Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, August 31, 2009

questions and doubts

Despite the name, Perl Monks is not a religious website. It's a computer programming forum; the monks' mission is to help novices grasp the mysterious complexities of the Perl programming language. But sometimes they teach a lot more.

For example, when an anonymous user posted a question with the title Regular Expression Doubt, monk Merlyn offered helpful grammatical advice:

I suspect you are not a native English speaker. I'm pretty sure you don't mean "doubt" there, which means "I understand, but I do not agree". You almost certainly want "question", which means "I do not understand".

For me, Merlyn's response is even more helpful, because it clarifies a larger issue I've been wrestling with for some time.

Some Christians are fond of saying that their faith contains elements of doubt. I've said it myself. For some, the doubts are a response to circumstances that make no sense; for others, the doubts are part of a long-term (possibly lifelong) struggle. Either way, it's an attempt to honestly assess the current state of our faith.

But there's something about that phrase that just isn't right.

It isn't that real Christians never have doubts. The gospels, in fact, record that even Jesus' disciples sometimes doubted:

Matthew 14:26-33
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

John 20:26-28

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

But in both cases, Jesus rebuked his followers for having doubts, and in both cases, apparently, the doubts immediately subsided.

Doubt is not an element of a healthy faith. If you read many atheist blogs, as I do, you'll see a fairly common pattern where doubts about the Christian message are the seeds that later blossom into "deconversion". You'll also see discussions on how to use doubt as an evangelization tool, to help move believers toward skepticism.

I've always thought these discussions miss the point, so far as my faith is concerned; but until now I haven't really been able to articulate why.

The difference between questions and doubts explains it, I think. I can't say I often reach the point in my faith where I understand but disagree (though I do disagree with some theologies); on the other hand, there are many things I'm unable to understand. (It may sound trite, but the more I learn, the less I think I understand.)

What I have are questions, not doubts. Maybe it's because I have a mystical or experiential faith. The God I know is beyond my ability to fully understand. I was not reasoned into my beliefs, and I will not be reasoned out of them. All I can do is dive deeper into the mystery, and questions often provide good entry points.

Questions can and do lead to a more mature faith. Genuine doubts do not. But why do some people have questions and others have doubts? That's another mystery.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

first image of atomic bonds

Scientists at IBM have built an atomic force microscope powerful enough to photograph an atom of pentacene:

Like the venerable electron microscope, but more powerful and with an eye for the third dimension, the AFM is able to make the nano world something we humans can appreciate visually. Using a silicon microscale cantilever coated in carbon dioxide (tiny, tiny needle), lasers, an "ultrahigh vacuum" and temperatures that hovered around 5 Kelvin, the AFM imaged the pentacene in nanometers. It did this while sitting a mere 0.5 nanometers above the surface and its previously invisible bonds for 20 long, unmoving hours.

See the full story, along with the soon-to-be-famous photo, at Gizmodo.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

root bridges

Here's a way to work smarter, not harder:

The Ficus elastica produces a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves.

The War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area's many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever the need arises, they simply grow their bridges.

For more information, along with photos, see here.

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being honest about health care reform

Charles Krauthammer is concerned about the language in the health care reform bill HR 3200, and makes his concerns known in an essay titled Let’s Be Honest about Death Counseling.

Noting that the bill contains a provision in section 1233 for a Medicare-paid advance care planning consutation between the patient and the doctor, Krauthammer opines:

What do you think such a chat would be like? Do you think the doctor will go on and on about the fantastic new million-dollar high-tech gizmo that can prolong the patient’s otherwise hopeless condition for another six months? Or do you think he’s going to talk about — as the bill specifically spells out — hospice care and palliative care and other ways of letting go of life?

Yes, the bill says that the doctor must mention palliative care and hospice options. Specifically, the consultation must include, among other things:

(E) An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.

The sentence containing the words "palliative care and hospice" clearly puts them in the context of "the continuum of end-of-life services and supports". As I read it, there's nothing in the bill to prevent the physician from getting paid if he or she advocates heroic life-sustaining treatment even in the most hopeless cases, as long as the range of options is discussed in the consutation.

Now it may be the case that Krauthammer does not read it the same way, and it may be the case that he would like to see the other side of the continuum spelled out in more detail. That's a valid concern; perhaps the language is not clear enough, and this section of the bill should be modified. That's a reasonable criticism.

After a brief digression into why he thinks living wills are worthless and irrelevant, Krauthammer returns to the reform bill, concluding:

So why get Medicare to pay the doctor to do the counseling? Because we know that if this white-coated authority whose chosen vocation is curing and healing is the one opening your mind to hospice and palliative care, we’ve nudged you ever so slightly toward letting go.

It’s not an outrage. It’s surely not a death panel. But it is subtle pressure applied by society through your doctor. And when you include it in a health-care reform whose major objective is to bend the cost curve downward, you have to be a fool or a knave to deny that it’s intended to gently point you in a certain direction, toward the corner of the sick room where stands a ghostly figure, scythe in hand, offering release.

Were it not for this conclusion, I'd believe Krauthammer was voicing an honest concern about the bill. But his final two paragraphs make no sense whatsoever, unless we make one huge assumption: That physicians can't think for themselves; that they are incapable of doing anything unless Medicare orders it.

I worked for a medical billing agency for ten years. I can't imagine a competent physician would ever say, "Since Medicare is paying for this consultation, I should probably advise my patient to choose death." The reaction will probably be more along the lines of, "Medicare isn't paying any more than that?" Because that's the general reaction to anything Medicare pays for.

Medicare, in my experience, is actually less bureaucratic than most private insurances, but it requires physicians to take deep, deep discounts. And since Medicare patients usually need more care than patients with private insurance, doctors must take these discounts on a high percentage of their services.

As I stated above, I don't see anything in the bill requiring physicians to push their patients toward palliative care for chronic illnesses. I can't imagine any physician would read the bill that way either. I certainly can't imagine a physician would advise patients to opt out of any care that might cure their condition.

Only someone filled with disdain for the medical community would suggest otherwise.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

snipe hunting

Where I come from, snipe hunting is a popular form of entertainment. My high school cross country coach first introduced me to this unusual bird. Unfortunately I never could work it into my busy schedule to actually go on a hunt. I have no regrets about missing out on this rite of passage; knowing my luck I would probably have gotten lost in the woods and not caught anything.

Here's a sort of documentary of snipe hunting:

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

coercion in context: reading ecoscience, part 2

In a trio of previous posts, I've looked at some of the controversial passages of the 1977 book Ecoscience by Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and John Holdren. The controversy was stirred anew last month when a blogger using the name Zombietime made ten allegations about the book's content. If the Ehrlichs and Holdren had their way, according to Zombietime:

  1. Compulsory abortions would be legal

  2. Single mothers should have their babies taken away by the government; or they could be forced to have abortions

  3. Mass sterilization of humans though drugs in the water supply is OK as long as it doesn't harm livestock

  4. The government could control women's reproduction by either sterilizing them or implanting mandatory long-term birth control

  5. The kind of people who cause "social deterioration" can be compelled to not have children

  6. Nothing is wrong or illegal about the government dictating family size

  7. A "Planetary Regime" should control the global economy and dictate by force the number of children allowed to be born

  8. We will need to surrender national sovereignty to an armed international police force

  9. Pro-family and pro-birth attitudes are caused by ethnic chauvinism

  10. As of 1977, we are facing a global overpopulation catastrophe that must be resolved at all costs by the year 2000

I've obtained a copy of the book and am writing in response to Zombietime's allegations. So far, I've looked at claims #2, 3, 4, and 10. Today, I'll focus on claims #1, 5, and 6. (Unfortunately, this is likely to be my last post on the subject, as I must return the book to the library today.)

These three claims all appear on pages 837 and 838 of the book, and all describe coercive measures to control population size. (Zombietime has helpfully supplied full page scans of these pages: 837 838 839). These are all horrid ideas, and would be hard to justify even if the sky really were falling, as Holdren and the Ehrlichs believed in the late 1970s. But once again, Zombietime has quotemined the book in an attempt to tie Holdren and the Ehrlichs to ideas they argued against.

You can see, at the end of Zombietime's scan of page 839, where the authors of Ecoscience have proposed specific legal reforms. Note the words, "we recommended," which are completely absent from the suggestions about forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and compelling the wrong kind of people not to have children.

Had Zombietime scanned page 840, you'd be able to see the conclusion of the section, where once again the Ehrlichs and Holdren reiterate their belief that non-coercive changes are necessary immediately to prevent the advocates of coercive change from winning the day later.

First I'm going to summarize the five legal reforms proposed by Holdren and the Ehrlichs:

  1. Prohibit restrictions on access to birth control

  2. Subsidize voluntary contraception

  3. Tax incentives for late marriage and small families

  4. Mandatory sex education in schools

  5. Federal support for finding more effective forms of birth control drugs

None of these are coercive. And, in fact, the authors applaud the progress that had been made in some of these areas since the publication of their first book. They saw this as a hopeful sign that population growth could be stopped before the disaster which they feared was imminent.

The authors conclude the section with this paragraph on page 840:

There has been considerable talk in some quarters at times of forcibly suppressing reproduction among welfare recipients (perhaps by requiring the use of contraceptives or even by involuntary sterilization). This may sadly foreshadow what our society might do if the human predicament gets out of hand. We hope that population growth can be controlled in the United States without resorting to such discriminatory and socially disruptive measures. That, in fact, has been one purpose of this and our previous books—to stimulate population control by the least coercive means before it is too late.

Once again, the context makes it clear that John Holdren and Paul and Anne Ehrlich were not bent on controlling population by coercive measures as Zombietime alleges. But I'd say they were a little too paranoid, a little too willing to trust in their darkest nightmares, and perhaps not willing enough to listen to other perspectives that might have tempered their fears. It seems to me that Zombietime, in his critique of Ecoscience, suffers from the same weakness.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the twitter opera

The Royal Opera House in London has a new opera in the works, with the lyrics being written by Twitter users. Details here.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

out of bounds

Henry Neufeld comments on Shane Raynor's response to Jim Wallis's cursing of Sarah Palin.

Wallis is rightly upset at Palin for her grotesque distortion of the language of the health care bill. In Palin's mind, the bill's section defining advance care planning equates to "death panels" where bureaucrats determine who lives and who dies. In the real world, advance care planning is a way of making decisions ahead of time about what kind of care you want to get in case you reach a point where you're no longer able to make those decisions for yourself. With more people living longer, it's more important than ever to have a plan in place. According to, this provision of the health care bill allows Medicare to pay for a consultation between patient and physician about end-of-life care. Palin's scaremongering is just the latest in a string of attacks by the opponents of reform.

But Wallis is not content to criticize Palin for her falsehoods. He goes a step further and invokes a curse against her:

Please don’t invoke your “Christian faith” anymore and embarrass the people of God even further. May your efforts to scare Americans during this important debate fail. May your political future also fail, and may your star fall as fast as it rose just a few months ago — because we now know who you really are.

Since I've previously written about mixing politics and religion and about cursing — and not in favor of either — I want to add my voice to those who say Wallis is out of bounds.

It's fine to disagree strongly with someone's political agenda, and to point out the dishonesty of their claims. But is cursing ever justified? Not when it's done in the name of political debate.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

the unexpected hanging

After the logician was convicted of murdering his wife, the judge sentenced him to hanging. The hanging was to occur the following week, but the judge added that the exact day of the hanging would be a surprise. The logician would not know the day until the executioner arrived at the prison cell.

The logician began pondering the sentence even as he was being led to the cell. He couldn't be hanged on Saturday, because if he were still alive at the end of Friday he would know before the executioner arrived that the hanging would occur on Saturday. Therefore, he couldn't be hanged on Friday: knowing that Saturday was out, if he were still alive on Thursday night, he would know before the executioner arrived that the hanging would occur on Friday. Therefore, he couldn't be hanged on Thursday...

Continuing in this manner, the logician had eliminated all the days of the week by the time he was locked in his cell. He was exuberant, knowing he could not be hanged after all.

Thus when the executioner arrived on Wednesday morning, the logician was utterly surprised.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

on the theology of health care reform

Marie Callahan Brown, blogging in support of health care reform, asks some pointed questions:

I was raised in a loving and respectful Christian environment. In it, I learned that Jesus wanted humanity to be generous, forgiving, supportive and loving in every aspect of life. If you come across people who are hungry, feed them. Someone who’s cold, give him your coat. To people who are down, and not “being all they can be”, give them kindness and respect, not advice and condemnation.

That said; I genuinely want to know how certain, other viewpoints are honestly justified. If this is a Christian Nation, how is it that citizens are so afraid of losing anything or everything here? Why is sharing so difficult? What about “reaping what we sow” aka “what comes around goes around”?

I find myself in an awkward position here. While I too support health care reform, I don't think it has anything to do with the question of whether the United States is, in any sense of the term, a Christian nation. So at this point, I'm already leery of where this is going. Sure enough:

Jesus shared His fish and bread without reserve, and I feel pretty safe in saying He believed in Free Healthcare with all that healing and comforting He did pro bono.

That's quite an exegetical stretch. Christian teaching has always been that genuine healing comes only from Christ, so it's very hard to see how Jesus' healings can be taken as support for "Free Healthcare," whatever that is.

And let's be honest: Even under the most radical reform of the system, health care would not be free. Medical care has a cost, and that cost must be paid by someone. It's likely that any system we put in place would lower the overall cost, but some cost will remain.

I think perhaps the only request put forward by Jesus when He healed people, was that they continue to share with others the same loving kindness He showed them. Why don’t Christians do more of this?

A good question, but one that is easily answered by opponents of health care reform. The most common reply is that charity must be voluntary, not mandated by the state.

And therein lies one major problem with attempting a theological defense of national health care reform. Jesus didn't ever explicitly give his opinion about the political issues of our day. He barely touched on the politics of his own time. Since we have no clear mandate from him, it's easy for people on both sides of the issue to read their own politics back into the gospels. In my experience, that's not a healthy way to grow as a Christian.

There are other problems with this approach, too, as Ms. Brown seems to recognize later in her blog:

Personally, I couldn’t care less whether someone is a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Satanist or an Atheist. At healthcare reform rallies Americans have been known to drive by shouting “FU#K THE POOR!” Forget religion. That is the most UNAMERICAN thing I’ve EVER HEARD.

Now we're getting somewhere. In a nation whose founding documents speak of equality of all people, we are being untrue to our heritage if we don't want poor people to have the same opportunities as the rest of us. This is a foundational American value. On the other hand, it is not a Christian value. Jesus didn't die on the cross to give us greater opportunity for personal advancement.

It seems to me that our politics and our theology will both be healthier if we can remember which of our values belong to which sphere. There are some very good reasons why overhauling America's health care system is morally necessary, but "Jesus would have supported it" is not one of them.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

n.t. wright on biblical authority

I like the way N.T. Wright answers the question, "How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?"

An excerpt:

If we think for a moment what we are actually saying when we use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’, we must surely acknowledge that this is a shorthand way of saying that, though authority belongs to God, God has somehow invested this authority in scripture. And that is a complex claim. It is not straightforward. When people use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ they very often do not realize this. Worse, they often treat the word ‘authority’ as the absolute, the fixed point, and make the word ‘scripture’ the thing which is moving around trying to find a home against it. In other words, they think they know what authority is and then they say that scripture is that thing.

I want to suggest that we should try it the other way around. Supposing we said that we know what scripture is (we have it here, after all), and that we should try and discover what authority might be in the light of that. Granted that this is the book that we actually have, and that we want to find out what its ‘authority’ might mean, we need perhaps to forswear our too-ready ideas about ‘authority’ and let them be remolded in the light of scripture itself—not just in the light of the biblical statements about authority but in the light of the whole Bible, or the whole New Testament, itself. What are we saying about the concept of ‘authority’ itself if we assert that this book—not the book we are so good at turning this book into—is ‘authoritative’?

It's kind of long, but worth reading.


Monday, August 10, 2009

personal change, social change, and climate change

Derrick Jensen asks, in his article Forget Shorter Showers from Orion Magazine:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

And yet, Jenson observes, many of the most-publicized remedies for global warming focus on changes in personal habits.

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet?

Suppose every individual in the United States started taking shorter showers, bicycling to the grocery store, buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, using cloth shopping bags, and recycling all our trash. We might feel like congratulating ourselves, but aside from good feelings we wouldn't have accomplished much:

Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

The problem, Jensen says, goes to the very core of Western civilization. Our consumption-based culture is slowly choking this fragile earth that we all must share. Industrial forces beyond any one person's control cause more damage than any one person can mitigate. And we can't avert the problem by opting out:

So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses.

This is a sobering realization for those of us who make a conscious effort to live simply. Though we may gain personal benefits from cutting back, we cannot turn back the tide of industry that is etching a permanent scar on the face of our planet.

As stark as this picture is, Jenson's solution is just as stark:

We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

But Jenson fails to recognize that these same systems have also brought major improvements to our quality of life. More children than ever survive into adulthood. More people overcome diseases that killed our ancestors. More people have enough food to eat. More families have their own homes. More people earn enough money to keep themselves out of poverty, and to save for a comfortable retirement.

We are hooked on the horns of a dilemma. We can't destroy our industrial systems without destroying the good they have brought us. Yet our industrial systems are pushing us over the edge of sustainability. Where do we go from here?

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

the pentatonic scale: fundamental to all humans?

Bobby McFerrin gives a demonstration showing how an audience will naturally sing the pentatonic scale:

Or do they? Certainly, the scale they sing is the pentatonic. But McFerrin gives his audience three of the five tones, and the other two are merely whole steps from the previous tone. If he had let the audience continue up the scale on their own after he gave the first two notes, would they have sung the pentatonic, or would they have sung a diatonic scale? I don't think it's clear that the pentatonic would have naturally emerged without McFerrin's guidance.

But on another level, perhaps McFerrin has a point. Everywhere he goes, he says, people "get" the pentatonic scale. No other scale is globally recognized. Is the pentatonic hardwired into the human brain?

Hat tip to Good Math, Bad Math, which has a great discussion in the comments.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

praying for bad things so god can work good

I've heard of some very misguided prayers over the years, but I don't think I've ever heard someone defend them with this kind of logic:

...he told my friend, who has a degenerative eye disease, that he was "Praying more earnestly than I’ve ever prayed in my life that God would destroy the rods and cones in your eyes so that you would go blind and only the sight that God gives you will be able to guide you."

prodigaljohn has the full story. His friend, a pastor, is committing that dastardly sin of planting a new church.

This person who is praying against prodigaljohn's friend evidently believes the pastor suffers from pride and needs to be broken. prodigaljohn considers the roots of the problem:

Sometimes, if you've come to Christ through some tragic circumstance like a death in the family or an all consuming addiction or a specific pit so deep only the light of God could find the bottom, it's tempting to think everyone needs to have that very same experience you had.

So you start to develop this weird kind of "brokenness pride." That sounds completely stupid and impossible, I know, but I think it's true. Or rather it's true of me. A few years ago I made some mistakes that no amount of intelligence or wit or temporary, "I'll do better this time, I can fix this" could remedy. In the midst of that, Christ grabbed hold of me.

And yet somehow I found a way to turn that into pride. I started thinking things like, "That guy hasn't been broken yet. Look how deep my faith is compared to his. He hasn't seen the depths of hurt or darkness I have and is still holding on to things I had to let go of. Maybe someday, he'll get broken like me and experience a real relationship with God."

There's something else that prodigaljohn does not mention. Sometimes brokenness strengthens your faith, and sometimes it weakens your faith. Sometimes you go through such a long slog of hardship that you don't want to go on living, and you wonder whether God has forgotten about you, or whether he just doesn't care. That is brokenness. And if you've ever gone through those depths, you would never wish the experience on your most bitter enemy. You would certainly never expect anyone to end up better for having gone through the experience.

And there's another thing, too. Maybe they've already been there. We don't know what pain and suffering others have experienced, or what they might be experiencing right at this moment. There's no reason to pray for bad things to happen to anyone. This world has enough evil in it already.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

a real snake oil salesman

Reuters News reports on a man who sells snake oil for a living. I find it morbidly fascinating, the depths to which the old-line news services have sunk.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

on languages

Q. What do you call a person who speaks many languages?
A. multilingual

Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A. bilingual

Q. What do you call a person who speaks only one language?
A. American


Saturday, August 01, 2009

writers and nazis

This started out as a reply to a comment, but I've written so much that I'm going to make it into a post of its own.

John of the Zeray Gazette writes, in reply to my earlier post,

I'm looking at the passages that you and Zombietime have copied, and I don't see how these can be seen as anything other than normative. For example, on pp.787-788, Holdren talks about placing sterilants in drinking water. And he writes: "To be acceptable, such a substance...." And he lists various qualities.

John argues that the phrase, "To be acceptable," indicates that the authors of Ecoscience found this proposal acceptable.

However, the authors explain in the very next paragraph that it is not they but one "Physiologist Melvin Ketchel, of the Tufts University School of Medicine" who has advocated this extreme measure. That paragraph concludes with Holdren and Ehrlich's assessment:

And the risk of serious, unforeseen side effects would, in our opinion, militate against the use of any such agent, even though this plan has the advantage of avoiding the need for socioeconomic pressures that might tend to discriminate against particular groups or penalize children.

I don't see how the phrase "militate against the use of any such agent" (emphasis in the original) could in any way be understood as advocacy of this particular policy, particularly when the authors conclude the section with their fear that others might advocate coercive measures:

Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying. As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control.

And explicitly stating their hope that it won't come to that:

A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences, while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time. If effective action is taken promptly against population growth, perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries.

Were Ehrlich and Holdren advocating extremist policies? Yes, undoubtedly. But what they were doing in this section of the book was listing policies that were even more extreme, to make their own alarmist views appear more reasonable.

They were driven by the mistaken view that the earth's population was spiralling out of control, and that governments would need to enact policies to deal with the problem.

They were wrong about the facts of the problem, and they were wrong about the urgency.

I'll go further than that: Even though I see no indication that they were advocating coercive measures, I believe they were wrong to even mention such things. They had no reason to even discuss the possibility that these policies might be enacted, except to instill fear in their readers in order to win support for their own policy preferences. When you need to use fear as your motivator, you don't have much of an argument.

But I must stop short of what John has said at his own blog:

And Holdren's policy proposals represent crimes on par with the worst actions of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

To equate the authors of Ecoscience with Nazis is beyond the pale. To say such a thing of any political leader in this country — past or present — is to diminish the horrors of the Holocaust.

It may be wise to recall what Jonah Goldberg of the National Review said in 2003, when it was fashionable for liberals to compare George W. Bush to the Nazis:

Nazis murdered millions of unarmed people. They put them in ovens. They made soap out of them. They carted off children in boxcars to die and used some of the kids for medical experiments, including injecting dyes into their eyes to see if they could improve their looks. Lower on the list of charges, the Nazis enslaved millions and launched wars for territorial and egotistical gain (and sent many of the conquered populations to death camps as well). Lower still, they banned books and burned them too. They expropriated homes and businesses, banned religions, etc.

If Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren were advocating limiting the population by making unwanted children into soap, I could understand the comparison. But the worst I could find in Ecoscience was their advocacy of allowing abortions for sex selection, something which is already legal in the United States, Canada, Australia, and much of Europe. If you want to make the case that all these nations are morally equivalent to Nazi Germany, then you're tacitly claiming that the Nazis were not particularly evil. And that, I believe, is as dangerous as any of the ideas advocated in Ecoscience.

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