Nuclear Proliferation

Advances in technology make uranium enrichment easier, and easier to hide.

Trying to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons is probably futile.  This is technology from World War 2.  Imagine if the nuclear-proliferation regime had instead tried to prevent the spread of computing or rocketry.  Surely development of those technologies would have occurred more slowly, but each advance making computers or rockets more affordable and reliable would have made it easier for marginal organizations to start their own projects.  Hell, in 1911, no one in the world knew about nuclear fission.  Now an interested schoolboy can tell you that fissile material + critical mass + pressure vessel = boom.  Enrichment seems to be the bottleneck in the production of nuclear weaponry; if it’s getting easier, that’s bad news for anti-proliferation efforts.

The threat of mutually assured destruction worked pretty well during the Cold War, but both sides possessed not only staggering nuclear arsenals but massive conventional forces as well.  A future nuclear conflict could involve a smaller country using nuclear weapons to defend itself from an invader.  It might not work.

The truth is that nuclear weapons are not so devastating as might be imagined.  Tactical employment of nuclear weapons won’t automatically result in victory; armored vehicles provide excellent protection against the blast (though not the radiation) effects of an atomic bomb, even if you know exactly where the target is.  Terrain also lessens the effects of a nuclear bomb; this is one of the reasons (not the only) the United States did not use nukes along the mountainous 48th parallel.  Not every possible nuclear target is a paper city on a plain.  Invading armies would still sustain higher casualties, but I doubt the difference would be any worse than the proliferation of gunpowder.  The armies of Napoleon or Grant could keep fighting; future armies could do so again.   The burning of cities was once a commonplace feature of war, and could become so again.

The day is coming when someone uses an atomic bomb.  The world will not end.  Those on the business end will be shocked and amazed.  Then they’ll keep fighting.

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A Great Christian Film: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Forget Soul Surfer. (Though maybe it isn’t without merit.) If you want to see a movie about Christian forgiveness and redemption, queue up Nirvana, go back to the year nineteen hundred and ninety two, and start watching Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (and don’t stop watching, even though I hope you’ll want to).

I had seen it on, e.g., AFI’s top 100 films.  Mostly talking about how great an actor Harvey Keitel is (true), how sleazily intense it is (also true), and something about redemption (again true.  More to follow).  I had no idea Christianity was involved except that spoiler alert just watch the movie now, it’ll be better

Continue reading

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Studious they appear, of arts that polish life

I read Paradise Lost about a year and a half ago and it basically blew my mind.  Previously I had been what passes nowadays for a practicing Christian, but I had been on autopilot, and didn’t make any decently Christian friends after high school except by coincidence.  I have always found the contemporary soi-disant Christian culture basically embarrassing.  A sort of low-budget imitation of popular culture, scrubbed not just of the un-Christian but the compelling or the complex.  The cesspool replaced with a puddle.  I suppose it makes a good place for parents to let their kids play without getting hold of anything sharp, but I’m a little old for Chuck E. Cheese.

The painstaking inoffensiveness doesn’t really appeal to men in their 20s.  I’ve also always had more of a problem with pride, cruelty, and vengefulness than with lust, hedonism, or greed.  Given the age we live in I understand the fixation on the latter, but (and this sounds pretty bad) what’s in it for me?  Not that I’ve never been tempted by those things, but others look to have a much harder time than I do.  I can help others, in a way, but what about when I struggle?  I get platitudes.

Back to the poem.  I realized that there might be–must be!–a tradition, an entire civilization full of non-lame Christian culture.  Somehow I had been cut off from it and left with the blind leading the blind.  Besides, Paradise Lost is a great literary work of obvious genius.  Everybody should read this! I thought.  Maybe a few weeks later (unfortunately I can’t give a source, this wasn’t recently) I saw a reference to children– as in 13-14 years old–around the early 20th century being required to read it in school.  Now I’m the only person I know who’s read it, nearly the only one who’s even heard of it.  Dark thoughts began to form.  What had cut me off of what? If the book had been a well-known part of the culture for three hundred years, what changed between 1930 and 2010  that this great work had been reduced to borderline esoterica?   Who gave up Paradise Lost for A House on Mango Street?  Why?

n.b. anybody reads this and decides to do the right thing: John Milton might be more eloquent than the Bible, but he isn’t the Word of God.

Edit: After digging around, I think that only selections of Paradise Lost were generally assigned to schoolboys as material for recitation; study of the entire work was reserved for older students in what would now be late high school if not college.  I still do not think it is as widely read as it once was.

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What’s so bad about hypocrisy, anyway?

I have often heard said about Christians, or about the church in general: “It’s not the moralizing that bothers me, it’s the hypocrisy“.  Certain individuals or institutions advocate a certain manner of living, and then they don’t follow it themselves.  In doing so, they reveal themselves as hypocrites, generally understood to be a great wrong.  Who wants to associate with a bunch of hypocrites?  No one.

Charges of hypocrisy don’t amount, on their own, to anything more or less than an ad-hominem argument against whatever the hypocrite advocates.  It is the “moralizing” that bothers those charging hypocrisy, but even today the average person feels uneasy making open arguments against pride, or against charity, or against chastity, or against faith, however they may themselves live.  Instead you can accuse the religious of hypocrisy (a charge which will always find some purchase given the impossible demands of Christianity), and you don’t even have to make those arguments.

The stricter the code of conduct one must follow, the more likely one will be a hypocrite.  When it comes to living up to the full demands of Christianity it is, again, impossible…but there is a way out.  Simply: don’t evangelize.  If you fail to be a good (actually, perfect) Christian, which you will, you can at least avoid being a hypocrite by having an indifferent attitude towards promoting the faith.  If you don’t recommend that others follow the Way of Christ, you can fail all you want and you’ll never be a hypocrite!

Of course followers of less demanding lifestyles (“Do no harm” or even “Do as thou wilt”) can proselytize their assorted depravities all they want.  They’re no hypocrites–they don’t promote anything they don’t do.  This makes the fervently debauched, in the modern view, morally superior to any mortal Christian.

Making no attempt to rise above vice is no virtue.  Giving oneself over to sin, and then trying to convince others to do the same, is clearly worse than trying to turn others toward God…no matter what the spiritual state of the witness might be.  Yet the inflation of hypocrisy into some monstrous sin inverts this.

Not to say that a particularly egregious sinner should be given leadership in the church, or should be looked up to as an example, merely because he doesn’t actively attempt to lead others into sin.  For example, an unrepentant and frequent adulterer who tells others that he is faithful to his wife and who supports marital fidelity is guilty of adultery and of lying.  He isn’t “guilty”, though, of claiming adultery is wrong.

I can see how, say, a tyrant might cynically advocate a certain ideology in order to make his oppression easier.  Perhaps some of the rulers of antiquity commanded others to worship them even with the knowledge that they were not gods, in order to make their rule more palatable.  In neither case, though, is hypocrisy the real problem.

I’m not really convinced that hypocrisy per se is a sin at all, (this post was originally titled “Is hypocrisy a sin?”) but I don’t really feel qualified to pass a conclusive judgment on the matter.  I certainly don’t think it’s a very important one.

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Who controls the past, controls the future

Let’s say you were taught that American history from 1776-1914 consisted of a grand progress towards Manifest Destiny.  The American people, possessed of Europe’s racial inheritance and cultural strength yet free of its aristocratic stultification, conquered from the Atlantic to the Pacific as ordained by God.  Obviously you will find an awful lot of people nowadays who disagree with this; in fact, I think it rather difficult to find anyone who agrees with the above statement, even though this is in fact basically how Americans thought of themselves in the early 20th century.  Even in disagreement, though, you’re still aware of the narrative.

Savage heathens cross the sea in search of plunder.  They pillage, burn, and rape, taking slaves and booty back with them across the water.  Who are they?

If you’re an American, it’s the Vikings.  You didn’t think of the wokou.  You probably didn’t even think of the Muslim empires who plundered and conquered the Mediterranean coast for the better part of a thousand years.  The reason for this is that American history prior to the Revolution is basically British history.  The Saracens never threatened the British, so you never heard about them (this omission far predates political correctness).  Without knowing about them, though, you never had a chance to argue for or against the inclusion or portrayal of the Mediterranean raiders.

To tie this back in to the last post, how many are alive today that can defend e.g. monarchism?  Hereditary rule has been the, well, the rule for most of human history.  Yet hardly anyone in the West can make a coherent case for it, or name anyone (now or in history) who can or did.  Hereditary and other non-democratic rulers still exist, though all good people know that they must transition to this thing called “democracy” in order to become first-class nations.  What makes democracy so great?  Is there any disadvantage to it?  The best you’ll get is a few platitudes about avoiding the “tyranny of the majority” with an automatic conclusion that the benefits outweigh the costs.  There is a simple reason for this: proponents, arguments, and counterexamples in favor of political/ideological systems other than the present are not a part of our popular history.  At most they constitute a sort of antiquarian interest, purely historical rather than content-based, like Beowulf before Tolkien.  If you think that history represents some sort of steady progress towards our current more advanced state, and will continue to progress until we reach some sort of enlightenment, this is why.

The founders of the American government, like all thinking men of their time, knew of the governmental concepts of monarchy (power concentrated in a single individual), oligarchy (power vested in an insular cabal), and democracy (power vested in a large body) and sought to integrate these concepts into a functioning American Republic.  Nobody can “advocate” for democracy when because they don’t even know what they’re fighting against  (This is not all-inclusive, but: if it’s “fascism”, you’re an idiot).

The arrogant assumption that more democracy = better, period represents a massive latent danger.  Not only do we seek to impose non-workable states onto foreign peoples (not to point fingers, or anything) but we blind ourselves to the fact that democracy can work, in some circumstances, though it imposes certain limitations and obligations, and might not always be the best option.  At the same time, our ability to recognize what systemic problems might be a result of democracy atrophies.  But it won’t make those problems go away.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four several years ago after seeing a British survey indicating that it was the most common book that people lie about having read.  I’d never lied about reading 1984, but I realized I probably would if someone asked me about it.  The book is hugely influential, what with its warnings about the possibility of dreary oppression under a surveillance state.  After all, when organizations or policies are described as “Orwellian”,  this usually doesn’t refer to clear language or disillusionment with Socialism.

It’s true the Big Brother uses extensive surveillance technology as part of its system of control–this is what people who haven’t read the book think it’s about.  But this surveillance network consists of more than technology.  Winston cannot know who to trust; since everyone is expected to act like they fervently believe in the ideology of Ingsoc, it is impossible to tell who truly believes.  Children, subjected to Big Brother’s compulsory public schooling, inform on their own parents, who in turn fear their own children given the consequences of denunciation.  All of this was already happening, by the way, in the Soviet Union.

Big Brother also obsesses over removing any type of joy or sensual pleasure from life: good food and drink, sex, friendship, filial piety, anything.  This on the grounds that these interfere with, or at least indicate a lack of, total devotion to the state.  There are other themes as well: for instance, the nature of the classes.

The overriding theme, though, is “Who controls the present, controls the past.  Who controls the past, controls the future”.  Big Brother’s primary means of control is censorship.  Not the “moral” sort that first comes to mind, in which obscenity or vulgarity is forbidden to reach the public.  Rather, it’s the censorship of facts contrary to the Party line.  Historical facts or statements contrary to the ruling ideology aren’t denounced, they are erased.  (Dropped down the memory hole, as a matter of fact–I term I didn’t know originated from the book until I read it.)  Winston might eventually find someone he can trust to join him in rebellion.  Big Brother knows this, though, and its goal is to make rebellion impossible by making it inconceivable.  I think Orwell believes that this is something that could really happen, and I don’t totally share his pessimism: I don’t think historical manipulation can be taken this far…but it can be (actually, it is) taken a very long way indeed.

You should go ahead and dig up the copy you didn’t read in high school and just read it, this evening.  It’s an easy read, even by Orwell’s standards, while still covering a lot of ground (I haven’t even mentioned a number of the book’s points).  Plus, you won’t have to keep lying about having read it.

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Haves and Have-Nots

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43970084/ns/us_news-education/#.Tjtop4KMe71

I saw this article headlined on MSNBC on Thursday.  Intrigued by the picture of an earnest young kid holding a sign in order to “make his voice heard” according to the caption, as well as the prospect of reading about a lurid racially-charged political dispute, I started reading.  A large inner-city school district (Memphis) has abolished itself in an attempt to trigger a merger with a smaller suburban school district (Shelby).  The Memphis school district, after all, has been performing poorly, and now faces the prospect of losing more funding if the Shelby district completely secedes from the city.  Shelby, after all, is “better funded and consequently tends to have what is regarded as a better quality educational system” so obviously if Memphis schools can just get their hands on some of that money, all of their problems will be solved!  By the way, notice that the spokeswoman couldn’t bring herself to say outright that Memphis schools are relatively worse than the suburban district…some mysterious third parties “tend to regard” them as better.

Curiously, nowhere in the article does it mention how much better funded the Shelby schools are…so I decided to look it up.

Memphis City Schools 2010-11

  • Expenditures: 1.24b
  • Enrollment: 107,917
  • Expenditures/Student: $11,490

Shelby County Schools (2010-11)

  • Expenditures: 363,835,000
  • Enrollment: 47,292
  • Expenditures/Student:$ 7,693

Well that’s certainly interesting.  They aren’t better funded at all!  Whatever Shelby County residents have that those living in the city limits have not, it isn’t money.  Still, all they’ve got to do is give the residents of the former Memphis school district a vote in running Shelby, and the Memphians will get some of whatever it is those suburbanites have got.  Also, their money.  That’s how democracy works, right?  Those racist white people (and black people, Shelby being basically 50/50 white/black; I checked to make sure the Shelby spokesman in the article wasn’t pulling the nasty trick of counting Asians as “minorities”) thought they could evade their solemn responsibility to pay for services in a city they moved away from/chose not to live in for some probably unacceptable reason.  I’d recommend Memphis raise taxes on these bastards before they get enough money to move again.

Posted in Education, Plunder | Leave a comment