Sunday, August 26, 2007

Stumbling upon an agile sparkle

I was mucking about in my Hebrew lexicon, trying to figure out what Eliphaz's name meant. (Eliphaz the Temanite is one of Job's "friends" who offered cold comfort).

"Eli", of course, means God. "Phaz" is apparently an old word similar to an Arabic word that means "light, active, agile" and also is used to mean "refine," as in purified gold.

The root word is פזז (pazaz).

Which reminded me of "pizzazz." Several different dictionaries list this word as "etymology unknown."

Light, active, agile, and like refined gold. Sparkly. I think "pizzazz" comes from pazaz.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Um, yes, there is a law that says you have to pay income tax

There's a bit of a buzz going on about the acquittal of Tom Cryer, a Lousiana attorney who had been charged with the federal crime of failing to file his tax returns. Misleading articles, such as "IRS loses challenge to prove tax liability", kindle hopes that someone somewhere has finally convinced a court that we don't have to pay taxes.

A quick look at the Cryer case, however, demonstrates that the government failed to prove the "willful" element of the crime of failure to file. As with all elements of a crime, this must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury apparently decided that Mr. Cryer's mental state was not criminally willful, perhaps because they were convinced that he had a reasonable belief that he didn't have to file. But the legality of the tax law itself was not at issue in the trial. Cryer's motion to dismiss using that argument was denied before the trial.

But tax protestors everywhere are cheering, shouting "show me the law!" In the interests of public service, I show the law below. It's not as straigtforward as it could be, but it's there. If you earn income, and if it is high enough, you have to file a return. If you have to file a return, you have to pay the tax. Plain language leading to plain duties.

Title 26 United States Code
§ 1. Tax imposed
(a) Married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses
There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of -
(1) every married individual (as defined in section 7703) who makes a single return jointly with his spouse under section 6013, and
(2) every surviving spouse (as defined in section 2(a)), a tax determined in accordance with the following table: If taxable income is: The tax is:
Not over $36,900 15% of taxable income.
Over $36,900 but not over $5,535, plus 28% of the excess over
$89,150 $36,900.
Over $89,150 but not over $20,165, plus 31% of the excess
$140,000 over $89,150.
Over $140,000 but not $35,928.50, plus 36% of the excess
over $250,000 over $140,000.
Over $250,000 $75,528.50, plus 39.6% of the
excess over $250,000.

. . . .

(c) Unmarried individuals (other than surviving spouses and heads
of households)
There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of every individual (other than a surviving spouse as defined in section 2(a) or the head of a household as defined in section 2(b)) who is not a married individual (as defined in section 7703) a tax determined in accordance with the following table:
If taxable income is: The tax is:
Not over $22,100 15% of taxable income.
Over $22,100 but not over $3,315, plus 28% of the excess over
$53,500 $22,100.
Over $53,500 but not over $12,107, plus 31% of the excess
$115,000 over $53,500.
Over $115,000 but not $31,172, plus 36% of the excess
over $250,000 over $115,000.
Over $250,000 $79,772, plus 39.6% of the excess
over $250,000.

Note, a tax is imposed on taxable income. Taxable income is figured out from gross income:

§ 61. Gross income defined
(a) General definition
Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, gross income means all income from whatever source derived, including (but not limited to) the following items:
(1) Compensation for services, including fees, commissions, fringe benefits, and similar items;
. . . .
§ 63. Taxable income defined
(a) In general
Except as provided in subsection (b), for purposes of this subtitle, the term "taxable income" means gross income minus the deductions allowed by this chapter (other than the standard deduction).
. . . .

So a tax is imposed on taxable income, who has to report this income? This statute tells us that everyone with gross income above a minimum amount has to file:

§ 6012. Persons required to make returns of income (a) General rule
Returns with respect to income taxes under subtitle A shall be made by the following:
(A) Every individual having for the taxable year gross income which equals or exceeds the exemption amount. . . .

And finally, some people demand to know where it says that a person with income is liable. The statute below says that if you have to file, you are required to pay whatever you owe as deteremined by properly filling out the return:

§ 6151. Time and place for paying tax shown on returns(a) General rule
Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, when a return of tax is required under this title or regulations, the person required to make such return shall, without assessment or notice and demand from the Secretary, pay such tax to the internal revenue officer with whom the return is filed, and shall pay such tax at the time and place fixed for filing the return (determined without regard to any extension of time for filing the return).

So the law is there. It says people with income over a certain level (which elsewhere is defined as being over the exemption amounts) have to file their return. If their return indicates taxable income, they have to pay.

So be careful out there. People claiming that there is no law requiring you to pay income tax are either deliberatly not looking or they are deceived.

And, even though Mr. Cryer was found not guilty of a tax crime, I am pretty sure the feds will get their money. Plus interest. Plus penalties. It's not a pleasant scenario.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Just when the slumber was getting pleasant

Suppose there is family down the street with a wayward son or daughter who is just not "right." Suppose this straying child has become enflamed about what is going on in Iraq. And suppose this child sends some internet advice (of a technical nature) to some "freedom fighters" (we would call them insurgents) whom the child has met on an internet board somewhere. And finally, suppose these insurgents actively and violently seek to disrupt our administration's goals in Iraq.

Of course, this is a very bad thing. Dangerous even. The government monitors such things. It even claims the authority to seize all the assets owned by such a wayward soul.

Now suppose in its zeal, the government freezes the bank accounts of the entire family, not just those of the foolish child. The family will not be able buy groceries. They will likely be scared and confused. They probably would be angry at their child too.

But suppose in the mean time you feel sorry for the neighbors and bring over a casserole as they try to sort this all out.

Under an Executive Order dated July 17, 2007, all of your own assets may be blocked and seized too.

"all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, . . . are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. . . ."

The persons this applies to are those who have been determined (by the government):

"(ii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order. . . ."

Of course, good people won't fall under this, right? The government isn't really going to freeze the assets of the neighbors down the street. And if they do, they wouldn't really go after someone who brought them a casserole, right?

Maybe, but the language of the order asserts that very option.

As Han Solo said when things got weird: "I've got a bad feeling about this, Chewey."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What you've always suspected

My state's bar association is sponsoring a continuing legal education program about "Lawyers’ Roles in Preparing and Responding to Disasters".

So the secret is out. Lawyers prepare disasters so that you will hire them to fix the aftermath. You'd think the association that requires us to pay dues would not be so open about this.

(For the serious-minded conspiracy afficianados, the program really is meant to be a good thing--the State Bar merely needs a better editor).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

At least there are berries

I haven't had much to say lately. But the first crop of our golden and red raspberries are ripe. Yum.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It is about the war, and about an oath

Article I, Section 8, of the US Constitution:
"The Congress shall have power . . .
To declare war, . . . ."

Article VI, third clause, US Constitution:
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution;. . . ."

On October 3, 2002, a congressional hearing was held on a resolution to grant the President discretion in deciding whether to engage Iraq in a war. That day, Representative Ron Paul of Texas introduced a motion to declare war on Iraq. He said he would not support his own motion, but demanded that his colleagues follow their Constitutional duties. If they wanted war, Congress would have to declare it.

Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, responded as follows:

"There are things in the Constitution that have been overtaken by events, by time. Declaration of war is one of them. There are things no longer relevant to a modern society. Why declare war if you don't have to? We are saying to the President, use your judgment. So, to demand that we declare war is to strengthen something to death. You have got a hammerlock on this situation, and it is not called for. Inappropriate, anachronistic, it isn't done anymore."

Congressman Hyde publicly swore the required oath of office to support the Constitution. He also publicly called a Constitutional requirement "inappropriate" and "anachronistic." In other words, he is a public liar. 77 Senators and 295 Representatives followed the same path.

Rep. Hyde did not understand the reason for placing the declaration powers in the hands of Congress. It was to provide for deliberation over the grave issue of going to war. It was wisdom to prevent the Executive from having the discretion, or "exercising his judgment" on matters of committing the country to war. Such power was too devastating to place in the hands of one man, even by delegation. Four and a half years later, we see the fruits of delegating that "judgment".

We have been sleeping too long. Have we come to agree with Henry Hyde that the Constitution is anachronistic and inappropriate? If so, let us be done with pretence and come to grips with what has replaced it: assignment of authority from the pork peddlers to the whim of the power mongers. If that is what "we the people" want, then we should at least be honest about it. People have managed before under corrupt and oppressive governments. Life goes on. But to believe as Rep. Hyde does is to acknowledge that the moral authority of our country has been lost. When people break their covenant, they lose their way and are ensnared by all sorts of troubles. (See the entire book of Judges for example).

This presidential election really is all about the war. So many other things are intertwined, but the fundamental issue is this: shall we follow the rule of law as set out in our own national covenant, the Constitution, or shall we accept a democratically acclaimed dictator? (Under Hyde's view, whoever is elected will essentially be a dictator, even if we have agreed to give him--or her-- the power). When boiled down to that question, there is only one candidate that even understands the issue:

Ron Paul. Elect him for President.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fender benders and stealing cars, the DEA does it all.

The War on Drugs gets even weirder. DEA agents now have authority to stop a suspected vehicle by pretending to be drunk and colliding into it with another vehicle. They then may pretend to steal the car and drive it to an unknown location to allow for an "administrative search" to look for drugs. The tactic is a novel method of getting around the 4th amendment--the amendment which used to mean that the government could not conduct unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. I know the facts sound bizzare, so I quote directly from the the recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. It was filed June 8, 2007.

"We consider the Fourth Amendment’s limits on the use of trickery and force in conducting seizures.

Facts: Ascension Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend drove up to a traffic light. As the light turned green, the car in front of them lurched forward, then stalled. Alverez-Tejeda managed to stop in time, but the truck behind him tapped his bumper. As Alverez-Tejeda got out to inspect the damage, two officers pulled up in a police cruiser and arrested the truck driver for drunk driving. The officers got Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend to drive to a nearby parking lot, leave the keys in the car and get into the cruiser for processing. Just then, out of nowhere, someone snuck into their car and drove off with it. As the couple stood by in shock, the police jumped into their cruiser and chased after the car thief with sirens blaring. The police then returned to the parking lot, told the couple that the thief had gotten away and dropped them off at a local hotel.

The whole incident was staged. DEA agents learned that one of the leaders of a drug conspiracy was dealing drugs out of his car and deduced from several intercepted calls and direct surveillance that Alverez-Tejeda, one of the conspiracy’s subordinates, was using the leader’s car to transport illicit drugs. The agents decided to stage an accident/theft/chase in order to seize the drugs without tipping off the conspirators. Every character in the incident, other than Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend, was either a DEA agent or a cooperating police officer." (emphasis added)

The lower court found that the seizure was unconstitutional. It ordered the evidence obtained by the seizure to be suppressed. Although it acknowledged that the car, which had been used in previous documented drug selling activity, was subject to immediate seizure under forfeiture laws, even such seizures have Constitutional protection from "unreasonable" seizures. The lower court decided that the staging of an accident and car theft was not reasonable:

"The seizure in this case needs to be contrasted against the principles discussed above. Unlike a normal seizure by law enforcement, this seizure appeared to be a car theft. Any person seeking information on the theft would reach a dead end. Local authorities were told to deny knowledge of the event if asked. Even during the pendency of the case before this Court, defense attorneys were told that there was no record of such an event in the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office records. No inventory was filed. No judicial determination was made of the need for a covert search. No judicial determination was made of the period of time needed to delay notification. No judicial review of the inventory was made. All of the decisions normally made by the judiciary were made by the officers involved. It is difficult to conclude that the authors of the Fourth Amendment contemplated such discretion be afforded to the Executive branch."

But the 9th Circuit reversed. In a rather cavalier decision, it essentially reasoned as follows:

1.The government had the right to seize the car (even if not the right to seize the property of the occupants).
2.Nobody got hurt.
3.It was reasonable because the government's interest in preventing drugs from entering the market, and its interest in avoiding tipping off the driver that the car was seized outweighed the relatively minor inconvenience of the driver. (The second point is important because the government could not arrest the driver at the time of the seizure because they did not have probable cause to know if drugs were in the car).

Of course, what is left unsaid in the 9th Circuit's analysis is what happens if the government's information is wrong, or if it identified the wrong car, etc. It has essentially given the green light for government agents to stage pretend crimes, carjackings, and other phony scenarios in order to buy time to search a car and obtain an arrest warrant for the driver.

There was never a question that the officers could have obtained a warrant prior to the seizure. Indeed, under today's drug forfeiture laws they could have seized the car at any time (because they had probable cause to believe that it had been involved in a prior drug crime). Despite these powerful tools, US government has decided to step up the tactics another notch. The so-called liberal 9th Circuit has given its blessing. We can only wonder what other creative methods our government will come up with to prosecute this endless "war."

One minor moral of the story is to never leave your keys in the car when asked by a police officer to leave it. They just might steal it.

Copy of the 9th Circuit opinion here:$file/0630289.pdf?openelement

The US District Court ruling here:

Friday, June 08, 2007

Madness and Blindness

Helicopters hovered, hundreds of news cameramen gathered, breaking headlines worldwide, on the internet and, apparently, on televisions across the country. Yes, Paris is going back to jail.

Meanwhile, hardly noticed at the June 5 New Hampshire Republican Presidential debate, all of the candidates except one agreed on one thing: it is morally proper to unilaterally drop nuclear bombs upon a country that is utterly incapable of attacking the United States.

Of course, the one candidate who thought this was insane was Neo-Con public enemy No. 1: the principled Ron Paul.

When I was young, which in the scheme of things was not really that long ago, we practiced "duck and cover." We were instructed to dive under our desks if we heard the air raid sirens go off. We were convinced that the Russians were as likely as not to drop nuclear missiles upon us and were told that hiding under our desks might help. It was madness and everyone knew it. The Russians were incalculably evil for pointing their nukes at us and it was only fair that we pointed ours at them.

Now we are nonchalantly talking about nuking Iran, which doesn't have any missiles remotely capable of pointing at us. Our putative leaders think that a unilateral nuclear strike on a Muslim country will make things fine in the world. The term blow-back (as in over a billion people suddenly taking a personal interest in our destruction) is too complex of a thought for these blowhards.

Long ago, people were warned what could happen if they turned from the Word of God:

The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart:
And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.

Deuteronomy 28: 28-29.

May God deliver us from this incredible madness. May He grant our country repentance.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When big numbers mean nothing.

One annoying aspect of modern life is the use of statistics to drive public opinion. Please, someone help me see why this example is not a particularly bad one:

100,000 Chinese die annually from passive smoking.

A study says that 100,000 people a year die in China from passive smoking. I don't know how they came up with that figure, but I am pretty sure it is meaningless.

China has about 1.3 billion people. According to the CIA World Factbook, China's death rate is about 6.9 per 1000. That means that about 9 million people die each year. What is the level of confidence of this figure? I don't know, but I'd be surprised if the figure is more precise than + or - 100,000 deaths.

So the 100,000 figure probably falls within the range of error. If so, it can't be used to make any meaningful statement.

Yet it is front page news on Yahoo!

Another sobering thought: it is estimated that more than 99% of households who have suffered a death this past year possessed a refrigerator*.

No question that all that smoking in China is unhealthy, but using a such a level of precision to support a policy change is plain misrepresentation. And it happens all the time. The global warming hysteria is another late example. Government inflation figures are just as misleading. Is it no wonder that people distrust the authorities?

Yes, there are too many dangers to comprehend. The biggest one, though, is almost statistically certain**: 90% of statistics used by policy makers are lies.

* Source: personal observation, every household I've been in in the past 30 years owned a refrigerator. (In other words, I made this up).

** This is my personal estimate based upon a tightly focused study(in other words, I personally took a sample of 1 statistic and extrapolated from there. . . .)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Republicans have their Pee Wee Herman moment

About 20 years ago I was at the house of some relatives. Their four year old son was watching a television program called "Pee Wee's Playhouse" with some friends. I had never heard of the show, but it seemed bizarrely odd. I sat down with the kids to watch.

One feature quickly became annoying. A particular word was chosen at the beginning of the show. Whenever that word was spoken, alarms and sirens would go off. The kids were instructed to run around in circles screaming. They learned that lesson well. Every 5 minutes or so the word would get mentioned: sirens went off, and the living room erupted into screams as the crazy kids spun and flapped their arms.

The Republican Party in 2007 apparently follows a similar pattern. There is some prescribed phrase that triggers insanity among them. Ron Paul, last Tuesday, apparently found the magic words to set them off.

"Fruitcake." "Wackjob." And to a Paul supporter: "You disgust me." These are phrases you can find at prominent conservative blogs regarding Ron Paul's sparring with former mayor and drag-queen impresario Rudy Giuliani in the latest Republican debate. (Below I set out the exchange from the transcript).

Ron Paul reminded people that the traditional conservative foreign policy was non-intervention. One does not meddle with other countries' internal affairs. He invoked the old conservative icon Robert Taft. He reminded us that this was the view of the founders of the country. The fact that the US doesn't understand the Middle East and nevertheless tries to insert itself there leads to hatred and a desire to attack us.

Rudy Giulinai didn't like this. In fact, he stated that he had never heard of such a view before. (Keep in mind that this explanation is also set out in numerous government reports, including a CIA analysis. Rudy needs to read some of the government's findings.) He demanded that Paul retract his statement. Paul, of course, refused. He reminded Giuliani that it was the CIA that coined the term "blowback", refering to Iran's retaliation against the US for deposing a duly elected leader and installing the oppressive Shah.

So-called conservatives are now spinning and screaming. Michigan Republicans want Ron Paul banned from their debate. Other Republicans are accusing him of being in the wrong party (which is odd, considering Paul's reference to Taft). Nasty names are being thrown about. This is what passes for political discourse in our time.

At least some of the conservatives are taking a breath and reconsidering. R.E. Finch has a thoughtful post on the conservative blog

I hope others come to their senses too. I'm not expecting a lot, however. Ron Paul has merely pointed out what used to be common wisdom. Who knew that such simple ideas could cause such panic?

From the transcript:

MR. GOLER: Congressman Paul, I believe you are the only man on the stage who opposes the war in Iraq, who would bring the troops home as quickly as -- almost immediately, sir. Are you out of step with your party? Is your party out of step with the rest of the world? If either of those is the case, why are you seeking its nomination?

REP. PAUL: Well, I think the party has lost its way, because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Senator Robert Taft didn't even want to be in NATO. George Bush won the election in the year 2000 campaigning on a humble foreign policy -- no nation-building, no policing of the world. Republicans were elected to end the Korean War. The Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There's a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.
Just think of the tremendous improvement -- relationships with Vietnam. We lost 60,000 men. We came home in defeat. Now we go over there and invest in Vietnam. So there's a lot of merit to the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution.
And my argument is that we shouldn't go to war so carelessly. (Bell rings.) When we do, the wars don't end.

MR. GOLER: Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?

REP. PAUL: What changed?

MR. GOLER: The non-interventionist policies.

REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.
We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?

REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.

MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.)
And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)

MR. GOLER: Congressman?

REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.
They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Don't panic, the fish are OK

Today, May 8, 2007, they found melamine was fed to fish, but it's not likely to cause any trouble.

Farmed fish fed contaminated material

But the safety of the fish isn't what caught my eye. It was this quote by Dr. David Acheson, "the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection":

"What we discovered is these are not wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate but in fact are wheat flour contaminated by melamine."

So, according to Dr. Acheson, it never was imported Chinese gluten. Instead, it seems to have been simple contaminated flour all along.

Yesterday, on May 7, 2007, the FDA issued a news release titled FDA/USDA Joint News Release: Scientists Conclude Very Low Risk to Humans from Food Containing Melamine.

That article talked about how meat from hogs and chickens which were fed contaminated feed was no big deal either. As far as it goes, and if this were the only issue, I'd accept the analysis.

But the FDA release was continuing the party line that the contamination came from imported gluten and rice protein:

"In the course of the investigation, it was discovered that pet food was contaminated by wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that contained melamine and its compounds."

But after the fish story of today and Dr. Acheson's admission that it was flour that is contaminated, not gluten, the obvious question is raised: "How safe is the supply of flour?"

The other obvious question is: "how long has the FDA known about this?"

As of this writing, there is no reference on the FDA or the USDA website regarding this new observation. They are still reassuring us about pork and chickens. It's their job, of course, to make sure we don't panic.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Update on Ron Paul in South Carolina Debate

A few days ago I posted a link about how Ron Paul was shut out of the May 15 South Carolina Republican debate by Fox News. Apparently he is going to be in it:

South Carolina Republican Party

Also, I posted that Mike Gravel was frozen out of the June 3 New Hampshire Democratic debate by CNN because he was something of a maverick. That decision has been reversed as well.

Gravel's website

In both cases, it seems that bloggers put pressure on the media.

Last night's Republican debate wasn't big on substance, but I noticed one thing: when Ron Paul stated that he was adamently opposed to a National ID card, suddenly all the other candidates who supported it started to backpedal.

Even though Ron Paul is a long shot, his principled positions are having an effect on the others. Let us pray that it continues.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Equal Opportunity Election Fixers

Last week Lauren wrote about how Fox News decided to rig the Republican primary by keeping Ron Paul out of its debates. Everyone knows that Ron Paul is likely to make the other candidates look bad.

So now, CNN is doing the same thing on the Democratic side.

Apparently, Gravel, a former senator from Alaska, made the other candidates look bad in their last debate. He spent too much time cross-examining them for their comfort, especially those who had voted to go to war in Iraq (he voted against it).

The corporate news media cannot stand to have any mavericks in the debates. If the presumed front runners were exposed to be the fools they are, it probably would do something to their investor relations.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Brought to you by the War on Drugs

If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.
--Exodus 22:2

Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England:

Burglary, or nocturnal housebreaking, has always been looked upon as a very, heinous offense, not only because of the abundant terror that it naturally carries with it, but also as it is a forcible invasion and disturbance of that right of habitation, an invasion which in such a state would be sure to be punished with death, unless the assailant were the stronger. But in civil society, the laws also come in to the assistance of the weaker party; and, besides that they leave him this natural right of killing the aggressor, if he can. . . .

On November 21, 2006, three armed men burst through the door of Kathryn Johnston's house. It was about 7 pm, which according to my almanac, was about an hour and a half after sunset. Ms. Johnston was reported to be 92 years old. She owned an old pistol. She shot once at the invaders.

The men who kicked down the door returned 39 shots and killed her. They were on a mission in the name of the Atlanta Police Department. They were performing a drug raid under authority of a no-knock warrant obtained by perjury and on the tip of an unnamed informant. The informant later stated that he was coerced by the police to lie about buying drugs at the house.

Today, two of the officers pled guilty to manslaughter and other crimes, including violation of oath, criminal solicitation, and making false statements. One of the officers admitted committing perjury. They pled down from charges of felony murder. The other officer faces trial.

The two guilty officers are facing 10 years in prison.

By Biblical standards, the English Common Law, and the State of Georgia's statutes, Kathryn Johnston was justified in shooting at the intruders. They were committing the felony of residential burglary--breaking into a house unlawfully. It was unlawful because they were using a warrant obtained by perjury. And the guilty officers admit that.

Under the felony-murder rule, generally, if a person causes the death of an innocent person while committing a felony, it is punishable as murder. Nevertheless, the vagaries of our modern justice system apparently compelled the prosecutor to agree to a lesser charge. Soft "justice."

Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
--Genesis 9:6.

Those who favor the police using military tactics, no-knock warrants, warrantless wiretaps, and constant surrveillance consider this:

You have long since lost assurance that the armed wing of the state will leave you alone if you "have nothing to hide."

Thank the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and whatever other War on Abstractions yet to come. As they say, Freedom isn't free.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Learning sin through the tax code

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

Romans 7:7-8

Internal Revenue code, 26 U.S.C. 6050I:
Returns relating to cash received in trade or business, etc.
(a) Cash receipts of more than $10,000
Any person -
(1) who is engaged in a trade or business, and
(2) who, in the course of such trade or business, receives more than $10,000 in cash in 1 transaction (or 2 or more related transactions), shall make the return described in subsection (b) with respect to such transaction (or related transactions) at such time as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe. . . .

I'm spending many hours learning about tax crimes. I already knew about the requirement that you had to report business cash transactions of more than $10,000, but I never really thought that failure to do that would be a felony. But it is:

26 U.S.C. 7203:
Willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax.

Any person required under this title to pay any estimated tax or tax, or required by this title or by regulations made under authority thereof to make a return, keep any records, or supply any information, who willfully fails to pay such estimated tax or tax, make such return, keep such records, or supply such information, at the time or times required by law or regulations, shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $25,000 ($100,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. In the case of any person with respect to whom there is a failure to pay any estimated tax, this section shall not apply to such person with respect to such failure if there is no addition to tax under section 6654 or 6655 with respect to such failure. In the case of a willful violation of any provision of section 6050I, the first sentence of this section shall be applied by substituting "felony" for "misdemeanor" and "5 years" for "1 year".

Before I ran across this, I never had a desire to deal in cash transactions over $10,000. But now I have a perverse desire to do this every day. Of course, I would file the required form each time just to add to the work of the Treasury Department.

Paul was right, "Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."

Thank God I don't have $10,000 cash with which to go around transacting.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Proper Deconstruction

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Genesis 2:15-17.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Genesis 3:6.

I was not quite two years old and curious when I found the square hole in a wall near the basement stairs. I peered into the hole, saw squiggly objects, and stuck in my finger. I felt a strong buzz and surprising pain. I looked at my finger and saw it wasn't bloodied. I tried it again. Same result. I giggled nervously and pronounced my first scientific hypothesis:

"Dere's a bug in dere."

My mom heard me, saw what I was up to, and yanked me by the arm. She yelled for my dad. He, from my mother's tone and pointing finger, promptly understood the situation. He uttered his standard curse, grabbed a screwdriver, and slapped a cover over the open outlet.

Of course, that didn't stop me from future experiments. I have had a lifelong fascination with electricity and with science. Not many years later, Dad trusted me with house wiring after teaching me the fundamentals.

This memory came back to me as I was contemplating Gordon Clark's Thales to Dewey, A History of Philosophy, especially his section on Descartes. Although the earlier philosophers dealt with important problems, particularly in trying to deal with how we know things, I was struck by how familiar to my own experience this philosopher sounded. It caused me to dig out my old copy of Descartes' Discourse de la Méthode.

Descartes, after going to the "most celebrated schools in Europe" and finding himself overwhelmed with his own ignorance, became disenchanted with the state of knowledge. He was embarrassed to discover that the more he studied, the more he became aware of his ignorance. He was distressed by the state of philosophy and science:

"Not to mention philosophy, seeing it had been cultivated by the most excellent spirits who have lived through the centuries, and which, nevertheless, one cannot find a single thing that is not in dispute .
. . .
"Then, for other sciences, insomuch as they borrow their principles from philosophy, I judged that nothing solid could be built on such an infirm foundation."

Discours de la Méthode, R. Descartes, GF Flammarion, Paris (1966), p. 38. (My translation of the French).

So Descartes embarked upon his Méthode and his Meditations, building from his famous dictum "Je pense, donc je suis." (Or the more familiar "Cogito, ergo sum"--I think, therefore I am.)

Descartes recognized the futility of trying to base certainty upon sensation. Gordon Clark points out in Thales, however, that Descartes could never obtain first principles. Rationalism could not provide the certainty he desired.

Uncomfortable in our skin, we constantly strive to find something solid upon which to rest. Yet when we look to ourselves or our surroundings, original sin raises its head. We find that the solid ground shifts when pressed. And when we look to the abstract world, we find that what is true there has no connection to what we experience. We discover what we cannot know and are naturally ashamed of our nakedness. (See Genesis 3:7-21.)

However, if we take God at his word, we can say that God made us to experience the world empirically. Our knowledge is not grounded in sense perception, it is confirmed (which explains my delight at the repeatability of my early experiment). Our Creator made our nature to have sense perception and to draw intuitive inferences from such perceptions. Things are "obvious" only because we were made to see them that way.

For instance, we often take an isolated experience and quite naturally extrapolate a universal conclusion from it. I touch steaming water and it hurts. I don't need to perform the experiment many times to develop a probability theory that hot water scalds. One experience is enough. That is because I intuitively believe that the universe is consistent. This is what science is all about. Inductive reasoning is practical and useful because our assumption about the universe is apparently true. We can't prove the assumption, we understand it innately.

The problem we have these days, I think, is that we have unconsciously forgotten the original rules. We have sought to disprove the basic assumption that God created the universe and created us with certain attributes to sense the universe and interpret it. Instead, we apply our God-created attributes to disprove the Creator. It is negative bootstrapping: we try to take off our shoes while standing in them.

Here postmodernism is helpful in a backhanded way. Jacques Derrida developed a form of deconstruction that seemed to suggest that language itself cannot convey true meaning. Derrida didn't think that was what he was doing, but people who have adopted his approach say this very thing. And, to an extent, they are right. If you spend your time trying to determine meaning apart from experience, you fall into the trap the rationalists fell into: whatever meaning is, it is not what we experience. And if you spend your time trying to attach meaning to experience, you conclude that meaning is only subjective. Either way, this obsession with nailing down the "Truth" with reference to our selves or to the abstract leads practically and inexorably to the despair of uncertainty.

Even the "hard" sciences are not exempt. In physics, Heisenberg contemplated the impossibility of true knowledge of certain events. Measure velocity of a subatomic particle and you destroy the ability to know its position. The crisis is that these events underlie everything. The self-contained mind finds this unacceptable. Our hubris and confidence demand that we not be denied the forbidden knowledge.

The postmodernism of our day is pointing clearly to the failure of our power. However, it fails itself to account for the failure. It tells us that Empiricism has obviously imploded and Rationalism's closed circle keeps us out. It then tries to accommodate Irrationalism. But its best practitioners are too smart to see this approach leading anywhere useful. They cheerfully tear things down, optimistic that something will be left standing. Others, following the existentialists, are not so optimistic. Either way, they find their current meaning in denying meaning.

". . . he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. "

Ecclesiastes 1:18.

The problem is quite basic: we confront "forbidden knowledge" as if it were an affront to our destiny. We miss the point that the knowledge is forbidden not because God capriciously hides the ball, but because we are ontologically incapable of knowing it. We are caterpillars demanding to understand our existence while denying metamorphosis.

Soon, I think, the world will be ready for a new old truth:

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:12-14.

God created us to interpret Creation. Yet from the start we seek to define Creation. Ever bent to usurpation, we seek wisdom independent of God.

Much study is a weariness of the flesh, especially when we try to ponder the fundamentally imponderable. But, in our proper role as interpreters of Creation, we should not be wearied at learning. Granted, our faculties are weak and our natural grasp exceeds our allotted reach. Yet we are equipped, and we have a clear direction:

The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.

Proverbs 15:33.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.Hebrews 11:3.

This is the beauty of our Christ, Lord Jesus, and the Word revealed. I often think of myself as a cheerful malcontent. I'm a malcontent because of how disordered our world has become. I am cheerful because I believe that the power of self-generated understanding is about to have run its course. At that point we will rediscover what our original parents learned in their Fall, that we are naked, ashamed, and without excuse. And, God willing, our eyes will be opened to the God of Wisdom:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;

And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.

Isaiah 11:1-3.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Laws of Nature Trump Natural Law

"Natural Law" is a hot topic of discussion in many contemporary circles. Political Science aficionados bandy the term around while arguing for a particular view of how the Constitution should be applied. Ethicists and philosophers debate how a natural law perspective can inform proper action. Postmodernists question whether natural law can even be discovered. Theologians address it in terms of the proper role of a state with respect to the church and vice versa. And normal people sometimes invoke the term to justify self-autonomy, or the "Pursuit of Happiness" as a normative rule.

Scholarly writers rarely mention the name of Blackstone, let alone his very interesting distinction between "The Laws of Nature" and "Natural Law." Even Christian writers, who ought to be interested, normally equate the two terms. (I alluded to this observation here.)

I just performed a computer search of law review publications, using the terms "law of nature" and "natural law" found in the same paragraph. The search yielded 746 citations. Of those, I reviewed about thirty. Every one used the terms interchangeably.

I added "Blackstone" to the search. That search yielded only five articles. Blackstone, apparently, is not a popular author among legal scholars. In those five articles, no distinction between the terms is found.

Blackstone clearly articulated the distinction and considered the two terms to be separate terms of art:

"Yet undoubtedly the revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers, and denominated the natural law. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together."
Blackstone's Commentaries. Book I, Part I, Section 2 (emphasis added). (A decent version of the Commentaries can be found here.)

The point Blackstone made, which was rejected by the legal positivists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was that the express law of God, as revealed, is the primary authority. We may use our minds and reason to try to develop an understanding of law (this is "Natural Law", in other words, what our fallen minds attempt to deduce from Nature), but the clear teaching of God (the Law of Nature, the very decree that binds the universe and all of its creatures) must guide our reason.

One of the sad legacies of Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School in the late 19th century, is that now almost nobody reads Blackstone. Langdell adopted the case study approach of law. It was supposed to be a "scientific" approach, following inductive analysis of how courts decided cases instead of an abstract analysis based upon ancient principles. Legal thinkers initially opposed this idea, but it became the standard format for legal eductation in almost every law school in the country.

This approach was a conscious unmooring of jurisprudence from theology. Roscoe Pound, following Langdell, stated the following in his essay "Mechanical Jurisprudence":

"We have, then, the same task in jurisprudence that has been achieved in philosophy, in the natural sciences and in politics. We have to rid ourselves of this sort of legality and to attain a pragmatic, a sociological legal science.
. . .
Herein is the task of the sociological jurist. Professor Small defines the sociological movement as "a frank endeavor to secure for the human factor in experience the central place which belongs to it in our whole scheme of thought and action." The sociological movement in jurisprudence is a movement for pragmatism as a philosophy of law; for the adjustment of principles and doctrines to the human conditions they are to govern rather than to assumed first principles; for putting the human factor in the central place and relegating logic to its true position as an instrument."
8 Colum. L. Rev. 605, 609-10 (1908).

Blackstone, of course, interfered with this approach. He was ignored because he argued from first principles:

"Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. A being, independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself; but a state of dependence will inevitably oblige the inferior to take the will of him, on whom he depends, as the rule of his conduct: not indeed in every particular, but in all those points wherein his dependence consists. This principle therefore has more or less extent and effect, in proportion as the superiority of the one and the dependence of the other is greater or less, absolute or limited. And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will.

This will of his maker is called the law of nature."

Blackstone's Commentaries. Book I, Part I, Section 2

Blackstone expressly answered those who would place fallen human reason over the revealed law of God:

"To instance in the case of murder; this is expressly forbidden by the divine, and demonstrably by the natural law; and from these prohibitions arises the true unlawfulness of this crime. Those human laws that annex a punishment to it, do not at all increase its moral guilt, or super add any fresh obligation in foro conscientiae to abstain from its perpetration. Nay, if any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine." (Bold emphasis added).

It is not surprising for modern commentators to disagree with Blackstone. What is surprising is that modern commentators completely miss the basic understanding of legal terms used by those debating how our government was to be formed. Blackstone was widely read and discussed in those days.

Our Declaration of Independence opens with these familiar and very deliberately chosen words:

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
I am not asserting that the United States was organized as a Christian country. But I find it hard to believe that so many scholars can miss the point that this country was organized under a Christian view of law. The term of art "Laws of Nature" clearly meant laws conforming to the revealed will of God. In other words, the Bible was considered to be the source of our law.

I suppose it is not odd that such things can be swept under the rug. I only wish that Christian scholars, lawyers, and writers would not also man the brooms.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lost Knowledge

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Genesis 2:15.

Even though I shouldn't be, I am often amazed at foolish statements that show up in news items or even scientific reports. There seems to be a cycle in which common knowledge is lost, replaced by pseudo-knowledge, and then, suddenly the old knowledge is rediscovered and announced with surprise. I've seen this happen over and over again in my relatively brief sojourn.

For instance, in the early 1980s, the invading spotted knapweed was a big problem in Montana. It had the potential to render useless millions of acres of rangeland. Researchers were working full time to figure out the weed. One of the first things they discovered was that it was "alleolopathic." That means that it produces a poison to kill other plants. I knew one of the researchers who proved this. He published his findings in a scientific journal more than 25 years ago. He even isolated one of the compounds.

Two months ago I picked up a publication from the Montana State University College of Agriculture announcing that researchers there had recently made the profound discovery that spotted knapweed produced a poison to kill other plants. I immediately wondered if the researchers were even aware of my friend's work, which was done at the same university.

So now I turn to a news item I read this morning. It is about a plan to raise genetically-engineered rice in Kansas. The rice is supposed to contain human genes to produce certain human hormones.

USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes.

Without getting into the aspect of implanting human genes into plants (I think it is a bad idea) the following paragraph struck me as amazingly ignorant:

"Because no other rice is grown in Kansas and because rice can grow only in flooded areas, the risk of escape or cross-fertilization with other rice plants is nil there, Deeter said. The company will mill virtually all the seeds on site-- using dedicated equipment -- to minimize the risk of seeds getting mistakenly released or sold."

Perhaps it is true that no other rice is grown in Kansas, but it is not true that rice needs flooded areas. When I was an agriculturalist, everyone I knew was aware that rice could grow on dry land. Upland and dryland rice farming has been practiced from before recorded history in places all over the globe. They do it in Brazil right now:

I remember one of our own experiment stations growing rice. That was in the silt-loam prairie soil near Bozeman Montana. And it was done without "flooded areas."

So common knowledge has been dumped yet again. I hope that there won't be some surprising "rediscovery" that rice, particularly chimerical rice, can grow in the wild and spread its strange genes indiscriminately.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:12

No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. Job 12:2.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just a Reminder

It's not really yours. And, at least according to the tax man, it isn't God's either.

Most of us believe in private property rights. As Americans, and even nominal Christians, we think that such rights are ordained and established by God. Our representative government has a different view. That entity also employs men with badges and weapons to enforce that view.

I'm not talking now about property taxes. Everyone is familiar with that aspect of state ownership of our "property". Nor am I even talking about the "use tax" that many states employ (including my home state) for the "use and enjoyment within the boundaries of the state" of personal property.

No, right now I'm simply talking about everything you own.

The Internal Revenue Code contains numerous provisions for taxing transfers of property. If it is done after you die, it is the estate tax. If you make the transfer during your life, it is subject to a gift tax. Happily, for us peons,* Congress has made exemptions. It has graciously allowed us to give up to $12,000 per person to anyone each year without having to pay tax. (There are other exemptions too.) If an exemption doesn't apply to you, the government claims up to 40%. Actually, if you are moderately wealthy and make a few bad choices, you could be liable for 113% of the gift in certain scenarios.

The important thing is the presumption: you owe the tax unless Congress has granted a special exemption.

One of the classic elements of the right to private property was the power to dispose of it as you wished. But, for a long time, Congress has not recognized such a right. Instead, it considers such a transfer to be a privilege subject to its discretion:

"Like provisions in earlier acts have been generally upheld as imposing a tax on the privilege of transferring the property of a decedent at death. . . ." Chase Nat'l Bank v. US, 278 US 327, 334 (1929).

We can pray that Congress will continue to be merciful. As it is now, we have no real claim of right. Short of a political revolution (or other kind), it is not likely to change.

In the meantime, the sovereign reserves its right to follow history:

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

1 Kings 12:11

Nevertheless, the God with whom we have to do, our avenger and our judge, lays a greater claim: ". . . for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof." Psalm 50:12. As we pay obeisance to the rulers of this world, we can still pray and protest, invoking Psalm 2:

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

*Peon (noun)
. . . a person held in compulsory servitude to a master for the working out of an indebtedness

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hazardous Hubris

The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.

-- Psalm 25:9

Nietzsche considered the "will to power" to be the most basic human drive. Our culture implicitly agrees. Having the high hand in any conflict is to feel secure. In all realms of current life, such as finance, law, science, politics, and social relationships, tremendous energy is expended to maintain this upper hand.

This natural desire is no doubt important. It always has been. Cain sought power, his descendant Lamech sought even more. From the wicked kings of Israel to the present moguls of business and politics, the driving force of history seems to be the quest for power.

We who take seriously the coming of God's Kingdom need to be careful about this. It is one thing to claim culture for Christ, it is quite another to do it with a high hand. Arrogance, even in the name of God, is unlikely to garner his favor. In 2 Kings 10, Jehu's zeal in slaughtering the house of Ahab, although commended by God, was not grounded in faith. He "took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart." v. 31. Because Jehu exalted himself, Hosea ch.1 tells us the kingdom of Israel was to cease.

But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a soujourner, the same blasphemeth Jehovah; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

--Numbers 15:30 (ASV)

As always, there are significant controversies bubbling in the so-called world of reformed Christianity. I have strong opinions on some of them, indifferent opinions on others. Where one has a strong opinion, I think it is important to express it clearly and with reason. But I've been around long enough to know that how you fight makes all the difference. When the counterattack involves name-calling, sanctimonious smugness, and back-handed dismissal, the battle is over. The important thing is not to blow it by responding in kind.

So it goes in all of our conflicts. The battle is the Lord's. A brief review of the word "meek" in the Bible produced this interesting nugget:

Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.

-- Zephaniah 2:3

The word for "meek" here in the Hebrew, (ענוי) (transliterated "anavee") means lowly or humbled. But what is interesting is that these meek people "have wrought his judgment." And Zephaniah equates meekness with righteousness, which itself means being in the right both morally and legally.

There is something important here. Being right involves being meek. Meekness, in other words, is not for wilting wimps. It is for those who look to God for protection and seek to glorify only God in their rightness. How difficult it is for us to hold to that while we are tempted to bash our opponents. May our zeal be grounded in meekness. May it not be the zeal of Jehu.

For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
--Psalm 149:4:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
-- Matthew 5:5

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reaching for my semi-automatic

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. --Ecclesiastes 1:9

Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver. --Hermann Goering (attributed without citation) (1893-1946)

For a long time I avoided dealing with postmodernism. It is an aesthetic issue. The jargon sets my teeth on edge. When I hear the word "meta-narrative," I want to start shooting (only metaphorically, I assure you).

It is not a recent affliction. In the 70s one often heard of shifting paradigms. My indwelling sin had to be restrained from the urge to shift proboscides. I prefer my abstractions concrete; my ideals tactile. My intuition suggests that big empty words suggest big empty heads.

Of course, short and loaded words may say something about my own head.

But postmodernism cannot be avoided. Everyone who has anything to say about our culture is talking about it. I admit I am a brute Philistine on the subtleties, but it seems that postmodernism is what happens when existentialism quits trying.

Very broadly, as I understand it, existentialism focuses on freedom, action, and self-definition as being the foundation of human meaning. Postmodernism questions the idea of meaning itself. Like the dog that gave the original cynics their name, postmodernism tracks vulnerable prey and devours. Its specialty is deconstruction.

This deconstruction may be a virtue. It thoroughly and effectively demolishes modernism. But it is also a fatal flaw because it demolishes itself. When we give up meaning, we give up words. Without words, there is no truth. We end up in a sort of pre-Stoic nihilism.

. . . there is no new thing under the sun.

Even if there is no new thing, it is our thing. We do not live in the age of the Puritans, or even in the golden post-war age of prosperity and promise. We live in an age of despair and doubt. The postmodern dialog expresses it in the most appropriate way possible: it denies man the ability to comprehend his problems, let alone solve them.

Maybe, then, postmodernism portends some good. It focuses on narratives, which I would rather call stories. Everyone loves to hear a story. But, mostly, everyone wants to tell their own story. At some point, everybody will exhaust their repertoire. This is because everyone will find that meaning is meaningless. After a due season of wandering in Mesech and tent-dwelling in Kedar, perhaps we will be driven back to the Word of John 1--the Word that tells us that words are real things with real meaning.

Reducing scripture to a narrative diminishes its force. Of course there are narratives within the Bible. But the real story is plain: we are lost and without hope or power. The sooner our culture realizes this, the sooner it has a reason to turn to Truth. Christ is King right now. No one can come to God but by Him.

So, for now I sheath my pistol. I've learned new languages before, I'll try to learn postmodernism too. I doubt I will ever understand it, but I aim to chronicle its undoing.

The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:11-14.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Will the 500th visitor here please leave?

A friend sent me this article from World Net Daily. At first I was skeptical because I think Joseph Farah tends to hype things. But I looked up the bill and he's right. Congress is proposing to further regulate what we once called "freedom of expression".

The proposed legislation is included in Senate Bill 1. I looked it up on the Thomas website this morning. It seeks to add some forms of "grassroots lobbying" to the list of entities required to register as lobbyists. It is a convoluted bill, but in essence it states that an activity called "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" will be a regulated activity requiring registration (a license from the government to practice free speech).

This "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying" includes by negative implication any attempt to influence the general public if directed at more than 500 people. The "paid" element seems to include any payment whatsoever. If a group of people pooled their resources to print a brochure, or if a blogger received payment, perhaps just to cover expenses, it probably would apply.(Note, there is a $25,000 per quarter provision for "Grassroots Lobbying Firms", but this seems to be independent of "paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying").

There are a flurry of amendments that have been proposed seeking to remove this language, but the legislation as drafted now is appalling. Political free speech used to be the most protected right under the Constitution. Now it looks to be on its way to becoming the most regulated.

Here is the quoted segment of section 220 of S1. You can look it up for yourselves at (type in S.1 in the bill number search, there is no permanent link).

(A) IN GENERAL- The term `paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying' means
any paid attempt in support of lobbying contacts on behalf of a client to
influence the general public or segments thereof to contact one or more covered
legislative or executive branch officials (or Congress as a whole) to urge such
officials (or Congress) to take specific action with respect to a matter
described in section 3(8)(A), except that such term does not include any
communications by an entity directed to its members, employees, officers, or
THEREOF- The term `paid attempt to influence the general public or segments
thereof' does not include an attempt to influence directed at less than 500
members of the general public.

So, if this bill passes, please do not send me any money. And if you are the 500th person to see this post, please leave immediately. Or at least don't tell anybody.

I have no intention of registering.