Sunday, May 31, 2015

We Need More than Gutting the Patriot Act

It looks as though key provisions of the Patriot Act may not survive the day. Senator Rand Paul has vowed that among other things he will do all he can to stop the bulk collection of phone records by the government. Good for him; we happen to agree with his stance and hope he is successful. Records should not be collected simply for the sake of collecting them in hopes of finding the boogeyman. But, we ask, why are a good many folks upset only about that?

The fact is that the government violates our basic rights in a good many other ways which we a people seem to accept. Withholding taxes provide a good example: why should you have to pay them as you go? If filing your taxes isn't due until April 15th of the following year why must you pay any part of them ahead of time? Yet we tolerate that nonsense and are happy when we get a bit of our money back. But there's no reason the government should get to use it interest free before the taxpayer can. Governments are no due special privilege in collecting monies due simply because they're a government.

In like fashion, why are monies owed the government not subject to bankruptcy proceedings? They should be, you know. Why is the government's claim to an insolvent individual greater than those of his other creditors? That it's supposedly public money involved is no valid argument. There is really no such thing as public money as our will stays attached to it, and everyone a debtor owes wants their money; governments should have to compete with all other forces for 'theirs' as well.

Why must bank deposits over ten grand be reported to the government? So it can look out for illegal activity? But here we thought we were innocent until proven guilty; why ought anyone have to demonstrate to the government that that $11,000 was a lottery winning or a compensation for a loss, or even just cash saved up in a home safe which the owner decided he's rather stash in the bank? It's an insult to the individual when you think about it. The government has no right to monitor our financial activity without just cause. Merely that someone happened to make an unusually large deposit does not of necessity fit that bill.

These examples merely scratch the surface. We wonder whether the Income Tax itself is actually moral, seeing as it requires us to divulge to Washington and Lansing and Detroit what we make for a living, an idea which is at least arguably none of their businesses. And we've refrained from another complaint against the government which ticks us off: insulting questions at the border, an issue regular readers know we find truly galling. Be that as it may, we've let the government get off with an awful lot of things which we should not. Maybe, just maybe, something such as gutting the Patriot Act will start us on the road towards really reigning in Washington over reach. One can hope so, anyway.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

Memorial Day: the last Monday in May. The day set aside for remembering our fallen heroes and, we'll add, to think about those currently serving in our armed forces. It is fitting and proper that we do this.

Forget for the moment that it like so many other holidays has been been given something of a second class citizen status. It once was held every May 30th, yet in our rush to celebrate special days more on our terms than as an honest retrospective of deserving people and ideals it has been shifted to the last Monday of the month. That is so we may have three day weekends to party over more so than a single, specially set aside day to actually contemplate what the day is supposed to be about. Nevertheless, it is still a great day on our calendar.

Great hardly seems the right word. It is sad that we have to have a day such as this, sadder still that willing souls have given us their all in order to make such times a need. But that is the price we pay for living in a world where evil exists. We must be thankful for those souls who have made it possible for us to be here and reflect on their actions.

So we will stand by the word great. It takes great people for us to have a chance to celebrate their deeds. It takes great people for us to realize that freedom is not free and liberty not a given birthright. It takes great people to give us the chance to grill and hoist a brew and spend time with our families and friends.

It takes great people to lay down their lives for their friends. Remember them, today and every day. They've earned the honor. The very least we can do is acknowledge them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hitler and the Irish

Well, the Irish vote is in, and Ireland has become the first country to allow gay marriage by popular vote. The world is turned upside down and a new order is arisen. So there, traditionalists. A popular vote has gone against your grain and you are proven decisively wrong. Sic semper tyrannis. Count us among the unimpressed. We would like to think that even the most libertarian among us would concede that a simple popular vote cannot make a thing right. We would like to think that even the most libertarian among us would argue that consensus is exactly the wrong way to determine right from wrong. We would like to think that. Yes, we would. Yet we cannot think of anything after this vote except for one man who had this idea that the popular vote was only a tool for his use. We will say his name. Adolf Hitler. So you've won a vote. Congratulations. Your point of view is now validated. The rest of us neanderthals are now fossils. You've triumphed, you've proven yourselves right by the will of the people. Or at least of some people somewhere. We who disagree must now change our ways and manners and your will has been voiced. We are wrong. Yet we can only think of one name. Adolf Hitler. You see, friends, winning a free vote means nothing. It does validate your opinion. It does not mean that you are right an we who disagree, wrong. It does not mean that society has turned a corner. It does not validate evolution as an always forward moving and enlightened process of social or economic science. It certainly does not mean that you are always 'growing', always headed in the 'right' direction. In fact, it means nothing at all, except that a certain group of people under certain circumstances have done something not before done. And we have a comment on that attitude. Adolf Hitler. Because winning an election doesn't mean the outcome was right.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Libertarians and Atheism

Are libertarians moral relativists? It's a fascinating question on several levels, not the least of which involves areas where they are and are not willing to pass judgement. Government run economies? Bad. Free markets? Good. But what of all the other issues which vex humanity, which gnaw at the conscience both of the person and the body politic, and are, if we are to be true to any decent sense of right and wrong, more important than economics?

Abortion? A woman may or may not have one - her choice. Gay marriage or same sex partnerships? Any couple where each person enters into the contract freely is all right with them. Freedom of speech? You can anything you want without bother about whether it should be said. In short, whatever does not harm another person (and this generally seems to apply only towards physical harm) is to be tolerated by everyone else.

But of course, there are things which do harm that are not physically hurtful. Even our libertarian friends recognize the need for laws against theft or slander. So why are they so unwilling to consider whether other things not, perhaps, immediately harmful to an individual are in fact harmful to them or society, so much so that society has the right to ban them? This we ask before we are even near the question of whether abortion physically harms another individual. Why are libertarians so unwilling to even consider whether human women have human babies, with all that that question demands of us?

It appears that, in areas which don't tickle their fancy, libertarians don't particularly care about moral right and wrong. If a guard at GITMO looks at a detainee cross eyed you would think it the worst civil rights abuse ever (this without a consideration of why the detainee was there in the first place) and libertarians, with compelling cause, condemn drone strikes. Why not address any and all moral questions, questions of man's inhumanity to man, even of man's inhumanity to himself, if you will, with the same intensity if they are really interested in doing the right thing all the time?

Then we have their view of religion. Libertarians say they are for religious freedom. Yet as a group it is not something they stress. They have been on the whole conspicuously silent over the HHS mandate debacle. They say they are for the Five Freedoms; they sure seem to fret over the four, with a decidedly shallower emphasis on the fifth. This can only mean one thing: on the whole, they don't care very much about God.

And that is their weakness. Buckley's right, you know. The battle between the individual and the collective is the battle between God and atheism on another level. Without individuals ordained with individuality, we can't make claims against the wider society. Yet doesn't ordination speak towards responsibility? If there are no individual responsibilities then there's no point in working for individual rights. Without knowing, the best we can, what we should be and working towards that, then the individual of his own right is no better than the collective. Libertarians ignore this so far as we can see merely because such thought means that the person has to look outside of himself for guidance, especially on areas of individual responsibility which social conservatives and the seriously religious demand of him.

We've said before that liberals want what the want solely because they want it. We fear that libertarians are the same way, and to an equally ill purpose. It allows them to ignore moral questions they prefer not to address.

So again we ask, are libertarians moral relativists?

Yes.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Christianity and rightness

One of the most blithe dismissals of Christians and Christianity is that they're (both the individuals and the creed) mercenary. They only do good because it gets them a reward, the story goes. What are we to make of this?

A good many things may be had from this observance. The first and clearest is the insult: you high and mighty fellows only do good because you get something from it. But if that's true, then isn't anyone who does good likewise condemned? All good after all either entails the presumption of rightness or the expectation of reward, doesn't it? The pagan or the atheist might well do well simply because of the immediate, shall we say earthly, reward, namely the sanction of their peers. Yet interestingly, they aren't condemned so far as the Christian seems to be. Yet, really, it's the same or very nearly the same thing anyway, isn't it? Given that, why should believing in God make an iota of difference?

True, if you're only doing it for the reward then something is lacking. Yet how many folks are willing to suggest that one ought to do wrong merely on principle? "If you're only being mercenary and being mercenary is automatically wrong then you might as well do evil" is the natural corollary, isn't it? If doing the right thing only to receive reward is by itself wrong then it should be more right to do the wrong thing, uh, right?

Uh, wrong. Doing right for the weakest of reasons nevertheless trumps ever doing the wrong thing. You're still doing the right thing. And that is far better than ever doing the wrong thing isn't it?

Those who condemn Christianity as little more than mercenary speak with forked tongue. Why would you do right except to do right, even when encouraged by nothing more than censure? All people are subjected to that quandary. Why is it that only Christians are condemned by it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Detroit Recycles! So what?

In many parts of Detroit, Michigan you can see them today: pretty blue containers which proudly announce, Detroit Recycles! They're very proud of themselves, those blue plastic cans. You can almost smell the conceit.

Yes, conceit. Detroit now has curbside recycling. The city has surely turned itself around. Now it's a part of the modern day feel good trend and underwrites the trash of those who want it so. That's what it is, trash, and nothing more.

It cannot be said enough that what is worth recycling gets recycled. Iron, copper, aluminum, they get recycled. In part, probably, we'll say, in the greatest part, because something tangible can be had from them: cash. The people with old scrap steel can get money for it from the private, unlike the people who get our tin cans and old plastic milk jugs. They only get money because their cause is underwritten by the government. Even then they need massive amount of plastic and glass to get by.

We will say it: we have no problems with incinerators and landfills. We see no verifiable spike in cancers due to burning our garbage and we do not see zombies walking stutter step out of landfills. Who ought to fear zombies anyway? They so slow that it boggles the mind how so many horror show victims fall prey to them. Still, from the cries of the no landfill folks you would think they were a real threat.

There would be little or no recycling without a government somewhere underwriting the process. There is further nothing wrong with individuals expecting something out of it which benefits them directly. If you want to recycle and can find a source for it outside the public sphere, go for it. We don't care. But we're just a bit tired of paying taxes for something simply not worth it. Recycling so far as we're concerned, Michigan, only takes money away from well, let's just say roads. If the state and the cities would spend less on feel good projects and more on what is really in the general interest, we think our roads would be quite fine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christians must vote their religion

The left does not understand religion. It cries for the separation of Church and State on the one hand yet demands that religion do its job on the other. Well, you can't have it both ways.

When it comes to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and providing medical care, liberals very easily remind Christians of their Christian duty. It's almost droll: when these issues are raised, you know you're supposed to be doing this and that, aren't you, Christians? Yet mention the right to life or the sanctity of marriage, and Christians are scaling that false wall of separation.

It simply cannot be both ways. If you're going to assert that the Church and Her members live up to the call when you happen to like it then you cannot insist also that the entire call, where it is not exclusively religious, must not be translated into public practice. If feeding the hungry is a moral good despite, perhaps, being a duty which religious practice demands, then so too is defending the unborn. If housing the homeless is a moral good based to a great degree on religious sentiment, then so to is the recognition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Thus, you cannot demand that Christians leave their duty to their creed at the voting booth curtain. If you expect them to vote for government solutions when the question of worldly poverty arises, then you must expect them to vote their religious duty towards ending abortion. We simply aren't talking about wholly religious issues on things such as poverty and life. We're talking about basic moral questions the answers to which define ourselves as a society. And as moral persons.

Yes, and define ourselves as Christians. If we are expected to be whole Christians then we must live up to that. And society must allow it if it is to be just, civil, moral and, indeed, free.

What those do when they demand we not vote our creed in practical application is nothing short of effrontery. It is insulting and immoral in itself. The left, the libertarians, they don't get that. That's why it's so critical too that, come any election, we vote our creed.

Monday, May 11, 2015

End Judicial Review

There are times when someone says something which leaves you cheering. Dr. Ben Carson, recent entrant into the Republican presidential race, has said such a thing. He has asked, essentially, whether a President must enforce the rulings of the Supreme Court.

Here, here Dr. Carson, bravo. Our children are being told in school as we were when we were locked into K-12 education that our political system is one of checks and balances. Yet no one ever discusses what checks there are to balance the power of the Courts. No one ever asks, why ought judicial decisions, particularly ones so far reaching as those by the Highest Court in the Land, remain unchecked by the powers of the other branches of government?

Think about it. The acts of Congress and the several states are subject to censure. The acts of the President and the Executive branch are subject to censure. Why aren't the acts of the Supreme Court?

The are worthwhile arguments in favor of judicial review (which is what Carson is speaking against). Someone has to have the final say in disputes and we may invite anarchy without such power, and that there is in fact a check on the Supreme Court's power: constitutional amendment. To the second point, you're barking up a tree. Constitutional amendments are so difficult to pass as to be, except in the rarest instances, completely out of the question. As to having the final say, well, who says the Court should? Interestingly, the Court itself.

But why should the Court be seen as the sole determinant of what the United States Constitution means? We aren't talking about the literal and direct application of laws such as theft or murder where guilt and innocence based on hard and legally gained evidence are the main factors. We're talking about interpretation of what the founding document of our nation means. That is not based on strict rules of engagement but on the intention of the framers matched against what is right and true for all times. As another great document says about self evident truths, interpreting the Constitution isn't about human law but about applying the laws of 'Nature and nature's God' to the human condition in a manner proper to all, mindful of justice, and not simply for those who win their case based almost solely on the political makeup of a given Court at a given time.

So to extrapolate a bit on the good Doctor's point, why can't a President simply ignore the Court? Made of people just as the Congress and whomever occupies the White House, it is as likely to be wrong in its opinions as they. But at the very least, why shouldn't we at least rid ourselves of judicial review as it really isn't about the Constitution anyway but about what five Justices may happen to think at one time?

Ben Carson may just have won our vote on this issue alone.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Free Speech and Self Righteous Speech

We've said this before, and probably more often than it needs to be said. Yet some things bear repeating just the same. This is one of those times. As we are most certainly not Charlie Hebdo, we are also not the people who organized and participated in the draw Mohammed contest last week in Texas.

Yes, we get it. It was to prove that we in these United States have freedom of speech. It was to show that we can say whatever we want (or in this case, draw whatever we wish) whenever and however we want. Thank you for the lesson. We hadn't understood it before your grandstanding play.

What is it that so many people, even many of our conservative brethren, simply must do something just to show the world that they can do it? Surely a rational being knows perfectly well what he can and cannot do before he takes any given action. But if that's the only reason to depict Mohammed, isn't it actually a bit childish? Isn't is in fact self-righteous, and perhaps even the signal of a feeling of inferiority? We know we can do it yet we've never felt a strong desire to draw Mohammed. Why? If you're comfortable where you are and with your rights, what's the point?

Think what you want about Islam but what are you proving by lowering yourself to insult it? Further, why are you handing a match to someone who wants to start a fire? Because you can? That's not particularly rational. It is, however, arguably irresponsible.

The war on terror, as with the war on all real and serious wrongs in this world, is difficult enough without fanning the flames ourselves. Charlie Hebdo? The Texas cartoonists? You're out of line morally even if within the lines legally, however necessary that legal right might be.

At times we wonder who the real jerks are in this land.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Atheism and Goodness

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God...promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all. - John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

But can a person who does not acknowledge that he is accountable to a truth higher than the self, external to the self, really be trusted? - Richard John Neuhaus, Can Atheists Be Good Citizens?

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is often quoted as saying, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Similarly, the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre has allegedly opined that "If there is no God, the only honest response is despair." We will allow those continental notables a bit of slack, as the exact sources of those quotes are difficult to pin down. Still, despite anything else they certainly convey ideas about atheism which an honest atheist should find hard to dispute.

If there is no God, everything is permitted. Sartre taught that with no God then each individual is god. With that as a philosophic basis then everything certainly is permissible. The individual would have no need to consider other persons' rights. There would be nothing to measure them against if life, the universe, and everything were his domain.

Atheists will argue that this isn't true. An atheist can care, indeed most do care, about others, about right and wrong, about being responsible for themselves. Yet if what Sartre and Dostoevsky say is true, and we must insist that in terms of philosophic reason it is (they are after all statements which assert that if A is true then B is true as well almost axiomatically) then the responsible atheist is being good only because he either isn't a real atheist or is, at the least, simply choosing to live better than his ideals require.

Why should it be any other way? An atheist after all believes (he must believe this as, again, a logical extension of his nonbelief) that we are accidents of the universe who came into being quite out of our control and will leave existence behind in a like manner. Where can you infer responsibility from that? You surely can't find dignity in it either.

We should point out that we aren't talking about what many if not most atheists say atheism is but about where atheism, if true, must lead whether those folks accept such conclusions or not. The undisputed fact that most atheists lead relatively good lives doesn't prove that atheism is true any more than a cold blooded murder by an avowed Christian would disprove Christianity. While it is generally good advice to question practitioners of given creeds when you want to find out what they believe, this cannot mean that they are automatically right about it. Who sees best the entire play developing: the pulling guard or the fan at the 50 yard line?

If atheism is true then the atheists who pay their bills on time, respect others, and plan for the future do so either because they're better than their premise allows or are just selfish about their comfort. There really are no other explanations for the 'good' atheist.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vote NO on Proposal 1

Today gives us a rare May election in Michigan. While school bond proposals are up for a vote in many communities, the main reason for today's balloting is Proposal 1, a statewide initiative which would raise the sales tax and generate nearly two billion dollars. Most but not all of the money would go for roads, and the passage of the proposal would ignite a flurry of legislation in support of the bill.

Whatever. True, Michigan roads need work. But where the money needed to fix them comes from is something the state legislature should decide for itself. That's what it exists for, and that's why we elected legislators: to prioritize state spending according to importance.

That a Republican legislature could not find the power and political will to do that is galling. That it would shift its responsibility to the voters under the guise of democracy is merely insulting. And as it seems quite likely that the measure will fail it looks as though the state GOP will have to come up with an alternate roads plan anyway. Its looking like the whole election will become only a delaying tactic and that Lansing will have to come to grips with the issue all on its lonesome after all.

We support state maintenance of roads on the grounds that good roads are in the general interest. But to ask the public for more money simply to do what a spineless legislature has no apparent interest in doing does not live up to that responsibility. It's just shifting, or, better, trying to shift, the blame for road conditions onto someone else. As a judge might send a hung jury back for greater deliberations, so too Michigan voters ought to send the roads question back to their lawmakers for resolution. Vote NO on Proposal 1.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Unconditional Love not Virtuous

We are often told that we are expected to love others unconditionally. Understood properly, it is a good and charitable approach to our relationships with God and man. But what does it really mean? How are we expected to use such a doctrine in our daily lives?

For starters, it surely means that we are to love everyone without reservation. We are called to love everyone as though they were ourselves, to paraphrase a great moral teacher. It is a difficult ideal; loving our enemies is not easy, and sometimes loving our friends and family is a challenge that can be much harder. Still, we are expected to overcome this obstacle, and find a way to open our hearts to all.

But there is a great misunderstanding about unconditional love, an error in its application which is at least arguably worse than failing to love generally everyone around us. Many people believe that unconditional love means loving others up to and including their faults. We are, according to this, meant to love others including their faults, and indeed often embracing them.

This cannot be a good and true interpretation of the standard. It cannot be a useful approach towards dealing with others. We can accept that we must love racists and sexists and criminals; but to love their faults? This is insanity on its face. Do we not want to see people become better people? Do we not want to see our children grow into mature adults? Then we should be instructing and cajoling and beseeching those around us, as they should towards us, to do better than they do, and to be better than they are, no matter how they may happen to feel about this or that issue they find themselves battling.

When our children become drug addicts or alcoholics, we do what we can to change them. When our neighbors rob and injure others, we enforce laws to stop them. We can and should still love them, but that does not mean we are obliged to tolerate their errant thoughts and actions.

It is more correct to say that unconditional love calls us to love those around us despite their faults. Because real love does not embrace error. It understands it as a part of us which ought to be altered, and wants to see us move away from the lesser aspects of our being and into better men, women, and children. If it does not want that, it is not love. It is then something which facilitates bad behavior; it is in fact a cancer of character.