Saturday, March 13, 2004

The Passion
I just got back from seeing The Passion. It was an excellent movie. Brutal and sad, but well-made. It certainly succeeded in making me sympathize with Jesus. I found myself getting jittery - twitching my leg up and down, biting my nails - in anticipation of the suffering I knew was coming. It wasn't the most violent movie I've seen. Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down were worse, but the violence in this film is much more personal, which makes it harder to watch. The scourging scene was the worst. I had to look away more than once. I could hear a lot of weeping going on in the theater during this part as well, more so than any other part of the film.

That being said, it wasn't as violent as I thought it would be. I've seen some reviews (like this one and that one) that led me to believe there would be more than there was. I didn't find the violence to be pornographic, as Andrew Sullivan does. The whole point of this film is to have the viewers understand how much suffering Jesus endured, and this it does. Now, one could argue that this should not be the point of the film, but it wouldn't be The Passion then, would it?

The film was definitely targeted at Christians. If you came to see it now knowing the story, you'd leave wondering why everyone was so mean to the poor guy. The story provides, through flashbacks, the barest minimum of context. The best flashback was the one Mary has as she sees Jesus stumble while carrying the cross. She recalls seeing Jesus stumble as a child and runs to his aid. It was a moving scene.

My only real problem with the film was Satan. They could have left that devil-thing completely out of the picture. And what was up with that devilish mini-me?

So, bottom line, it was good but too hard to watch for me to want to see it again.

TANGENT: I saw one couple bring in their one-year-old and another bring a five-year-old to this film. It may be a story about their Savior, but it still doesn't mean it's for kids. The poor kids had to have been traumatized by what they were seeing. What parent would do such a thing?
From Where Are Your Rights Derived?
A question comes to mind David, on your post earlier today...

Could you elucidate for me: from where are your rights (as in the right to your life, your liberty and the fruits of your labor) derived?
Oh well...
Better luck next time. My honest-to-goodness attention-free cruise control will have to wait.
Speaking of liturgy...
Joe, you want to know what my favorite liturgy is? I always enjoyed the music from the evening service that they would use during Lent. Beautiful.

I love "Earth and All Stars" too. Great hymn.
Government, God and Force
Rodney, some quick points:

The Founders understandably had a deep distrust of government, yet they still formed one. There was no alternative.

Yes, I agree with Bastiat, who was echoed by Ayn Rand (who gave me my first exposure to the idea), that government is, or should be, what you call " the collective organization of the individual's 'right of self defense.'" It's purpose is to protect us, both from foreign invasion and from each other. It should otherwise let us live our lives as we choose.

You ask if I can agree that the ego is evil, but I'm not confident that I know what you mean by it. If ego is "the very idea of separation between you and God", as you say, then I don't have a problem with it because I don't believe in God. Merriam-Webster defines ego as "the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world" and also "the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality". So by the first definition, the ego is the self, and I've already said there's nothing inherently evil about being a person. By the other definition, ego is used by the self to perceive reality. It seems to me that without ego, you'd be oblivious to the world around you. Seems necessary to me.

And yes, I agree that the best government is that which governs least. But it still governs.

I like this back and forth. It's forcing me - scratch that - encouraging me to refine my thoughts.
It Begins
On The Corner yesterday, Jonah Goldberg linked to some schmuck who points the finger at Spain for the attacks. Seems Spain brought it on itself.

Two questions: Frist, does this remind anyone of the old canard about rape victims, the one that goes, "Well, she was dressed like a tramp, so she brought it on herself?" You'd think liberals would know better than to use that kind of blame the victim argument. Of course, I should know better than to expect that kind of consistency.

Second, has the EU said anything about this, yet? I know the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the ETA (that'll show 'em), but I haven't heard anything from the blob of bureaucratic bloat in Belguim (sorry about the alliteration). Please correct me if I'm wrong. I've tried Google, and have found nothing definitive.

I found a press release at the EU's website. Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, went to Madrid Thursday to participate in the demonstrations against the attacks, as well as "to express the determination of all Europeans to reject and fight terrorism." Woo. Terrorists the world over are shaking, now.

That's all I've found.

Update: Here is a post saying that Solana is going to appoint a "Mr. Terrorism" (his term). His emphasis on cooperation and information sharing, not on action and stopping terrorists, is disappointing, even if expected.

More news from the EU Business website. Check it out here, here and here. Moments of silence, moving up terrorism on the agenda at the next EU conference, that's daring stuff.
Fascist Jackboot
That's apparently what I am. I scored a grand total of 5 on the quiz that Rodney links to below. Of course, reading the quiz writer's explanations of the questions shows me that my score isn't a five. It's either higher or lower, depending on how I choose to react. For example, one of the statements reads, "We have a moral obligation to obey the laws." Well, in general, yes. I believe in the rule of law, that we should be a society of laws, not men, as the old civics lesson goes. The "correct" answer was false, because sometimes laws tell you to do evil things. His example of the "just following orders" mentality is summed up by Nuremburg.

But, this question is an example of the weakness of using some yes/no questions in this context. I believe people should follow the law, but I also don't believe in blind obedience. There was no, "Yes, unless..." or "No, but..." option available. What can I say? This is the reason why true/false questions should be limited to narrow statements of fact, like "Some bats eat bugs."

In any case, this makes me a "state-worshipping autoritarian." Good to know. I wonder what the liturgy's like.
Government, God and Anarchy - What a Combination!
It was attributed to the first President of our country in 1797 to have written, "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant -- and a fearful master." Now certainly George Washington understood more than me the nature of government and the lure of power. It is a fact in human history that no human government has been used purely for good. The overwhelming evidence of history, especially in the twentieth century, attests to governments slaughtering untold millions of innocent people. There has to be a reason why governments tend to corrupt even "well doers" who set out to do good.

Perhaps I haven't made myself clear, but what I've been trying to elucidate is that at its core the idea of government is rotten. I see it as the proverbial "deal with the devil." I think that the founders of our country understood this. The people of their era were very frightened of government. They believed it was, indeed as Washington wrote, "like fire," which could consume and grow beyond control, taking forms which were not originally intended. Contrast this with modern day Americans, who tend to believe that government is their friend, can be trusted and provide for their every need. This is a corruption in thought, for government cannot provide, without first taking from one group and giving to another. Therein lies the corruption; government used in this way defeats its own just purpose, which is to prevent injustice.

I suppose that for me, "force" used against another being is inherently evil. It has its roots in ego, which is the very idea of separation from each other and from God. Perhaps you'll agree that the only justified use of force is to provide for the defense of your person, your family or your property. Frederick Bastiat argued that a just government was the collective organization of the individual's "right of self defense." But if you agree with this justified use of force, then you are also implicitly accepting a fundamental idea, and you are doing it without even realizing it. What is this idea?

The idea, my friend, is that you are merely a body and that your existence ends at that. This false idea is the deception of the ego, which maintains its existence by our own belief in the idea itself. It is a false concept, borne of error. The ego, as I've already written, is the very idea of separation between you and God, and consequently between you and everyone else. Perhaps you can agree that the ego might represent the idea of "being better than God."

I admit that what I've previously written on March 11th was an over-generalization. I used the words "man" and "ego" interchangeably. You correctly pointed out that man is not necessarily evil. Can you say the same for "ego"? Can you say that what the ego represents is not evil?

I used the word evil, but I could have very well used the word false. If the word "evil" gives you the "heebie-jeebies," then substitute the word false. Can you say that what the ego represents is not evil?

At this point, you might ask, but what does this have to do with the practicalities of living on this world? You've already noted that anarchy (no ruler or no government) would not work because those who didn't hold to these ideals would be taking advantage of those who did. You know, I think that I agree with you. Modern day society on earth cannot exist peacefully in a state of anarchy.

Now please understand. My idea of anarchy is not to be equated with "fighting in the streets." The word derives its root from anarch, which literally means "no ruler." In my mind, anarch would imply that no force is being used by anyone. Indeed, there would be "no ruler" at all. No one person would be subjecting their will upon another. No group would be subjecting their will on anyone else. No government - the collective use of the individual's right to self defense - would be in place. This does not mean, however, that there is no law. What it does mean is that there is no human law.

The state of anarchy is the expression of perfection in the human mind. It is the opposite of chaos. The mind is not in conflict because it has recognized itself in our fellow man. Of course, what I've written here transcends the world and man. A state of anarchy would necessarily require the abandonment of ego in everyone. Indeed, I believe I can truly say that perhaps the state of Heaven exists in anarchy. Whoa! you say? Yes, I mean what I've written. Even God cannot rule his Son without betraying his own nature.

I guess that I should wind this up, hmmm? It might seem that this discussion about God and transcendence is not relevant when discussing government. But I say that it is. You see, the degree of human government is directly proportional to the strength of the ego in each of us. Thus, as the desire to rule or control one's fellow man is lessened, so will come with it a lessening of governmental control and power. The opposite is also true.

True anarchy and ego cannot coexist. So in the world - where ego reigns - the best alternative is a government "which governs least." I would hope that on this point you can agree.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Evil is as evil does
So much for being medium-core. This other quiz doesn't mess around - it leaps from border-line libertarian to authoritarian in one category. If it truly gauges one's beliefs across the full political spectrum, it sure skips a lot of ground.

As for government being inherently evil, this rests on the premise that all people are inherently evil. Now I know I'm going to get picky here, but although I would agree that some people are certainly evil, not all people are. Human, fallible, occasionally irritating - yes, but evil? I don't look at my wife and children - or just about everyone else - and think "evil".

Besides, if all people are inherently evil, then anarchy definitely wouldn't work. My primary concern with a stateless society is that the few truly evil people would band together and dominate everyone else. If everyone is evil, then it would be worse, not better. Everyone would be fighting everybody.

For the record, I believe the vast majority of people are good and try to do the right thing. They support their friends and family, work hard and act decent, not because the state would punish them otherwise, but because it's moral to do so. The state exists - or should exist - to protect us and to settle disputes between otherwise well-meaning parties. In this minimal role, government serves a good purpose.

Now, one could make the argument that our current government is evil. I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but I'm willing to entertain the thought. But I cannot accept that all government of any form is evil, just as I cannot accept that all people are evil.
The horror!
Actual headline in my local paper: "'Good things' lacking in Stewart's potential prison: Homemaker faces bare walls, low thread counts". Slow news day?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Anarchy Quiz
You know Bryan Caplan's so called "libertarian purity test", as it is so billed, actually gauges one's ideology from pure authoritarianism to pure anarchism. The libertarian position lies somewhere in between. Libertarians after all do accept a "legitimate" government (provides a system to resolve disputes, provides "rule of law", provides for the protection of lives and property). I wonder if the Caplan test is actually meant to frighten would be libertarians back into the Republican party. (Hey, it could happen; look at Joe!).

Since my score tended to the extreme, I decided to test my theory by taking another quiz. I scored a big fat zero (which I suppose makes me an anarchist according to its definition). By the way, I too feel that "vigilante justice" is not morally acceptable. I guess this makes me a pacifistic-anarchist if there is such a thing.

To rebut your assertion David, that government is not inherently evil, I would like to add: government is a product of man (or more correctly ego). Man (ego) is inherently evil (if this were not the case, then there would be no need for government). Therefore, government is inherently evil.
More on the attack in Spain
This makes me feel confident about the EU's response:
The lesson in all this, as Tony Blair warned last week, is that we have rarely been in such mortal danger from terrorist acts. Our response cannot be to temporise, because those who wish us ill will accept nothing except our submission, intellectually and politically. That does not mean that we should give up our democratic norms or rule of law. But it does mean that life is no longer normal, and that may last for the duration of the present emergency. As Mr Blair put it, Britain cannot afford to "err on the side of caution" in the fight against terrorism.
This is cool
Check out this contest for the best self-navigating robot. Sure the military is salivating over it, but I see the real benefit: honest-to-goodness attention-free cruise control.
Al-Qaeda Hits Spain
Reports coming out of Spain say that Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the horrendous attack on its commuter rail system this morning (read about it here).

My heartfelt sympathies go out to the people of Spain and to the families and victims of this attack.

Commentators have said that this is the biggest terrorist attack on Spanish soil in its history. A question, then. I'm not too familiar with the history of the European Union as a body. I know a little about its current bureaucratic arrogance, but not much about its rocky, formative years.

That being said, does today's attack qualify as the biggest attack for the EU? If so, how will they handle it? The U.S. responded to 9/11 with resolve and strength, and reminded the world that we'll take anti-American vitriol for only so long.

Will the EU respond in a fashion that shows its resolve, or will they engage in endless hand-wringing about "why do they hate us?"
Silly Adult, Voting's for Kids
I understand that voters don't actually have a keen understanding of the issues, etc., when making voting decisions -- most Congressmen don't have any level of understanding (witness the reaction to McCain-Feingold).

However, there is a certain presumption that being allowed to vote means that you are, at the very least, capable of reaching informed, well-reasoned conclusions, even if you choose not to do so.

It's interesting that the legislation promoted in California gives 14 year olds only a one-quarter vote, and 16 year olds a one-half vote. Shouldn't some liberal, Florida non-scandal holdover be screaming about the disenfrachisement of today's youth?
Adults vote like children anyway, so why not?
Joe, I was listening to Doug Stephan's Good Day program on the way to work this morning, and his position seemed to be along these lines: Most adults vote like children. They don't bother learning the issues and where the candidates stand - instead they pick the best-looking one, or the best-sounding one, or the one that will give them the most goodies. This is a juvenile way of selecting a candidate, so why not extend voting to juveniles?
Unintended Consequence
Most of you have probably heard about the legislative attempt in California to reduce the voting age to 14 (if not, read about it here).

Now, if a 14 year old has the intelligence and moral clarity that one presumes a voter should have, does this mean that they have the requisite moral standing to understand the gravity of their actions, that they have an adult's understanding of right and wrong? I mean, if you're capable of voting, obviously you have to be able to weigh the long-term advantages of complex social issues, and evaluate the moral nature of public policy. If that's the case, it should be easy to know that hiding in a car, sniping at random strangers is a bad, bad thing.

So, if California extends voting rights to children, can Virginia execute Lee Boyd Malvo?
Puzzle of the Day
Warren Buffet is, by all accounts, an icon for all deep-value investors. Berkshire Hathaway continues to be an amazing company in which to invest (stock value currently at $92,800 per share; that's not a typo). He's a genius. However, his recent letter to shareholders attacks the Bush tax cuts, saying, "If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning." He's also on record deriding the elimination of estate taxes.

Look, as well, at George Soros. The man revolutionized currency trades, and deserves his billions. But he's a loon when it comes to politics. A Holocaust survivor (and should therefore know better), he feels justified in likening the Bush presidency to Nazism. Soros donated a lot of money to and openly supported Howard Dean, and made headlines a few years ago by openly attacking the sorts of trades that made him rich.

Now, here's the puzzle. Here are two men who made billions in the market, using their own brains, intuition and hard work to put themselves among the wealthiest men in the world. How can they be so oblivious to the factors (free markets, unobtrusive government, low taxes) that made their fortunes possible?
C.S. Lewis to the rescue
Andrew Sullivan's Quote of the Day could be applied to the gay marriage issue, which I'm sure is Andrew's intent.
White House Sleep-Over
A night in the Lincoln bedroom was my goal, sure. Problem is the Clintons aren't in the White House anymore, so the Motel 6 light has been extinguished. Way to crush my dreams, 22nd Amendment.

I still have my autographed President and Mrs. Bush photo to keep my hopes alive, though.
Distinctions to be made
I agree, Rodney, that there's certainly too much envy and pride and other vices at play in government. Envy in particular (with a pinch or two of greed and sloth) is why we have the welfare state. But does that make all government inherently evil? I don't think so.

We will always have our vices, and these vices will play a roll in our interactions with others regardless of whether we have a government or not. Our government's purpose, at least originally, was to protect us - from foreign invasion and from each other. It would be a Good Thing (that's with a capital G and a T) to return to this form, to have a government who's sole purpose is to keep our lives, property and rights secure while we live our lives as we see fit.

This is not evil, it is just. Anarchy would be fine if everyone, every last person, behaved with perfect morality all the time, but that will never be the case. That libertarian quiz we all took gave you points if you agreed that vigilante justice is acceptable, which, to me, is a lynch-mob style of justice - no due process, no presumption of innocence, no order. How is that not evil?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

It's Nuts
Why is all government inherently evil? I have to respond to Peter Robinson (the Corner), who, after taking the Libertarian test, remarked, "It's nuts."

At its root, government is based on the collective worship of pride, envy, gluttony, anger, greed, & sloth. What's worse, the advocates of government utilize subterfuge to mask these underlying human failings with virtuous attributes: charity, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, hope and faith.

Here is an example: envy is masked by false "charity" when laws are written to take from the rich and give to the poor. Those familiar with true charity know that it requires voluntarism. There is no virtue in forced redistribution of wealth. In fact, welfare schemes are always based on envy.

Here is another example: pride is masked by false "prudence" when elected officials pass laws designed to regulate human behavior. Their justification? "We don't trust (you) to make the right decisions (with your freedom)." To that we individuals reply, "what do you know of my circumstances and character?" or "who appointed you God?". Like charity, morality cannot be forced. The enforcement of morality is always based on pride.

These are just two examples, but I affirm that the majority of modern day law has its roots in the "seven deadly sins." So Mr. Robinson, I would (and did) answer the question in the affirmative, but that doesn't make me "nuts." Incidentally, I just scored 140.
Joe, you just wanted to be invited to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom.
I, too, fail to be hard core.
I came in as medium core, as well. It would seem that my not being an anarcho-capitalist prevents me from being a true-blue libertarian.

Of course, as my brother has previously reported, my libertarian credentials are flagging, anyway. I re-registered to vote last month (love that motor-voter convenience), and changed my party affiliation to Republican.

Why not stay with the LP? Ostrich-like foreign policy, and a farcical paranoia over everything government. Do I believe in rampant interventionism and imperialistic expansionism? No, but I do believe in context, and sometimes you've got to take the fight to your enemies. Standing in the corner with your fingers in your ears, promising not to do anything to anyone ever doesn't make you safer. It encourages more poundings, because the people who don't like you will take your pacifism as weakness.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Fixing the federal budget
Andrew Sullivan links to an awesome piece titled "How to Get Federal Spending Under Control". It's long, but well worth reading. It even includes lists of specific programs that can be cut.
Life Imitates the Simpsons, sort of
Dear Abby is solving Marge's problems.

Monday, March 08, 2004

What goes around comes around
I supported the Supreme Court's decision in 2000 to allow the Boy Scouts to discriminate against gays. Any private group should get to choose its membership criteria, regardless of how discriminatory they may be [ed.- aren't all such criteria discriminatory by definition?]. But surely the Boy Scouts had to know that there would be consequences:
The Scouts asked the justices to hear a case from Connecticut, where officials moved to drop the group from a list of charities that receive donations through a state employee payroll deduction plan.

That's unconstitutional discrimination, the Boy Scouts argued.

"To exclude the Boy Scouts from a forum based on the values they hold and the conduct they require of their members is to exclude Boy Scouts based on viewpoint and identity," lawyers for the Scouts argued in their Supreme Court appeal.

The Scouts took in about $10,000 annually from the employee charity campaign, the filing said.
Actions have consequences. For the same reason I believe the Boy Scouts can exclude gays, I also believe a restaurant owner, say, can choose not to allow blacks into his restaurant. Of course, this bigoted owner better not come crying when people start boycotting his establishment. The same goes for the Boy Scouts. They can either understand this and deal with it, or they can change.
Libertarian utopia
Excellent post on the Libertarian Wonderland:
In any case, that seems like hardly enough evidence to bash libertarian utopianism as a genre. Sure, don't spend too much time arguing about the libertarian end-state. Spend more time trying to prove the virtues of specific reforms and establishing alliances with non-libertarian groups that agree on those issues. And make sure your utopianism is grounded in reality -- not necessarily in the sense of whether your proposal can realistically be enacted, but in the sense of whether your predictions of what the world will look like are realistic. (I've had arguments with libertarians who believe that the U.S. won't be attacked if it unilaterally disarms, and that there won't be any crime in the ideal libertarian state. Now this is wishing for a pony.)
It's easy to begin talk of the ideal state with "In a perfect world...", but this isn't a perfect world. Utopia is fun to discuss, but by definition it cannot exist. The work comes in getting as close to it as you can while staying rooted in reality.
So much progress
See what happens when you treat terrorism like common crime:
Once upon a time state-supported terrorism was seen as a criminal problem, not war, requiring yellow police tape, not GPS bombs. Afghanistan was turned into an anti-American terrorist base. Saddam Hussein required never-ending patrols to "box" him in. Osama bin Laden was too "hot" to be apprehended when offered up by potential captors. Pakistan and North Korea went nuclear — the greatest failure of many of the Clinton administration. Iran and Libya bought arsenals with impunity. Yasser Arafat systematically destroyed twenty years of economic progress on the West Bank and violated every accord he signed. Anti-Americanism grew in Europe without rejoinder or consequences. Saudi Arabia expected protection while our own female soldiers on patrol there hid their faces and arms — and promised not to drive. Terrorist funds flowed freely throughout the globe, as anti-Semitism and Islamicist-inspired hatred of Israel became the new pillar of trendy left-wing thought. All that has at least been recognized, checked, and is well on the way to being stopped.
John Kerry is on record as saying the fight against terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation". In other words, he wants to return to the way things were when terrorism was at its peak. Scares me to death.

UPDATE: More on the consequences of treating terrorism like a crime:
Bush, who was traveling to Dallas for a fund-raiser Monday, planned to call attention to a 1995 bill that Kerry sponsored to trim intelligence spending by $1.5 billion over five years. The cut was part of what Kerry called a "budget-buster bill" to strip $90 billion from the budget and end 40 programs that he said were "pointless, wasteful, antiquated or just plain silly."
You see, if you thought the original World Trade Center bombing was a criminal matter, than of course you wouldn't mind cutting funding for intelligence. What would they have to do with each other? Surely the local police don't need the CIA. Bah!
I'm medium-core, man!
A few people on The Corner have taken a libertarian test, on which I scored a 74, which means: "You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much." I don't see a way to get a higher score without agreeing that there shouldn't be government at all. Sorry, I do think government serves a purpose, only the scope of that purpose should be much smaller than it currently is.