Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Israel-Palestine Issues

Obama comes out and says a peace between the two must involve Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders. PM Netanyahu meets with Obama and in the ending part shown on TV, he seems to lecture Obama, as Obama sits stone-faced staring at him. I thought it was an extraordinarily clear and precise explanation of the problems the old borders posed for Israel. However, others say he was being rude to the president by appearing to lecture him.

I say, if your ideas are so simple-minded as to be of first-grade caliber, then you deserve to be lectured like a first-grader. Netanyahu clearly explained why Israel can never go back to the pre-1967 borders, because at one point the country would be only 9 miles wide! I looked on a map and see what he was talking about. These borders would clearly be indefensible, as Netanyahu states.

It should be noted that giving back the West Bank is a wholly different proposition than giving back the Sinai. If you look at a map the difference is obvious. Giving up the Sinai did not compromise Israel's borders; in fact, it in essence gave Israel a nice buffer zone between itself and Egypt proper. However, having an indefensible border with Palestine would be unthinkable. It is the Palestinaians who refused to accept the partition in 1948 and vowed to "drive the Jews into the sea". Their actions since then have been in keeping with this solemn vow they made years ago.

Some may argue that it is not proper to assess "collective responsibility" to the Palestinians, a phrase I first heard from a Bethel professor years ago. After giving this considerable thought, I say it *is* proper to assign such responsibility. After all, these people revere the suicide bombers as martyrs, take care of their families, and put their pictures up in the town square as heroes. Their twisted concept of "family honor" requires that each family have a "martyr" in the family to maintain the family honor. It is sick, sick, sick, and those who ignore this do so at their peril.

And don't even get me started on this idiotic "right of return" the Palestinians keep whining about. Most people are sensible and mature enough to go with life instead of living in the past, as Mennonites have done over the centuries when driven from one land to another. And, come to think of it, as the Jews themselves have had to do over the years. Get over it and get a life already!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Hall of Shame

I hope to collect in this thread examples of hypocrites or other moral failings or character flaws on the part of famous people. Just to clarify, I am not talking about failings or flaws by themselves, because we all have those. I am looking for flaws or failings *coupled* with gross hypocrisy and/or lame excuses. (Thus, Arnold does not qualify, because he has taken full responsibility for his actions and makes no excuses.)

I first nominate Newt Gingrich, who espouses "family values" but has been married three times, and once demanded that his first wife sign divorce papers while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. To make it worse, he recently blamed his personal failings in the women area on caring too much about his country!

After he announced for the Presidency and appeared on Meet the Press, a firestorm of protest erupted because he dared to criticize Paul Ryan's budget plan. The hypocrite Newt blamed David Gregory, who is as middle-of-the-road with his questions as a journalist could ever get. He further said that any candidate who uses his own words against him in an ad will be "guilty of a falsehood"!

Newt was also asked about a $500,000 bill he had run up at Tiffany's. He refused to answer, as if we the voters are not entitled to know what kind of person we are being asked to vote for. Here is Newt, passing himself off as a fiscal conservative, who cannot keep his own spending under control and buys luxury items he cannot afford. Boooo.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Political Correctness Run Amok

LeBron James got in trouble for saying under his breath "that's retarded" to his teammate who had been asked a stupid question. The headline said he was in trouble, and my first thought was that he was in trouble for bad-mouthing the reporter. Then upon reading the story, I find out that he is in trouble for supposedly insulting retarded people (oops, I mean "mentally challenged").

I hope in this thread to collect examples of similarly ridiculous examples of p.c. run amok.

Immigration Policy

CNN had a story yesterday on the new Georgia law, apparently styled after the infamous Arizona law. The anchor interviewed a representative of the Georgia restaurant association, who said restaurants were unable to find people to work as dishwashers without hiring illegals. She refused to back off even under the hostile questioning of the skeptical anchor.

The governor used the same rhetoric about people breaking the law. You know the routine, about how we all have to follow rules. But here is what occurs to me. The parenting class I took stressed that kids do not obey a rule simply because you make one. They immediately break it to see what will happen, because that is how they find out if it is really a rule or not. If consequences get consistently imposed for breaking it, then it is a rule.

But with immigration, consequences do not get regularly or consistently applied, so it is not really a rule. If we protected our borders properly, then we could stem the immigration tide. But we are too busy policing the world to police our own borders.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Impressions of Grand Rapids

1. Gerald Ford Museum. Nice chronological account of Ford's life. The Hayes museum wasn't so chronologically ordered, IIRC.

2. Big river flowing right past downtown, just like in Wichita and Portland. Ford museum is right on the river, and along the river are bike paths and boardwalks.

3. Decaying downtown. Some new, mod-looking buildings downtown, but the overall impression is one of extreme decay.

4. Memorials honoring the war dead dominate the courthouse area. Every war dead is mentioned by name, like in the Vietnam Wall, and there is a special memorial park for civil war dead, including detailed biographies of significant civil war figures from the area. Seems odd that people in the north were so enthusiastic to support Lincoln's war on the south. Also is curious that, while in the north the civil war is celebrated, southern states get chastised whenever they try to memorialize their civil war heritage. Just yesterday there was an article in USA Today about states being prevented from using the confederate flag on license plates or elsewhere.

5. Very little parking. I had to pay a quarter per 15 minutes downtown, and a dollar per half-hour to visit the Ford Museum. To the extent this reflects an emphasis on other than private motorized transportation, I suppose it's a good thing. But a bad thing for the out-of-town visitor trying to get around in a car.

6. History of furniture manufacturing. One figure I saw said that at one time there were 70 furniture manufacturing companies here! A little park by the river described the strike in 1911 in which workers all struck. It was resolved peacefully when strike money from national unions ran out and the strikers returned to work, but the owners took the lesson to heart and raised wages, and the voters took the lessons to heart and elected more progressive leaders.

7. Calvin College. A huge private college, Christian Reformed, and plaque describes how this denomination was formed in Michigan by Dutch immigrants in 1857. Nice nature preserve on the huge campus. Great library hours, 7:30 A.M. to 2 P.M.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Was Slavery the Cause of the Civil War?

Controversy has been brewing on this issue on the editorial pages of The Lima News. It started a month ago when we had two columns on the same day, commemorating the upcoming 150th anniversary of the war's start. The columns were long and will not be reproduced here, as the titles tell the story. Leonard Pitts had the column "Civil War was about slavery, nothing more", while Tom Lucente's column was "Power the cause of American Civil War".

My response, published only in part because of its length, was:

"I am writing on the 150th anniversary of the American Civil war. This is not an event to be celebrated, but it certainly should be remembered and learned from, and in that vein I was glad to see two columns on this topic in Sunday's Lima News. One of those columns accurately described the issues causing the war, while the other was abysmally inaccurate and needs to be corrected.

Leonard Pitts ascribes the causes of the Civil War to slavery, which is totally false. Lincoln made this quite clear in his first inaugural address, saying: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Then in July, when he submitted his message to Congress in support of his request for appropriations to fund the war, he never mentioned slavery at all!

Rather than being about slavery, Lincoln's war on the southern states was fueled by his belief that they had no right to secede, and that it was therefore his duty to keep the union intact. Lincoln repeatedly characterized the secession movement as a "rebellion", his purpose being to cast Southerners as traitors. How an action designed to peacefully separate yourself from a partnership is a "rebellion" is a bit of over-the-top sophistry which Lincoln could never justify.

Lincoln never did offer any decent legal analysis to support his view that secession was illegal, an amazing fact in light of his supposed competence as a lawyer. Study of the Constitution reveals that it says nothing one way or the other on the issue of whether a state has a right to secede. However, when read as a whole, it is obvious the intent of the founders was to delegate only certain limited powers to the federal government, with all other powers reserved to the states and/or the people. By implication, therefore, Lincoln was wrong in his view. Why people in the North blindly followed him, instead of challenging him on this, is hard to fathom.

The extreme irony here is that our country was founded by an act of secession. Further, during the Civil War the western counties of Virginia were allowed to secede from that state and form their own separate state.

In his Sunday column, Thomas Lucente correctly described the cause of the Civil War as being a dispute over the distribution of power in our federalist system. It is regrettable that American history books do not analyze the Civil War properly; however, what is really inexplicable is the fact that historians, who should know better, continue to rank Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents. If more people like Mr. Lucente speak out, perhaps a more accurate evaluation will eventually be made. "

Then this guest clumn from one Bob Brenneman"

"As I enter the final months of my 35 years spent teaching social studies at St. Marys Memorial High School, I found the opposing April 10 viewpoints of columnists Leonard Pitts Jr. and Thomas J. Lucente Jr. concerning the origins of the American Civil War quite interesting.

While I do not teach the Civil War, I did some checking to see which arguments had the most validity. In an age where people deny the Holocaust and the state board of education in Texas voted to remove the term “slave trade” from all its textbooks last year, it is important to know what actually happened before we begin to give our interpretations.

After a little checking, I would give Pitts an A and Lucente an F in terms of historical accuracy.

In Pitts' column (“Civil War was about slavery”), nothing more, he refers to the Declaration of Causes of Secession of the state of South Carolina. As each state seceded, it drew up a statement explaining why it was leaving the union. These make for some very interesting reading and would provide anyone honestly seeking the causes of the Civil War the best primary source available. I would suggest Lucente consult them before he pretends to speak on behalf of the seceding Southerners again (“Power the cause of American Civil War”).

Here is what they actually said when they spoke for themselves. Mississippi began its articles with the following paragraph:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching consummation. There was no choice left us by submission to the mandates of abolition, or dissolution of the union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

Texas strikes a similar chord referring to the North having developed “an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irresponsive of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

If one reads these any of these articles with an open mind, it is difficult to find anything that does not directly or indirectly point to slavery as the reason for secession. No Southern state in 1861 was the least bit apologetic about fighting a war to maintain slavery. The way to deal with this fact is not to pretend that it does not exist.

Pitts speaks wisely when he encourages us to “listen to the hard things the past has to say-and learn from them."

Then a letter from one Drew Cady:

"Jerry Weaver said in a recent letter that columnist Thomas J. Lucente Jr. was right describing the cause of the Civil War as being a dispute over the distribution of power in our federalist system, and Leonard Pitts Jr. was wrong to ascribe the causes to slavery.

Weaver cited Abraham Lincoln's words and actions to preserve the union and not directly attempt to end slavery at the beginning of his presidency as proof. Weaver further said historians who rank Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents should know better.

I believe Lincoln's choice of words, actions and timing were what led our nation toward reunification and the end of legalized slavery in the U.S. For this alone, he deserves to be recognized as one of our greatest presidents.

As for slavery, I would suggest readers access the “Declaration of Causes of Secession” given by the leaders of the Southern states. A reading of these justifies both Lucente and Pitts in their statements regarding the causes of the Civil War."

My response to the column, submitted yesterday:

"Guest columnist Brice Brenneman recently wrote that slavery was indeed the cause of the Civil War. However, all he establishes is that slavery was the cause of the secession of the southern states, a proposition which is not in question.

The issue being discussed is not the cause for secession, but rather the cause of the Civil War. This cause was clearly Lincoln's decision to make war on the southern states, rather than allow them to go in peace.
Almost immediately after taking office, Lincoln faced the crucial decision of whether to re-provision Fort Sumter. He chose to do so, against the almost unanimous advice of his Cabinet members, and knowing it would most likely lead to war. His reasons for going to war are well-documented, and did not involve slavery. Rather, he went to war because he was convinced that the south had no right to secede, and had to be stopped at all costs. As we know, the cost was horrendous, including 620,000 Americans killed."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Changing of the Seasons

We had an extra cold and snowy winter, followed by one of the rainiest Aprils on record. As a result, blossoms were quite late in getting here. Only now are trees beginning to get leaves in any great number. We have had magnolia blossoms for a couple of weeks, pretty pale purple blossoms. And pear blossoms have been around for most of this time also, nice white blossoms with the five petals.

But we are still waiting for real spring weather. It has been rainy almost every day, and no really bright sunny days have come yet. Once the sun comes out for a few days, things should really start to grow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Problem of Violence

I am going to present an exchange of letters between myself and two right-wing nuts in northwestern Ohio. The appeared in recent months in The Bluffton News.

The letters deal with the problem of violence on a personal level, but as I pondered this issue it struck me that the problem of violence is essentially the same on a national and international level as it is on a personal level. This therefore ties together several issues I have been interested in in recent times.

Relevant here is the groundbreaking research done by Robert Axelrod on the problem of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Axelrod set up a simple game illustrating the Prisoner's Dilemma paradox, and invited people to submit computer programs to play it on an iterated basis. He got many varied programs submitted, but when the tournament was over the clear winner was a very simple program, called "Tit for Tat", which offered cooperation the first time, and then every time after that it did whatever the other player had done the round before (i.e., either cooperate or defect).

This is much like our interactions in real life; when we meet someone, or encounter any sort of new situation, we initially offer cooperation, assuming the other will cooperate also. If he or she "defects" instead, then we modify our own behavior accordingly. The whole Cold War came about because the Truman administration failed to offer cooperation initially to the Soviet Union. Instead, it "defected", by assuming the worst and proceeding accordingly. Information that has become available more recently has verified that the Truman assumptions were wrong, in that the goals of the Soviet Union were political and not military. This makes sense when you consider how horribly the two world wars impacted Russia. The last thing they wanted was another war. But once the US defected the Soviets felt they had to follow suit and we had the horrible arms race. Both sides would have been better off spending all that money on making a better life for its people, but it went the other way. Axelrod's book "The Evolution of Cooperation" explores the issues involved with cooperation in society, and his follow-up books elaborate on his original 1984 work.

With that introduction, here is the first letter, from someone calling himself "Pastor Bob Wood":

“No guns allowed,” is a sign you often see or a symbol you observe on the doors of various establishments. I wish people would stop to think about what this says to the individual who is about to use a weapon to commit a crime, to kill someone, or to terrorize a group of people..... This sign says this: “NOTICE TO THE CRIMINAL ELEMENTS OF OUR SOCIETY....This establishment wants you to know that it's safe for you to go ahead and commit your crime of passion. We're guaranteeing your safety by letting you know that all of the law-abiding citizens who have taken and passed a course and been certified as capable of responsibly owning and using a fire-arm, and then have been finger-printed, gone through a background check and been carefully scrutinized by our local sheriff and the F.B.I. …. all of these people have now left their firearm locked up at home or in their vehicle, and you don't have to worry about any retaliatory action on their part. Just go right ahead and kill, rob, or shoot. You're safe in our establishment. The worst thing you can expect is that some law-abiding citizen will use his cell phone to call 9-1-1, and you'll have plenty of time to escape.”

Now, if the above possible scenario makes you a bit ill, it really bothers me too. It disgusts me that the liberal element of our society begins to push for greater gun control laws almost before the crazed idiot in Tucson has been handcuffed and put in the police cruiser. I have just a couple of questions to ask: “Does anyone think that if hand-guns were outlawed and/or confiscated, that the criminal element would turn theirs in?” “Does anyone really believe that it would become impossible for the wrong people to obtain fire-arms if 'gun shows' and 'gun shops' were made illegal and shut down?” "Does anyone really think that the worst elements of our society would pay the least bit of attention to any gun control changes?" "Are we so naive that we think that tougher laws would really cut down on such "crimes of passion?" I remember seeing a large sign, years ago, that said, “When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns.” There is so much truth in that statement that a liberal can't even understand what it means. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has proposed to ban possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of the President, Vice President, Members of Congress or federal judges. Does anyone really think that a person intending to harm a government official would stop and say, “Well, you know, it's against the law to have a gun within 1,000 feet of this person. I'd better take my tape-measure with me, for I certainly wouldn't want to break the law while I'm attempting to assassinate this person.” If I sound a “bit” sarcastic, please forgive me. This is just how ridiculous most of these gun law proposals are. The Bill of Rights gives us the right to “keep and bear arms.” Please, let's not tamper with one of our most basic rights. Let's not put ourselves in the position of other countries who have been taken over by whatever dictators or political systems because the citizenry was unarmed. Let's treasure our 2nd Amendment rights. While I agree that there are places where guns should not be allowed (such as in the presence of high-ranking government officials, etc) I still understand that we can never guarantee that warped and/or crazed individuals won't try to harm others. Let's not throw away our rights and freedoms in a useless attempt to do the impossible."

My response:

A recent letter-writer spouted a bunch of right-wing rhetoric on the issue of gun control.

Unfortunately for the writer, his rhetoric does not stand up to careful analysis. The writer talks about the issue of personal safety, and also the advantage he supposes dictators have when the citizenry is unarmed. Let us examine these propositions in turn.

Regarding personal safety, I simply ask this question: would you feel safer in a room full of people if everybody was carrying a firearm, or if nobody was? I submit that the answer to this question is obvious.

Looking at it on a national level, I point to the following list of successful nonviolent revolutions which have occurred in my lifetime: 1947 Satyagraha movement in India, 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal, 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines, Singing Revolution in the late ‘80’s in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, 1990 Golaniad Revolution in Romania, 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and of course the recent nonviolent revolutions which toppled the governments of Tunisia and Egypt. Anyone examining what happened in these revolutions cannot help but conclude that guns and violence are not the key to political reform, as the writer intimates.

Rather than heaping scorn on those who seek to limit guns and violence in our society, we should be asking ourselves why the homicide rate in this country is several times higher than that of every other developed country in the world. I submit that part of the solution has to be ending our love affair with guns.

A response from Bob Amstutz:

I would like to offer some common sense advice to the “Letter to the Editor” sent to the Bluffton News, March 17, 2011. Mr. Weaver seems to think that the second Amendment the United States Constitution means nothing. The left wing progressives are implying that their ideas are sound and better than what our forefathers put in our great United States Constitution. They seem to think they know what is good for everybody else. If we would honor are Constitution we would not be in the trouble we are in today.

The answer to Mr. Weaver’s question is not obvious. His question was, “Would you feel safer in a room full of people if everyone was carrying a firearm, or if nobody was?” That is a terrible question. How would it be if you were in a room full of people and one nut case had a firearm? How would you know that no one else had a firearm? When you enter a public place that has a no firearm sign on the door, you can be almost sure there are no legal firearms. Most people that have been schooled on concealed weapons obey the law. That is why they went to the trouble of obtaining a permit. What you don’t know is that there could be any number of illegal weapons.

Mr. Weaver’s analysis does not stand up to common sense. The purpose of a concealed weapon permit is to prevent the problem. If the nut case knows that no one else has a weapon he has no fear. If he thinks one person may be carrying a concealed weapon he would not be so intent on causing harm. It is the person that is carrying a concealed firearm that has not been through the training, may be unbalanced, have a felony record, which would have restricted him or her from having the permit to carry. I would feel very safe in a room full of people with concealed weapons permits and each having a firearm. I would feel unsafe in a room with a nut concealing a firearm, but then, I would not know would I?

To answer Mr. Weaver’s so called non-violent revolutions abroad; this is one to think about. During the war years, the NRA magazine, The Rifleman, regularly included pleas for American sportsmen to "send a gun to defend a British home”. {American Rifleman, Nov. 1940} British civilians, faced with the threat of invasion, desperately need arms for the defense of their homes." Indeed, the New York Times carried the same solicitations. After two decades of gun control, British citizens now desperately needed rifles and pistols in their homes, and they received the gifts with great appreciation. Organized into the Home Guard, armed citizens were now ready to resist the expected Nazi onslaught.

Meanwhile Hitler unleashed killing squads called the Einsatzgruppen in Eastern Europe and Russia. As Raul Hilberg observes, "The killers were well armed . . . . The victims were unarmed."{Raul Hilberg, {The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Homes and Meir, 1985), 341, 318, 297}.The Einsatzgruppen executed two million people between fall 1939 and summer 1942. Their tasks included arrest of the politically unreliable, confiscation of weapons, and extermination. {Yitzhak Arad et al. eds., The Einsatzgruppen Reports (New York: Holocaust Library, 1989), ii.}

It is easy to look at our way of life in America because we do have our Constitution and we do not worry so much that our Government will take us over by anarchy. We will be safe from that as long as our Constitution is adhered to. The progressives, note I did not say democrats, in our country, are working hard to weaken the greatest country in the world by weakening the greatest Constitution. I apologize to no one for being an American.

I have one more observation; if a restrictive gun law would become law, it is naiv—Ď to think that everyone would register or turn in their weapons. A law like that would let the Mafia and others make millions of dollars by selling guns on the black market as they now do drugs and did booze during prohibition. Criminals will always find a way to steal or buy guns. Law abiding Americans would be defenseless and would not able to hunt or participate in other shooting sports.

And finally, my response:

I feel compelled to respond to the letter from Bob Amstutz in the March 24 issue. Mr. Amstutz presupposes a black-and-white world in which everyone is either law-abiding or a criminal. Unfortunately for his simplistic analysis, the world comes to us more often in shades of gray, not in black and white. Most of us are not entirely law-abiding or law-breaking, but rather we area combination of the two. And most of us are subject to getting angry, losing our temper and doing things which we regret later.

Is Mr. Amstutz proposing we all carry loaded firearms around with us every day of our lives because of the infinitesimal change that we will find ourselves in the same vicinity as some nut case who undertakes to shoot innocent victims? If so, this is a pretty pathetic way to live.

As to the idea advanced by the writer that those with concealed carry permits are law-abiding and not to be feared, I suggest that he look the families of Cameron Justus and William Stiltner in the eye and tell them that concealed carry permit holders are not dangerous. Mr. Justus and Mr. Stiltner are the two Virginia Sheriff’s Deputies who were killed in March of this year by a concealed carry permit holder. They are the 10th and 11th law enforcement officers killed since May of 2007 by concealed carry permit holders, and the total of police and civilians killed by concealed carry holders since then now stand at 194.

I agree with Mr. Amstutz that America is a great place. And I think we are at our greatest when we eschew violence and adhere to good, strong Christian values.