Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Refuse to Participate

The topic of rape/abortion is swirling around the internet as bad as the typhoon that just passed over Okinawa (and is heading towards the Korean peninsula).  I refuse to participate in this argument!  I've already made my position on abortion clear and I'm sticking to my guns.

What I would like to talk about kind of just fell into my lap.  As I was hiking Saturday, the topic of over-diagnosis/over-medicating ADD/ADHD came up out of the blue.  Then today as I was scanning through the New York Times Opinion pages I ran across this article about the topic.

While I'm not a medical professional and this is just my opinion.  I've seen a variety of articles/Op-Ed pieces about this topic over the years and I still think the way I've thought for a long time.  First, the caveat: YES there are cases where people are helped by medication and there are definitely people that need the help of medication to function.  However, I think the whole system is broken where this is concerned.  While medical science has greatly improved over the years but the brain is still very mysterious, especially concerning cognitive function.  If cognizance is still such a medical mystery how can we rely on medicine to alter people's state of mind.  And yet, that is basically what the medicines that "treat" ADD/ADHD do, alter people's state of mind.  If we don't understand how something works, let's not tamper with it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Comment on Book VI of The Republic

So as I've said before, I've been listening to the audiobook version of Plato's Republic and I've said time and again that I disagree with most of the things he says...  Well, this is one more that is totally crazy (at least, to me)!

Once again, books 1-6 have all been about this supposed "Guardian" class of people that are divided into two sections: gold and silver, i.e. true guardians and auxiliaries.  Well among other things, book six talks about marriage and children among the guardians.  Plato/Socrates places love of the state above ALL else (seemingly on par with love of the gods, which I think might be a part of why he was put to death).  So, in light of that view book six makes sense, though I think he overlooks some important parts of the human nature.  First, a bit about what he says about marriage and children in this perfect state:

Basically, women will be given the same rights and responsibilities as men (which, in that day was very forward-thinking).  However, when it comes to marriage and children all the guardians will share all the women and children.  At a large marriage festival, everyone will gather and the lower classes will be deceived into thinking their marriages were drawn by luck/lot but in reality it's just to keep the lower classes in line and maintain the purity of the gene pool of the guardian class.  So, all the guardians will be mated with other guardians and their children will be immediately taken from them and sent to guardian nursery/training schools to be cared for by specially chosen nursemaids.  The mothers will be only brought in to supply milk and they will be carefully matched so they don't ever nurse their own child(ren).  All the children of a certain age, will call each other 'brother/sister' and call all the people of their parent's generation 'father/mother,' and the previous generation 'grandfather/grandmother.'  Here's the worst part: all the children of the guardian-class couples will be evaluated shortly after birth and if they are found defective they're thrown out like trash and killed, basically, state-sanctioned infanticide.

While the concept of a society-family would be nice (there have been other cultures that do something similar, Korean culture is much more familial than western culture) I don't think this kind of concept will really work.  There's an interesting example in the Bible of state-sanctioned infanticide... it gave birth to Moses, one of Israel's greatest heroes.  I think that Plato/Socrates is greatly underestimating the power of a mother's connection to her offspring; mothers really do have deep connections with their children and wouldn't be able to give them up so easily.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again...  I would never want to live in this type of society.  No matter how good a state is it cannot replace family.  The Nazis tried this kind of eugenics and failed (more or less).  Only the people in charge want to perpetuate this kind of system.  I'm glad that Plato didn't write our constitution because if our state wanted to mandate arranged state-sanctioned marriage and infanticide I'd refuse to have any part in it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eidetic Memory and Testing

Do you have an eidetic memory?  According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, you probably don't.  I love Wiki articles as a launching point for further inquiry, and I think this deserves more study. I only know how my own thoughts go and I, most often, think in pictures.  So, the alternate term for eidetic memory is kind of silly, because lots of people think in pictures and recollect via pictures, therefore lots of people have "photographic memories."  I always like to say, I have a photographic memory but the camera is out of focus.  Mostly because I do think in pictures, and, at times, I can recall a specific picture in my mind.  Unfortunately, oftentimes there's a part of the picture that's blurry.

Best example I can think of off the top of my head: I can picture myself in Mr. Gaines' Bible class (not sure what grade, but it was in high school in the "new" building so it must have been between sophomore-senior years), and I'm taking a Bible memory verse quiz.  I can remember that I could picture the verse in my head (though I've lost the verse now) and I could remember the first half, but I was stuck on a certain part.  But, I could remember what column and what part of the page the verse was one and up until that point I could remember the words, but the rest of the page was fuzzy.  I can still picture where on the page it was; left page, right column, a little more than half way down.  So, obviously in some cases I remember in pictures, but when it comes to music, especially music I've heard but not played, I don't always associate a picture with the music in my head.  I just hear it in my mind.

I was listening to Plato's Republic some more today (like that non sequitur?), which again I have many disagreements with, but in one thing (from book four) I agree with Plato; that is: the importance of education.  Then, as I was thinking about how important education is and today's education climate that seems to think that teachers should be held accountable for their student's performance on "standardized tests" which apparently is leading to "gaming the system", I came up with my idea to help.  I know it's not a perfect analysis of the issue, but my initial thought to helping resolve the problem would be to use two tests each year.  I know that seems like it will only lead to more problems and I feel that much of today's education problems stem from too many tests, but I think that if we're going to base teacher's salary, benefits, and promotions etc. on test performance let's make sure we're testing the right things.

Now, about these two tests...  well, first off, it's actually only one test.  Though I don't think it should be the exact same test twice; because, just by virtue of taking the test once all students would presumably perform better the second time.  No, it should be two virtually identical tests which cover everything the class is intended to cover for the whole year.  Yep, you heard me... a comprehensive test which covers everything the student should have learned over the course of the whole year of class.  But here's the kicker... all the students should take this test BEFORE the school year begins, say on the first or second day of class.  You might respond that all the students should fail.  Well, yes in a manner of speaking most of the students shouldn't know hardly any of the answers.  However, the first test serves as a baseline for the second test to show improvement.

Here's my logic behind this... Some people in every class are going to be extraordinary, WITHOUT the teachers' input; some are not...  So, how can we test to show how much someone learns (presumably from the teacher) without a baseline.  The idea of holding teachers accountable is not necessarily a bad thing, but lets make sure we're not just punishing a teacher for having students that aren't as bright as other students.  After students take both the tests (which should be developed by the teacher), as long as some of the students make some progress then the teacher has done his or her job.  That can be quantifiable evidence used in paying, promoting and providing for teachers.  There should be strict proctoring and review of the test by a group of teachers, and as much as possible we should prevent teachers from cheating.  However, if we hire good people to teach the future of humanity there shouldn't be much danger of cheating.  Only the most trustworthy people should be entrusted with the minds of the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Relativity joke taken from Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar; "A man is praying to God. 'Lord,' he prays, 'I would like to ask you a question.' The Lord responds, 'No problem. Go ahead.' 'Lord, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?’ 'Yes, that is true.' 'Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?' 'A million dollars to me is but a penny.' 'Ah, then, Lord,' says the man, 'may I have a penny?' 'Sure,' says the Lord. 'Just a second.'”

What does that joke have to do with barefootedness you ask... well, nothing!  I just like that joke and wanted to use it.

First a bit of my running history: I started running because when I was on the soccer team my freshman year of high-school, the coach said I should try out for cross-country.  Well, since I went to a different campus that didn't have a soccer team the next year I "tried out" for the team, technically they didn't have tryouts, anyone who wanted could be on the team.  I did okay, I made it to the second level of state competition my senior year with a 5k time of 18:35 which, isn't exactly fast but not bad.  After graduating I didn't even try for the college team because I wasn't fast enough and I let my running go all through college and for a couple years after I dropped out, until I decided to join the Air Force.  The first couple years of being in the Air Force I was on a running team and I was getting pretty fast again, though not as fast I was in high school; got my 1.5mi time down to 8:45.  Also, I ran a marathon (first, and only so far) with a time of 3:53 which isn't bad for a first timer.  Just of note, I hadn't really even considered running barefoot up until about 3 or 4 years ago.

Now a bit of my barefooted history: if you don't know me in person you probably don't know that I'm a barefooter/barefoot runner.  I've  been wearing the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) "shoes" for about three years, and when the weather is nice (mostly) I run completely barefoot.  Unfortunately, I have to wear socks when I'm in Air Force physical training gear so I don't wear my VFFs; I wear Merrell trail gloves.  I've done two half-marathons in the VFFs though I really do prefer completely barefoot.  I've also tried out a variety of other footwear options, including huaraches.  I started down my road towards barefoot/minimal shoes by reading the book Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie and the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and a variety of blogs and websites.

All that to say I love running barefoot.  It kinda sucks that I won't get to run barefoot at all for the months I'm deployed.  Fortunately, I'm going to be in California (where I'm writing this) for about a month more and I'll be able to go barefoot (at least some) while I'm here.  I went for a short hike the other day barefoot and as soon as I can find more trails I'll do some more.  It kinda sucks, I can't find a place close by to go running.  I've been here a week and I've only been running once.  Hopefully this next weekend I'll get a chance to go to lake Tahoe and go for a hike/run there.

Anyways, happy trails to you all.  And, if you've never tried, go barefoot.  It's not as dangerous or painful as people think.

Edit: Since the writing of this original piece I've done a half-marathon barefooted, other than that I've been wearing my huaraches (updated link).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plato's Republic, Books 1-3

First I'd like to say, I would NEVER want to live in a country like the one described in the first three books of Plato's definitive work. There's all kinds of interesting concepts even in just the first three parts, but there are all kinds of things I totally disagree with. However, I'll start out with what I do agree with but first a short into:

The first book is a discussion between the characters (the most famous one is Socrates) about what the best kind of society would be like if they could make it so, and the argument about justice vs. injustice. The other characters insist that it's better to be unjust than just, and they offer all sorts of arguments for injustice, though they don't really "decide" anything about this; even after Socrates has his say about why justice is better. They end at an impasse (in greek it's ἀπορɛία; aporia) where no one is "right" no one is "wrong," and the argument is just ended. One of the things that is "decided" in the first book that everyone in the argument more or less agrees with is the idea that each position in society should stick to that position. I, for the most part, agree with this though the discussion doesn't leave any room for hobbies (perhaps because in those days only the über-rich would have spare time to pursue hobbies).

Then in book two, one of the only points that I totally agree with (so far) comes out. That is, the idea that the "defender class" (i.e. the military) should be philosophers or at least think philosophically. It saddens me that the military profession has never really had this type of people in it. Don't get me wrong there are some very philosophical people in the military (many are my peers), but in general philosophy is not really a martial art.

Then book three focuses on the education of the military class, and this is where Plato and I have to part ways. Socrates speaks at great length about how this class should be educated, specifically about the censorship of the writers/poets, art, and music. Like there should be no writings of the gods that shows them doing human-like actions and having distinctly human failures. It's not really surprising the people sentenced him to death. In ancient Greece where the writings of Homer were akin to other sacred texts (the Bible, if you will, for Greek faith), and here Plato/Socrates (assuming Socrates actually taught what Plato was writing that he taught) is teaching that Homer (and others, but Homer is specifically mentioned) should be censored and NOT taught to the military class. That would be like someone in Medieval times preaching that the Bible isn't true. Basically, blasphemy, though of course it's not called that, at least not by anyone I know.

One thing isn't clear (though it doesn't matter I still disagree with him), is ALL art/poetry/music/writing to be censored? Or just that which the military class studies/experiences? Either way I disagree, the only thing I agree with is that we need to be careful about what age we expose children to certain poetry/art/music. Because, (and this is scientifically supported) children lack the ability to discern certain differences between what is real and what is fake or what is right and wrong. There is an innate sense of some right/wrong but children cannot discern real/fake. Also, they cannot see through lies or deceptions or advertisements. Up until a certain age kids don't know the
diference between the TV show they're watching and the commercials. So yes, shield kids from bad influences and temptations that they cannot resist, to a point, then when a person has learned self control/Willpower, let them learn about EVERYTHING (except the darkside of the force, apparently). We want to develop a well-rounded society, so everyone should study as much as he/she can in whatever field he/she is interested in.

I'll continue more on The Republic as I listen to the audiobook, but I'm also trying to read
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and it is a very heady, difficult to read book. My friend also recently sent me, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief which I'll be trying to read also while I'm away from home. I did finish Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, I highly recommend it as a neat/humorous introduction to philosophy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Response to Guest Post from Steven Specht

Steven's insight into such a backwards society is eye-opening!  I've always known that there are people out there that believe things like that and aren't open to scientific advance but I didn't know it was anything like this story.  I can understand people living in areas where there aren't any scientist, schools or any other avenues of learning but once you've been exposed to a scientific or logical explanations to seemingly amazing events (like solar/lunar eclipses).  I hope that our nations' (and the coalition's) actions there in Afghanistan have a more positive impact than the media spin on it.  I hope that we can do more than defend our national interests by getting rid of those that intend to attack western culture with terrorist tactics.

I have never completely agreed with the recent war(s) in the middle east, but IF we are able to bring true safety, fair equitable treatment/freedom, and fair/free education (among other things but I feel those are some of the most important things western society has to give to the world), THEN we can truly say "mission accomplished."  Also, IF we are starting to have a negative impact, to the point that we are stirring up more terrorists against us by poor tactics or just the simple fact that we are occupying their territory, THEN we should leave.  Unfortunately, it seems like leaving (especially if we leave before those goals are accomplished) would only stir up even more enemies.

Our nation hasn't had a very good history when it comes to international relations, especially in the middle east.  As I said before that we are, in some way, responsible for provoking the unrest that we are now trying to quell.  Maybe we shouldn't have done some of the stuff we did to provoke the unrest, but in some ways we just did what we thought was right at the time without much of a view for the future.  Hopefully, we can make up some of that wrong and bring true help to those we've mistreated in the past.

Monday, August 13, 2012


So I've been reading Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar one of the topics in the current chapter was pragmatism. Of course I'm reading while on a trans-Pacific flight so I have no access to my usual sources for study but the book gives a nice concise introduction to pragmatism.

To sum it up "According to [philosopher William] James, we choose our truth by what difference it will make in practice." The reason this caught my eye is I'm a huge fan of denying all types of moral relativism, which is what pragmatism is... moral relativism masquerading as something deeper. As opposed to divine law, pragmatism (and other moral systems) always boil down to something that is mutable. In pragmatism the key words, as far as relativism is concerned, are "we choose". Pragmatism, even though focused on the practical application of moral choices, still hinges ones' choice.

One of the concepts the History of Philosophy podcast mentioned about the innovations brought about by Plato/Socrates was how he made philosophy about finding out how one ought to live. It seems to me that while Socrates was real and in many ways accurately portrayed by Plato, it's really Plato's genius that gave Socrates to the world, and thereby, really it was Plato that changed philosophy for the whole western world. Philosophy has become so generalized it has lost much of its meaning. Don't get me wrong there are all sorts of people seeking practical application in today's world, but if you're following relativistic thinking (any kind) you have to constantly be rethinking your ethics because they change.

That's not to say that divine moralists don't have to consider new issues as they arise; as science changes what we can do (especially medically) we have new things to consider. Notice I didn't say "progress" I've always thought that just because something is new doesn't mean it's better. Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should go back to the middle ages, there are tons of great advances brought about by science; life is much easier now, maybe too easy, we are a very overweight culture.

Interestingly, now that I have access to the Internet and I can look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  That entry talks about pragmatism as a bridging philosophy between metaphysical/religious morality and scientific/empiricist moralities.  I don't really see it that way with how I understand the concept of pragmatism, because it still relies on a non-deity for a source of morality.  The only way I could see pragmatism as an equalizer is if there were (which I don't believe there really is) an issue that is not dealt with in the Bible it would help one make a decision.  I know that may sound naive but if you study the Bible thoroughly, though it may not make a direct reference to all possible moral circumstances, through broad instruction it includes everything.  (For example: 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24  All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own  good,  but that of his neighbor. (NASB) and 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (NASB))

Guest Post Sam Ronicker (my dad)

Quick biography note before getting to the post. My dad has held a variety of jobs, though when I was growing up he mostly worked in the newspaper business. He left the newspaper business when all of us were grown and started working in ministry. He's run a home for men, been a dorm parent, and now the administrator of Operation Rebirth boys' boarding school near St. Paris, Ohio. He's also a pastor of a small Baptist church near there, this is a chapter from his upcoming book, "Sermons from a Tiny Pulpit."

Let’s Be Real!

One of things that I think we are responsible to do as part of the body of Christ is to protect ourselves, protect the Church with a capital ‘C’.

Some verses that really, really bother me:

II Peter 2:-12 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

II Corinthians 11:13-14 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

I Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

This one troubles me most of all-

Matthew 24:24

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

I don’t want to be deceived, I want to be careful that what I believe is the truth, and that the truth is what I believe. It’s tough these days, the world and Satan want to fool us into being of no use to God, to the church to each other. Think about it- even our language has changed: the word ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean. We get bombarded with worldly thinking…we get infiltrated by the media, the environment, our society. We don’t need to be afraid, but be smart. Einstein once said the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limitations…

There have been false teachers since the dawn of time…clear back to the Garden of Eden. Let’s be smart- the Bible calls this discernment. Matthew 10:16- be wise as serpents, harmless as doves.

So how do know when something is real, how do we know when something is true or not. How can we tell if even the elect, the saved have been deceived?

Besides truth, I would guess that the thing that gets counterfeited the most is money. Technology is great- it’s made it so criminals can print fake money easier than ever. So they change the design every so often to stay one step ahead.

But the bottom line is, how can you tell a fake?

To know a counterfeit, study the real thing. Does that seem the opposite?

Think about it- there are many counterfeits, but only one real-

There is lots of untruth in the world, there are lots of counterfeit bills out there but only one is real- there are lots of ‘christs’ but only one is real. All roads lead to God- not true. I am the way the truth and the life said Jesus and there is only one of Him. There are lots of writings out there, but only one Bible. Let’s study the real Scripture, the real Jesus, the real way of salvation so when a phony comes along, we don’t get fooled again (The Who). Dr. Adrian Rogers, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and founder of Love Worth Finding Ministries once preached a message about recognizing counterfeit preachers- five tests:

Source Test- what is their information based upon? Is it the Bible?

Savior Test- do they believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior? The Only Savior?

Subject Test – is the Bible their primary source of teaching?

Salvation Test- how are we saved? What is the requirement for Salvation? Don’t add to it or take away from it! (Romans 10:13 says Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. In the original Greek that literally means Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!)

Sanctification Test- are we holy, set apart, different from the rest of the world, are we even different from the rest of the church little ‘c’?

Let’s study the real thing! Let’s be real! And here is the big question: are we the real thing? Have we been fooled into believing that we are something that we are not? Are we really Christians…what the word used to mean?

Look at the book of James 2:14-26

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.  20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.  25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

You see faith without works is dead, as in real, real dead. (Not just mostly dead, but completely dead.)

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:

Was there a time when I honestly realized I was sinner and admitted this to myself and to God? Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come? Have I ever seriously been bothered by my sins? Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself? Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them? Or, do I hate sin and fear God? Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? (In the original Greek this means have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my Salvation?) Do I enjoy having a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?

Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works or are my works occasional and weak? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus? Do I have a desire to share Christ with others? Or, am I ashamed of Him? Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me? Do I love the Church with a capital “C." Am I ready for the Lord’s return? Or, will I be ashamed when He comes for me?

Is my faith alive or dead?

Let’s be the real thing.

And to make sure we don’t get fooled, let’s study the real thing,

And let’s make sure we know the real Savior, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O Lord, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Numbers 6:24–26, NIV) The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
and give you peace.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Guest Poster Steven Specht

I put out an "advertisement" on Facebook for guest posters, again, this time I received two responses! The first was from my friend Steven Specht who's been working on a book and his website www.oneletter.org. Here's his first of multiple entries, Excerpt of Notes from Afghanistan:

On December 10th 2011, there was a blood-red lunar eclipse which was visible in parts of the northern hemisphere including eastern Asia. This is my commentary on the event as it relates to the Muslims I worked with in Afghanistan as a contractor linguist and taught English in my spare time.
I could not understand the utter fear caused by the lunar eclipse, and it was the first time in my tour that I can truly attest to culture shock. Poor hygiene, low-to-nonexistent literacy, and many other things I could equate to the poor infrastructure and lack of schooling, but when it came to the reaction of the eclipse, I was astounded. While there is a fundamentalist Christian element to American society, for the most part, I feel that I’ve been raised in a culture that focuses predominantly on empiricism over superstition. This is decidedly not the case in a country dominated by fundamental interpretations and outright superstition for many events that Westerners shrug off. This includes lunar activity.

When Fazli came to me to discuss the “Bad Sign,” at first I didn’t even realize what he was talking about. I’d noted the eclipse, chastised myself for not paying better attention to current events, and went on about my evening. He told me that this was a bad omen sent by God to warn people about their sinful ways. All manner of things happened during the time of an eclipse, and he spoke so fast that much of it was lost in translation, but the most poignant part was that families would mourn and pray for salvation on a night like this, and a baby born during an eclipse would need a goat sacrificed on its behalf. Fazli was incredibly nervous, but Ali was shaking, red-eyed, and nearly in tears over the event and asked to leave early to go pray. Among all the rest of the Afghans in the chow hall and around the barracks there was an aura of discontent, and I didn’t need to interview all of them to make sense of it. Even Najeeb half-heartedly assented to the superstitions, but I insisted he come to my class; he wanted to know what I thought, but I needed a white board to properly illustrate my explanation.

While there isn’t anything explicitly negative about the eclipse in the Quran, the Old Testament references the negative connotations associated with eclipses, and Old Testament tradition is such an inseparable part of Islam.

Joel 2:31-32 “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.”

Amos 8: 9 “And [in the end],” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Obviously the second verse is referring to a solar eclipse, but I use it to lead into my next point which is that I think what makes Asadullah and Najeeb so unique in my experiences here. They both are set apart from the rest of the Afghans with whom I’ve worked. Hajmal, Mohammad Ali, Najibullah, and others have all been exceptionally smart, but I question if they will ever have the depths of experience to build a bridge between our societies. Asadullah is well educated and as far as I can tell is filled with an innate curiosity that transcends the bonds of religion. Najeeb, while less educated has worked with the coalition for so long that we have simply rubbed off on him to the point that he trusts us to not lead him astray. They were the only two who attended my English class the night of the eclipse. Both asked me for my opinion, and after I drew a diagram on the white board, both seemed to accept the possibility that it was merely the earth blocking the light of the sun. I wasn’t trying to convince them. I was just passing off what I believed on the issue, and they felt it made more sense than the superstition they’d been brought up with. For both of them, it was an epiphany.

In societies such as Afghanistan, we cannot take for granted that the country as a whole can be capable of understanding our level of empiricism just as we may not be able to understand their level of superstition. This puts further burden on those who can understand fundamental approaches to religion as well as the complexities of Western science, economics, and politics. Whether they are Americans who have immersed themselves in this culture or Afghans who have worked alongside Americans for years at a time, they have the unique role of developing understanding between two different societies.

It’s not that I necessarily think that our empiricism is right or that their superstition is wrong. It’s that without some basic understanding of both, our worlds cannot coexist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Morality of Drone Strikes Response

This is my response to two articles about the morality of drone strikes one here and a scathing response here. The former article is actually a second article in response to things said about the same author's opinions in first piece. First off, I'll be honest I didn't read ALL of all the articles, all together they're quite long, but I did read most of them. Second disclaimer, I'm a member of the USAF, even so, NONE of what I say has anything to do with the views of the Air Force or the Department of Defense (by the way, that's true of all my posts). In this I feel I have a unique perspective on this whole issue.

There are all sorts of weapons our military uses. I'm part of one of the systems, though in most of my experience I've only been a small part of it. All I've seen is how incredibly careful we, and our allies are when it comes to finding and taking out (using the vernacular) targets. I have NEVER felt uncomfortable with how we eliminate targets. There are so many rules, regulations, and redundancies to make absolutely sure that we're targeting an actual terrorist that it can actually be frustrating sometimes. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs or as they're now called unmanned aerial systems, UASes) is just one of the different tools in the arsenal. It is no more moral, immoral, or amoral than a bomb, bullet, bow and arrow, or any other weapon. About the use of the system in general, yes I think it could start the users of it down a dangerous pathway to wanton killing however there is so much back-study (read: intelligence) gathered on each target that the idea that drones are supposedly causing so many civilian casualties is nonsense.

Does it allow for eliminating enemies at great distance yes, does it allow the enemy to surrender? Not directly... The rebuttal
blog talked about this at length even referencing the Geneva Conventions, and I'll admit there is a flaw in the use of such long range weaponry. The target cannot surrender to it. But then, the target can't surrender to any bomb or bullet. He, rightfully, says: "very few would be likely to waive this right for their own soldiers who one day may need to surrender, and declaring as antiquated the provisions of the international agreement that was created specifically to prevent a repeat of the mass bloodletting of World War II is a slippery slope." Yes, I agree, it's a slippery slope, but not one that we're treading down as a military, yet.

Also, there's a couple things he's overlooking in his argument: one, this is not technically a war (not at least, in the traditional sense). These are not enemy soldiers that we are attacking and then, when overrun, offered parlay or surrender or vice versa, there's no surrendering to them. These are terrorists who have declared their own war on the West, freedom, and democracy (I'll not go into the idea of whether or not it was provoked, suffice to say that we did at least somewhat provoke them). Terrorist "soldiers" are brainwashed (not to say that ours aren't somewhat too), poor, confused, and sometimes even intimidated people that don't attack the enemy fortifications or supply lines (most of the time). They strap on (sometimes under threat of force) explosive vests and walk into markets and blow up themselves and anyone/anything around them. I'm not saying the ends justifies the means; I'm saying that this is a different type of engagement, targets are hidden among the populace. In addition to the fact that these are hidden, elusive targets that must be taken out with precise means; Mr. Hussain isn't taking into account that these targets CAN surrender at any time. There are any number of police and coalition checkpoints and bases spread out all over Afghanistan or the military/government in Pakistan. Any terrorist, at any time, could turn himself or herself in to the police or the NATO forces.

The very next issue on the rebuttal blog is "No ID." In a few instances there's a possibility that after the fact we cannot confirm or deny the efficacy of the strike. However, our intelligence professionals spend days, or weeks sometimes, finding and verifying targets, ensuring that they're not innocent bystanders in this conflict. Then after a target has been verified as a terrorist the process starts all over again with a more narrow focus. Then only AFTER all these verifications have been made and the target approved, is it taken out. Sometimes there is proof e.g. the target is never seen again, or some other intelligence source says the target is dead.  Sometimes there isn't and that's not really an issue.

In this conflict, I don't feel that the US should consider ALL military age males in the combat area targets, however, it's clear that they don't and never have. Of course, there are different types of engagements, planned and unplanned. Planned is as I've described, unplanned is generally when a group of coalition forces is attacked and they call in a strike. In those types of situations the rules are different and rightfully so. When self-defense is the issue this is war and making sure our soldiers come home is of paramount importance. Just like in previous wars/conflicts, calling in the drone/bomb (though more often than not, this type of scenario it's a manned asset that is called) is basically the same as calling in the artillery except MUCH more accurate. Artillery shells destroy large areas, precision guided missiles kill targets, and manned assets can use guns, they don't wantonly drop bombs. They only use the amount of force needed to stop the attack and permit the coalition/US forces to get to safety.

I could go on all night, but I'm going to have to stop here on the drone issue. I only have one more thing to say about the war in general. As a general concept, I think the idea of a "war on terror(ism)" is impossible at best, rife with conspiracy at worst. Should the US be attempting to fight fear (look up the word terror fear is in the number one definition) with guns, bullets, bombs, and soldier's lives? I don't think so.  How does one "fight fear"?  Especially with weapons!? I am an American Airman and I will do my duty and obey my orders. In fact, I think I'm better suited for the job because I bring a perspective to the war that we should be as careful as possible to only kill those that would kill any of us if they were given the chance.