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.