Sunday, August 31, 2014

Humanist William James on Certain Blindness in Human Beings

By Gary Berg-Cross

These are angry times on so many level including the war front.  It seems at times like “The Guns of August II” or to paraphrase a recent WAPO article, “Is this 1939 again?”  Will the dogs of war and the romance of simple military solutions sweep away another generation?

Events don’t make it easy to talk about alternatives to war or the value of the culture of peace, but perhaps such times are exactly when we need this conversation the most.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

          “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate
          cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

With this hypothesis in mind it seems like a good time share, if not love, then a peaceful space in which to discuss such the topics.  WASH MDC has organized a panel and community discussion on Sept. 6th from 2-4 (Wheaton Public Library, 11701 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, MD ) on the topic of Peace and Issues including a Humanist perspective. Edd Doerr, past AHA president, who blogs here often, will be on the panel along with an anthropologist with experience in peace negotiations. 

I thought that I’d get a little jump on the meeting with a few humanist-oriented thoughts on the challenge of peace going back to a time before the WWI Guns of August swept away the Great Powers' peace.  Why not a mini-Renaissance on the prospects of avoiding the damages of war and the building of a culture of peace?

Around the turn of the 20th Century American
William James looking back to the Civil War, a squalid US war with Spain and the recent Boer war.  It was the late colonial period. Looking back to our late 20th and now recent 21st century events in history's rear view mirror they start to uncomfortably resemble the earllier aggressions that James lamented.  Similar too is the specter of war clouds abroad that motivated James to gave talks and write a series of anti-war pamphlets around the turn of the century,  He started with one calledCertain Blindness in Human Beings” in 1899.  In raising anti-war consciousness James was leveraging facts & new understanding from the social sciences.  It seemed to him that the emerging sciences offered some enlightened basis to understand human nature and the tendency toward violence.  Certainly he saw the corruption of language as the word Peace and peaceful activity had come to mean essentially the preparation for war.  And with that start of new factual understanding strengthened with a Progressive philosophy of truth,  knowledge & morality James argued we could begin to take on age old problem & escape the ruptures to civilizations caused by war. But it would, as he later said, take a moral and culture commitment as strong as the commitment to war and militarism. To bring the war-party and the peace-party together an extended discipline was needed and the avoidance ot, as he said:

  “The strength of one’s opposition to war depends on the correctness of one’s position, certainly, but it also requires a better understanding of the permanent enemy among us, namely, “the bellicosity of human nature.”

New understanding in turn calls on moral action. Beyond the mere intellectual conviction that war is morally unacceptable, James argued that we have a

 “bounden duty to resist settling reasonable disputes in a violent manner,”

Instead suggests James one is also obliged to translate one’s beliefs into an active, yet non-violent resistance to the human proclivity to settle disputes  “quickly, thrillingly, tragically, and by force.”


That’s still good advice and a hard task. Sure, we have an even better fact and theory basis to understand human tendencies.  It’s just that empirical science and our best wisdom, tempered by moral sense, seem now to be again out of power and favor.  What passes for statecraft is running somewhat amok.

James followed him 1899 work with 2 later ones. The Essence of Humanism & The Moral Equivalent of War.  In the first James pointed to the hopes of Humanism mixed with a Pragmatic philosophy which he saw as levers  to advance society’s enlightenment:

Humanism is a ferment that has "come to stay." It is not a single hypothesis of theorem, and it dwells on no new facts. It is rather a slow shifting in the philosophic perspective, making things appear as from a new center of interest or point of sight.

A humanist perspective might be marshalled to avoid war, but in Moral Equivalence he starts with the observation that:

“The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party.”

It certainly hasn't been easy and The Great War proved to be a steam roller that ended peace and progress for a generation.  James saw militarism well entrenched asd as Chris Hedges later wrote, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. As James put it:

"The militarily-patriotic and the romantic-minded everywhere, and especially the professional military class, refuse to admit for a moment that war may be a transitory phenomenon in social evolution. The notion of a sheep's paradise like that revolts, they say, our higher imagination. Where then would be the steeps of life? If war had ever stopped, we should have to re-invent it, on this view, to redeem life from flat degeneration.
Reflective apologists for war at the present day all take it religiously. It is a sort of sacrament. .."

These ideas are  protected by irrationality, paradox and old human tendencies claimed as the highest of virtues not balanced by enlightened passion .

“ The military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals   from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade…

Modern war is so expensive that we feel trade to be a better avenue to plunder; but modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. 

James could see the factors that militaristic times leverage to trample peaceful stances.  There is seemingly paradox there too as some things so horrible should propel us into action, but they are rationalized away with ego defenses and spin:

"Showing war's irrationality and horror is of no effect on him (people). The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.”   From

 Yes, and we still are willing to pay for war over pre-school and the like.

James worries and paradoxes & double personalities of civilized man still hold sway even as the Humanist perspective and a better understanding of human nature sheds light on factors like irrationality, the politics of fear, scapegoating, personalizing evil, religious & self-justification, the seduction of glory, the fear of shame, tribal solidarity, pugnacity.  James saw it all and rang the bell of warning that is hard to hear with the thump of bombs.

Still sadly still  too true. In our time the Dept of War has become the Dept of Defense. We have perpetual preparation of war and plans for attack masked in the right of self defense. As James said:

"Peace" in military mouths today is a synonym for "war expected." The word has become a pure provocative, and no government wishing peace sincerely should allow it ever to be printed in a newspaper. Every up-to-date dictionary should say that "peace" and "war" mean the same thing, now in posse, now in actu. It may even reasonably be said that the intensely sharp preparation for war by the nations is the real war, permanent, unceasing; and that the battles are only a sort of public verification of the mastery gained during the 'peace'-interval."....and

" legitimate interest of any one of them (Great Powers) would seem to justify the tremendous destructions which a war to compass it would necessarily entail. It would seem that common sense and reason ought to find a way to reach agreement in every conflict of honest interests."

Cartoon from

Hamas v. Israel

By Mathew Goldstein

Bill Creasy, in the most recent edition of WASHLine, expressed concern that Hamas is sometimes being unfairly vilified with what he characterizes as hyperbolic language more typically found in comic books.  Hamas leaders are capable for speaking for themselves. So if we want to accurately understand Hamas without exaggerated oversimplifications or denialisms then we should attend to what they say about about their methods and goals when they speak to Islamic audiences.

On On December 8, 2006, several months after becoming Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh spoke to thousands of worshipers at Tehran University in Iran, calling for the next intifada against Israel. “We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.”

On December 14th, 2010, Haniyeh spoke at a rally to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Hamas terror group’s founding. ”Palestine is from the sea to the river, from Rosh HaNikra to Rafah. The siege will not change our belief, wars don’t cause people give up resistance and resistance leaders. We will not recognize!  We will not recognize!  We will not recognize Israel!”

On September 18th, 2011, in the wake of the Palestinian bid to gain recognition in the United  Nations, Haniyeh reiterated his refusal to recognize Israel. “We repeat today that we are with the establishment of a Palestinian state on any liberated part of Palestinian land that is agreed upon by the Palestinian people, without recognizing Israel or conceding any inch of historical Palestine.”

On December 14th, 2011, Haniyeh addressed more than 100,000 Hamas supporters gathered in Gaza City’s al-Katiba to celebrate the 24th anniversary of Hamas’ creation. This was his message of violence to the audience: “The Hamas movement will lead Intifada after Intifada until we liberate Palestine – all of Palestine, Allah willing.”

On January 10, 2012 Haniyeh gave a sermon during which he declared "The land of Palestine, oh brothers and sisters, is an Islamic waqf, as decreed by the second caliph, Omar ibn Al-Khattab. We shall not relinquish the Islamic waqf on the land of Palestine, and Jerusalem shall not be divided into Western and Eastern Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a single united [city], and Palestine stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and from Naqoura [Rosh Ha-Niqra] to Umm Al-Rashrash [Eilat] in the south."

On February 12, 2012, Iranian Preisdent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited Haniyeh to his country just in time for the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. During a speech to his Iranian supporters, Haniyeh called again for a violent confrontation against Israel. “The resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including al-Quds (Jerusalem), has been liberated and all the refugees have returned.” Also, he said “The gun is our only response to [the] Zionist regime. In time we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance and no compromise should be made with the enemy.”

On October 19, 2013, Haniyeh called for an end to peace negotiations with Israel, warning that Hamas fighters are preparing for a liberation campaign against Israel.  “Thousands of fighters above ground and thousands of fighters underground have been preparing in silence for the campaign to liberate Palestine.”

On January 13th, 2014, the Hamas’ government celebrated 13,000 graduates from the Hamas youth paramilitary camps, designed to encourage Gazan teens “to follow in the footsteps of the suicide martyrs.” Haniyeh congratulated the participants at the graduation ceremony. “This is a generation which knows no fear. It is the generation of the missile, the tunnel and suicide operations.”

Khaled Mash’al, another Hamas leader, in a speech on December 7, 2012 said "First of all, Palestine – from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south – is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it. Second, Palestine was, continues to be, and will remain Arab and Islamic. It belongs to the Arab and the Islamic world. Palestine belongs to us and to nobody else. This is the Palestine which we know and in which we believe. Third, since Palestine belongs to us, and is the land of Arabism and Islam, we must never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. The occupation is illegitimate, and therefore, Israel is illegitimate, and will remain so throughout the passage of time. Palestine belongs to us, not to the Zionists."

A similar attitude can be seen in the streets of towns cities around the world during some of the rallies against Israel.  Here are some of the July rallies in the United States where one of the slogans repeated by the attendees, appearing on signs, or declared by speakers, was "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free": July 7 San Francisco, July 9 2014 New York City, July 11 in Milwaukee, July 12 Chicago and San Francisco, July 17 South Bend, IN, and Boston, July 18 San Diego, July 19 Fort Lauderdale, FL, July 23 Miami.

Could Hamas one day reach a peace agreement with Israel?  Hamas would need to replace, or abandon, it's abhorrent covenant titled "The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement" first.  Hamas is currently insisting on an airport and a seaport in Gaza.  Without solid assurances that they will not use such facilities to prepare for another attack on Israel, it is in no ones self-interest to see such facilities functioning in Gaza while Hamas governs there.  Well, no ones other than wealthy Hamas leaders such as Khaled Masha'l who has become a billionaire.  Hamas is currently not popular among Palestinians.  Mahmoud Abbas is more popular and also more reasonable and pragmatic.  The focus should be on the Palestinian Authority and the people living in Gaza, not on defending the reputation of Hamas.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rheeformers & the Vergara ruling against teacher tenure

Edd Doerr ( notes that the Washington Post, 15 Aug 2014, ran a long op ed piece, “The promise of teacher tenure reform”, by Joshua Lewis, a long time “Rheeformer”  supporting the recent LA lower court ruling in the Vergara case that slashed teacher tenure.

 Below is the comment Edd posted in the Post on line. A similarly strong response was posted by “LaborLawyer”. 

Of course Lewis would like the Vergara ruling against teacher tenure. He is on the board of Pearson, the testing and publishing supergiant that makes uncounted millions from its contracts with public schools and which owns some charter schools, which are not friendly to teacher unions. Lewis talks big about "reform" but says nothing about the overtesting of kids that is actually hurting public education and kids. And he says nothing about the real reforms that serious professional educators have been advocating, such as more adequate and more equitably distributed funding for public schools, universal pre-K, smaller classes, wraparound social and medical services for the neediest kids, an end to the diversion of public funds to special interest private schools through vouchers and tax credits (which have invariably been voted down in state referenda), and a pull-back in the expansion of charter schools, which the 2013 Stanford CREDO study found were generally no better than regular public schools despite their selectivity and other advantages.

Doing away with teacher tenure can only harm the teaching profession and the kids. The idea that the quality of in-school teaching is all important ignores the fact that kids are not widgets in a factory, that teachers are not robots on an assembly line, and that at least 1/4 of our students live in poverty.

The Post should run opinion pieces by real educators -- like Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schneider or David Berliner.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Polling Vouchers for private schools

by Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

On August 20 the Washington Post ran this story, “Poll: Common Core support has eroded across the US”, regarding the new Gallup/PDK poll.  Below is the comment I posted in the Post on line – Edd

This story does not give a very complete view of the new Gallup/PDK poll. Here is what was missed:

Vouchers for private schools are opposed 63% to 37%, almost exactly the % by which vouchers or their variants have been rejected in 27 statewide referenda from coast to coast. Republicans favor vouchers 52% to 48%. Democrats oppose vouchers 77% to 23%. Independents oppose vouchers 63% to 37%.

67% of parents give an A or B rating to the public school attended by their oldest child; 50% give an A or B to the public schools in their community; 17% give an A or B to public schools nationally. What this seems to mean is that parents give a good rating to the public school they know most about, but fall for the barrage of anti public school and anti teacher propaganda dished out by conservative media with regard to schools nationally.

The biggest single problem facing public schools is lack of adequate funding. So say 32% of all respondents, 45% of Democrats, 33% of Independents, but only 21% of Republicans.

Most Americans are vaguely familiar with charter schools but are widely misinformed: Only 50% think that charters are really public schools; they believe they are academically selective by 68% to 29%, which is correct; half believe that charters may teach religion, which is wrong because they are publicly funded; by 54% to 33% they believe that charters are better than regular public schools, while the 2013 Stanford CREDO study found that 3/4 of charters are worse or no better than regular public schools despite their obvious and acknowledged selectivity advantage.

I really wish that the Post would do a better job of reporting on educational issues.
Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Remembering Rwanda

by Edd Doerr

Twenty years have elapsed since the horror of the Rwanda massacre, in which half a  million to one million people were killed in just a few months, about 10% of the population of the small central African country. This bears looking at now because a major factor in the tragedy was human overpopulation, a global problem that threatens all of us. But first, a little background.

Rwanda and its virtual twin country Burundi are each about the size of Maryland. Their populations are both predominantly ethnic Hutu (2/3 in Rwanda, over 80% in Burundi) with a strong Tutsi minority ( about 14% in Burundi, slightly higher in Rwanda). The Hutu settled the two countries earlier, but the Tutsi  became dominant in both, rather like the Tutsi being the upper class and the Hutu the peasants. Germany took over both countries toward the end of the 19th century, but Belgium took over during WW I and ran both until independence in 1962. Catholic missionaries moved in during the German and Belgian occupations, so that today Rwanda is about 2/3 Catholic and Burundi over 80%. The European and Catholic occupations did nothing to alter the unstable balance between Hutu and Tutsi. Birth rates in the two countries have long been very high.

The Hutu and Tutsi have never gotten along very well. The Hutu  generally resented Tutsi domination, while the Tutsi worried what might happen to them if the Hutu ever dominated. In 1962-63 “genocide” by the Hutu in Rwanda killed thousands of Tutsi. In April 1972 an unsuccessful Hutu uprising in Burundi resulted in many thousands of deaths on both sides. The story is well told by Thomas Patrick Melady in his 1974 book Burundi: The Tragic Years (Orbis Books). Melady, a history prof by profession, was US ambassador to Burundi when the violence broke out. Melady mentions the high birth rate and overpopulation, but only very briefly. (Melady, a Catholic, was next the US ambassador to Uganda and from 1989 to 1993 was US ambassador to the Holy See [Vatican], appointed by President George  H.W. Bush. I have commented, most recently in a letter published in the liberal National Catholic Reporter, that every US ambassador to the Vatican since Reagan opened diplomatic relations with that single religious body in 1984, has been a Catholic, which appears to conflict with Article VI of the US Constitutio, which bars religious tests for public office.)

The Rwanda “genocidal violence of the spring of 1994 can be partly attributed to that population density”, wrote French historian and Africa specialist Gerard Prunier in his comprehensive book on the matter, The Rwanda Crisis: History of  a Genocide (Columbia University Press, 424 pp, 1995), after showing how the country’s population grew from 1.6 million in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989. Prunier also notes that “The church also had a monopoly on education” and “By 1931 …  Catholicism became the quasi-official religion”,  which undoubtedly discouraged family planning in the overpopulated country.

Prunier further notes: “Although … there were admirable acts of courage among ordinary Christians [during the genocide] the church hierarchies were at best useless and at worst accomplices in the genocide.” And: “The only faith which provided a bulwark against barbarity for its adherents was Islam”, a marginal 1.2% of the population. Prunier’s book is probably the best one available on the Rwanda massacre.

Before the dust had even begun to settle on the Rwanda genocide the UN population conference convened in Cairo. There was apparently very little comment about the tsunami of bloodshed hundreds of miles to the south. The only one I could find was this from conference participant Mary (Mrs Al) Gore: “Rwanda  is a tragedy and a warning. It is a warning about the way in which extremists can manipulate the fears of a  population threatened by its own numbers and by its massive poverty.” It was at the Cairo conference that US population scientist Stephen Mumford distributed copies of the National Security Study Memorandum 200 report on overpopulation and related issues that had been ordered by President Nixon, finished under President Ford in late 1975 but then mysteriously “classified” and buried for 17 years, when Mumford got his hands on it and published it. (To my knowledge, I am the only person who published reviews of Mumford’s 1996 book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed as US Population Policy (Center for Research on Population and Security, 579 pp), in the Americans for Religious Journal, in USA Today magazine, and in my column in The Humanist.)

Moving on. Scientist Jared Diamond devoted a chapter in his important 2005 book, Countdown: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 575 pp), to the Rwanda genocide (“Malthus In Africa: Rewanda’s Genocide”). The 1994 massacre was triggered in April of that year by the shooting down of a plane in which the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi were killed, a crime that was never solved.  Diamond writes: “While the killings [the massacre] were organized by the extremist Hutu government and largely carried out by Hutu civilians, institutions and outsiders from whom one might have expected better behavior played an important permissive role. In particular, numerous leaders of Rwanda’s Catholic Church either failed to protect Tutsi or else actively assembled them and  turned them over to killers.”  The UN and the French and US governments did nothing. At the end of the chapter Diamond cited Prunier’s quote of a Tutsi survivor: “The people whose children had to walk barefoot to school killed the people who could buy shoes for theirs.”

So here we are in 2014. Since 1945 world population has tripled to well over 7 billion and promises to continue expanding to about 9 billion by 2050. Climate change is all too real, and overpopulation is contributing enormously to CO2 increase in the atmosphere, global warming, environmental  degradation, resource depletion, soil erosion, soil nutrient decline, waste accumulation, deforestation, desertification, fresh water shortages, sea level rise,  biodiversity shrinkage, consumption levels rising, and sociopolitical instability and violence, much of which was predicted by the NSSM 200 report. That report recommended universal access to contraception and the legalization of abortion.

Democrats in the US have generally favored moving in that direction, but Republicans, conservatives and the Religious Right have been opposed. We know that equalizing education and rights for women would go  a long way toward lowering birth rates, but religious fundamentalists of all sorts have stood in the way. Religious leaders – the Vatican and the bishops, Protestant fundamentalists, Hasidic and Islamic leaders – have blocked progress. Thoughtful Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Humanists and others favor progress and need to bring pressure to bear on those in power.

Let me also recommend Alan Reisman’s  2013 book, Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth (Little, Brown, 528 pp) for its astonishingly comprehensive and wide-ranging coverage of this whole matter of climate change and overpopulation (which I reviewed in Americans for Religious Liberty’s journal No. 126, available on line at We inhabitants of Planet Earth will either control our numbers humanely and intelligently or Mother Nature will do it for us in a very unpleasant way.

Finally, a report in The Economist (UK) for August 23 notes that Africa’s population is expected to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, 2.2 billion in the sub-Sahara. With the Sahara desert slowly spreading southward, deforestation continuing, and barbarous fanatics like Nigeria’s Boko Haram (education = sin) running loose, we may well see more Rwandas.

Edd Doerr, president of Americans for Religious liberty and former president of the American Humanist Association, is a regular columnist in Free Inquiry.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Maryland ACLU too small to dispute no atheists club

By Mathew Goldstein

I recently became aware that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is still sponsoring Venturing Crew 202 through the Baltimore Area Council of The Boy Scouts of America.  The Maryland DNR has been sponsoring this Venturing Crew since 2000.   I first heard about this some years ago, and I initially thought the sponsorship may have been short term, but it has proven to be long term.  I have been a card carrying member of the ACLU for many years and I faxed a complaint to the Maryland ACLU.

Four days later I called to verify that they received the fax.  I described my complaint as being about a state sponsored youth group that discriminates. I was told my complaint was not yet entered on their computers and I was asked to identify the target of the discrimination.  After I replied "atheists and agnostics" I was told that it could take months for the ACLU to decide if they would pursue my complaint. 

I faxed another copy of the complaint the next week and, this time, when I again called them four days later, I was told they had a record of the complaint.  A mere two weeks later I received a letter from the ACLU explaining that their legal staff is small and they provide legal assistance for "a small number of cases each year."  They concluded they are "unable to assist" in this matter due to their "limited resources".  The Maryland ACLU claims to have "approximately 14,000 members statewide."

Fortunately, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims "more than 400" members in Maryland, is willing to assist.  They wrote "... we are concerned about the relationship between the Boy Scouts and the DNR. One principal concern we have is that all BSA organizations have to sign an “Annual Charter Agreement.” The general form has the sponsor agree to: “Conducting the Scouting program according to its own policies and guidelines as well as those of the Boy Scouts of America.” The Venturing Oath and Code are also a problem...."  

Clearly FFRF understands the problem, and furthermore it appears that the FFRF is more efficient at deploying their limited resources in contexts like this than the ACLU.  Assuming that the DNR rejects the complaint and continues sponsoring their no atheists youth group, I would not be surprised if the now reluctant ACLU reverses course and decides they are able to devote some of their resources to this matter once the complaint is scheduled for a hearing before a judge.  Meanwhile, if you are one of the 14,000 members of the Maryland ACLU, please consider calling or writing to ask them to reconsider their decision not to pursue the ACLU file number 3470 claim against the Maryland Department of Natural Resources sponsorship of Venturing Crew 202.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Abortion clinic hospital admitting-privileges laws have nothing to do with women's health or safety.

Edd Doerr (
 Responded to a Washington Post, Aug 11, story “Admitting-privileges laws give abortion foes potent tool”. 

Below is the response I posted in the Post on line. NY Times, Aug 11
note there was an excellent editorial on same subject, “A Judge Rules for Alabama Women”. 

Abortion clinic hospital admitting-privileges laws have nothing to do with women's health or safety. Rather, they are gimmicks used by the misogynist Religious Right to impose their narrow medieval religious opinions on all women, to take away women's religious liberty and rights of conscience. By cutting off access to clinics these laws actually harm women's health.

These laws are based on the peculiar idea that fetuses are persons at conception, a belief that is supported by neither science nor the Judeo-Christian Bible. Scientists concur that what makes us "persons" is a functioning brain, a functioning cerebral cortex, and this is not possible until some time after 28 to 32 weeks of gestation. 90% of abortions are performed by 13 weeks, 99% by 20 weeks. Procedures after viability (23-24 weeks) are not common and are done only for serious medical reasons.

The Bible (Gen 1:27 and 2:7) has it that persons are created "in the image of God", which surely must refer to consciousness and will, not flesh and blood and DNA), and science shows that these are not possible until some time after 28-32 weeks.

These laws are Orwellian Big Brother gimmicks that are intended to elevate the prejudices of conservative male politicians over the fundamental rights of women. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Outrageous Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict -Part 3 of a Series

by Gary Berg-Cross

Having outrageously dispatched 2 global problems in prior posts on Climate Change and the Wealth Gap, we can try some simpler regional problem like Israel-Palestine (I-P).  Well to be fair as a child there were 3 intractable disputes: South Africa, Ireland-Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine. With difficult 2 of these have been handled and the tougher nut is left.

 You might say that the Irish issue goes back pretty far and has called for outrageous, but modest proposals for solution. In 1729 Jonathan Swift  anonymously & satirically publishedA Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.  It took a while to settle that one, and the I-P conflict goes back to an even earlier invasion.  

Even Jon Stewart can’t solve this one, although he has some modest proposals, like fewer weapons sent to the area. Seems like an important ingredient but this has already gotten him criticized so we have to step delicately here too and note that the problem is dynamic and when something is tried such as things that worked in either South Africa (boycotts) or George Mitchell diplomacy (Ireland) there is blockage even if some negotiations start. Unfortunately I-P negotiations aren’t between the likes of MLK and Gandhi.  It’s more like warlords. As with the wealth gap there are asymmetries to the situation. One side has the power and uses disproportional responses. So the other side uses unconventional means.  Both seem to be criminal in their own way.

In I-P the key folks know how to bollix things up.  There is, for example, Israel's sequence of reasons offered for attacking Gaza – see  video report. So maybe sidelining them is a solution ingredient.

The usual approach of first diagnosing the problem of being responsible, as well as fact based and settling into hard negotiations over a long time. But you know understand the situation hasn’t been fruitful. The problem is as emotional as they come. Revenge seems an important ingredient.

At first blush, since the problem of land control disputes and conquest goes back thousands of years (per the previous upsetting animation on the history of conflict in this land) we might try some older techniques.  I was thinking of the old royal hostage exchange. 

“In medieval Europe hostages were given, not taken. They were a means of guarantee used to secure transactions ranging from treaties to wartime commitments to financial transactions. In principle, the force of the guarantee lay in the threat to the life of the hostage if the agreement were broken but, while violation of agreements was common, execution of hostages was a rarity. Medieval hostages are thus best understood not as simple pledges, but as a political institution characteristic of the medieval millennium, embedded in its changing historical contexts.” From Hostages in the Middle Ages  Adam J. Kosto

The idea is that each side offer some of its elite children, who would grow up in the others land and help preserve the peace. We’d have to put Jewish children near the Gaza border, for example, so that their presence would stop the type of bombing and destruction we saw as IDF troops move in.  Palestine would be raised in Israeli cities and towns and…
you know this isn't going to work.  

There is not much risk to their being killed by small rockets or suicide bombs.  The previously mentioned asymmetry of the situation doesn't make this outrageous approach feasible.

Back to the sketchy pad. 

So again we need something simple and bottom line. Something like getting a bunch of the war crime responsible parties before the International Criminal Court ICC.  Human Rights Watch for example is for this. This would give some space for moderates.

What to do next as past crimes are being prosecuted and each side has
some revenge going? Well the US has leverage with both sides.  The Palestinians need us to negotiate as the indispensable country. Israel needs our vote at the UN and we provide $3 billion or so a year in support. Sure this is hard to use as leverage because in the US American Israel Public Affairs Committee takes Pols out who disagree with the conservative Israeli government policies.  So if a Pol argues, as some have, that you only get progress when Israel is pressed, you find yourself running against a well-funded opponent.

How to get around that blockage?  There is the simple idea again of using a moral argument.  We’d have to reinforce it maybe with ur secular religion (see part 2 of outrageous solutions). It should help promote the idea around the world, and recall we already talked about UN and ICC backing. With this in place we argue that it’s just seems fair that from now on with the ICC going parties responsible for any new damage should pay for them.  I mean financially sort of like implied by the “your break it, you bought it idea.”  It’s bottom line stuff that everyone can understand. Jewish author and scholar Norman Finkelstein, touched on this briefly in an interview.

“It’s really a kind of weird conflict. I mean, there are so many weirdnesses about
this conflict. Israel blows everything up. Nobody even talks about Israel paying reparations. It’s just taken as a matter of fact that the international community rebuilds after Israel destroys. … We destroy, they pay. Nobody even discusses the possibility maybe Israel should pay reparations for its death and destruction in Gaza.”

Ok, so we have some American Jews buying in. But Palestinians have to pay for the damage they cause too, just as the relevant people have to go to the ICC for war crimes. Let’s say that we could agree on making the groups doing the damage responsible for them.
Now asymmetry works to dampen the damage.  And throw in the idea that the US will allocate $$ from the 3 billion a year it ships over.  So if we have a $5 billion or so conflict in Gaza with Israeli weapons that’s almost 2 years of the money Israel normally receives. 

This is getting a bit complicated, but we need one more outrageous idea to make this work.  

There will be lots of legal wrangling over this. Like Oslo this process would be gamed.  So we need a good legal team with the right experience to manage this.  It has to be better than what was done in Oslo.  I think that we need a team of  LA divorce lawyers to handle the negotiations.  It’s probably the only group that has the experience and tenacity to handle the egos involved.  Too bad that Donald Sterling won't be available. 

One thing though.  Can we afford these lawyers with just 3 billion or so to work with after damages?

Saturday, August 09, 2014

response to “Poor kids left behind as D.C. grows richer”

by Edd Doerr (

Wash Post writer Petula Dvorak’s Aug 8 article “Poor kids left behind as D.C. grows richer” called attention to increasing poverty in the nation’s capital. Here is the response I posted in the paper on line.  

Thank you, Petula Dvorak, for reminding us of the growing gap between the poor and the more well off. But this applies not just to DC but to the whole US, where about 25% of our kids live below the poverty line, compared to western Europe, where that figure is under 10%. But the situation is even worse than this bare statistic shows us. More than 60% of US kids live in families whose highest level of education is a high school diploma, per a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Even among parents with some college, 18% live in poverty and 43% have low incomes, according to the Foundation for Child Development and the Center for Law and Social Policy. Kids whose parents have at least bachelor's degrees are 14% more likely to read proficiently and 19% better at math than kids with parents with only some college.

These figures also show that the poor have more kids than the more well off, and this will only get worse in the wake of the Supreme Court's terribly wrong June 30 Hobby Lobby ruling and the nationwide Republican drive to deny women, especially poor women, access to family planning aid. Add to that the conservative drive to undermine our public schools and divert public funds to special interest private schools and to charter schools that tend to be selective and to not be adequately responsible to elected school boards.

With elections coming up in November, voters who want a fairer, more equitable America should carefully consider the above.

"Hemingway and Gellhorn"

by Edd Doerr

HBO's "Hemingway and Gellhorn" premiered on Memorial Day. Although the Washington Post's reviewer looked down its nose at the 2.5 hour film starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman (who nicely shed their British and Australian accents) it was really quite good. It follows the writing pair from the beginning of the Spanish civil war through the Soviet-Finnish war in 1940 through World Wat II. Over half of the film deals with the Spanish civil war and ddes  not spare its complexity and rough-and-tumble. Hemingway's personal flaws are all there and Martha Gellhorn is clearly the gutsier of the pair.The film looses blasts at theb Catholic Church for its support of Franco. I would give the film at least four stars.

While we are on the subject of Spain's civil war, let me recommend three other films. "Land and  Freedom" is a terrific British film from a decade or so ago based on George Orwell's book Homage to Catalonia (though, oddly, without attribution). It fictionalizes the Orwell account and highlights the conflicting factiins on the republican side.

"Pan's Labyrinth" won the best foreign film Oscar a couple of years or so ago. A magnificent Spanish film, its fascinating story takes place in the summer of 1944 when republican forces were still holding out against Franco's victorious fascists and hoping that the Allies would knock off Franco after they finished with Hitler. (Too bad they didn't.)

"Ay, Carmela!", from over a decade ago, is a Spanish film that follows a couple of Spanish republican entertainers who fall into the hands of Italian troops aiding Franco. The funniest scene involves the Italian commander, an amateur theatrical producer in civilian life in Italy, persuading the Spanish entertainer to put on a musical the Italian has written in exchange for his life and that of his entertainer wife. The Spaniard is speaking  Spanish and the Italian Ita

A Correction to the Mother and Child Home story in Ireland, please read!

I was drawn to a story this morning posted in the Irish Times regarding the horrific tale of the almost 800 infant/child skeletons found in the septic tank at a Mother and Child Home (as they are known in Ireland - actually homes for unwed mothers and "illegitimate" children) by a researcher doing genealogy a while back.

It seems that many of the stories which have been spread from the original article misinterpreted some of the facts.  The linked to article sets us straight.  Most of the infants and children buried at the Tuan home were buried in a cemetery within the grounds of the home, not IN the septic tank.  According to an interview of one of the boys who originally found the tank and it's occupants, there were no more than perhaps twenty bodies within the tank itself.

There are a couple of  implications of this correction, but rest assured, lessening of the fault of the Roman Catholic Church in the existence and the terrible conditions in these homes is not one of them!

It does lessen the horror somewhat to know that most of the children who died there were at least accorded some modicum of decency in death, if not in life.  It increases the chances that conditions in most of the other homes may be found to be no worse and perhaps even a bit better.  

On the other hand, the environment inculcated by the Church allowed an atmosphere to develop which allowed at least one and perhaps a small cabal of abusers to cause these children - as few as five or as many as twenty - to be disposed of in a septic tank seperate and apart from the normal burial procedures at that one home.  What abuse and neglect caused these deaths, we may never know, but still, the fault lies with the Institution which allowed the abuse to occur and continue as long as it did.

There is no doubt that any story is at once too simple and also often incorrectly reported at first glance.  This one is not an exception.  I am sure that even in these institutions of callousness and indifference, there were individuals who did their best to mitigate the cruelty and intolerance showed by the institution and its rules towards a badly mistreated underclass.  Even amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, there were stories of the occasional kindness by even the worst of the criminals who staffed the camps.  It is and has always been possible for good people to be trapped by circumstances in a terrible place and time where their ability to mitigate the damage is limited to individual kindnesses on an occasional basis. I am sure, once the story of these homes is finally told, we will hear of people who were kind, even heroic in their attempts to fight the indifference and the horrors they were faced with in an institution whose purpose was the denigration and enslavement of an underclass of officially detested women and their children.  People will, after all, be people, and even in terrible circumstances, the basic goodness of mankind will often show itself.

But let's make no mistake.  The basic reasons these homes existed was to warehouse and make disappear the detritus of a society which considered them to be a sinful and evil mistake.  A society which was outlined in my post on my Facebook page yesterday describing the social institutions built by the Roman Catholic Church within Irish society in the first half of the twentieth century.

There is and can be no lessening of the fault and the guilt of that institution by the revelation of this article that some have misinterpreted the story of the children's' burials in the Tuan Home.  This story must be and more than likely will be investigated and eventually told in all of its horror, frightful detail and the occasional lighthearted story of heroism or courage in the face of adversity.

It will be at once more complex and nuanced than we have seen at first glance, and yet, we must not lose sight of the basic lesson we should take away from it.

The entire edifice of Irish society which enabled these homes to exist - which in fact required them to be built - is the result of the Roman Catholic Church and the teachings and dogma of that institution resulting from the interpretation of Christian Scripture by the Church Hierarchy of the day.  Teachings and interpretations which continue virtually unchanged to this very day and age, and which would, if that institution had its way, require the very same kinds of homes to continue to exist into the future.

Interpretations which could, at any time, be re-examined and reinterpreted to end that terrible intolerance.  If the teachings and dogma of that bygone age continue, it is by the willing and intentional decisions made by current Church Fathers (read: Pope and Cardinals) to continue the horror.

They have a choice, and it seems they've already made it.

Another Outrageous solution to an Intractable Problem: The Wealth Gap Part 2 of 3 Problems

by Gary Berg-Cross
In an earlier post I proposed an outrageous solution to Climate Change. Make it a bet with $$ behind it to help the winning side.  We'll need trillions to clean up the mess if it is an accurate prediction of a similar amount to heal wealth that is taxed to solve a non-problem. Well the 1% creeping into the climate change issue and they are part of the destabilizing wealth gap issue.  It is worldwide, (see Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economicsbut just the trend in US is troubling with lots of downsides and destabilizing effects.  So they say.

“Since 1960, income inequality has jumped more in the U.S. than in any other major Western country, according to a November analysis from noted economics professors.HufPo article

It’s “ Let them eat cake” and what follows are problems of neglect.  I’ve got mine and earned it (well I was born into a worthy family in a prosperous place).  But who wants the French Revolution on a global scale?

Now in finding a solution here we want to avoid class warfare. Well since one class has the weapons that wealth brings such as owning politicians and media that's not likely to work well.

To ease the problem we might dream of outlandish solutions like Scandinavia annexing the US or China buying up the Kochs, but that’s not likely.

So here’s another idea to find some transcendent force that can close the gap despite the 1% opposition.  

We can start a morality-based religion.

Something where solving the wealth gap is a moral good, espoused by Religion.  I've heard rumors that this idea is in some religions, but obviously the message isn't getting through.  It’s buried too deeply or covered up by other commandments and priorities or abstractions that are interpreted by special people who have a direct line to the supreme mover.

Indeed there is a prosperity gospel which pushes things in the other way towards the chosen 1%.

So maybe we have a good start from some earlier work in this area but we need to start over.  Earlier efforts has been captured by elites and we have wealth religions.

Let’s be a little scientific and systematic about this and get to useful ends like narrowing the wealth gap. 

Practically we need an inspired book to start.  Who can we get to Ghost write the book? Chis Hitchens’ ghost perhaps?  Wishful thinking. I tried that and got no response.

The founding fathers might be good, Jefferson and Madison could take a swing.  They might include Tom Paine.  That’s a better set of writers than most books of revelation can claim.  Unfortunately I got no response from them either.  Maybe I’m not a good conductor and need to fast in the desert a bit.

Perhaps a team of folks lead by a philosopher like A.C. Grayling might ghost the book.  His “The GoodBook" is certainly a good start with parables and quotable ideas that get at thinking, belief and lifestyle values.  Here is one example that gets at the asymmetry or wealth issue in a moral, reasoning way:
These reasonings are unconnected, though foolish people think them: 
’I am richer than you, therefore I am better’; ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better’.
The true connection is this: ‘I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours’; ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours’.

And he reuses much wisdom to put wealth and foolishness in perspective:

"Prosperity reveals vice, adversity virtue;" and 
"They are strong who conquer others, they are mighty who conquer themselves."

We just have to treat the ideas a bit more reverently. Dress it up and get some persuasive spokesman out there.  Maybe Chris Hitchens will respond from beyond in time.  Here’s an idea we'll just make it up as if he has.

Ok, so we start with a revered book and disciple who preach the message.  I guess we’ll need some institution building.  How about Humanist Libraries and academies where people come to learn and hear the word?  Well we do have a start with AHA, CFI and others (like WASH), so I guess we just need to gear up with long range and short term or conversion approaches flowing out of them.

We probably need a better conversion mechanism to get this rolling. What facilitates conversions?  If it isn't the gradual process of being raised in the culture (a long-range approach), it’s all about sudden turning points and well crisis. So we need to be prepared as they come via the wealth gap as the 99% run out of cake. Let’s be ready for the next big finanhcial bubble bust. Sudden conversions will come as a result of overwhelming anxiety and guilt from personal errors.  Why didn’t I sell all my stock or protect my retirement of sell my house or not take on that college loan?  Guilt will becomes uncomfortable, making conversion a functional solution to ease these emotions.  What actions will ease this guilt? Let’s get into those Occupy Wall Street crowds and Walmart protests and get people committed to a moral, caring society.

So Psychological understanding helps. We can leverage for example Rambo, L. R. (1993). Understanding religious conversion. New Haven: CT: Yale University Press.

We need to structure the right type of encounters and interactions as people search for a solution to problems caused by some people having it all and not contributing to solutions.  Using our Gooder Book we can lead converts to a moral society recognition and a new identity. We’ll probably need some songs and ceremonies.  We can leverage the progressive community a bit here.

We can expect some pushback for sure.  After all this would be a pretty “light” religion.  I guess we should use Religion in quotes.  So "religion." 
One without the usual God, spiritual aspect.  So we may have to get the Templeton Foundation to fund us and help clear the way with things like their evolution of "religion" efforts.  It's might be a challenge, but, hey, let's keep the faith and try.

We should have a contest for the best name for the new religion.  Something catchy like secular humanism perhaps.  Let’s give it a try and cross our fingers (is that too superstitious?) for the best. I sure hope we don’t need martyrs to make this work.