RSSCategory: History

Hitchens, Prayer, and Decency

August 10, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Hitchens, Prayer, and Decency

Christopher Hitchens has esophageal cancer. He is undergoing chemotherapy. His prognosis is not good, as this is a particularly nasty form of cancer with a low survival rate.

It turns out that many people are praying for his recovery, which I find ironic but wonderful. This is, I’ve been told, what true christianity is supposed to be like—extending the benevolence of your faith to those who might qualify as an enemy. If only all christians were like that. If only those who are like that were the loudest voices.

Unfortunately, the screaming meme misanthropic anti-intellectual pre-Enlightenment ignoramus branch of the movement tends to dominate a lot of the discourse, from the supporters of Proposition 8 to those who are not only praying for Hitch to die, but are sending notice of such prayers to public fora and putting megaphone to mouth so as many people as they can blast with their message will hear.

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Do You C What I C?

August 5, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Do You C What I C?

The Tea Party apparently did well in Missouri during the mid-term primaries this week. They (or someone) managed to stage contests for most Republican candidates, while most Democrats ran unopposed in our state. Why might anyone do this?

Proposition C.

This piece of “legislation” is an arguably unconstitutional attempt to stop Health Care Reform by claiming States Rights against an unpopular provision in the Obama plan: Mandatory Health Insurance. Universal insurance is an attempt to pay for the impending regulation doing away with preexisting condition coverage denials. If everyone is covered, then there will be no preexisting conditions. But if everyone can sign up only when they need it and insurers cannot deny coverage, then insurers will go bankrupt and the Federal Government will have to completely take over. This is what they want? But Missourians voted overwhelmingly in favor of denying the Federal Government the right to enforce this provision necessary to interstate commerce.

But if you look at detailed election results, you’ll see that the vote on Proposition C is proportional to the ratio of Republicans to others who bothered to vote. In a state that was razor-close in November 2008, three Republicans showed up for each Democrat to vote in this primary.

Here is another view of this Proposition: What the passage of Proposition C in Missouri means, and what it does not mean. In brief, it is grandstanding. Given the likely turnout at the polls, and given the correct wording, it was an unsinkable piece of “voter mandate” with no actual significance. But it looks good as a jab-in-the-eye to an embattled administration. Unless you actually read about the issue.

But the point was to pick one unpopular clause of the 2,500 page law, and publicly display how “the people” are against the whole thing. I’m curious to see how the Tea Party will stack the November election. Will other states be so dumb?

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JFK on transparency in a time of war

August 4, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
JFK on transparency in a time of war

I found this speech of JFK’s to be tremendously powerful, and the applicability to today’s situation should be obvious. Kennedy was speaking to the American Newspaper Publisher’s Association on April 27th, 1961. The whole speech is worth reading, but I wanted to highlight a few key excerpts, especially in the context of Wikileaks’ release of war documents from the Afghanistan theater. Kennedy simultaneously pleads for a more well-informed public, while arguing that the press ought to be mindful of national security issues in choosing which stories to publish. You can almost imagine him talking about the danger posed by terrorists in the present day, rather than the danger of Communism in the Cold-war 1960s:

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.

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It’s lonely at the top

July 27, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
It’s lonely at the top

Pity Tony Hayward, erstwhile boss of BP. He’s really had it rough. He’s been “demonized and vilified”, to use his own words. The poor CEO was so busy dealing with the massive oil spill perpetrated by his company that he almost missed watching his yacht race in a very important race! Almost, but he was able to watch the race anyway. Because, you know, someone else was probably working on cleaning up the oil fouling the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not really the CEO’s job, you see. It’s more of a job for the “small people” of the world.

“Life isn’t fair. Sometimes you step off the pavement and get hit by a bus,” Hayward said recently. Yes, that’s true. And sometimes, you end up the CEO of one of the most powerful oil companies in the world. A company that has a long history of criminal and ethical violations that should make them unfit to operate a lemonade stand, much less a major multinational corporation with power to contaminate the entire Gulf of Mexico– and perhaps, Beyond!

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Mark Tiedemann wraps up

July 21, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Mark Tiedemann wraps up

Over the past few days, I’ve been publishing sections of an engaging discussion with Mark Tiedemann that I videotaped about a year ago. I only recently got around to cutting the session up into individual videos, but the delay allowed me to enjoy the discussion anew, and it also allowed me to appreciate more than ever that the topics that draw Mark’s attention tend to be relatively timeless. As you can probably see, this discussion was spontaneous. I went to Mark’s house with a video camera and a few general topics scribbled down, no specific agenda. We both allowed the conversation go where it wanted to go.

In these final two videos from last year’s discussion, the topics are VI) The importance of knowing history and VII) Church and State.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Mark as much as I have. If you’d like to know more about Mark’s way of viewing and analyzing the world, he has already posted almost 200 articles at DI, all of them readily available.

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Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

July 19, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

According to a recent article by Chris Serres at the Minnesota Star Tribune, courts still order debtors to go to jail when they can’t afford to pay a judgment.

Not only are the national media largely unaware of this phenomenon, but The New Yorker published an article last April that characterizes debtors’ prisons as a pre-20th Century institution, and describes the America as a refuge for debtors.

As many as two out of every three Europeans who came to the American colonies were debtors on arrival. Some colonies were, basically, debtors’ asylums. By the seventeen-sixties, sympathy for debtors had attached itself to the patriot cause.

Jill Lepore of The New Yorker goes on to describe how American treatment of debt has evolved to allow bankruptcy and why this is a good thing.

Debtors’ prison was abolished, and bankruptcy law was liberalized, because Americans came to see that most people who fall into debt are victims of the business cycle, and not of fate or divine retribution.

Even Wikipedia describes debtors’ prisons as a thing of the past, or at least an unconstitutional one, according to this 2009 New York Times editorial, “The New Debtors’ Prisons.”

20th Century Debtors’ Prison

Times have changed. To be sure, most Americans who are deep in credit card debt do not have bench warrants issued for their arrest. However, in Illinois, Indiana and other states, a person who’s gotten a judgment entered against them can miss a court date and find themselves being hounded by the police.

What about the argument that defendants may owe the money they are being sued for, and should have gone to court? Perhaps the threat of jail is the only way to make them appear in court.

Reporters from The New York Times and The Federal Trade Commission have found that the collection industry is in dire need of repair, and cited numerous, ubiquitous problems. Some of these problems are startling. To wit:

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Mark Tiedemann speaks

July 18, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Mark Tiedemann speaks

Mark and I have been friends for 20 years. I’ve celebrated his many successes as a science fiction writer, and I was delighted when he showed interest in being one of the authors for Dangerous Intersection. I just checked the stats here, and I see that over the years, Mark has contributed 187 posts to DI. I’ve read every one of them, and I am repeated struck by the fact that there isn’t a “cheap” post among them. They are all well-crafted and carefully considered.

Every one of Mark’s posts is still available at this site. Click on his name on the bottom right corner list of authors to see them. But perhaps you are not in the mood to read substantive posts tonight. If that is the case, you are in luck.

About a year ago, I sat down with Mark at his St. Louis home and videotaped a long conversation with him. We covered many topics, which I am in the process of breaking into individual YouTube videos. I’m including the first three as part of this post. In Part I, Mark discusses his personal goals and the importance of art. In Part II, he discusses reading, heroes and censorship. In Part III, Mark discusses the blogosphere, including his impression of what goes on here at Dangerous Intersection. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Mark through his spoken words, at least as much as you’ve appreciated his written work. Without further ado . . .

I’ll be posting several more Mark Tiedemann videos later this week.

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Book Review: Nothing to Envy

July 13, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Book Review: Nothing to Envy

Summary: A chilling portrait of everyday life in the world’s most fanatically totalitarian state.

When the Cold War ended, communism came tumbling down worldwide. The Soviet Union disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact nations joined the West, and though China’s authoritarian government still stands, its economy has become capitalist in all but name. But one true communist state still exists, defiant in its isolation, sealed off from the outside world by almost impenetrable barriers. That state is North Korea, the topic of Barbara Demick’s superb book Nothing to Envy. By interviewing some of the few who’ve successfully escaped, Demick weaves a frighteningly compelling narrative of what everyday life is like in the world’s most brutal and reclusive dictatorship.

Isolated from the outside world, North Korea has developed into a cult of personality rivaling anything found in the most fanatical religion. Its first president, Kim Il-sung, and his son and successor Kim Jong-il aren’t just the absolute rulers of the country, they’re hailed as divine saviors, literally able to perform miracles:

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Mel Gibson and the Problem of Public Privacy

July 10, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Mel Gibson and the Problem of Public Privacy

So Mel Gibson has been exposed (once again) as an intolerant, sexist, abusive person. A recording of a phone conversation with his former girlfriend is now Out There on the internet and one can listen to Mel spill molten verbiage into her earpiece while she calmly refutes his charges.

All I can wonder is, So what?

What business is this of ours? This is private stuff. People lose control. Between each other, with strangers, but more often with those closest, people have moments when the mouth ill-advisedly opens and vileness falls out. The question is, does this define us? Are we, in fact, only to be defined by our worst moments?

That would seem to be the case for people like Gibson. The reason, I think, is that for most of us, the Mel Gibsons of the world have no business having shitty days and acting like this. For most of us, there is just cause for having these kinds of days and attitudes, because for most of us the world is not our oyster and we do not have the luxury of squandering time, friends, and money. Mel Gibson is wealthy and famous and, at one time, admired. He ate at the best restaurants, appeared on television, gave interviews, has his picture on the covers of magazines. Is seen with other people, regularly, who fall into that category of Those Who Have It Made.

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