Friday, April 22, 2005


Theology, Mathematics, and Physics

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is reputed to be a strict theologian. I assume that the term means that he believes in a theology that is unchanging and absolute. It's like mathematics. The value of pi, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle on a plane surface is the same today as it was two thousand years ago. We may be able to calculate the value to more significant figures than could Euclid or Archimedes, but pi is a universal, unchanging constant. It is possible that the Pope views theology in the same way.

I am not a theologian. If I were, I would view theology as more like physics or even biology. Things change in such sciences. For thousands of years, light was believed to travel in straight lines. Einstein and recent investigators have shown that light is bent in traveling through a gravitational field. Theories of physics and other sciences have to change when a new experimental result shows that the former theory was incorrect. I think that theology ought to be viewed in the same way as physics and biology, not as mathematics.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Taxes and Work

The right wing is mounting a concerted effort to "fix" Social Security. (I put the word "fix" in quotes for a purpose.) Because the payroll tax will no longer be providing extra money to the Treasury after about 2016, and because the bonds in the trust fund will have to be paid by imposing a tax increase elsewhere, probably the income tax, the right-wingers say that Congress will certainly do something about the program long before the trust fund bonds are used up. It will be painful, and the sooner we get it done the better.

I am just a simple-minded progressive or liberal Democrat. I don't see the big problem. What's wrong with a modest increase in the income tax to provide the money to pay off the bonds? Then, after the bonds are paid off in 2041 or whenever, just keep the income tax rates in place to continue subsidizing the program. That seems like a simple and fairly painless solution. I don't see anything wrong with it.

But, NO!!! The right-wingers say that increases in income taxes on well-to-do individuals, especially successful entrepreneurs, discourages them from working! If they can't keep as much of their money, they won't work as hard, won't try as hard to create new businesses, won't try as hard to keep existing businesses going, and the result will be a stultification of the economy.

I'm still simple minded. I don't understand the argument. My own reaction would be to work still harder to earn extra money to make up for the increase in taxes. Am I crazy?

About the Death Penalty

Public support for the death penalty for deliberate, premeditated murder seems to be declining. New York State, which reinstituted the death penalty in 1995 after George Pataki replaced Mario Cuomo as Governor, is now considering whether to keep. A court has ruled that the present law in the State is unconstitutional. Hence, at present the State has no death penalty. Because of many accounts of convictions being overturned, the public is less likely to punish politicians who vote to replace the death penalty with life without parole.

The previous paragraph is a summary of an account I read in the paper recently. I am reminded of a point in one of the debates between candidate George H. W. Bush and candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. Both men were campaigning for the Presidency. Dukakis was known to be opposed to capital punishment. Mr. Bush posed to him this question: If your wife or daughter were brutally murdered, would you want the murderer put to death?

I’ve thought about how I now wish Mr. Dukakis had answered that question, or how I might answer it myself. Like Mr. Dukakis, I also am opposed to capital punishment.

The question and its answer have no logical relation to that public policy should be regarding capital punishment for murderers. Mr. Bush asked the question simply to try to embarrass Mr. Dukakis and to illustrate to the voters his unfitness to be President. If Mr. Dukakis answered, “I’d like to strangle the bastard with my bare hands,” he would have made points with some voters, while others would have been turned off by his insincerity regarding capital punishment. If he answered, “I would let the police and the justice system take care of him,” the public would have been convinced that Mr. Dukakis was an uncaring wimp, who wouldn’t even express an honest feeling of outrage and grief at the loss of his wife or daughter.

Either answer would lose Mr. Dukakis support.

In my case, an honest answer would be: “I would be very angry and grief-stricken and shocked. My first reaction would be to get hold of the murderer and kill him, preferably in a manner that would inflict a lot of pain and suffering. After a while I would calm down somewhat and be willing to let the police and the courts determine his fate.

“However, my response to this question should not be a basis for determining public policy. There are many things to consider in setting down a policy for the treatment of murderers. Satisfying the desire of friends and relatives of the victim for revenge should not be one of them.”

Then I would recount what I think are factors that should determine the sentencing and treatment of murderers, such as protecting the public from future acts of violence, setting an example to deter others from committing murder, possible rehabilitation of the convict, and the actual cost of executing a person as compared with the cost of a life sentence. Part of the cost of an execution is the cost of the legal appeals of the sentence, cost of investigation after the fact to make sure that the verdict is both just and factually correct, and the effect on public morality of highly publicized executions.

Dukakis was in a tight spot. He answer didn’t serve him well.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


"The Way Things Ought to Be"

Regarding the recent report about intelligence failures, in which the CIA and various military intelligence agencies allowed wrong assessments about Iraq's weapons programs to be given to and used by the President and other adminstration officials to justify the war against Iraq, it seems to me that the quoted title of a book by Rush Limbaugh captures the thinking of the neocons who are now in charge of the country. It is reported that one intelligence group, located in the State Department, got it right. Their analysts concluded that there was no credible evidence to support the existence of active nuclear or biological weapons programs in Iraq. However, their assessment was squelched by John Bolton, who at the time was a high-ranking official in the State Department. Bolton and other neocons saw the skepticism of the State Department analysts as contradicting their picture of Iraq and the world. In other words, Iraq had to have a weapons program because that was the way things ought to be. There ought to be a strong argument in favor of invading the country.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Oil and Gas for India?

According to a recent report, India and Pakistan have planned to build a pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India. The pipeline would provide India and Pakistan with oil and natural gas needed to fuel their own growing industrialization. Last month our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, while on a visit to India, informed officials there that the United States strongly opposes the pipeline project. The reason is that the United States wants to be able to increase the economic pressure on Iran by tightening the blockade on Iranian exports. The United States fears the growth of a nuclear weapons technology in Iran and wants to use the blockade to pressure Iran from proceeding with its nuclear program.

It occurs to me that the United States has another motive. I think of it every time I drive by a gasoline station and see how much the price of a gallon of gas has increased since last summer. I think of it when I hear on the news that the price of crude oil is reaching new highs almost every day. Obviously there isn't enough petroleum produced these days to go around. India needs more. China needs more. We Americans need more to run our inefficient but popular SUV's.

I submit that the nuclear weapons excuse for opposing the pipeline is not the real reason. Our distaste for the government of the ayatollahs is transient. Our increasing need for a major share of the world's petroleum is permanent. We don't want that pipeline built because we want to be able to get all that oil and gas for ourselves.

Filibustering against Ultra-conservative Judges

Democrats in the Senate will attempt to block ten of Bush's judicial nominations by mounting a filibuster. Use of the filibuster requires a 60 percent vote to confirm, rather than a simple majority. We liberal-progressives argue that most of Bush's judges have been confirmed and that the infamous ten are only about five percent of the total. Conservatives argue that we L-P's are hypocritical. We railed against the filibuster in the 1960's when conservative Southern Senators used it against civil rights legislation.

True. However, there is a difference. In the 1960's, a minority was attempting to block some reforms in federal law that the majority of the public favored. The public was opposed to intimidation and peculiar local laws that prevented Negroes from voting. These situations prevailed in many Southern States. Today a minority (the ultra-conservative-fundamentalist-Christian coalition) is attempting to foist its views on the majority of Americans through imposing ultra-conservative judges on the rest of us.

The majority prevailed in the 1960's. We think the majority should ultimately prevail today with regard to the packing of the federal judiciary with judges with extreme rightist views of the law and justice.

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Send the Cat to get the Fish

The title is a translation of a Thai saying. We have similar sayings in English, such as "Put the fox in charge of the henhouse." Anyway, that is my thought upon reading and hearing the news yesterday that a Presidential Commission - that is, a Commission appointed by President George W. Bush - had laid the blame for the false information about Iraq's program of Weapons of Mass Destruction entirely on the intelligence agencies.

Well, what should we expect from a Presidential Commission? The stories about movable laboratories for growing anthrax, about the procurement of uranium from Niger, and so on, that the President and his Secretary of State used to justify the war in Iraq were not his fault. No, he was totally innocent and was misled by those incompenet fools in the CIA and Military Intelligence and other spy agencies.

The report was a disappointment but not a surprise.

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