Competing Creation Stories: Part one

Teaching the controversy

Or, how, outside of a Texas school board meeting, can anyone think that the above picture is rational?

(PS, I am considering submitting a new science book to the TSB. The above is an illustration used in the physical science section on fulcrums and levers.)


Deist Logic

There are desists of many sorts. Some just believe. Some insist on creating a logic structure to justify said beliefs, and some try to get others to accept their constructs as an external validation. I suppose that is to be expected; if you forgo the responsibility of having to account for your own purpose in the universe then you may always be looking for external validations. Personally I find the general desist argument more interesting since it can jink and dive into many more areas of philosophy and semantics than can the believer in a specific faith.

A common misdirection used by apologist deists goes like this: what I say is logical; therefore, it is true. One problem is that these notions, logic and truth, are not inextricably linked. Logic, intuition, etc are useful. But absent rigorous evaluation of the central premises or assumptions of either, they are often false. Wrong far more often than gives us comfort. Take this recent example of deist logic.
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truth
  2. There are moral truths
  3. Therefore god exists.
This statement is logical. But is it true?

The nonbeliever may agree with '1'; probably does in fact. But '2' becomes the lynch pin. Are there moral truths? The nonbeliever usually says no. Human history certainly supports this position. Deists try to gloss over '2' as a given. It isn't by any stretch. The burden lies with the deist to prove that '2' is true. For '2' to be true, the deist must prove the existence of objective moral truths that cannot be reasonably discounted as no more than simple feelings or perceptions (no matter how deep or seemingly true) which are known to be vulnerable to cognitive bias. Science has proven many times that intuition is often false no matter how intense. Although logical, the previous logic statement is meaningless since it’s based upon false assumption of fixed moral truth absent any objective proof of the existence of such a thing. Absent fact (not the same as flowery philosophy and semantic misdirection) the deist may counter that the depth of feelings and numbers who share them has some importance to truth (sorry, only in elections). But these don't when actually subjected to rigorous testing. Truth and perception are often at odds. With these facts in mind, it is more correct to counter the deist 's logic as follows:
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truth
  2. We have no objective evidence that there are moral truths
  3. Therefore the existence of gods cannot be gleaned from what we know of moral truth
Which blows a hole in the deist’s position. The fixed navigation point of rigid morality is crucial to the deist's position since at its source must be god. Take it away and they are adrift. But the deist will often counter with the knee -jerk response of ‘have you considered the consequences of this?’

I’m not quite sure why deists imagine that nonbelievers haven’t considered what this means. We do. Probably more than deists who have the benefit of shifting responsibility to god X. As I stated before, humans are responsible for creating our system of morality. Yes it is relative but justice and fairness can be obtained through the use of empathy. Perhaps the purest sense we have. The deist insists that moral relativism prevents the nonbeliever from making or defending a moral position relative to any other. Not true.

As example, let’s consider pedophilia. As a father, I am revolted by the notion of harming my children in any way. Nor am I open to someone else doing it. Don’t need any god to tell me that. As a father, I can be empathetic. I can extend my sense of duty to my children, to children in general. Through empathy, imagining what harm could come to my own dear children, I cannot allow anything like it to be permissible to any children. Therefore I am supportive of the relative moralistic position that children should be protected. I am eager to enter into a social contract that holds this position as moral. I am willing to accept it as a fact that kids are off limits. I refuse to accept it as permissible despite historical evidence that other cultures do not agree. I know that it is historically a relative position. Does not mean I am unwilling to push this as an absolute. It’s also pragmatic. If I am comfortable that my children are safe from predation it leaves me more time to do other things than killing pedophiles or defending my offspring. Other fathers feel the same. By agreeing that my offspring are safer when yours are too, the morality becomes easy and the argument that one position equals another becomes specious. Thus does a relative social contract become canon. Why should one accept the premise that you should keep your hands off my kids? Because enough fathers and mothers have banded together to get this canonized and to create a penalty structure should you chose otherwise. Yep, just the power of the majority.

Sorry believers - you of all people should accept the notion of ‘might makes right’. After all you invoke the power of a god to enforce your moral claims. Nonbelievers just have to resort to the power of consensus. (the power of democracy compels thee, the power....)

Deists make the mistake of thinking that basic morality is based upon philosophy. It isn't. It's based upon pragmatic social contracts enforced by the will of the strong or the well organized. As individuals have gained in stature over countless generations, the basic morality has evolved from what's good for the leader to what's good for the tribe. Over time it is aided by repetition and assumption so that future generations just assume it as a given (Much like how religion keeps hold). It seems natural because that's what we've been indoctrinated to believe.

Moral relativism is harder. It’s dangerous. It’s the truth we face. Wishing it were not so does nothing but complicate the real work of creating workable long term social structures based upon the interactions of short sighted biological entities most concerned with their own immediate needs (you and me).

So where does that leave us with respect to the deist? Back to the importance of the moral truth argument. If we invoke some science into the assumptions, we can turn this around on the deist. in any number of logical ways. For example:
  1. Absent gods there can be no moral truths
  2. People have a strong sense of the existence of moral truths despite vast scientific and historical proof to the contrary.
  3. Therefore people invent gods to account for their sense.
  1. People are uncomfortable with the notion of moral relativism
  2. Invented gods provide an pseudo-external source for fixed morality
  3. Therefore people embrace invented gods to ease their discomfort with moral relativism.
  1. Revealed morality is intellectually and socially cheap
  2. Moral relativism is intellectually and socially costly.
  3. Therefore, people embrace revealed morality to avoid the intellectual and social costs of moral relativism.
Notice that each of these positions is logically consistent. Furthermore, they are culturally and scientifically more sound than the deist’s position since the assumptions can be validated. The deist is claiming that we are essentially doomed if gods don't exist - who will guide us? Humans cannot determine reasonable moral values absent higher authority. Therefore our only salvation is a higher authority, regardless of objective proof. So it has to be true! Wishful thinking must be true? Seems a poor foundation for truth. It also seems like poor support for the existence of gods - if they don't exist we are screwed. It may be true if we don't get our collective act together but debating nonexistent parental figures isn't helping address our real problems.

Still, this logic often fails to persuade a believer. Many will continue to hold to the notion 'that it just feels right' to believe thus and so. Deists are often dogged in their belief of the claim that depth of feeling is a valid gauge of reality regardless of the objective evidence. Not surprising since long ago the promoters of religion realized that pushing the faith argument (belief regardless of fact) was the key to spiritual enlightenment. Clever of them since it allows believers an out regardless of the weight of evidence. That the god works in ever more mysterious ways seems not to bother anyone all that much. I know it's redundant to rehash why this isn't so, but since it's such a common tactic, it's worth repeating. To paraphrase a recent quote that illustrates this:
If we strongly perceive that something is obviously amiss in the world we are justified (absent some error theory) in believing our perceptions.
Do people do exactly that a lot of the time? Absolutely. It is human nature. Is it justifiable from a scientific perspective? No. Not justified at all. In fact, one can argue that the scientific method was invented as a means to mitigate our known perceptive biases. The above is a typical human response. Nevertheless it slams head first into a brick wall of objective science which refutes it. There exists ample ‘error theory’ to explain these run away feelings. Cognitive science demonstrates conclusively that people believe many things in their hearts that are not objectively true. This is my area of study and the limits of human delusional thinking are vast. The studies are compelling and reproducible. It’s science after all. We aren’t justified in concluding anything purely on the basis of our strength of feeling. Deists may counter that science cannot disprove the existence of god, yadda, yadda, however science can prove the existence and impact of cognitive biases on human thinking. Epistemology can't provide the usual sanctuary when you cross the borders of hard science as the above quote clearly does. Much in science may begin in the far less structured land of philosophy but most is discarded and any that remains must cut objective muster. And the validity of strong perceptions absent evidence has been ground into dust through science.

Rejecting the unproven concept of absolute morality in light of what we know of cognitive bias we can take a stab at alternative statements of logic for the deist to consider. It is logical to propose:
  1. People deeply believe many things
  2. Cognitive science demonstrates that many deep feelings point to false beliefs
  3. Therefore deep beliefs may not be true.
Or, a bit more bluntly:
  1. Cognitive bias research demonstrates how people falsely believe in extraordinary things absent proof.
  2. Gods are extraordinary things absent proof.
  3. Therefore, gods are a form of cognitive bias.
It may not be comforting, but that doesn't make it false. Truth is not the result of a popularity contest or an ad campaign. It cares not one bit how many feel otherwise or how strongly. You can't phase the truth by not believing in it. You can only prevent yourself from dealing with it.


Egged on by Benedict

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. ~Buddha
Hard for me to imagine such a quote ever coming from the current pontiff. Pope Benedict has taken time off from ridding the Roman Catholic Church of any of its recent pesky Brownian motion toward bits of humanitarianism to strike out at atheists and the 'marginalization of Christianity'. He trotted out the usual 'Hitler was an atheist' falsehood as his prime example. I will ignore for a moment the bilious taste of irony in my mouth created by a former Hitler youth falling back on the tradition of deflecting the failings of his culture onto the backs of an unpopular minority. Hard to imagine that one rising to the rank of Pope could be so woefully ill informed, particularly as he was a Catholic within that very regime.

Deflecting blame to avoid accountability is pretty much the political standard throughout the world. Common it is. But sorry, it ain't anywhere near the moral high ground. In fact it is so far from it that the curvature of the earth prevents one from even seeing the moral high ground from your position.

But for now I'd like to make a point that doesn't seem to be the focus of much attention in this endless, and frankly irrelevant, lying about Hitler's religiosity. Where were all the Christians? Presumably, Nazi Germany was not largely populated by atheists. Yes, there were a few who resisted but it isn't clear that their religion had much to do with the moral stand they took. The point is simple; if Christianity is this wellspring of moral virtue then the large numbers of German, (and Polish and French, etc...) Christians should have had a more demonstrable impact on the behavior of the population regardless of whether Hitler was an atheist (which he clearly left no record of being) or not. Also presumably a Christian nation such as Germany wouldn't have elected an atheist to high office anyway. And before you argue that it wouldn't have mattered, consider how the extermination of 'mental defectives' in Germany was stopped by popular dissent (including the Catholic Church) before the war started. Plus there is that pesky truism that one's morality is all that's left in situations where nothing else matters.

So on the face of it, the presence or absence of Christian faith did not steel all that many people to take any risks in stopping the Nazi killings. And since it did not, then it's not reasonable to argue that it is a bastion of moral superiority.
Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught. ~J.C. Watts
If God is always looking, how can one test his or her true character? There is all this emphasis on wronging God (who presumably should be in a position to take care of Himself anyway) and little on the wronging of one's fellow human beings. It's as if they believe that character only counts if they can force others to abide by the same rules.

Beyond that I would agree with His ----ness to some degree in that there is some marginalization of Christianity. I would disagree that this is necessarily a bad thing. What he's complaining about using his stance of false victimization, is that the market place of ideas has a whole lot more shelf space dedicated to things other than his religion, or its off shoots. That's to be expected now that science is freed of theological constraints and he is limited to searing his opponents with words only...

Old Benedict keeps failing into the same trap; and leading his followers to the same. So much arguing about fighting and being right - so little about just being true.



I have a confession to make. Please don’t think badly of me. I don’t have a smart phone.

At one point I considered buying one of those Gitterbug phones - the ones aimed at the elderly with poor vision and a tremor. They have giant keys and you can only use them to make a phone call. You can’t control all aspects of your life remotely. They force you to actually live your life rather than comment on what you are doing from second to second.

My wife’s new phone looks like a Swiss army knife or something that 'Q' sent her since it has so many little doohickies that can open and fold out to assume some completely mysterious configuration. I fear that one is a ray gun. So many buttons and panels.

I like the iPhone for that reason. It has no keys and looks clean when it’s turned off. It’s black screen is less accusatory than all those buttons and panels that the android phone has that can make me feel completely worthless and weak even when powered down. Makes me feel like I should turn it on and read the instruction manual.

My current phone outclasses Captain Kirk's from TOS, but not much else. And it is awful for texting.

Texting actually has some utility in my world. We used to have these texting pagers that had a mini-keyboard. Turned out that we pages less but communicated more. You could more easily work with the team without having to sit around paging and waiting. Of course the hospital got rid of them.

With my ancient phone, texting is a lot like talking to Steven Hawking. My daughter and now my wife, have wondrous phones with full key boards that allow them to whisk off lengthy texts before I can select, ‘ditto’ from the old style of my phone. The language of Shakespeare reduced to textual grunts more akin to the lexicon of a caveman.

I find myself automatically texting ‘k luv u’ in response to almost anything as a simple expedient. Much like a dog rolling over in response to just about any human sentence. I may need a new phone before my daughter is old enough to text “can I buy a new car with your Amex?”


Patience: A Short Story

This idea for a short story came about when I thought up the little technical curiosity that is the centerpiece of the story. It's something different.

It was always nice to look down at the world from 45,000 feet. You could enjoy the beauty of the earth without having to filter out all the suckers cluttering up the landscape. From here, they didn’t even register as ants. The sprawl and detritus they left in their wakes was invisible. Granted, those suckers had made him a very rich man, but that didn’t make him any fonder of them. For years he had been amazed by how easy it had been to push buttons and manipulate opinion by the right turn of a phrase or strategically recursive sound bite.

Up here, you didn’t have to see the lives broken by misdeeds. It was clean and clear. Not like recent world history at all.

This trip was very special. Thomas Archibald was journeying for the last time. Of that he was sure. Enroute to China from his homeland. Traveling in high style, courtesy of a lot of the people who would be only too happy to see him dead. Enjoying the luxuries of one of his favorite models of private jet. Quietly leased for this one flight. A man like him had to be careful. Particularly a man like him.

It wasn’t everybody who could thumb his nose at the United States and live, in plain sight, to tell about it. Years earlier he had used his wealth and media empire to support a failed coup. Of course it had all been couched in a promise to 'take back America', but at its core it was no different from any banana republic power grab. Exactly what they were taking America back from was pretty nebulous - other than a democratically elected administration and that pesky Constitution.

The President and his family had been lost but the Vice President had turned out to be better at his job than had been supposed. Turned out that the American heartland didn’t consider treason and murder to be appropriate family values no matter how you spun it. An unfortunate and unforeseen complication from the perspective of the conspirators. The fury against Muslims in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks was nothing compared to the rage that flared when the extent of the betrayal became known. And the identity of those responsible. The gallows and firing ranges had been pretty busy with the grim work of retribution, fed by almost every court in the land. All busy handling trials at all levels of society and government. The appeals process took a back seat to expediency. If a case could be moved to a military court, it was.

The work of rough justice had been aided by the fact that the conspirators hadn’t felt a particular need to cover their tracks. After all, they had successfully spread disinformation for years and no one had ever been able to take them to task. They got cocky. They had forgotten that people will go along with a lot when it doesn't directly affect them, but not so much when it does. Their well greased apparatus for disseminating and coordinating information betrayed them for it had created clear paths for the investigators to follow. Details that should have been eliminated had been retained probably in anticipation of the huge book deals that these self-styled patriots imagined would be coming their way.

The so called civilized world was appalled at the carnage. At first, great lengths were taken to ensure that it was all very legal (or at least seemed defensible to those in charge) but the shear volume and speed of it looked more and more like a purge to outsiders. There had been riots, organized attacks and episodes of madness. For a time it looked as if civil war would erupt. In truth, many little civil wars resulted. Every nut job with a grudge streamed from the woodwork. Fortunately they weren’t organized. But squelching them all took a toll on a battered nation. The Constitution turned out to be poor protection from bullets entering flesh. Once people stopped looking to it for protection, things spiraled out of control.

Posse Comitatus was conveniently overlooked. On more than one occasion a smart bomb ended negotiations with some fringe group. In the simple economics of the time, social order by time-on-target artillery was cheaper than trials of large numbers of renegades. As it turned out, the unabridged freedom to bear arms had not resulted in any pockets of resistance that a task force of M1a2 TUSK's couldn’t handle. Granted, a few RPG’s and the like were smuggled in to the country. But once the source of the shipments had been identified, the high altitude regime change in the wrecked city of Pyongyang, seemed to have dissuaded copycats.

Some cool headed leaders from both major political parties finally were able to quell the worst of the violence. The fact that the most rabid factions were among the now glorious dead didn't hurt. They convinced enough people that they had been fooled into becoming pawns to power brokers. The upheaval damn near collapsed the world’s economy, already reeling from a world wide recession. Millions suffered world-wide. Some, directly from the fighting in America, some from the economic turmoil, and some from the small wars that erupted when it was realized that America was preoccupied at the moment.

Relations with Canada would never be the same as U.S. forces had paid no heed to map coordinates when pursuing targets. A lot of the targets seemed to be in northern border states which didn’t help. The official U.S. position of ‘what are you going to do about it?’ pretty much ended the any pretense. Canada briefly considered an EU offer of garrison troops along its border but concluded that fueling the paranoia of the times was probably not in their interests, particularly considering that the great majority of their population lived in tactical striking distance from U.S. bases. The ruins of northern Mexico reinforced the presumed wisdom of that decision. The U.S. had made it clear to the EU that their little offer would not be soon forgotten. In the U.S. the threat of EU intervention wasn’t seen as defending a sovereign nation from the spill over of violence within its borders. It was seen as a long standing wish to see America humbled. It would be decades, if ever, before the rift with Europe was healed. An angry America turned west in search of friends. Ironically the tragic vein that had replaced eternal optimism in the American character helped the nation's relationships with Russia and India.

In addition to stoking the paranoia that quieted calmer voices of reason, people like Archibald served as fodder for those looking to shed foreign influence within the United States. Like most of what transpired during this time, it was a mixed bag. American industries began a renaissance but the impact on innocent foreign nationals was tragic.

There were still occasional flash points where a small group of the disgruntled and well armed rebel wannabes would try something but the police and federal agencies had gotten extremely efficient at handling these situations. They were aided by the fact that the public had no tolerance for their alleged grievances and didn’t protest too much when the government didn’t spend a lot of time negotiating with anyone it considered a domestic terrorist. It would be some time before history would know whether one form of tyranny had grow from the ashes of another.

As for Archibald, he had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death in absentia. He had stirred the pot via his media control, financed some of the preparations for the revolt and had stood ready to spin the cabalists’ message once the green light was given to move forward. He was aware of the timing and location of the attack against the President that would launch the coup. Now, he was the last of the instigators. He honestly had been surprised by the failure of the coup and was even more surprised that the U.S. had survived the aftermath and rebounded. It was a different America to be sure. One that had shed any pretense of really caring all that much about the rest of the world. American political relationships were no longer couched in the rhetoric of human rights and freedom. They were colder, subtler and more politically pragmatic. American policies looked more and more like those of the Europeans which further worried the EU.

The death sentence actually made it easier for him. His homeland didn't extradite to countries with the death penalty. His wealth and media dominance kept him out of jail at home and they had been too close an ally of the US for America to try anything too suspicious on their soil.

America seethed. He liked that. Knowing that his freedom made them crazy. He had hidden away his wealth and they couldn't touch him. True, he had to move about with an entourage of former Spetsnaz the size of a Presidential Secret Service detail, but so what. He could afford it using money largely collected from the very Americans who wanted him dead. He lived very well. His overseas travel had to be limited to countries disinclined to pass him along to the U.S. government but even he had to make certain allowances to reality. He did it as much to tweak the current US President as to enjoy the variety of experiences. The President who had vowed to see him hang before he left office 7 years and 10 months earlier. Fat chance at this point.

Travel wasn't easy but he liked the game. Elaborate decoys were deployed before any trip and even with human intelligence he would be gone before America could bring any of its still vaunted military power to bear. His security service kept track of the comings and goings of US assets and withdrew to safety any time a carrier came anywhere close. Even America couldn’t afford to be everywhere at once.

Not that he would need to play this game much longer anyway. Whiskey and cigarettes would do the work that the DoD couldn't. True, he would be dead in a few months but it would be of natural causes not a US rope. This trip to China was one last opportunity to spit in Uncle Sam’s eye. The simple pleasures of extreme wealth. Never mind that he had taken part in the murder of a decent man and his innocent family for political and economic gain. Never mind that millions had suffered and would suffer from his greed. He was a master at spin even in his own mind.

His security experts had come up with a pretty solid plan that seemed to have worked before. Several different aircraft had been held at different locations and prepped for the journey. Hand picked and vetted crews would simultaneously descend on each and prepare them for take off. No one was allowed near the planes after that. At the last second Archibald would board a randomly selected plane, from one of a number of identical SUV’s and take off. The other cars held families that had just ‘won’ a vacation to this or that place and who would fly in identical aircraft. Very expensive but it prevented any explosive stowaways due to the high risk of collateral damage. And what price was too high for piece of mind? America was trying to rebuild its international image to some degree in order to expand markets for its new goods. So it seemed unlikely they would blow up a bunch of planes loaded with civilians just to get him. It was one thing to slaughter the citizens of a rogue state, quite different the citizens of a country historically an ally. At least he hoped so.

Another clean getaway and a few hours to rest.

Ninety minutes into the flight, the copilot was the first to notice that something was wrong.

The pilot had gone to the head, and the copilot was alone in the cockpit wearing an oxygen mask, per protocol. The autopilot had been engaged 30 minutes earlier and the aircraft had left the track of the northern most ground control station of Archibald’s homeland. They were in international airspace. For a couple of hours they would be out of range of any land based radar stations.

The aircraft’s heading and altitude had changed. The copilot disengaged the autopilot and attempted to take manual control. Standard procedure except that it didn’t work. The autopilot did not disengage and they continued on the new course. The pilot returned and got the news. For the next several minutes they went through a series of procedures to try to regain control.

Archibald's Russian head of security was a man accustomed to noticing details most people would miss. The fact that the plane no longer had the rising sun out its starboard windows was not a subtle detail. Instead of flying almost due north, they were heading east. That was not in the plan. He motioned to one of his men to follow and he went to the cockpit with gun drawn.

The pilots were too occupied to come unhinged by his combat entrance, and it was immediately clear to him that they were trying to respond to a crisis not of their doing.
He demanded an explanation.

The pilot looked at the copilot, then sighed. “We’re in big trouble. There appears to be no way to control the plane.”

Not entirely true.

Twenty thousand feet above and 5 miles behind them a very dark gray aircraft, known to but a few, rode in their blind spot. The plane looked something like the love child of a Lear Jet and an F22. Within the tiny configurable cabin behind its cockpit a young woman from Topeka was operating controls that looked surprisingly like the cockpit of Archibald’s private jet. Her view screen looked exactly like the images coming from Archibald’s low light sensors. That’s because they were. She was very pleased to be a part of this mission. Topeka was still rebuilding.

Archibald had forgotten the two indelible facts of American history; The United States will go to almost any length to destroy an enemy once they are pissed off. And they can be extremely resourceful going about it.

Archibald insisted on one of two types of aircraft for his little jaunts. Both were very advanced. Both used fly-by-wire controls instead of wires and cables. Electronic impulses replaced tugs on wire and software replaced physical connections to the control surfaces. It was much more reliable - unless the US President had engaged the defense industry to create a configurable software program that could be downloaded into the fly-by-wire control systems during routine maintenance of all similar aircraft operating in the region and activated once a human observer confirmed a certain party’s location. Software that could not be accessed in the air. Software that isolated the cockpit controls and which took inputs remotely from a surrogate pilot in another location. In this case one from Topeka riding in a billion dollar spy plane. Yes there would be hell to pay when it got out that they had been tampering with the flight controls of private jets, but what were they really going to do about it. Besides, American planes had already been reconfigured and modified so that the same could not be done to them. As was mentioned before - America was less worried about public relations than in times past.

The black ops bird also had very sophisticated jamming gear to prevent any bothersome communications from the target aircraft once it was discovered that they had been digitally hijacked.

Archibald and company had a nervous couple of hours where they tried various means to regain control without success. Once all the options were exhausted there was nothing left but to await the final destination of the aircraft. They landed on a fairly short strip carved out of a dense jungle on some unfamiliar little isle. They came to a stop on the baking tarmac and the environmental controls shut down by remote command. The shadowing plane that did not officially exist, continued east to rendezvous with an aerial tanker for the long journey back to its hanger in the deserts of Nevada where many of its predecessors had found refuge from prying eyes. It's crew relieved that all the months of waiting in that miserable heat on a largely deserted island was over.

The field was austere. A leftover from one of the last century's wars. One hanger sat about 1000 meters from where the aircraft was parked. Fairly dense jungle came to within 500 meters of either side of the runway. Several dozen heavily armed and camouflaged troops stood 3 meters beyond the edge of the jungle in plain view. They slowly disappeared into the trees once they were sure that they had been registered by the security services on the plane.

Without air-conditioning the temperature was already starting to rise. A tropical noon sun on a black runway in a tin can is not going to be comfortable for long. Ten minutes passed and a single jeep pulled up with a driver holding a white flag and a request that Archibald's head of security accompany him.

After a brief face to face with the American military commander, the security chief returned to the plane. He was convinced that the American had not been bluffing when he'd said that either taking Archibald alive or throwing all the parts in a bag for the forensics guys to sort through was an acceptable outcome to his mission.

Archibald's security chief signaled to his men. They streamed out in single file with hands held high. They would be screened for weapons and transported home. Richer and alive. The flight crew did the same only far less professionally and clearly expecting to be shot in the process.

Archibald had panicked and barricaded himself in the lavatory. The door of the loo did not offer much resistance to a trained soldier. Hands bound, he was led from the plane amid a flurry of the kinds of protests one might expect. They drove him to the hanger where a large plane with US markings was being prepared for departure. He was led up he stairs and less than gently deposited in a chair opposite a large desk. A senior officer from U.S. Airforce intelligence stood next to a Deputy Attorneys General seated at the desk. Next to him was a camera crew displaying the logo of his former news service. It was a nice touch though it didn’t really register with him. Everyone on board looked very pleased. High tech innovation, human intelligence, bold leadership and the warrior mentality were hard to beat.

The Deputy smiled, “Hello Mr Archibald. It’s good to finally meet you. I have so been looking forward to it. Oh, the President wanted me to convey this message. He says don’t worry. He is assured that a new rope has been selected just for your one time use. He’s grateful to be able to put a period to this whole nasty business before he leaves office. Welcome back to United States Territory.”


What if Glenn Beck, did a Glenn Beck, on Glenn Beck?

Warning: what follows is Pliny satire which as everyone knows, is a tenuous construct at best. It is the product of a deranged mind that finds humor in all the wrong places, usually merely amusing himself.

What if Glenn Beck, did a Glenn Beck, on Glenn Beck? It amused ole Pliny no end to imagine what he might come up with if push came to shove and he came to the same conclusions as the rest of us through self-loathing introspection. Kind of like a dog chasing its tail. It's obviously a parody. Since he has referred to himself as nothing more than a clown, I'm sure he won't mind a little good-natured fun.

On second thought it's not bat____ crazy enough to be an effective parody...


Individual Freedom vs Collective Power: the yin and yang of the American Soul

Too often, inner peace insists upon external validation from another’ assent. Inner peace requiring external control. Ideological victory rather than internal complacency is the measure of success.
Call me simplistic but American Democracy is a tug of war between Individualism and Collectivism. The law of the jungle vs herd mentality. Individualism is the belief that society and government exist solely to preserve one’s ability to do anything they want. Collectivism is the notion that society and government exist to restrain individual behaviors in keeping with the ideology of the collective - a construct that usually props up the views of the collectivists or (probably more often) the puppet masters who pull their strings. From this perspective religion, political movements (with the possible exception of Objectivism...), value structures, blah, blah, blah, are all forms of collectivism.

The brilliance of the founders of this country was recognizing that both extremes are pretty bad news. Neither is a viable or desirable solution. Democracy requires careful measures of both. Their biggest blunder were that they were politicians and were afraid to spell this out unambiguously. For all their talk about inalienable rights they didn’t trust the individual to be rational. Hence the creation of a Republic, not a Democracy, the wisdom of which becomes more apparent every day. Too bad it slippery-sloped its way toward Democracy over the years.

Individualists tend to ignore the real benefits of collectivism and Collectivists often trod on the liberties of individuals. Democracy requires a constant balancing act between the two extremes. It clings to a precarious toe-hold on a steep hill with the abyss of individualism on one side and that of collectivism on the other. It’s an inherently unstable process which requires tremendous expenditures of energy to maintain.

The old saw about your rights ending at the end of my nose pretty much sums up the challenge. What stirs the pot is one’s definition as to the location the end of your nose - is it a physical or metaphorical concept? Collectivists tend to think of it metaphorically - as they tend to have very big noses that they stick into other people’s business with righteous abandon. Of course since the Collectivist is certain of their superior position, this interference is considered to really be for the other person’s good. Individualists tend to rail that they can’t understand how you could be so stupid as to stand so close to their flailing arms so as to get you nose in a jam in the first place.

With the exception of sociopaths individualists usually aren’t a huge problem since narcissism keeps them largely occupied and in any case makes it hard for them to organize in any meaningful fashion (ever watched the Democratic national Convention...). They are the social equivalent of a leaky faucet - representing more of an annoyance and minimal cost burden.

Collectivists however are a constant threat to social harmony but ironically are required for it to exist in the first place. Sad as it is, some rulebook is required for a society with a population larger than one. Absent a rulebook one is left with chaos and the prospect of invading hordes, screaming Canadians rushing the border, or some other calamity. There in lies the rub of course. What rulebook to apply. Democracy insists that we make value judgments -create rules - no matter how much that bothers individualists. And these value judgments are necessarily a moving target - no matter how much that appalls collectivists. Often Collectivists view any changing in the rules as a form of victimization. But that’s not oppression it’s just that the market place of ideas has opened up. And these new competing ideas often come up because of the nagging rant of some Individualist on the fringes.

My vote for the rule book always ends up with the US Constitution for at least two really good reasons:
  1. It's short and to the point
  2. Everybody knows that somebody made it all up
It’s a great system as long as people pay attention.