebly they are able. Being feeble attempts at meaning, they must proliferate, because they are gone as fast as they emerge.

The question is does the latest thing actually make us into anything of value. We don't believe it, of necessity, does. We think most relativists know that too. And it eats them alive. As a result, in these modern times, where a soul should be are only buffalo wings.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

We are not all moral equals

Perhaps the most vexing problem in the world today is the idea of evil. It is so vexing that most of the world, the vaunted Western world anyway, attempts to ignore it. There are no evil people, it says. There are only people trying to get along the best they can with the resources they've got.

Such is certainly true so far as it goes. We have to work with what we've got, intellectually and incidentally, according to our position in life. But how far does that go, really? What can it say of innovation and drive, indeed, of free will? What can it say of the chance that we may recruit allies and make things better? What can it say about what our opposition may do, to thwart our plans?

Not very much. If we are all simply stuck with what we've got, with what we are born with, shall we say, what hope is there of improvement? On the other side of the coin, what prospect exists of doing real harm to the world and its peoples either? If we are born only what we are, how can we progress or regress? Truly said, if there are no evil people, can there be good people? And if we cannot know that we are doing is good, what is the point of doing it?

Yet we know by experience that we, as individuals and societies, both progress and regress, daily and through history, individually and collectively. But by what right can we even call progress progress, or regress regress, without a knowledge that we may be progressing or regressing? And if we are really progressing, really making the world a better place for persons and nations, wouldn't that be called good? Similarly, if we are actually regressing, would that not be called evil?

This becomes dangerously close to calling some people evil, which is really what the world wishes to avoid. Wouldn't it be better if we all saw each other as moral equals doing only what we can with what we've got? Wouldn't it?

No, it would not. For in so doing we would only give mission to those who would do wrong. We would only be sanctifying their will. If there is no good and evil, if there is no right and wrong, then our actions do not matter. If our actions do not matter, then it does not matter what we do. And that, by itself, is evil, because it allows those with power to do with the rest of us whatever they want, despite our protests. It allows the individual as well to do as he sees fit without regard to what effect that might have on those around him. And we cannot protest, if there are no angels and devils, no good and evil, within us. How may we claim our own rights, if the devils among us are as apt to be as right and good as the supposed angels?

If good does not believe that it is good, then evil has won. If good will not call itself good, then evil has won. Still, calling the good good and the evil evil does not necessarily mean that the people involved are good or evil. But it must mean that their causes are one or the other. Which means that we must choose whether we are with the one or the other. We must choose whether we are trying to be good and do good, or trying to be evil and do evil.

So make your choice. But spare us the platitudes which only assert that our choices do not matter. Such platitudes only serve the cause of evil. Do you want to feed or starve that cause?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is the Just War Theory obsolete?

Should we have or should we have not? That is a question which is asked about many things, not the least of which involves what happened 69 years ago today. We have arrived at another anniversary of the atomic age: the first use of an atom bomb, dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, an August 6, 1945.

It is easy to believe that the US should not have dropped the bomb. Many civilians were killed or injured, and civilians are off target according to the Just War theory promoted by the Catholics and many others. It rests on the idea that civilians are noncombatants, innocents, and should be safe from the traumas of war.

Yet William Buckley, the famous conservative writer and himself Catholic, suggested that perhaps that no longer applies. In the modern world with modern warfare, are civilians actually noncombatants? It's simple enough to see that in Imperial Japan during World War II, civilians were often encouraged to participate in the war effort. Some estimates claim that as many as 70% of the civilian population of Okinawa were injured or killed during the 82 day battle where the Allies occupied the island. To be sure, many were pressed into service. But many fought the invaders voluntarily just the same. Either way, they were hardly innocents.

Buckley's idea hardly singles out Japanese intentions. Across the sphere of total war, can it be argued that those who work in munitions factories are noncombatants? That those who organize and participate in scrap metal and scrap rubber drives are wholly innocent, or even those who merely buy war bonds? Still, there are true innocents involved, mostly the children. Therein we find the greatest tragedy of human warfare: that it has become so terrible that children are involved at all. But worse: that organizations such as Hamas and the Viet Cong, even the Japanese and Germans, have been heinous enough to use them as shields as well as actual fighters. This certainly isn't the fault of the children, but a reality that must be dealt with just the same.

The picture isn't pretty. Yet it seems be the face of modern war, and even though (by and large) the bad guys started the practices, it is still the reality we must live with. It is small comfort but we may just have to content ourselves, so much as we can, that much of it is not our fault. Even in that, we must never forget the cost of war.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to Vote, August 2014

Today is a primary election day in Michigan and many other states. While we can't speak for all things everywhere, we thought it might be generous to offer a few bits of advice on how to vote just the same. Some ideas are general and some are specific, but hopefully they help a bit.

The more local an election is the more important your vote becomes. Don't be too concerned over a Congressional election or a statewide race because we all know that, within reason, your vote won't matter. Most statewide races will have too many votes cast to make a difference and larger districts are gerrymandered so that they will almost certainly go one way come November so that whomever wins today won't matter. Yet the votes closer to home, especially things such as a county commissioner and city councils in smaller cities, naturally mean more. A few select votes may in fact matter, and many political careers are born through lesser offices. Choose wisely there, for toady and the future.

If your primary is a foregone conclusion, then vote in the other party's. It's great fun in a childishly evil way, and if the parties are stupid enough to have open primaries then they deserve to bitten through such tactics. Vote for the person you feel would most help your party in November just for the fun of it. It's passive/aggressive excitement!

Don't worry about judgeships, except the most local ones as reflected upon above. On the big issues they aren't to to rule they way you want them too anyway, seeing as even legal institutions aren't very concerned with law so much as reflecting what they perceive to be the general societal norms of the day. On the obvious issues of guilt and innocence they likely will do the right thing just the same as well. Don't fret judicial elections.

Vote for Proposal 1. The personal property tax on small businesses is a nuisance, and unfair. Yes, as per our instructions, this being a statewide initiative means your vote won't matter. Vote on that anyhow. One can't cast ballots for fairness too often.

There you have it. Look for our sage wisdom again in November and as for today, you're welcome.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bork and the Libertarians

Robert Bork was an American law school professor and jurist. He is perhaps the greatest American legal scholar who was never on the Supreme Court; that is the greatest crime of the Democratic Senate of 1987 and the greatest mistake of the Reagan Administration. If anyone should have been on the highest court in the land, it should have been Judge Bork.

He wrote a nifty little book back in the 1990s titled Slouching Towards Gomorrah. In it he opines on what has become wrong with America, and the book is chock full of good ideas and excellent ruminations on what has gone wrong with the US body politic as well as its legal system. We intend to explore a few of those ideas in the coming weeks. Today we will begin with this one: his view of libertarians.

If we understand the man correctly, he argues that libertarians lack a sense of social obligation. If we understand that correctly, we agree with him. Libertarians fail to grasp that there are more injuries possible to people than those which are physical or material. People can be harmed in ways beyond that, and we have an obligation to avoid that sort of harm as well.

Take illicit television or vile and despicable music, for example. All that is defended on the the First Amendment right to free speech. On that basis the libertarian says if you don't like the show or the song, simply change the channel or don't listen. Yet that argument is ultimately shallow and indeed insulting to the person who is trying to make themselves, their children, and their world better based on rational and objective standards of decency. One parent can turn off the radio, yes. But other parents might not, and it is a practical impossibility to keep our children away from every worldly influence. Society has the obligation and parents the right to expect the cooperation of society in raising their children well. This means making decisions on what ought and ought not be broadcast, and that society has the right to make such decisions. They do not involve physical or material harm, but they may well harm folks just the same in making them effectively less than human, again by rational and objective standards.

No man, it is said, is an island. What we do affects what other people do; what we think affects how other people think. Without a proper consideration of that we risk harming the people around us and damaging our own spirits as well. We are all role models whether we think so or not. Circumstance forces that upon us. We have no right to say, as the libertarian too often does, that I own myself and am therefore not responsible for anyone else. They forget that a very important part of ownership is stewardship, which demands that we do what is best for all involved and not merely for what suits our perceived immediate needs. Such needs may only be vile and contemptible. A rational, reflective, self aware being surely recognizes that. They must also know, in their hearts anyway, that ownership means not only self interest but also responsibility.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Science and Value

Science is fascinating, ian't it? And there are so many fields of endeavor within it that it isn't likely our appetite will ever be sated. One would think so, anyway.

After all the flap about the expanding universe which we raised the other day we now find ourselves enthralled with questions empirical. Today our subject is, we think, biochemistry. At the least, what we are considering are the notions of whether our physical makeup controls us.

Must we think what we think and if we must, how honestly responsible are we for our actions? There are those out there who believe, to paraphrase Mr. C. S. Lewis, that human thought is nothing more than cerebral biochemistry. If that's all it is, how can we argue for personal responsibility, indeed of any real ownership of our lives and ourselves?

Can we usefully speak of freedom and liberty if we cannot help who we are? Why bother with discussions of any sort if all we are is whatever nature drives us to be? What actually is the value of even such noble callings as scientific inquiry under such circumstance? Such a scientist after all must really only be thinking what he must think. If science were ever to prove that thought is only physical, wouldn't that include the value of science along with whatever morals or values we may deem to be true?

And that's our issue with so much of modern science. It attempts to argue that all is empirical when not everything is. Or, if it is, then everything is meaningless. For value is not empirical, and there is no value whatsoever to thinking what we cannot help but think and believing what we cannot help but believe.

In short, if science is correct and empiricism is king, then all human action is pointless. Even science itself.