Monday, December 31, 2007

Sacrificing Self-Sacrifice?

My Google news page linked to an interesting Associated Press article titled "'Gospel of Wealth'Facing Scrutiny" by Eric Gorski. Evidently there are evangelical ministries raking in untold (to the IRS) riches and the various pastors are living the life of luxury. Predictably, all this money has caught the attention of the U.S. government:
The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the "Gospel of Prosperity," or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

All six ministries under investigation preach the prosperity gospel to varying degrees.
This raised a question in my mind. In light of the growth of religion in America in recent decades, could it be that this growth is due not to the appeal of self-sacrifice, the stock in trade of all religions, but to the appeal of self-survival, a morally acceptable self-interest that is ok with God? I think it is so. From the article:
One of the teaching's attractions is that it doesn't dwell on traditional Christian themes of heaven and hell but on answering pressing concerns of the here and now, said Brian McLaren, a liberal evangelical author and pastor.
The result of this appeal is:
Yet the prosperity gospel continues to draw crowds, particularly lower- and middle-income people who, critics say, have the greatest motivation and the most to lose. The prosperity message is spreading to black churches, attracting elderly people with disposable incomes, and reaching huge churches in Africa and other developing parts of the world.
Obviously these ministries are appealing to the desire for the unearned but using self-interest as a hook. They seem to be saying "don't feel guilty for making money but do feel guilty if you don't sacrifice some of it to God's voices here on Earth, (us evangelicals)." A lot of people are looking for a moral sanction that tells them it's ok to be self-interested without feeling guilty about it. It is going to be difficult however to convince people that self-interest is in fact virtuous as long as they insist that virtue must be sacrificial. What's sad is that what most people call a sacrifice really isn't. When I talk to most people today, what they call a sacrifice is actually a trade. But in their mind a trade cannot be virtuous. So they just call their trades sacrifices in order to feel virtuous.

As long as this is the case, these people will always be in the market for something that will make sacrifice work like a trade while allowing them to pretend the transaction is in fact a sacrifice and thus virtuous. It is the need for a moral sanction for earning wealth coupled with the desire to avoid guilt that these ministries are cashing in on.

I recommend reading the entire article. I saw a little humor in the sentence:
One of the pastors in the Grassley probe, Bishop Eddie Long of suburban Atlanta, has written that God told him to get rid of the "ungodly governmental structure" of a deacon board.
And I saw a little honesty in the sentence:
But the prosperity gospel, McLaren said, not only preys on the hope of the vulnerable, it puts too much emphasis on individual success and happiness.
I don't think the tax-exempt status of these ministries is in any danger. Sen. Grassley will hold a hearing, demand more transparency, the pastors will agree, probably ala the Joyce Meyer disclosures, and that will be the end of it.

I do think these ministries however are approaching a contradiction they cannot afford. Is self-sacrifice being sacrificed to self-interest? I think this is what is scaring the other ministries that don't preach the prosperity gospel.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Light Blogging

As you may have guessed by now, blogging may be light till after the first but if you're looking for something other than bad news, Nicholas Provenzo has some pictures of Gunston Hall at George Mason U after a dusting of snow.

And,

Ralph Buttigieg reports on a new world record cave dive. I don't think I could spend 15 hours in a decompression chamber though.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Two More Things Spotted By Mike's Eyes

The 12/21/07 print edition of the Detroit News printed a LTE of mine in response to an AP article proclaiming that Arctic ice was melting faster that scientists expected.
Arctic ice melt temporary
I protest the Dec. 12 Associated Press article "Arctic ice melting faster" because it is misleading. It is not true that the melting is caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. The ice is melting because the Pacific Ocean, since 1976, has had a south-to-north movement of warm air to the Arctic. It is due to revert back to a weak phase any time. When it does, the Arctic ice will reform. The speed at which it is melting may surprise some scientists but not those who study climate history.
Every now and then I have to and want to let the media know that the BS their readers are hearing about the perils of global warming are just that, BS.
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On a lighter note.

Last week we in the Midwest really got dumped on with snow. My suburb of Detroit got 8 inches. Some burbs got 10 and 12 inches. Schools were all closed the next day. On the third day though my sidewalk was shoveled as were all my neighbors' and the schools were reopened. An elementary school is only a block from my house which is why I moved here many years ago. As I sat there in my dinette drinking my morning coffee and looking out the front window, I observed small groups of kids with backpacks strapped over their shoulders walking to school. But instead of walking on the nice clean sidewalk, they deliberately stepped off the walk and into the deep snow between the walk and the street and walked to school that way. A smile broke across my face as I took in this sight and recalled my own childhood in which I did the same thing. I didn't have an explicit, well thought out reason for wanting to walk in the snow. It was more like an urge which, if it could be put into words might be something like "Go ahead. It might be fun".

It's good to know I was just being natural. There is nothing wrong with human nature, properly understood.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spotted by Mikes Eyes Tue. 12/18/07

Yesterday 12/17/07, I stopped by the Cassandra Page and found a head shaking quote by Mark Steyn. Evidently Mark has found a couple writers who are perfect that is, 110%, misanthropes. According to Mr. Steyn:
Oxford University Press has published a book by professor David Benatar of the University of Cape Town called "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence." The author "argues for the 'anti-natal' view – that it is always wrong to have children … . Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct." As does Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us" – which Publishers Weekly hails as "an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like." It's a good thing it "anticipates" it poetically, because, once it happens, there will be no more poetry.
Ayn Rand once referred to this mentality as the worship of the zero, the non-being. As usual, her identification was right on.
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My opinion.

Benny Peiser has an article in The Financial Post titled "climate alarmism hits a brick wall". While that general idea pleases me, my point is the pragmatic--which means unprincipled--nature of Australia's new leader elect. This paragraph is in evidence:
This power shift has perhaps never been more transparent and dramatic than in
Bali, when Australia's Labour government, under the newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, announced a
complete U-turn on the thorny issue of mandatory carbon dioxide emissions
targets. Only days after Australia's delegation had backed Europe's demand for a
25% to 40% cut in emission by 2020, Mr. Rudd declared (his signature under the
Kyoto Protocol wasn't even dry) that his government would not support such
targets after all.
Ayn Rand once pointed out that modern pragmatists don't want to get elected to advocate certain ideas. They advocate certain ideas in order to get elected. I almost feel sorry for the Aussies. They have elected one of these.

Their only hope I think, is that he wants to stay in power so bad he'll do whatever they want. But do they even know what they want? Perhaps the Aussies want a leader who will say the magic words that will make the Europeans and the UN greenies like them. Maybe they're so terrified of not being liked they will elect a man like Rudd who will say the right words and go through the right motions (perform the right rituals) to achieve the expediency of the moment and everything will be nicey wicey again.

I'm glad Mr. Rudd nixed the Kyoto accord but do our mates down under really prefer a man who says one thing and does another-Rudd-to a man who says one thing and stands by it-Howard? I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Update: Corrected word in F.Post title.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Look Who's Talking

Via Fred Singer's Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) comes news that the Pope has criticized greens for their gloom and doom senarios. According to the linked article at the Daily Mail:
The 80-year-old Pope said the world needed to care for the environment but not to the point where the welfare of animals and plants was given a greater priority than that of mankind.
Despite the fact that this sounds quite rational and the Pope is right about placing man above plants and animals, I think there is an underlying motive.

The Pope, leader of one of the world's largest religions, is acutely aware that his religion has some serious competition in environmentalism. In the spirit of "Thou shalt not worship false gods before me" or something like that, he seems to be saying all the attention and donations going to NGOs should go to the Church and the alms basket. But I had to chuckle when the article said:.
The German-born Pontiff said that while some concerns may be valid it was vital that the international community based its policies on science rather than the dogma of the environmentalist movement.
Look who's talking about dogma!

The church and the NGOs both call for man's sacrifice. But the Holy See sees exactly what is going on. He sees enviromentalism as the new God and "carbon footprint" as the new original sin. It's competition for the sacrificial offerings pure and simple. The government, public and the press are mostly clueless on this. Seems like the only people who truly understand what's going on are the Greens, Objectivists, some skeptics, and the Papacy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Public Interest Trumps Private Interest

Billy Beck has a good post at Two-four about how the New York Times is looking more like the old Soviet Union's Pravda every day. He points out how the Times regards Bush's tax cuts as depriving the government of its money. He even has a relevant quote from Ayn Rand on the subject. But I'm mainly concerned with an excellent point Billy made when he wrote:
Sometimes, dear reader, the FNORDs blow away and you can see right through the clear sky to the naked, evil premise. The Comfy Commissariat is not concerned with you. Take them at their words.
This is so very true. The altruists, collectivists don't see you as an individual. To them you only have value as a member of some collective which can do anything it wants to you for the 'greater good'. That's when you learn that the 'greater or common good' does not include your good. When they say you must sacrifice for the 'public interest', that's when you discover that the 'public interest' does not include your interest, that 'general welfare' does not mean your welfare. You are an individual. You are not a 'greater' or a 'public' or a 'social' or a 'general' thus your interests, good and welfare don't count.

An example of FNORDs being blow away was revealed in a short editorial in the Detroit Free Press of 12/12/07. It complained that the Michigan State Senate's refusal to ban smoking in public places was some kind of travesty. The editorial's argument:
The French made it a priority. The English and Irish, too. And New York City, and some 30 states. Even the casino in Windsor. The U.S. Surgeon General says secondhand smoke is flat-out dangerous. But Michigan bar and restaurant owners say it should be their choice. What other aspect of public health is left to private interests?
There is proof. "Public health" does not include your health. You are an individual and as such a very private interest. Public health cannot be left to private interests means that public health refers to everyone's health except those of private interests like you and me. Public interest or health or welfare or good always means that the health and welfare of some will be sacrificed for the benefit of others. Those others could be anybody or nobody but most likely will be those in power.

(I am ignoring the fact that the Free Press has no doubt, never checked into the so-called evidence behind the Surgeon General's claim that second hand smoke is dangerous and thus abandoning any pretence of speaking truth to power. Nor will I harp on the fact that the editorial uses the logical fallacy of the arguement from consensus and since the editors are educated people who cannot fail to know they are using it, they have given up any pretence of speaking truth period.

It should be noted that the republican Senate did not shelve this bill to protect the individual rights of bar and restaurant owners. They said since Michigan's economy is so bad they didn't want to place any more burdens on the businesses that haven't left the state yet. IOW, lets wait till the golden goose regains his health and starts laying more golden eggs, then we'll bash him over his greedy, selfish head and congratulate each other on how noble and virtuous we are.)

But I digress.

So, whenever you hear intellectuals using collective phrases like common good or public interest, be very afraid because they do not mean you, your interests or welfare.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Michael Vick

Via Breitbart.com (h/t Drudge) comes an AP story that Michael Vick has been sentenced to 23 months in jail for running a dogfighting ring. This is an egregious miscarriage of justice. Vick needs to appeal this judgement right away. He violated no one's rights and should not be in jail.

It is morally wrong to be cruel to animals. It demonstrates a profound lack of respect for life in general. Those who do it deserve every bit of private and public moral condemnation they get. His football team has every right to drop him and ditto his commercial sponsors. What Michael Vick is going through now sans the prison sentence, is in fact a form of social ostricism and its a good and proper thing for a morally just society to do.

But it is politically wrong to give rights to animals. Rights pertain to the freedom of choices that present themselves to volitional beings which animals are not. The only rights that belong to an animal are those of its owner. If someone should abuse or kill an animal without that owner's permission, then he can and should go to jail for violating the owner's property rights. If there are now laws making such cruelty illegal, they should be removed. I am even willing to compromise and say that at the very least, for now, the law should be reduced to a misdemeanor without prison time.

This issue is a good test of one's loyalty to principles. It is often very difficult to defend on principle someone whose actions are morally repulsive. Like defending the free speech rights of the printers of sleaze and pornography. If you're loyal to the principle of free speech, you will do it in opposition to those who would outlaw sleaze thus bringing censorship to this country, free speech being a value held higher than censorship which if adopted, would lead to the destruction of free speech.

Giving political rights to animals would mark the destruction of all rights for humans. Once adopted, this non-objective principle would spread to everything and the next thing you know, humans have no rights and must be sacrificed to everything and anything that does. How would you justify cutting down the tree in your yard because its roots are cracking your foundation, or sidewalk, or plugging your sewer drain, or you want to build a garage there, when that tree has the same right to life you do? If a dog bites a human the government has the right to use retaliatory force to remove that dog from society. But, having rights, how would you put that dog on trial? And what would a jury of his peers look like? Sound stupid? Of course. But no more stupid than giving political rights to animals.

Free Michael Vick now.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spotted By Mike's Eyes Dec. 2007.

I think Steven Milloy at Junkscience.com of Dec. 6th. has coined a new term which is so admirably precise I plan on using it in future posts. See if you can spot it in this paragraph:
Andy (Revkin's article in New York Times--ME) is partly right, energy-starved third worlders would (and will) love nothing better than cheap, abundant coal-fired electricity. The problem with the piece stems from the totally-wrong idea that atmospheric carbon dioxide presents a problem that must be addressed. This is true only in the virtual world of Play Station® Climatology and has exactly no bearing on the real world. The real motivation for many in the global warming industry has always been the suppression of human activity and the global warming scare represents their greatest success, far greater than their anti-nuclear activities.
If you guessed Play Station® Climatology you'd be right. Computer game technology is exactly what climate models are about when used for predicting future climate. All the catastrophic gloom and doom scenarios come from a single source, computer climate models, not from the observable, historical record. That is why such predictions of disaster should be dismissed as nonsense. If global warming were in fact harmful to life on Earth, there would be evidence of it in the historical record. There isn't any.
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Accuracy Schmacuracy

In Friday Nov 30th Detroit News is the headline "MSU [Michigan State Univ.--ME] finds tainted food killed 350 pets". But the article says "More that 300 dogs and cats may have died earlier this year as a result of eating contaminated pet food, a new survey shows" (my emphasis). It's just a survey of vets, and vet hospitals in which 347 animals "met the criteria" for the sickness. About 25% of these had pre-existing conditions. My point is if someone only read the headline, they would believe that 350 pets died when in reality it's only an estimate which could be significantly off.
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MY MICHIGAN NANNY STATE PROTECTS ME and...

"Legislators draft gift card reform" is the headline in Friday 12/07/07 Detroit News. The article says:
Both [state house and senate--ME] packages would make gift cards or gift certificates good for five years after purchase. As it stands, the life of the cards varies widely from a brief period of time to no expiration date at all.

The House and Senate bills also would:

• Bar retailers from changing the terms and conditions once a card is issued and require terms be disclosed to the purchaser.

• Require that retailers honor the gift cards, even for advertised sale items.

• Ban the charging of inactivity fees.

"Our plan protects every Michigan consumer," said Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, main sponsor of the House package. "Our legislation ensures that consumers get their money's worth from gift certificates, no matter when they choose to use them."
I do think that changing the terms of a card after issue is already illegal or, if our politicians were the least bit concerned about protecting rights, would be.

The idea that deciding how gift certificates should be used is not a legitimate function of government, would not occur to Mr. Sak or the legislature. That businessmen have the right to use and dispose of their own property--which includes gift cards--so long as they don't violate the rights of other citizens, is alien to the Michigan Government mindset. They know they can get away with violating the rights of businessmen because--

...THEY HAVE THE SANCTION OF THE VICTIM:
The legislation is called "imperfect" by the Michigan Retailers Association, which does not oppose the bills.

"They offer important protections for consumers and retailers," said Tom Scott, spokesman for the retailers' group. "We hope the legislation gives consumers even greater confidence so they buy even more gift cards."

He said the five-year shelf life is reasonable, given that retailers have to carry the cards on their books at some cost to the businesses until they are redeemed.

He said retailers are "disappointed" that the bills do not address cards issued by shopping centers for a number of stores.
Like their feelings of disappointment mean anything to the state! This is what it means to be pragmatic and only consider that which is right in front of one's nose ignoring long term consequences and even the path down which one is taking the state. It also proves that pragmatism does not work.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another Editorial on 2nd Amendment

This past Monday I posted on a Detroit Free Press editorial calling for a national list of gun owners. Yesterday, 12/04/07, Detroit's other paper the Detroit News ran an editorial urging the SCOTUS to find that the 2nd Amendment protections apply to individuals and not to state militias. While I support this position generally, the editorial makes a common epistemological mistake:
But the Second Amendment does use the phrase "well-regulated."

In our view, this means the government, federal, state and local, has the right to restrict private ownership of such items as machine guns and heavy military hardware. Reasonable regulations such as registration, gun training, certain gun lock requirements, waiting periods for background checks before guns are sold, barring felons from gun ownership and other limitations may easily fall within the normal police powers of the state.
First of all, the phrase well-regulated is explicitly tied to the concept militia and not to the pool of citizens from which the militia was to be drawn. Well-regulated does not apply to individual citizens or their guns outside the context of militia. I do hope the Court understands this context. As I mentioned Monday, to say the the right to keep and bear arms applies only to government militias is to say that the right of the government to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a completely ludicrous notion. The right to keep and bear arms can have only one meaning, a right of the individual.

As for the list of so-called reasonable regulations in that paragraph, they're a mixed bag. No distinction is made between substantive regulations, those that involve initiating force against citizens by restricting thus violating their rights, and procedural regulations, those that employ the government's monopoly on retaliatory force to answer the question: How best can we exercise our right to keep and bear arms? It's my judgement that requiring certain gun locks would be a substantive regulation involving initiatory force against citizens thus violating their rights. Where as laws against say firing a weapon in a residential neighborhood could be valid regulations because no one has the right to threaten the life of others. The removal of such threats is a proper function of government. But such threats must be clearly and objectively defined.

It is critical that the distinction between starting the use of force and retaliating with it be grasped clearly. Procedural regulations are based on the positive idea of respecting the rights of others and not on the idea of restricting or limiting rights. No one has the right to violate or threaten to violate some one else's rights. Since that right does not exist, well, you can't limit or restrict that which does not exist. It is absolutely essential that our lawmakers and judges think in these terms. To suppose that rights can be restricted in any way is not only sloppy thinking epistemologically, it is very dangerous politically in that it can lead to all kinds of very real limits on very real rights in turn leading to their complete destruction.

I am not a lawyer so I'm not sure exactly what regulations would qualify as procedural or substantive in any given context. Such determinations are for those schooled in the law. But I think any lawmaker or judge when considering a particular regulation, should ask these questions: does this law aid in the exercising of a right by employing the retaliatory use of force in the service of recognizing the rights of others? Or does it consist of starting the use of force against citizens to compel a certain behavior which does not remove an objectively provable threat thereby violating rights.

An objectively provable threat must be clearly defined and does not mean that because one is uncomfortable with a neighbor who has a gun and might someday shoot one it justifies one's desire to have the government confiscate his gun. All such
preventive laws are substantive in nature and a violation of citizens' rights and therefore unconstitutional. I seriously doubt that our Supreme Court is even capable of thinking in these terms but who knows, maybe someday someone will be nominated to the SC who is.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Aiming At Guns

Sunday's, 12/2/07, Detroit Free Press had an editorial titled "Safety first on guns" by editorial page editor Ron Dzwonkowski. He is calling for the establishment of a national list of gun owners. His main argument is:
It makes sense to me that police should have access to a national database of gun owners. If I'm rolling up to a house where there's a reported burglary in progress or some kind of assault going on, I'd want to know if guns are registered for the premises. Wouldn't that advance warning protect gun owners, too, from police reacting badly to the presence of a firearm? Seems as if it'd be safer for both. (In Michigan, police can run a computer check to see if a person has a permit to carry a firearm, if they have a name; license plate checks for vehicle ownership do not include such information)
[um, I thought license plate checks revealed a name which can then be checked for ccw--ME]
This has to be one of the inanest arguments for a national list I've ever heard. First, I don't think there is a cop in his right mind who, upon discovering no gun was registered to a given house, would enter that house on that assumption. Second, Mr. Dzwonkowski points out that there are an estimated 240 million guns in homes in America. Cops cannot fail to know this. Any cop who thinks he will be safer with a national list of owners won't be safe for long. Third, criminals usually have unregistered guns precisely so they can't be traced to them. A gun owners list will not provide an iota of safety from real criminals. I know that domestic violence cases are often very dangerous for police but an owners list will not alleviate that one bit, unless the gun is removed before the DV crime is committed and that is the real point isn't it.

This is nothing but an attempt to get all guns registered which will be an aid to any attempt to confiscate them. Using harmless sounding words and phrases like "But nobody's allowed to keep a list of who's armed" (poor oppressed government) and "...not even for police-eyes only..." (can't we even have a peek?) Mr. Dzwonkowski is trying to couch this as a harmless little list for police-eyes only which will simply be used for police safety. Right! If you can believe that....

This editorial does have merit though. It shows how a principle (like letting the government keep records on you) once adopted even only partly, grows by its own merit until it is applied entirely or is repudiated entirely. Mr. Dzwonkowski reminds us of the extent to which we have already adopted the above principle so why not let it expand a teensy bit more?
Yet government agencies keep records of your driving habits and vehicle ownerships, of births and address changes, can get at records of your phone and credit card use and, soon enough I'm sure, will have basic medical information about you on a central computer.

But only you get to know if there's a gun in your house. Should the police ever roll up in an emergency, might be a good idea to let them know it's there, and that it's legal.
"But only you get to know if there's a gun in your house." Yep, and that's the way I want to keep it.

He seems to be of the opinion that SCOTUS will rule next year on Washington DC's effort to ban handguns in favor of the individual and not state militias but that guns will be 'well regulated' "sparing us a national war over disarmament" which disarmament he obviously prefers.

Of course the Court should rule that the 2nd Amendment applies to the individual and not state militias. When you consider that a proper government must have a monopoly on the retaliatory use of force, therefore it must have guns, and that a state militia is a government entity, to say that the 2nd Amendment applies to militias would be saying that the government must have the right to keep and bear arms, a ridiculous redundancy. The right of the people to keep and bear arms can have no other meaning than individual human beings.