Saturday, April 26, 2003

Friday was an interesting day in my American Political Thought class (I'm working on a degree - BA this Winter, Master's program immediately after). We are reading and discussing various themes in American political history and this section is on class and economics - this means people like Brownson, Sinclair Lewis, etc. Well, while discussing middle class/working class issues and poverty several students used the term 'the poor' in ways that meant that they were envisioning only urban "people-of-color". Not only is it unfair to Blacks to assume that 'poor' equals 'unemployed Black man' it ignores the fact that the majority of poor Americans are employed Whites in rural areas. A vast majority, actually. Unemployed Blacks just tend to be much more convienient when a politician or reporter wants an image - they are close, and they are so stereotyped in American thought that they are perfect for framing a soundbite.

That's OK - these kids are in college to learn, so I spoke up a mentioned the statistics (giving some references I had at hand) so they could do some research and learn some facts about poverty.

Then the fun began. A student started a rant about how the poor aren't doing to well for themselves politically because (close quote, but not exact) 'they're so ignorant that the vote to block abortions for someone else when they don't have healthcare. I mean, how stupid is it to care what someone else does with their body when you don't have insurance? They have their priests and ministers telling them what to do and they just do it because they don't know enough to think for themselves.'

No, really. A kid going to a Catholic university said this. In front of people, and stuff. On purpose.

I broke in and said "You might want to be more careful before you equate being pro-life with being ignorant or stupid. Or claiming that its only an issue for the poor."

And he actually tried to reply! he said, "I'm just saying that the poor are more likely to be religious and that they don't have the education to realize they don't have to do what the priests tell them to do. I mean, why don't priests care about wages, or insurance? I'm not trying to be offensive."

I said, "You're failing. Badly."

Where was the professor, you ask? Standing there, letting me correct this kid.

Just so you know, the Catholic Church has been officially promoting the concept of a 'living wage', or a minimum wage sufficient to support a family, since the encyclical Rarum Novarum in 1891. Many bishops, theologians, etc. have advocated similar concepts since at least the 3rd century, but it became the official stance of the Church as a whole with this encyclical on Capital and Labor. And the Church remains heavily active in the modern living wage movement (Santa Fe springs to mind) to this day.

And while the Church has no official declaration on universal health care, two millenia of building hospitals, educating doctors and nurses, and providing free care to the poor and indigent speaks loudly enough, I think.

This kid was obviously made nervous by my words and literally bolted out of the room as soon as class ended. I think that tomorrow night I might write up a little note for him including all the stuff I've written about here (with a bibliography) as well as a statistical snapshot of pro-life voters. Wht go to the trouble, you ask?

Too many people today assume that if you do not agree with their opinions (a popular opinion) then it means that you are misled and that you are not worth listening to. I do my best to introduce people to one of my favorite pastimes - trying to change my own mind. By this I mean taking something that someone disagrees with me about and researching it to see if I'm the idiot. I've discovered that I am wrong about enough things that I try to spread this wonderful idea around a bit.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

According to the best numbers available the Catholic Church has a touch over 1.1 billion members. This is based upon the number of people who are officially members of a parish, nt just 'self-reporting' Catholics (although some estimates were made for 'secret Catholics', or Catholics in nations where being Catholic can get you arrested or killed, like China - but that is a fraction of the total). This means that about 16.5% of all humans are Catholic, making it easily the largest denomination on Earth. It also means that Catholics just barely outnumber all other Christian denominations combined (there are about 2 billion Christians, or 33% of the total population).

Not too bad for a church that has been called 'irrelevant' or even 'dying' by the media, huh?

And the Catholic Church is growing, by the way, at about 10% per decade. While this may seem like small growth, in actuality it means that in 2010 there will be about 110 million more Catholics than there were 2 years ago. Compare this with, say, the Pentecostal churches which have about 1 million congregants world-wide. And a large number of 'new' Catholics are converts, always dynamic members that are usually very active (in any religion).

In America about 25% of all citizens are Catholic, or about 70 million people - easily the largest single denomination in America.

Yes, I'm getting to my point now.

Traditionally, American Catholics have voted Democrat for about 120+ years. Rain or shine, as the party changed it usually changed to match the opinion of Catholics. This all began to change in the late 1920's and accelerated in the '70's, especially post-. Since the 1980 elections more and more Catholics are voting Republican until it is clear that soon Catholics may become majority Republicans. So what has the Democratic party done to win back this massive voting block?


That's right, nothing. While the changes are many, the main sticking point for most Catholics is the abortion issue. After that are other 'socially conservative' issues, like homosexual marriage, sex education, etc. In the main, though, surveys reveal that many Catholics that vote Republican prefer the Democratics position on issues like fiscal policy, legislation, welfare, medicaid, etc. In other words, Catholics are largely socially conservative but fiscally liberal (the opposite of Jesse Ventura); they are pro-welfare, anti-war, and don't want tax cuts for the wealthy.

As more turn to the Republicans on social issues, though, this is changing and Catholics are sloooowly becoming more fiscally conservative, too, in response to what they see as a total failure of the Democratic positions.

So it seems that it should be fairly easy to reach out towards Catholics, doesn't it? Indeed, a survey done in 1996 by Father Andrew Greely (Catholic Priest and sociologist) indicated that a fair number of American Catholics would vote Democrat (either instead of voting Republican or not voting at all) if the Democrats would simply talk about differing viewpoints on abortion, etc., being acceptable within the party. A staunch Democrat himself, Greely published the information and sent a copy to the Democratic National Commitee. When nothing happened Fr. Greely confirmed his first survey with another, again learning that many Catholics indicated that they would vote Democrat if the party leadership would simply let their dissenting voices be heard.

Nothing like that happened. And some estimate the Democrats effectively abandoned maybe as many as 2 million votes in the last presidential election - an election where the Republican candidate visited Bob Jones University, a notorious center of anti-Catholic hate. Even is the actual numbers were 1/4th the large estimate it would have made a huge difference in places like, say, very Catholic Florida.

In one of his books Fr. greely spoke of when he entered the headquarters of a Democratic candidate in Chicago. In street clothes, Fr. greely eventually spoke to the campaign manager and asked,

Why aren't you working on the Catholic vote?"

The reply? "We have been working on the blue-collar vote."

Greely left, angry and dismayed at the ignorance. He then lists the statistics for Catholics in America. Of all gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) religious groups in America, Catholics; are the most likely to have a PhD; have the highest average salary; are the most likely to have a management or administrative position; and have the highest average IQs. The days of Irish Catholics driving railroad spikes with hammers are over 100 years behind us, yet many think of Catholics as being just like they are portrayed in the films of 1930's and '40's Hollywood.

So why have Democrats abandoned Catholics? I'm not sure, but I suspect it may be because many leaders within the Democratic party disregard all religious people. Oh, they'd never admit it, but many people who see themselves as intellectual completely reject all religions and believe people who embrace religion are deluded at best and fools in general.

What are Catholics to do? I suspect we either have to do one of three things; 1) get very involved in local politics AND be very vocal about our religious beliefs so that people finally realize how many of us their are; 2) promote our social and justice concerns in secular terms and hope for the best (although this seems to be failing as we speak); or 3) start our own political party.

I bet you can guess which one I suspect is most likely to succeed.

Monday, April 21, 2003

You know what one phrase instantly makes me ready to be offended?

"I don't hate Catholics."

This is usually immediately followed by "...I just hate [their beliefs/their traditions/their way of life/my stereotypical view of x element of being Catholic]. I love the people, I hate [x]."

Very offensive. There was a survey done of media about 6 years ago now by an ecumenical group that investigated religious bigotry. What religious group is most discriminated against? Catholics, hands down. From cartoons to oped pieces to sitcom plots Catholics were portrayed negatively and the Catholic faith system fared worse. And the more orthodox (i.e., faithful to Catholic belief) the characters were, the more negative the portrayal.

This is no news to Catholics, especially the devout. As a recent convert to Christianity at all, I am constantly appalled. I know a man who would never utter a racial slur who refers to Catholics as "idiots" (as in "I saw the pope and his idiots on TV today. Must have been a few thousand idiots at that rally!" "That was a public mass, 'Bob'"). I know a manager that fired a sales rep for using the phrase "I jewed them down" but goes out of his way to tell offensive Catholic 'jokes' to the Catholics that work for him. His boss didn't understand what I was upset about, either. And I know a college student with a 'celebrate diversity' sticker on his car that "...doesn't think the anti-christ [he means the Pope] should be allowed in the UN".

And let us not discuss the portrayal of Catholics in movies or (please no!) television. Let's just agree that as far as TV writers are concerned Catholics are either evil or the village idiot.

So why is this permitted? Why do professors who teach diversity feel free to call the Catholic Church evil? Why do TV shows that would never dare portray gays, Jews, or Asians in a negative or stereotypical light consistently portray Catholics as ignorant, repressed hicks (or morally corrupt villains)? And why is the portrayal of Catholicism in the popular media so mistaken, so error-ridden, and so flat-out wrong that even many Catholics have seriously flawed concepts as to what the Church actually teaches and believes? If your documentary on the Discovery Channel claimed that Jews controlled all moneylending in Renaissance England you'd lose your job as producer for not fact-checking (although Jews were moneylenders in that period of English history, the Italians were dominant). Yet I saw a documentary on that same channel proclaim that the Catholic Church sold indulgences as "forgiveness of sins in return for money" - a 'fact' so well established that 'everyone knows its true'.

And, naturally, it isn't. Indulgences were not a forgiveness of sin in return for money. What they were is more complicated. In Catholic theology confession of your sins to God (in the presence of the priest, the representative of both God and the members of the Church) God then forgives you sins. BUT, there is a penance, as well. The penance is a 'payment' made by the forgiven to expiate, or puge the effects, of the sin. For example, if I stole $5 from my Mom when I was 12 years old and then confessed, my penance might be to replay the $5 and to give $5 to charity to teach me that money isn't everything, that giving is more important, etc. Of if I had committed adultery my penance might consist of months of prayer and reflection, working with the poor, and parayer with my wife to ingrain in me the importance of my family, my love for my wife, and how adultery corrodes my character as a life of deceit.

Some penances, especially in the Euope of the 1300-1600's, were pretty hardcore. Like a pilgrimage from Paris to Vienna. On foot. In Winter. Or 1 hour of constant prayer every day for 3 years. This is where indulfences entered the picture. In certain areas Bishops of the Church announced that certain charitible causes were innately beneficial; thus, giving money to these causes would help expiate the effects of sin. So, if you gave x amount of money to, say, building a hospital or feeding the poor in a famine-ridden area you were counted as having done some certain level of other penance. This was called 'an indulgence from penance' or just an indulgence (the theological explaination of this involves a concept called the Communion of the Saints and the manner in which the Church can determine what is or is not meritorious - don't worry about it too much). And, yes, you could 'buy ahead' on penances that you had not yet been assigned by a priest. However, this did not mean that you were forgiven for sins you had not yet committed. Indeed, many people 'bought ahead' out of simple charity in the concept of 'a good cause is a good cause'.

Did some people misunderstand what indulgences were? Probably, especially among those too poor to purchase them. And were fake indulgences sold by con men? Sure. And were some bishops selling indulgences for things that didn't seem very meritorious? Yup (that is what Luther was most upset about, per his notes. That and all 'works', actually). But $1 billion worth of indulgences wouldn't have forgiven a single sin and the Church never said they would, just that you could substitute giving to certain charities for certain other actions required by your faith.

Of course, understanding this requires time, and some knowledge, and some history - hence, people just repeat the anti-Catholic accusations of certain Protestants without ever checking the facts. And after a few hundred years of this legend being repeated everywhere from Lutheran pulpits to college classrooms I have to convince cradle Catholics that it just ain't so.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Happy Easter!

On this most important of all Christian holidays I doubt that I will have time to blog... but you never know. So on this day that the Lord has made, try to remember the importance of the day. By His death and resurrection Christ has broken the bonds of sin, freeing us from death.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Food for thought, geopolitics. You learn that situations are as important as ideologies. After all, communists, capitalists, libertarians, and royalists are all human. That is one of the core conceits of much political theorists (at least macro theorists); that capitalists, et. al., will react in similar manners to similar situations, they will just use different rhetorical excuses.

In broad terms, I agree with this. Exceptions must always be made for those political actors who are 'strict' ideologues like, say, the Vatican, or Cuba. To these political entities ideology often does override typical reactions.

A few days ago I discussed the ways that America is beginning to act as a hegemonic power, or empire. But what sort of empire are we? Early Rome was a Republican Empire (not that way! They were a Republic that acted as an empire) while later Rome was a Dictatorial Empire. I suspect that America is becoming an Oligarchy, or 'rule by a few'; more precisely a Plutocracy, or 'rule by the richest'. I also threw out some (U.S. Government supplied) numbers on how the richest 1% of America out earn the lowest 90% - they control much more than that - after all, they make all that money by controlling massive corporations. So the richest 1% also decides who among the rest has a job, how much that job pays, etc. Rarely discussed, this power disparity is much more dramatic than the income disparity.

And this power is actually much more effective in the US, and its use much more naked. In virtually every other democratic (or non-democratic, for that matter) nation on Earth it is illegal for a corporation to give millions of dollars to a politician or political candidate - its called 'bribing someone'. Here, its called 'fund raising'. Ditto for private individuals giving huge sums of cash to, say, a chief of police, or mayor, or president. Heck, our big argument is if some big donors even have to be publically revealed! The 2000 presidential election cost $3 billion dollars; you can't tell me that the people who 'donated' over $1 billion to the winner don't expect something in return for their money.

Not that long after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Unocal (aka United Oil of California) starting working on negotiations to complete a pipeline from the Turmenistan accesses to the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea area to the Indian Ocean ports of Pakistan via Afghanistan. Indeed, in December 1997 they were training Afghans to build this pipeline. And despite the already notorious actions of the Taliban, Unocal and other American energy companies were more than willing to do business with them.

Except, of course, for the continued instability in the region. It was too dangerous to build a pipeline. And a broken pipeline would send stock prices down. What to do?

Then the Bush Redux administration came in, an administration where most of the 'top players' (the President, the vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and many others) were all ex-oil corporation executives. And most still had close ties *cough, cough, stock, cough* to the 'energy sector'.

And Eurasia (the very eastern edge of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia) is estimated to have about, oh, 75% or so of the energy reserves (oil, gas, coal, and fissionables) on Earth. Controlling this region, militarily, politically, or economically, would go a long way to making a lot of oil people much richer than they already are. and they are already rich enough to donate billions of dollars to politics.

And lest you think I am on a "blood for oil" rant I learned from Chomsky, there are many other reasons to be involved in the region.

It is politically very important. Arab nationalism is in some ways finally catching up to the sentiments felt in other regions in the '60's, '70's, and early '80's. Just as the political oligarchs felt it was critical for us to blunt the 'extreme effects' of nationalism (like local people and governments controlling and profiting from local resources, rather than watching multinational corporations strip the land reap the benefits) in places like Latin America and Africa, there are certainly people very interested in curbing this disturbing notion on the part of some Arabs that they are perhaps getting a raw deal from existing governments and maybe they want newer, more representational, governments. And lest you think that America, child of revolution that she is, would never prevent the people of another nation from determining their own destiny, may I point out that in the late '50's/early '60's when the people of Iran ejected their King and tried to go to a representational democracy based upon the American model the CIA stopped the revolution, helped grab the elected leaders, and placed the Shah back on his throne. Why? Because the Shah would keep the existing contracts in place (to the incredible profit of a number of foreign multinational oil corpoprations) rather than nationalising the industry (so that well-trained Iranians would pump, process, and profit from Iranian oil). So the Iranians had their democracy squashed by the CIA, British Petroleum and its American partners kept their fat profits, and Americans paid a higher price at the pump (after all, BP had to ship the oil a few times to process it. It maximized their profits, but resulted in more expensive gasoline than if it was all done centrally in Iran).

Is it any wonder the Iranians were so very angry at America when they had their next revolution?

A military reason to be quite interested in the region is its central location. From this area you can directly 'project power' (also known as 'threaten') all of Europe and Asia, as well as northern Africa. Russia, China, and India - all potential major political and military powers of the future - can all be watched very closely. Currently, to launch a ground war on any of these nations would require some other nation allowing us to base ourselves in their territory before attacking their powerful neighbor. In some cases even air attacks are very, very tough because of distance. The solution would be army, air force, and naval bases in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is currently not possible.

Well, not exactly. Afghanistan has been considered strategically critical to the region since about the time of Alexander the Great. Since its central location provides access to Russia, Iran, China, and India its probably more important now. Great location from army and air bases. But where to put the navy? I mean, carrier groups travel the high seas all the time - how do we increase our influence on the local waterways?

Unless you have lived in a cave since the opening of the Silk Road, you know I mean the Persian Gulf. But where in the Gulf? There is a place that is politically and militarily important - it has a deep water port; its location gives an excuse for travelling the entire Gulf; the surrounding territory borders Iran and the splinter Russian Republics (also getting nationalistic); and it can threaten virtually every nation in the Middle East. It is, of course, Iraq.

So if you want to begin to politically, economically, and militarily dominate Eurasia, where would you start? Almost certainly Afghanistan and Iraq - they are strategically important, politically isolated, and militarily pathetic. Seizing either or both would allow you to continue hegemonic activity/empire building/economic-political-military aggression against the immediate neighbors of that state.

So, do i think that some shadow conspiracy is running this thing? Not really. As a matter of fact I thinks its almost certainly not truly coordinated. What I do think is happening is a confluence of events that make certain things virtually inevitible. In broad strokes they are;

the beginnings of a true plutocracy in America

America's position as hegemonic power

The power vacuum caused by the lack of a true coalition in opposing America's hegemony

The social and political turmoil of growing Eurasian nationalism

A morally and ethically weak administration and legislature that has no core ideology with which to resist the tides of political and economic interests.

The last is important. You see, no matter how common human reactions are in similar situations, they are not fated. Most people flee a fire in terror - some save others at risk to their own life. Geopolitics are the same: some react like "most people", some change the world. And history has proven time and again that one person can change the world and, indeed, individuals are effecting change all of the time. But without some core ethical and moral framework it is virtually impossible to resist these "common reactions" - that's why they are common.

Our current political climate, with its soundbites, soft money, and reliance on polls, is probably not the place to find many people with a strong, internally-consistent moral/ethical framework. Hence, the growth of Imperial America.

Well, my wife tells me that she thought my post on post-modern feminism was

"Weak. Not bad, just... weak".

I'll admit, feminism is not my strength. Being a man I am, essentially, an observer of the dynamic. Much like childbirth; I sympathize, and man! it looks painful. But, in the end, all I can do is say "You can do it! Don't quit! Almost there, now!"

Actually, during labor my wife tells me to shut the Hell up.

Maybe the feminist movement and childbirth have more in common than I thought.

Whatever. Later tonight I will return to two of my favorites - geopolitics and theology.

Funny story: during the birth of our third son, Sam, I was quietly moving about, keeping everything neat and orderly, when the midwife commented,

"You are awfully... distant, aren't you? Most husbands are coaching their wives."

I replied, "She needs to concentrate. She knows that I'm here, she knows that I love her, and she knows that I'll do anything for her."

"Aw, that is so sweet."

Behind her, Jen was glaring at me to shut up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Our topic this evening is post-modernism and the decline of modern feminism.

No, really.

I feel that, as a human, I can comment on both post-modernism and the current state of the feminist movement. Not quite as an 'insider', but that doesn't mean I can't have insights.

The feminist movement is, at its core, a very Christian movement. Its core concept is that women are just as intelligent, worthy, and human as men with the exact same rights. And if you say 'duh', let me remind you that my dear grandmother, who is still alive, can remember clearly the day women gained the right to vote in America. So it wasn't that long ago that the US Senate still had a member that also remembered a time when women weren't considered responsible enough to vote.

That being said, I have a problem with a great deal of current educators that call themselves feminists. They advocate an "anything goes' sort of version of this where if you like it (or it makes you more popular, or gets you a raise) do it. This is an absurd proposition normally, but even more so when it is intended to be a central moral and ethical tenet of 51% of the population. And the other common facet of current 'feminist' thought is that career success=feminism. In other words, if you're rich, you're a good feminist. If you are poor, you are a failed feminist.

Both ideas suck. The 'if you like it, do it' concept is the attempt at wish-fulfillment of immature people who want to relive their teenage years a little better, this time. If I can do whatever I want I'll be happy, right? Hardly. And the idea that feminism is about careers is a buckling of some feminists to the capitalist concepts of the oligarchy (more on the oligarchy in the future). Being a worthy human is about a lot more than how many female vice-presidents a company has and there is far more depth to the souls of women than meetings and memos. And I don't think Betty Friedan would ever 'dress for success'.

And where does post-modernism come in? You probably aren't too surprised to learn that I plan to explain.

The basic idea of post-modernism is that you can never be absolutely certain that you are right: there is always the chance that you are wrong. Therefore, never assume you are right and be open to learning new things and changing your mind. Pretty simple.

Many people (whom I politely refer to as 'intellectually lazy') twist this to the schoolyard argument of "I'm rubber, you're glue" by denying everything (the 'there is no truth' crowd). They use this fuzzy thinking to claim that everything is OK, everything is equally valid, there is no such thing as 'quality' or 'truth' so do whatever you want. Sort of an even-more-pseudo-intellectual veneer to the ramblings of Anton LeVay.

They fail to grasp that post-modern theory doesn't say you can't be right, just that you can't be sure you're right so you need to be growing continually(a pretty good Catholic concept, really; since Man is tinged with sin, Man needs to always be vigilant for errors in thought or application). And post-modernism certainly leaves room for you to be flat wrong.

So that's why you have some "feminists" making money off pornography ('all the girls volunteered to pose to become empowered about their bodies'. Sure they did) or talking about how to perform sex acts that you don't really like.

Don't get me wrong - there are some who are keeping the faith out there, especially women like Becky Whisnant of UNC - Chapel Hill (who has some excellent essays out there that I recommend to anyone). And there are some good resources out there that repeat that empowerment does not mean 'learning how to smile through it' but does 'learning how to not put up with it'.

Don't get me wrong - I don't agree with everything Becky says. But I like that she teaches me things and makes me uncomfortable.

Monday, April 14, 2003

So the Bush regime is sending not-so-subtle warnings to Syria to get behind the US or end up in front of an armored column. At least they are being upfront about the expected changes in world climate - obey or pay.

I was lucky to take a class with Dr. Organski at the University of Michigan on political science. Organski is one of those political scientists who isn't popular with the media or the governments because he happens to be right most of the time. Hence, he disagrees with government "experts" and the "leaders in the field" most of the time. He co-developed a theory of warfare called (if I remember correctly) the 'power transition' theory. Boiled down, it states that in large wars the victor is determined by economics and that large wars occur when either 1) a formerly lesser economic power feels it is now economically dominant or 2) the economically dominant power feels it is in danger of losing its economic pre-eminence. This theory nicely models everything from the late crusades to Desert Shield/Storm with numbers that make solid predictions.Predictions that tend to be true.

So, since we are in broad generalization territory (and remember - everyone who makes a broad generalization is an idiot), let's talk some numbers.

The European Union is being formed in an attempt to create a single, unified European economy in the hope that this economy will rival the American economy. It isn't certain that this will happen. Heck, with all of their oil wealth the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiahad a GDP of only $241 billion in 2001. "Only $240 billion+?" you say? Yes, only. After all, California had an estimated GDP of $1.3 trillion the same year. Yup, trillion with a 't'. Or roughly the GDP of France.

Let's take a quick break and talk about hegemonic theory. This is the concept that if there is only 1 superpower it will act as a hegemon, or consolidator of power. According to political theory, this is inevitable. Dr. Organski said in lecture that with strong presidents imperial attitudes and actions on the part of America could be delayed until 2050 or so. With average presidents until 2025 or so. But with one weak president it could happen almost instantly.

Guess what?

What is the natural reaction to hegemonic (or imperial) actions? 'Lesser' nations will band together in attempts to create power blocs that can balance the hegemon.

Remember power transition theory? It predicts that when these blocs look like they are surpassing the hegemon it will result in war. Let me repeat that - if either side believes the challengers are a serious economic threat it will result in a major war. And with a hegemon like the US, that almost certainly means a world war.

Of course, that might be a few years down the road. After all, like I said, California is an economic power roughtly equivalent to France. Heck, Indiana has a GDP equal to about 150% the GDP of Finland - the European Union will not actually challenge America ecomically for some time. BUT, if either side thinks that they do, it could be vey, very bad.

More importantly, one of the actions of a hegemonic power is to weaken its potential foes and consolidate power. And there are certainly some people in the current administration who are conversant with political theory and economics. So I am convinced that we are seeing a knowing and deliberate attempt on the part of political leaders, under the guidance of political advisors, to begin the process of hegemonic activity by the US. Not only for the influence and power it gives current leaders but because there is another side to these theories - once the US is deeply involved enough into hegemonic activities it will be virtually impossible to cease those imperialist activities without a major weakening of America either by economic disaster (natural or imposed) or the loss of a major war. Let me say that again - if we are led far enough down the path of imperialism the only way out is by the economic or military defeat of America so that it can no longer threaten the non-hegemonic powers.

"But Deep Thought," I hear you ask, "why would anyone purposefully do such a thing?". Well, two main reasons.

First, being an hegemon is pretty nice for ideologues. Don't like a foreign government? Change it! Don't like a particular strain of political thought? Crush it. Rome certainly tried to remake the world in its own image and succeeded well enough that they have strongly influenced Europe, Northern Africa, Western Asia, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere for over 1,500 years since they were destroyed. There are plenty of ideologues in the current administration who would kill or die for a fraction of such a legacy. And with a long-lasting, aggressive hegemonic power it is certainly possible.

Second, being an aggressive hegemon is pretty cushy for the ruling elite. Face it, America is controlled by the wealthy. And being hegemonic is about making the wealthy both wealthier and more powerful. If you are the 1% of Americans control 36% of the wealth of America, or about $1.2 trillion a year. And no one really knows how much of the world's wealth they control (no on seems to research that....) but if they could use hegemonic action to control 50% of the Wworld's wealth....

Who could say no?

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Listening to a conversation between two young men (20-21) at St. Thomas the other day and then reading (good writer, nice girl, very romantic in the classical sense) I am struck again by the cultural pressure to have sex. Not (necessarily) good sex, or sex with the right person, or for the right reasons. Just to have sex as often as possible. And if you do not, you are a failure, or a loser, or a hag, or a prude, or a religious nut, or... well, you get the idea. I'm sure I didn't even need to list any of the derogatory terms I did, and you can certainly add more.

The two young men were commenting that they didn't ever want to get married because married people, on average, have sex once a week or so. And that is too little.

So these 2 men (I use the term loosely) would forgo the concept of having a life-long loving partnership with someone who loves them deeply, cares for them more than she cares for herself, and is willing to do more for them than for her own interests because they would *ahem* "not be getting nearly enough".

My first reaction was to dismiss them as two emotionally-challenged men trapped in hormonal tides; but I realized that virtually everything in our culture tells them that marriage is, in fact, a sucker's bet. Women who insist upon some level of emotional commitment before sex are 'prudes' or other less-savory terms. And a woman who insists upon marriage vefore sex is a loony, right? I mean, a man can go anywhere - what makes her so special? Books, movies, etc. all assume that sex without permanent emotional commitment is the norm. Many parents insist that abstinence is insufficient as sex ed because 'kids will have sex anyway'.

Why? Why do parents believe that their underage children will have sex no matter what? And doesn't such an attitude on the part of a parent make it de factoacceptable? I mean, if my Mom and Dad are telling the school board that they know kids will have sex no matter what education they receive, then they just expect me to have sex, right? And if I do (no matter what they or anyone else tells me) then it can't be wrong in their eyes, can it?

And marriage is no longer acceptable to many men. And face it, lacking a moral or ethical compass, why would a man ever marry? I have an aquaintance who has been dating the same woman for 22 years, since 7th grade. They have been living together for 15 years, since college. They have a house, two cars, and a lovely daughter. I asked him one day why he didn't just marry her: he laughed and said "why should I get tied down?"

No, really. You see, he lives in a state with no 'common law' marriage statute. He keeps a separate bank account, the house and cars are in his name, and his daughter has her mother's last name. He is perfectly open in admitting he won't marry her because he can't get her to sign a pre-nuptual agreement that keeps him as free as he currently is. After all, if he decides he's "tired of her" (his words) he can just throw her and 'her' daughter out of his house. She has no legal claim on the house, the cars, or any of his money. And she would have to go through a rather lengthy court battle to get any child support for their daughter because they were never married.

When he explained at length how he 'had it made' I was tempted to drop-kick him through the goalposts of life. But the other guys in the office who heard this were, one and all, jealous. They either wished they were that 'free' from their wives or expressed hopes to find a woman as 'agreeable'. And why does his live-in girlfriend put up with it? Well, she told me she was 'lucky to have a man who loved her'.

That was what started me thinking, years back, about how modern society has stripped women of their few real cultural protections. Yes, there is much argument that chastity until marriage, life-long monogamy, and such are all 'patriarchal impositions meant to oppress women'.

I don't buy it. Why would men culturally deny themselves access to sex? Why would a patriarchal society limit themselves to one sexual partner for life? And why would the women in such a society particpate so strongly in such a system if they felt it oppressed them? Yes, women wanted the ability to divorce abusive husbands, but to shame them as much as to escape them.

Further, why do so many "primitive societies" (I hate that term) have strong chastity and monogamy rules, even the matriachal ones? Indeed, chastity and monogamy (or at least polygyny) are pretty darn common worldwide throughout history. Why is this?

Well, your host suggests this - these cultural norms are imposed by women to avoid sexual exploitation by men. Walk with me for a moment.... Men want to have sex with women (think in general terms, nitpickers!). Sex leads to pregnancy. Pregnancy physically limits the abilities of a woman to care for herself and the little nipper that is the result of sex. The mother needs help for years to make sure her child survives and thrives. And if you think I'm talking about the African savannah, I am - but I'm also talking about modern New York.

To ensure this support, cultures impose rules that tie the male to the female and their children. These range from laws to shame and shunning - if a man does not commit to his sexual partner and their children, he is punished, somehow. And this is all to protect the woman.

"But, Deep Thought," you say, "modern birth control means that sex doesn't lead to children. So we don't need these outmoded cultural norms". And Deep Thought says to you, "Bullshit". Just because a woman doesn't get pregnant doesn't mean she can't be sexually exploited.

The concept that since sex doesn't necessarily lead to pregnancy then sex is free of consequences is a logical fallacy. And an ethically-challenged male's dream come true. Here's a chain of I deas that I want to posit as how males in modern society took this idea:
1) With birth control, women don't get pregnant
2) If women don't get pregnant, I don't have to worry about providing for my sexual partner
3) If I don't have to provide for her, why do I need to make a lifelong commitment to her?
4) If I don't need to make a lifelong commitment to her, why do I need to make a deep emotional commitment to her?
5) Oh, some women want a deep emotional commitment regardless. Whatever, I'll try it.
6) Come on! I have a deep emotional commitment and she can't get pregnant - she had better have sex with me tonight!

So we end up with a situation where it is very possible for a woman to feel that she must have sex routinely or risk losing emotional commitment. And we're just touching on the edges, here. There are also the cultural triggers that tell women that having sex is chic, hip, cool, modern, and 'the thing to do'. From Cosmo to TV, smart, trendy women are having sex. A lot of sex. Those who aren't having a lot of sex bemoan their fate. Of are frigid, bitter, loony, or weird. Or tragically unhip. Or ugly. And she certainly won't partner with the cool, trendy, modern guy who wants to have sex and can always move on to a more-modern girl to get it.

Is it any wonder that more and more girls are having sex as young as 12 years old? Or younger? That fewer and fewer people are getting married? Or that divorce is so rampant (she had a headache)? Or that so many women are young, single mothers (birth control ain't perfect) and, thus, probably going to remain poor and single for a long time? Or that abortions are so common (children are only a burden, after all. Just an unwanted side effect of fun. Having a child would interfere with my life/career/education/plans to buy a nice car next year)? And can you tell me that this is weighted toward the benefit of women in anyway?

Sex is an amazing thing. The closest thing to real magic in the world. One of the greatest gifts God has given humans. The closest sharing of emotionality and physicality two people can ever experience. An action that can create a new life, a child that is totally dependent upon her parents for years and will both love her parents and be a physical embodiment of their love for each other.

It is NOT something to be cheapened as 'fun', 'trendy', or 'cool'. I know a girl who told me in all seriousness that she wouldn't share a toothbrush with her live-in boyfriend until they were married. No, seriously. She had more qualms about sharing dental plaque than about comingling gametes. I know a couple where they didn't want to live together because that 'implied too much commitment' - to them sharing the most intimate act possible wasn't as weighty as divvying up sock drawers.

And, of course, there is the girl I wish I had had better advice for. I met her at a party long before I thought these things through. She was well-dressed, smart, and had a lovely smile. After we had talked for about 15 minutes she offered to go upstairs with me. I was a bit shocked - your host has never believed himself to be in the same time zone as "irresistable" - and I actually asked her why she was willing to have sex with someone she had just met. Her reply haunts me, "I'm not so special - why else would someone fall in love with me?"

Why else, indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Well, the lack of logic continues in the press. Here in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA I read Cal Thomas the other day "explaining" *cough* how the quick win in Iraq proves A) the war protestors wrong and B) discredits activists who protested the war but not against Saddam (he singled out Martin Sheen). And I also read from a senior fellow at the Center for the American Experiment (a local think tank) how churches are discredited for opposing war with Iraq when it was obviously moral to end evil. She then drew parallels between the opposition of some churches to WWII and such as "evidence" or moral failure.

Whew. Where to start.

First of all, just because you win does not mean that you were right. Let me repeat that - winning does not make you morally, ethically, or otherwise superior except in a limited military sense. To think otherwise is to propose that might makes right. This is a wonderful concept for people who are certain they can't lose, but it is otherwise a crock. So to argue that America's swift vistory in Iraq implies that America is morally or ethically superior to the Ba'athist regime currently in place is a failure of logic, both rational and moral.

Second, ol' Cal must not know much about Martin Sheen. Martin was complaining about America's involvement with Saddam's Iraq in the mid-'80's. Yup, when the government and conservatives though Saddam was a good ally because he was fighting those evil Iranians, Martin Sheen was pointing out that Saddam was a scumbag. Cal Thomas needs to invest in access to good news databases and use them, because this is a total failure of responsibility on his part. As a journalist he is supposed to research and report on the facts, even in an opinion piece. His failure paints him as no better than the Iraqi Information Minister.

And as for the Center's senior fellow (Katherine Kersten, I believe) she was a bit too disingenuous. She complains about the Catholic Church opposing the current war and then tries to use a broad brush to paint mainstream Christian churches as appeasers who opposed war with Hitler and the first Gulf War. She fails to mention (naturally) that the Catholic Church supported World War II, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and even urged America to fight the Nazis before the average American was willing to. Why does she omit this? Well, that's obvious - if she admitted that the Catholic Church led the way in the opposition of Hitler and the Nazis, supported the first American War in Iraq, and now opposes the current war it would greatly weaken her argument. Therefore, the inconvenient facts must not be mentioned. She must focus on religious organizations who oppose all war and then argue that such steadfastness in the face of contrary popular opinion is weakness.

Catholic Just War Theory is pretty comprehensive. It is based upon 2,000+ years of moral, ethical, and theological thought made in the real world, developed by people in places like the collapsing Roman Empire, the Latin Kingdoms, Europe of the Middle Ages, WWI and WWII Europe, Soviet Russia, Vietnam, Korea, and El Salvador. People who were in charge of kingdoms, and people trying to save war orphans from starvation. People attempting to halt to collapse of civilization itself, and people trying to oppose men like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Its pretty clear. It supported the First Gulf War as the liberation of the conquered and oppressed Kuwaitis. It opposses the current war as a war of aggression.

About 10 days before the War in Iraq started the American envoy to the Vatican City met with His Holiness, John Paul II. The Pope is an excellent scholar: he speaks 11 languages, reads as many more, and is considered an excellent theologian and political theorist. As a priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope he directly oppossed the communist regimes of his homeland while living there and facing the possibility of assassination for speaking out. It can be argues that his direct opposition and the moral weight he added to groups such as the Polish Solidarnosc were directly responsible for the changes in opinion and outlook that led to the fall of the Soviet Union (and this is much more likely that the conservative claim that Ronald Reagan beat the sommies). He has directly opposed tyrants in their own lands time and time again, sometimes flying around the world to stand in range of their rifles while he repudiates them.

Considering these facts, you wonder what the American envoy, as representative of George W., was there for. Did he want tips on how to oppose (an depose) Saddam? Was the President seeking moral or ethical support from the Pope? No, it was none of these things.

The envoy was there on the orders of President George W. Bush to make a request. What was that request?

That the Pope change Just War Theory so that it would support the American invasion of Iraq.

And I think that that is the most damning example of the attitude of the American government that I can recount. In the face of overwhelming opposition from world leaders, world citizens, and many Americans, the president sent an envoy to the head of Christ's Church, a man that may be the greatest opponent of tyranny in the last 200 years, to request that he change a moral/ethical/theological doctrine based upon millenia of work by some of the greatest thinkers and leaders in history, all for his won temporary political advantage

If a playwright or novelist were to create a fictional character with as much overweening arrogance as any senior member of the current administration, it would be considered to be a metaphor similar to the denizens of an early Greek tragedy - so unbelievable as to be ludicrous.

But they run America, the most militarily and economically powerful nation-state in the modern world.

And it is clear that they intend to continue to use this might as they see fit.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Wow. My spelling last post SUCKED. Yes, I'm relearning how to type, and all, but you'd think I'd self-edit better. In my defense, it was late after a loooong day. [whine=off]

More silliness from the media today. NPR said "this war has been a roller coaster of ups and downs but it looks like the US will win".

Roller coaster? Huh? Its been 20 days and we have control of Baghdad. TWENTY DAYS. In WWII there were battles for flyspeck islands in the pacific that took far longer than that and we've taken Baghdad. That would be like Mexico invading California and taking San Diego and L.A. in 3 weeks. This war has never EVER been anything but horribly one-sided in favor of America's overwhelming military might. Yes, a few of America's lighter divisions are overwhelming military might. The Marines, the Army's 101st and 82nd Divisions are light infantry. The 3rd Infantry is mechanized. We didn't send the real powerhouses like the Armored Cavalry Regiments, or the Armor Divisions.

So, do I support the war? No, I do not. And for many reasons.

First and foremost, America should not be fighting a war of aggression, which this is. From Thomas Jefferson on down America avoided all "foreign entanglements". Even Korea and Vietnam were seen as helping nations defend themselves against invasion. This is invasion.

Second, the buildup of troops and start of hostilities was in violation of the constitution. Only congress can declare war. And setting up 150,000 troops on a border, telling the leader of a foreign government you are going to unseat him, and then bombing the political center of a sovereign nation is certainly war. And the vaunted War Powers Act is to permit the president to respond to being attacked, not to pulverize an enemy in their home territory when they haven't (and can't) attack us.

Because of this, Bush should be impeached and prosecuted for violation of the constitution, dereliction of his duties as president, and the violation of federal law. Period.

Of course, that won't happen.

I'm also against the war because it wasn't needed. Yes, Saddam had defied the inspectors for years. But that was because we didn't help the inspectors. When we felt it was important and pressured the IRaqis again the inspectors got right back in. A few years of inspections, maybe combined with American intelligence efforts, and any weapons of mass destruction would have been found or destroyed. IF any were left. After all, keeping them was an open invitation for America to invade with the blessings of the world. If Saddam was smart (and he often seemed to be) he would have destroyed them so he could beat his chest about persecution when none were found. So every American who has died in this war was an American who didn't need to die. Same with every Brit, Iraqi, foreign journalist, etc.

Was Saddam a nice guy? Hell, no. He's an inhuman monster. BUT! If we decide that "we don't like Saddam, so he must go", where does it end? We don't like the leaders of a lot of countries - do we just keep going? Iran? Libya? China? France? Russia? And what if all those countries agree that they don't like our leader? What if they were to all team up and oust our (unelected, constitution-violating) president and "restore American freedom"? What moral defense could the current supporters of this war muster?

Maybe next time I'll discuss hegemonic political theory and Dr. Organski's power transition model. Maybe, we'll see.

In the meantime, ask yourself - how does America benefit from the ouster of Saddam? He did not have the military force to attack us, his prestige in the Middle East was fading, and he was nearing the end of his life. Did we just spend billions of dollars and perhaps a hundred American lives (not to mention hundreds of Iraqi civilians, British soldiers, etc.) to prevent possible terrorist attacks that might have taken dozens of lives and cost millions of dollars?

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Time for a little more background on yours truly so that my rant has some weight. At the age of 17 I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I originally wanted to be a tanker, but the recruiter refused after he got my test scores. I ended up an Intelligence Specialist. I learned Farsi (the language of Iran, as well as some surrounding areas) and studied electronic warfare, intelligence analysis, and cryptography. I also studied Islam, Middle Eastern history, and the culture. I was in the Army almost 8 years, most of it in the 519th Military Intelligence battalion on Ft. bragg - tactical intelligence, meaning digging foxholes, using binoculars, and trying to be sneaky while carrying 65 lbs. of batteries.

Where am I going with this? To a place many bloggers are going, it seems.

The press is full of idiots. People who are not just ignorant, but that don't care that they don't know and then attempt to setermine how things should be, then demand to know why the experts aren't doing things the "right" way (i.e., their way).

Case in point - yesterday I heard pundit after anchor after expert talk about the Fedayeen and how "the generals don't know how to fight them", "they could change the war", and "they have required a total change in plans and reveal deep flaws in planning."

Any person who says something like this is a fool, a liar, or an idiot. And I include the air force general who tried to talk about ground combat (stick to whay you know, pal).

Haw many combat troops have the Fedayeen killed? A handfull. Maybe. They captured a double handful of lost supply clerks and captured or destroyed 3 or 4 supply trucks and maybe 3 fighting vehicles. In return they suffered heavy losses of men and materiel. As of Wednesday they had fled for Baghdad in disarray in the face of dismounted infantry.

While a fedayeen ambush would annihilate Sherrif Andy, this is hardly war-level stuff. I mean, in an operation this size you could siffer heavier losses from dysentery and poor maintenance. And diverting ome MPs to guard convoys is routine - this is back to business as usual instead of all-out advance, not a major shift in plans.

If someone on TV says 'this is major', pause and ask yourself - how would they know? If you can't tell, they're probably wrong. No, really. I'll give more examples tomorrow.