Thursday, October 31, 2013

David Berlinksi on the Old Testament

I would suggest to any student entering college now, 2011, to do what I'm sure he hasn't done: go read the Old Testament. That should be your first challenge today. I always ask my students "Well, have you (ever) read the, have you  read the Bible? Yea, Yea, I read the Bible, sure. But when I interrogate the student it turns up reading the Bible means they have a Bible on their book shelf. And I said, "have you opened it?""Yea, we've opened it,"  but opening it doesn't mean reading it.
The Old Testament is the greatest repository of human knowledge and wisdom in the history of civilization, any culture, any time, any place. And that really should be the first point of discussion because every attitude current today in the discussion from Richard Dawkins, to me, to Christopher Hitchens, to lonely pastors in the Bible Belt on Sunday morning ranting from a particular text is discussed in the Bible, and there's a characters in the Bible who expresses that point of view, there's sympathy expressed for that point of view, and there's reservations expressed by that sympathy. It's an enormously complex, rich dramatic piece of work. That's the first. 
David Berlinksi on Uncommon Knowledge

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Think Obamacare, Think Trabant

The Obamacare rollout, with the dysfunctional "" as the star of the show, reminds me of another service a government tried to roll out in competition with the private sector: transportation.

Specifically, the 1975 Trabant.

No, I was not around back then and definitely not in Germany (nor have I been east of the Atlantic Ocean), but everything I've read about Obamacare reminds me of Communism's answer to the Volkswagen Beetle.

The car has been on numerous "all time worst lists." It was also created under a communist regime.

Like free healthcare in socialist countries, you couldn't outright buy a Trabant. You had to apply for one and get put on a wait list:

For all its shortcomings, the Trabant 601 became highly sought-after in Eastern Europe, and buying one (prospective owners did not order their new Trabant; they applied for it) involved joining a waiting list that could last up to 18 years.
Not all things related to the Trabant are bad. But neither are all things related to Obamacare. The bad, as always, outweighed the good. The Trabant has symbolic value. So will Obamacare.

As Wikipedia puts it, "the Trabant is often cited as an example of the disadvantages of centralized planning; on the other hand, it is also regarded with derisive affection as a symbol of the failed former East Germany and of the fall of communism (in former West Germany, as many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany in their Trabants after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989). 

The open-source entry continues: "It was in production without any significant changes for nearly 30 years, with 3,096,099 Trabants produced in total."

Talk about a lack of innovation.

 Here is what a Time writer wrote about the Trabant in Time's 50 Worst Cars of All Time feature:

This is the car that gave Communism a bad name. Powered by a two-stroke pollution generator that maxed out at an ear-splitting 18 hp, the Trabant was a hollow lie of a car constructed of recycled worthlessness (actually, the body was made of a fiberglass-like Duroplast, reinforced with recycled fibers like cotton and wood). A virtual antique when it was designed in the 1950s, the Trabant was East Germany's answer to the VW Beetle — a "people's car," as if the people didn't have enough to worry about. Trabants smoked like an Iraqi oil fire, when they ran at all, and often lacked even the most basic of amenities, like brake lights or turn signals. But history has been kind to the Trabi. Thousands of East Germans drove their Trabants over the border when the Wall fell, which made it a kind of automotive liberator. Once across the border, the none-too-sentimental Ostdeutschlanders immediately abandoned their cars. Ich bin Junk!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Christopher Hitchens, my home boy, and I

No, that's not me on the right. That's the person I went to the "What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism?" debate with featuring Frank Turek vs. Christopher Hitchens on March 31, 2009 at TCNJ. This was moments after I met Christopher Hitchens for the second time. He had signed the original copy of a 500 word profile of him I wrote for my magazine writing class in Spring 2009.

"Do you have an extra copy?" I recall him asking.

I didn't. And in fact, I thought about leaving him a copy but there wasn't a Kinko's in sight on our way there.

If I remember correctly, I was the last person to have anything signed by Christopher Hitchens that night. It was getting late. Christopher had already signed tons of autographs. And I believe he had a plane to catch.

My homeboy, then a Christian, asked Christopher why he didn't believe in God?

It was one of those, "it's obvious there is a God, why don't you believe in him?"-type questions. It was very passionate.

I don't remember Christopher's response.

But my friend asked him the question as he was still sitting down. I had just stepped away after my paper was signed. Shortly after saying something, Christopher Hitchens stood up, and either he or his help had a gray wheeled luggage bag (or maybe I'm confusing his bag for the one Frank Turek possibly had). He told Christopher about his flight.

That one Christian guy who asks atheists why they don't believe

I was reminded of the entire 2009 TCNJ scene when an old white man, after the Q&A opened up, popped the first question to ask Richard Dawkins at the National Press Club a few weeks ago. Also admittedly an atheist -- at least for that night -- Sally Quinn, a long-time Washington Post reporter and editor, gave one of the worst interviews of Richard Dawkins I've ever seen.

Why do I say that?

Because she steered the conversation to make Richard Dawkins says things that he has literally said 1,000 times before in his speaking and debate circuits after the publication of his 2006 bestseller The God Delusion. We could Wiki some of his answers. This lady is a religion editor. You would have thought she would have done her homework. Maybe she did. Maybe she had done the kind of preparation for a test where the examiner doesn't question you on anything you had studied for. That would be apt, except she was the examiner. And examiner decided to test you on last month's material, which you certainly knew, but were prepared for something more recent (Does this hypothetical ever happen? lol)

Richard Dawkins was there on September 30, 2013 to discuss his new book "An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist" (2013), the first half of his two-part memoir. The best she could have done was read excerpts from the book, and then ask him to expound on that.

"What did you mean when you said..." would have been a much more productive way of interviewing than pointing out he became an atheist in his teens (something he has said many times before) and contrasting that with her own awareness that she was an atheist at age 5. Instead, she barely asked about the book, in my view. As I see it, she was a Washington Post reporter getting an exclusive interview with Richard Dawkins and used her exclusive interview to self-servingly get some personal questions answered.

Anyway, after what I guess was a half-hour of virtually unproductive conversation, the Q&A started.

The aforementioned first questioner asked "Why don't you believe in the empirical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?"

The question brought me back to my friend who asked a similar question with the same underlying vein: "Dear atheist, why don't you see it?"

Thank you for saving me, Richard Dawkins

I respected the question. Both questions. But I must say the following time was spent on two non-questions, a question about when atheism is going to catch on (or something like that) and at least one conspiracy-deny conspiracy theorist. I'll get to the latter in a second.

But a woman explained that she was on the way to the nunnery when she picked up a copy of Richard Dawkins' classic The Selfish Gene, which was even required text for some classes at my alma mater of La Salle University. At that point, she had dropped everything, changed course of her life to one that was religious and would have been completely religious if she had become a nun, and embraced the secular life in all its wonder.

Another man, a former Muslim originally from a Middle Eastern country, explained that it was The Selfish Gene that was the text that changed his outlook on life.

Another guy, who apparently attempted to indulge in some camaraderie before posing his question by, I think, tipping his hat towards The Selfish Gene or maybe some other RD work, asked something to the effect of "What do you think about Government conspiracy?" I believe it dealt with the fact that governments lie. That is true. (I'm sure the question is on tape. That will correct the record.) But there was some brief mention of 9/11 conspiracy theories, but the way it was postulated it was like he was trying to have it both ways. Sure he was secular, maybe even thought of himself as a critical thinker, and whatever he researched in his personal time he may have indeed had some good points, but the way he asked his question was ambiguous, and one wouldn't know if he was pro-conspiracy theory or not (I, for one, think they're OK, if support by facts). Richard was puzzled. So was I.

It also reminds of the way Sally Quinn conducted her interview. Not that her questions had anything to do with conspiracy. They didn't. But I feel like she used the opportunity to ask questions so he could answer and, in effect, do the research for her.

And that's the same way I felt with the guy. Richard Dawkins, by all accounts, is a scientist, not a philosopher of religion, or a political philosopher. (He did mention he wanted to live in a world where people pay taxes, as if taxes were moral things in themselves. In that case, I wouldn't want to live a world that Richard Dawkins gets to construct.) So asking him a political question is kind of intellectually lazy on the questioners part, because it seems like all these people want them to do is give free advice or do the research for the person.

Can we finally--finally!--talk about the book?

In the end, I met Richard Dawkins for the first time. Saw a buddy -- who described himself as "not convinced" by Dawkins and somewhat of "a mystic" -- I recently met a few weeks ago there. And got two RD's signature. It was the only novel thing I got from the experience, and perhaps the only novel thing other attendees got from their experiences. It's not like they could get a novel interview when it's conducted by Sally Quinn. Not that day, at least.

I did entertain a few people waiting in line to get there book signed. And one guy, probably one of the only other black people in the crowd (whether Tea Party rallies or anti-war rallies, politically left or politically right, black people hardly are in the crowds where I do my serious reporting or blogging) recommended I buy Vincent Bugliosi's "The Divinity of Doubt: The God Question." It has been added to my Amazon Wish List.

I ordered The God Delusion a few days before, and so I didn't have the physical copy in front of him to sign. He signed my Amazon receipt instead, which I cut out and pasted into my copy of The God Delusion when it arrived in the mail days later.

The other thing I had RD sign was a printed page of the old Richard Dawkins website. There was a post on there about Richard Dawkins "fleas" (the number of response books to The God Delusion). The blue response book, picture above, is what I originally planned on posting that second RD signature into. I haven't done that yet. The Ipod Tutor: The Argument Against Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion is one of three response books I own. I also own secular Jew, agnostic, and mathematician David Berlinki's book "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and it's Scientific Pretension's" and Christian and mathematician John Lennox's "God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?" I bought all three response books back in college prior to 2011. Perhaps all prior to 2010. I haven't completed one, although I did get through a good portion of Lennox's book back in college, with the highlights, and red and blue ink to show for it. I plan to read all four books soon, meaning within a year or two, starting with the Dawkin's book.

He (RD) was eminently pleasant, by the way.

"Do you want me to sign here?" he said. I was in awe and calmed by his pleasant demeanor.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Liberals: Gun Control leads to violation of other rights; Conservatives: The right to bear arms is violated with Stop-and-Frisk

Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute explains:
Even today, gun laws are much like drug laws in that they are disproportionately used against minorities. Gun control is the chief impetus behind New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk program, which in 2011 ensnared young black men more times than there are young black men in the city, and targets minorities by a ratio of nine to one. Conservatives who defend this program are defending gun control at its most invasive—the wholesale profiling and searching of people in the attempt to procure guns, which conservatives claim people have a natural and constitutional right to carry in the first place. Liberals opposed to this program should recognize that to violate gun rights, government must violate other rights.

He also quotes a former Black Panther party leader on the matter:
Elaine Brown, head of the Black Panther Party in the 1970s, recently explained:
The position of the Black Panther Party was that black people live in communities occupied by police forces that are armed and dangerous and represent the frontline of forces keeping us oppressed. We did not promote guns, but rather, the right to defend ourselves against a state that was oppressing us — with guns. There were innumerable incidents in which police agents kicked in our doors or shot our brothers and sisters in what we called red-light trials, where the policeman was the judge, the jury and the executioner. We called for an immediate end to this brutality, and advocated for our right to self-defense.  
On Reagan:
As governor of California, Reagan signed the Mulford Act into law in 1967. Written by Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford, the legislation was the most sweeping state edict in all the country, prohibiting the more or less free carrying of firearms in public. It went along with the rest of his heavy-handed entire law-and-order agenda and inspired an avalanche of new gun laws nationwide.The purpose of the law was to disarm the Black Panthers, a radical leftist group that openly carried firearms, kept an eye out on the police, and even took their rifles to the state Capitol to protest what they decried as racist legislation. (bold edits are my own ~GR)
The Tea Party and the Black Panthers have something in common. Strange bedfellows.

Schiff: Obama's wrong when he says we have to raise the debt ceiling because we have to pay our bills

President Obama has often repeated that not raising the debt ceiling is an acknowledgement that the United States (Government) can't pay its bills.

What's the contrary position?
"When President Obama says that have to raise the debt ceiling, because America always pays its bills, he's wrong. The reason we have so much debt, is because we never pay our bills. And the reason that we have to raise the debt ceiling is because we can't pay the bills. So we want to borrow more money instead. If we leave the debt ceiling alone, then we finally actually have to deal with the bills. And the problem is, we borrowed so much money, it's impossible to pay it back. And that's what president Obama doesn't want our creditors figuring out." Peter Schiff on The Street (Video)

Are modern economists right that eliminating deficit spending will decrease GDP?

From a recent op-ed in Capitalism Magazine:
According to modern economists, an elimination of deficit spending will immediately cause a dollar for dollar decrease in GDP. For example, if the government stopped sending food stamp payments to poor people, then grocery stores would lose business, employees would be laid off, and the economy would contract. But this one dimensional view fails to appreciate that the purchasing power of the food stamps had to come from somewhere. The government can’t create something from nothing. Taxation transfers purchasing power from people living in the present to other people living in the present. In contrast, borrowing transfers purchasing power from people living in the future to people living in the present. The good news for politicians is that future people don’t vote in current elections (and current voters don’t seem to appreciate the cost to their future selves of current policy).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Greed is not good

"Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life." (Colossians 3:5-7)

(Update at 8:28 PM: So I am still studying and ran across this scripture. Jesus himself is speaking: "And he said to them," Take care! Be on your guard against all kind of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Luke 11:15)

Greed is, quite simply, a sin, under the category of idolatry.

Of course, Wall Street businessmen and politicians aren't the only ones capable of being greedy, or impure, or having (sexual) passion (outside of the will of God), or evil desires. The large part of society who are non-politicians have the same capacity.

And "on account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient."

The upside to all of this in the next verse.

"These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life."

Through Jesus, who is also called Y'shua or Yeshua, through his death on the cross and the power of his resurrection, we are able to be forgiven for our sin and are enabled by the Holy Spirit (the Ruach Hakodesh) to live holy lives. Formerly greedy people, formerly sexually passionate people, and so forth, who once lived those lives are capable of living new ones.

May the Gospel of Jesus Christ flourish in the hearts of men...

...including the Wall Street crowd and the political class.

WCF Chapter One "Of Holy Scripture" Sunday School (Sept.-Oct. 2021)

Our text for Sunday School (also "The Confession of Faith and Catechisms") Biblical Theology Bites What is "Biblical Theology...