Friday, June 29, 2007

The Politics of Jesus

A friend of mine sent me a link to a book called "The Politics of Jesus," wanting to know what I thought (I think - he may have just been poking at me to see my reaction - several of my friends seem to enjoy this "sport"). I found the information available on to be interesting, and it did provoke a fairly visceral reaction. So, I gave him my impressions:

From reading the excerpt, table of contents, a little research on his other writings, and my cumulative life experience, I can deduce the following about John Howard Yoder:

First, he has never had an original idea in his life. He does not think for himself; he recycles the thoughts and ideas of others and presents them as his own. He is of average intelligence, and hides behind a smokescreen vocabulary consisting of 64-dollar words strung together confusingly enough to fool anyone else of average or below-average intelligence, or anyone who participates in the most current version of that age-old “Emperor’s New Clothes” game, in which shallow people attain respect from other shallow people for fun and profit by pretending that they are sophisticated, and validating the drivel of anyone who agrees with them. In other words, he is a typical “scholar.” Note that his work is at least 30% footnotes, and he is most likely to restate an opinion of some other author or “scholar” rather than to attempt to support his (?) ideas with evidence of any real kind. In the entire excerpt, for example, there is not one single quote attributed to Jesus himself, or from any biblical writings. I’m left with the impression that he thinks so little of his own thoughts that he must somehow justify them by pointing to the writings of others, who, because they are well-known or “published,” are somehow authoritative. But by that token, we have a circular reference that would cause a stack overflow in any application written for computers.

He knows nothing about Jesus, nor does he care. He is too busy playing his social game, and invokes the name of Jesus as a part of his strategy for success (as he defines success, which I’m not sure I understand at all). He is a sophist, a man who could easily argue contradictory opinions convincingly enough to fool the weak-minded, and others like himself, and who would do so if it seemed “profitable” according to his perverted idea of “profit.” He is a person of no conviction, with no actual personal philosophy, other than his nihilistic view of life as a pointless exercise in which the only possible benefit is that to be had immediately and devoured. He is a walking stomach, ever-hungry, and never satisfied, gorging himself upon humanity with no thought towards any possible consequence. And yet, according to Newton, everything we do has consequences of some sort or another. The very act of batting the eye sends ripples of energy into the ocean of existence, energy that can neither be created or destroyed, launched (or perhaps a better term, “directed”) to who knows where.

In other words, he is a charlatan, a con-artist, a civilized witch doctor, practicing his own version of that skill commonly attributed to so-called mediums and psychics. He has probably been at it so long that he believes his own propaganda, as do so many of his ilk. In truth, the lineage of such has most likely been responsible for most if not all of the ills in this world, and no doubt the crucifixion of his subject.

To provide evidence of his gross ignorance concerning his topic (and just about everything else), let me quote just one small passage:

“Jesus and his early followers lived in a world over which they had no control. It was therefore quite fitting that they could not conceive of the exercise of social responsibility in any form other than that of simply being a faithful witnessing minority.”

Now, being a cunning linguist, I hope you’ll indulge me if I carve this up and analyze it piecemeal. The first statement implies that, unlike these poor unsophisticated yokels from the first century, “modern man” has control over his world. It is a preposition for the argument to follow, delivered with the authority of an axiomatic statement which is self-evident to any reasonable person. The sheer arrogance of the idea that anyone has control over his or her own life, much less the entire world, over which we humans are scattered like a series of microscopic patches of bacteria on the surface of the skin on a basketball, is laughable to the point of utter hilarity. It is a postulate that flies in the face of all evidence, wishful thinking at the very least, dangerously presumptive. Yet it is delivered with all the weight of the Law of Gravity, and without apparent levity.

This first proclamation of the superiority of “modern man” (hmm, hasn’t every generation thought of itself as “modern?”), particularly when compared with the poor unfortunate and ignorant forebears, is followed by the conclusion that “therefore… they could not conceive of the exercise of social responsibility in any form other than that of simply being a faithful witnessing minority.” This conclusion first presupposes that these ignorant savages had no concept of “social responsibility,” by which the author apparently means “participation in the political process of government.” I find it gallingly ironic to note that those who seem to be the most politically active have perpetually been the greatest hypocrites, exercising little if any true “social responsibility” in their every day personal affairs, continuously attempting to rearrange the structure of bureaucracies that accomplish little if anything of any real worth. “The end justifies the means” is their rallying cry, but never do they notice that there is no end to a continuity, and therefore, the means is all that is ever achieved. In ability, these underprivileged minority members are apparently so ignorant that they are incapable of even conceiving “the exercise of social responsibility” beyond their own tiny realm of impoverished inexperience.

This is capped with the characterization of Jesus and his early followers as “a faithful witnessing minority.” I am reminded of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Redheaded League.” What constitutes a “minority?” Is it the color of one’s skin (or hair), what flavor of which branch of what religion one practices, one’s sexual preference, whether one is right- or left-handed, or perhaps, which end of a soft-boiled egg one prefers to crack? In a political sense, it is any of these, or any other arbitrary way which one may choose to carve up the human race, an easy enough task considering that in fact, like snowflakes, we are each and all unique. In a political sense, it always boils down to “create the divisions where they will be of the greatest political advantage to me.” Divide and conquer. To the spoiled goes the victory.

Jesus was hardly a yokel. He was anything but unsophisticated. In fact, people are still arguing over what he meant by just about everything he said, over 2,000 years after his exit from the stage of this human tragedy of ours. He was the single most influential human being in the history of man’s brief tenure on this ancient planet. Oddly enough, what he said was painfully simple, so painfully simple that most people have chosen not to hear it, in order to spare themselves the pain. I believe it was Frank Webb who first coined the saying “if the Truth hurts, wear it.” This was later embroidered upon by the enigmatic Uncle Chutney, with the acronymous aphorism “What You Seek Is What You Get.” Of course, neither of these ideas was new; Jesus himself had expressed these very ideas in his own words, thousands of years ago. We humans have the remarkable capacity to deceive ourselves, with our own permission of course. Unfortunately, once deceived, how is one to undo the deception, as one is no longer aware of its deceptive nature? But there it is, and here we are.

Jesus lived at a point in history remarkably like our own. Rome was the greatest civilization on earth, with a representative government having checks and balances, with perhaps the omission of providing a Caesar for life, definitely a chink in the political architecture. That, combined with the imperial fashion of the day, was an occident waiting to happen. The fall of Rome, followed by the Dark Ages, when science and witchcraft were mistakenly linked, leading to the destruction of anything having a scientific patina, obscured much modern knowledge of its incredible sophistication and technology. Judea, as it was known at the time, was under the forced servitude of Rome, a nation under subjection to an oppressive imperial power. In fact, there were political activists of all sorts in Judea, including the Zealots, a quasi-terrorist revolutionary organization, devoted to throwing off the chains of Rome. One of Jesus’ disciples came from this organization.

Yet, in all of the collected quotations of Jesus, not one could be called “overtly” political. In fact, he acted for all the world as if politics were irrelevant to his mission. He did not speak out against the heavy-handed governance of Rome. He did speak out about the Jewish Sadducees and Pharisees, but not politically. It seems that he was more concerned with the individual, as if all that really mattered in a real sense is the individual. And yes, he did speak in rather apocalyptic terms about the end of “the world.” But what exactly did he mean? After all, “the world” that any individual experiences only lasts for a single lifetime. Taking relativity into account, when one is separated from the world, the world is also separated from the one. The world ends every day for somebody.

Is it possible that someone without the benefit of a college education, without television, radio, newspapers, without anything except free time and the world to ponder, could possibly think up anything worthwhile? Take a common shepherd, for example, doing absolutely nothing for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 50 years, with nothing to distract him, only the earth, sky, and everything in between to observe and think about. What could such a person think of without the influence of that cacophony of human thought we are surrounded by in our modern, sophisticated society? Why, he could never know the benefits of the Ginsu Knife, the latest fashions from Paris, what Rosie wrote in her blog yesterday. He would never realize how empty his life was without an SUV, be able to see a football game, go to the movies, surf the net, and most importantly, find out the prevailing opinions of thousands of his peers about anything and everything under the sun. He wouldn’t have any news programs to watch or listen to, to tell him what he should be concerned about, what to think about, and what he ought to think about those things.

When Isaac Newton was similarly disadvantaged, due to a quarantine that lasted the better part of a year, he invented physics. Pythagoras, Euclid, and Aristotle lived thousands of years earlier. Without the benefit of even a slide rule, they managed to come up with mathematical and logical principles that boggle the modern mind, ideas which most people are still confounded by, and upon which all of modern mathematics is based.

Sure, Jesus was all about politics. He just didn’t have the sophistication to understand politics, or perhaps to elucidate his ideas about politics. He did the best he could, for a poor disadvantaged minority. We shouldn’t be too hard on him from our superior modern perspective.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Laying Down the Law

I'm a law-breaker. I break the law on a daily basis. I do it knowingly, willfully, and without remorse. In fact, I often break the law in full view of the police with impunity. They know I'm breaking the law, and they do nothing about it. The law that I break on a daily basis is one that is commonly broken by almost everyone. I break the speed limit.

I have good reason to break this law, actually. I have given a great deal of thought to my behavior in this matter, as I drive over 20 miles to and from work 5 days a week. Being a person of good conscience, and a habitual analyst, I have endeavored to apply my problem-solving skills to determine the best, most optimal methodology to apply in the performance of this task. My findings may be of interest. In fact, this subject matter, that of "the law," is likely to span several entries. There are a lot of aspects I would like to cover. I believe that there is a great deal of misunderstanding with regards to law and government, and as part of my service to humanity, I would like to offer my observations.

Here is my reasoning regarding the observance of this particular law, the speed limit. This reasoning can be applied broadly to any law, and in fact, leads to a number of general observations and conclusions that may be derived from those observations. The application of these observations and conclusions may produce many beneficial effects on the quality of life.

First, let me begin by saying that the vast majority of my drive to and from work is via interstate highways. Interstate highways are unique among roads for a number of reasons. They are limited access roads, without traffic lights, very well constructed, and at least one out of every six miles of every interstate highway is completely straight. This is all due to the original reason for the construction of the interstate highway system, which was originally commisioned for the benefit of the U.S. military. That's a very interesting story, but not the subject of this post.

These conditions, however, make interstate highways safer than ordinary roads, and of course facilitate faster travel on them. Still, this has nothing to do with my law-breaking, but only with the conditions of travel that I used in my calculations.

In Hampton Roads (southeast Virginia), the speed limit on most interstate highways is 55 mph. In some places it is 60, and in a few places it is 65. The majority of the road I travel has a 55 mph speed limit. Yet, I have observed that the average speed of traffic on these particular roads is anywhere from 65-70 mph.

My analysis regarding the optimum method of travel are based upon 2 logical priorities:
  1. Travel safely. This is the prime directive.
  2. Optimize use of time by making the trip in the shortest possible time.
Note that the second priority never supercedes the first.

A number of rules and methods can be derived from these 2 principles, taking into account environmental factors, such as the laws of physics and human behavior/psychology.

First, applying the laws of physics with regards to the first priority, speed is always relative. We do not often think of it in this way. We think that all vehicles travelling 55 mph are travelling at the same speed. Yet, speed is a measure of distance over time, and what we think of as 55 mph is actually a "default" measure that is relative to the surface of the earth. The earth itself, however, is not stationary. It is rotating on its' axis, and revolving around the sun, which is also in motion. In fact, the entire universe is in a constant state of motion.

More importantly, almost all traffic on a highway is in motion. 2 cars travelling in the same direction at 55 mph are moving at a rate of 0 mph relative to one another. That is, relative to one another, they are stationary. Since the first priority of travel is safety, avoiding collisions is of paramount importance. Objects that are stationary relative to one another never collide. Therefore, 2 cars travelling at the same speed in the same direction on the same road will never collide. The rate or direction of one of the cars must change in order for that to happen.

On the other hand, a car that is stationary on the same highway is "travelling" at a rate of 55 mph relative to a vehicle that is travelling at 55 mph. If the vehicle travelling at 55 mph relative to the surface of the earth is travelling towards the stationary vehicle, a collision is inevitable, again, unless one or the other of the vehicles changes its rate of speed or direction.

According to the laws of physics, objects in motion will continue to move in the same direction at the same speed unless force is exerted upon them. This is termed "momentum." What causes vehicles to slow down is the force of friction and the force of gravity being constantly applied to them. Hence, we must apply force via the engine to keep them moving at the same rate of speed unless they are moving downhill, in which case gravity exterts force upon them.

At any rate, momentum is a force to be reckoned with regarding driving. 2 vehicles on a collision course will require force to be exerted on one or the other in order to avoid a collision. So, the vehicle travelling at 55 mph relative to the surface of the earth will have to apply brakes or change direction to avoid colliding with the stationary vehicle. However, 2 vehicles travelling at exactly the same rate of speed relative to the surface of the earth, and travelling in the same direction, require no force to avoid a collision. In fact, it would require force to create a collision between them.

Using these 2 scenarios as extreme examples, a rule can be created: To avoid a collision, the most optimal speed of 2 vehicles travelling in the same direction on the same road should travel at the same rate of speed.

However, there are generally many more than 2 vehicles travelling in the same direction on an interstate highway in the same area at the same time, especially here in Hampton Roads. Of all the vehicles, the one I am driving is the only one I can control. And all of the other vehicles are travelling at varying rates of speed. Because of the speed limit, and similar goals in the minds of the other drivers, the rate of speed will generally cluster around an average, forming a statistical bell curve.

For anyone not familiar with a bell curve, I think of a bell curve as a sort of hat. It has a hump in the middle, denoting the majority of the average, and thins out towards each end, or the "brim" of the "hat." It is derived by taking a large number of statistical data, and rather than averaging them all together, averaging segments of them over a graph, and then smoothing the resulting curve.

The speed bell curve can be used to calculate the optimum rate of speed, because it is impossible to match the speed exactly of all vehicles travelling in the same direction on a highway. In other words, while the probability of a collision with regards to 2 vehicles travelling at the same rate of speed is 0, and the probability of a collsion between 2 vehicles travelling at differing rates of speed is 100, in any group of vehicles travelling at different rates of speed, the probability is lowest at the center of the bell curve, or the total statistical average rate of speed derived from the entire set.

Thus, a general rule may be created: The safest possible speed to travel on any road is the average speed of all of the traffic. It turns out that this rule must be further refined, but I will cover that topic at another time.

In this case, my point is this: If the speed limit on a road is 55 mph, and the average speed of the traffic is 65 mph, the safest possible speed to travel on that road is 65 mph, not 55 mph. Therefore, in order to travel as safely as possible on the interstate roads in Hampton Roads, I break the law. I never get a speeding ticket either, because the police are aware of my good reasons for doing so. At least once a week I will pass by a traffic police car, breaking the speed limit law, and be completely ignored.

It may therefore be observed that by breaking the law, I am doing the right thing morally and ethically. If I were to obey the law, I would be putting other drivers and myself at greater risk.

So, what good is the law? Well, it turns out that it actually does serve a purpose, but that the purpose of the law is not the purpose that is generally assumed. In the case of the speed limit, as an introductory example, the law empowers the police to take corrective action in the interest of protecting the public. The police have the authority to ticket anyone travelling in excess of the speed limit. This means that, regardless of my moral responsibility to exceed the speed limit, if I do so, a police officer has the authority to pull me over and write me a ticket.

However, having the authority to write a ticket does not dictate that the officer do so at any time a person is observed exceeding the speed limit. It is simply an authority, an empowerment. The officer has the option to exercise his/her judgment to decide when to exert that authority. That is, the officer may ignore the law as well, when it seems right to do so. The vast majority of police officers will not ticket people travelling at the average speed of the traffic, as they are well aware of the safety issues I have discussed. To ticket a driver for speeding creates a dis-incentive for that person to exceed the speed limit. If the average speed of traffic is 65 mph, encouraging an individual driver to drive 10 mph slower would actually increase the probability of collisions on that road. And it is important to keep in mind that the police officer can not ticket everyone speeding, but only one person at a time. Like me, the police officer has no control over the rest of the traffic.

In concluding today's discussion of the law, what I'm getting at is this: Law does not control. It empowers. Creating a law does not prevent people from breaking it. It is the empowerment of the enforcers of the law which has any effect at all, and that effect is not the prevention of a behavior; it is a method for influencing behavior statistically. Also, the existence of a law should not dictate our behavior. Regardless of the reasons for its existence, our behavior should be governed by morality, ethics, and logic.

It is wise to respect the power that the law grants to the enforcers of the law, just as it is wise to repect the power of electricity, and to avoid sticking one's finger in an electrical outlet. However, it is foolish to make law the dictator of one's behavior, or to put the adherence to law above the responsibility to behave in a moral and ethical manner. And it important to understand the difference.

Again, I have much more to say about the topic, but I think that is enough for one post.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Kurt to Enterprise

My wife has a cell phone, and like so many people, she seems to love it. I do not. In fact, I do not plan to own one, at least until a user-friendly cell phone is designed, and oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be coming any time soon.

Admittedly, I am not the most social person in the world, at least in terms that most people would call "social." I do participate in the community of mankind, but I prefer to have some form of insulation, such as a computer, or at least a telephone, to hide behind. But I often have difficulty in what most people would call "ordinary conversation," which I take to mean "the relatively undisciplined exchange of more or less random thoughts, ideas, and opinions." I love to learn. I love to think. Anything else is boring to me, or at least seems relatively useless. I realize that this makes me something of a social cripple, but hey, you can't be and do everything. One must make choices, and accept the consequences of those choices. At any rate, that's who I am.

On the other hand, I can certainly accept and even appreciate to a certain extent that desire for connection that most, if not all of us has. We are networking entities. Each of us has a brain that is a neural network, and which is by design, constantly looking for new nodes to link with. So, I can well appreciate the desire for such tools as writing, mail, telephone, radio, television, and the Internet. Cell phones are a step in the evolution of communication technology, that allow people to connect an communicate independent of location.

And perhaps I would own one, except for one particular and disturbing flaw in the design of every cell phone that I've ever seen or heard of. Cell phones are tiny, and the ear piece is generally less that 2 inches from the microphone. This is a source of great bewilderment to me, and I continue to try and understand the social phenomenon that drives this design. Every time I use a cell phone (usually because my wife hands me hers) I feel like saying "Kirk to Enterprise." They look a lot like the communicators in the original Star Trek series. Unfortunately, however, the volume and sound quality prohibit us from using them by holding them in front of us and talking, as they did in the original Star Trek series.

Generally speaking, the tools we design for ourselves are built around our physical characteristics. A chair, for example, has legs which are usually less that 2 feet long, because of the length of the human leg. Chairs with longer legs generally have some form of foot rest built into them, to accomodate the length of the human leg. Beds are about 6 feet or longer in length, due to the average size of the human body. Automotive vehicles have driver compartments that are shaped and sized according to the average shape and size of the human body, and mechanisms for adjusting the dimensions on an indivdual basis. Most buildings have ceilings that are at least 6 if not 7 feet tall, again, to accomodate the size of the human body.

But cell phones, apparently all of them, are made as small as possible, almost all without any means of extending the distance between the ear and mouth pieces. This results in the uncomfortable practice of constantly readjusting the position of the cell phone to either hear better or to be heard. And this bewilders me to no end.

Certainly, size and weight are an issue. I am old enough to remember the first "wireless" telephones, which were essentially 2-way radios, and generally used in cars. They were about the size and shape of a walkie-talkie. This was due to the state of technology at the time, but I note that the distance between the ear and mouth pieces was about the average distance between people's ears and mouths. As time went by, we became better at putting more technology into smaller areas, and "wireless" telephones began to shrink.

However, at some point, this "requirement" of smallness seems to have taken a life of its own, without regard for its original purpose, which was to make "wireless" phones easier to carry, and less tiresome to hold for long periods of time. Instead, the concept became "smallness is a virtue, and the greater the smallness, the greater the virtue."

Now, I can certainly understand the desire to make the size of a cell phone small enough to carry in one's pocket, and perhaps even as thin as a credit card eventually. But this does not imply that when in use, it should not be extensible to fit between the ear and mouth comfortably. After all, umbrellas have employed such technology for at least 100 years. Even the communicator in the original Star Trek series opened up and became about 7 inches long (long enough to have been held with the earpiece and mouthpiece congruent to the locations of the human ear and mouth). They didn't hold it that way, but that was because they didn't have to. Apparently, they (the fictional society of the future) had the technology to make their communicators audible and able to hear the human voice at a distance. But we don't have that technology yet. We must hold the ear and mouthpieces within a small distance from our ears and mouth to be able to communicate. But that is not the case with cell phones. Why?

Is it because the world is full of fools who imitate each other imitating each other like monkeys imitating themselves in a mirror? Is it because innovation is only payed lip service by industry, because to truly step outside the "box" of social convention is dangerous, and most people are full of fear? These are some of the possible reasons I can think of. Unfortunately, I can't think of any good ones. After all, how difficult would it be to make a cell phone that extends like an umbrella, or a pair of headphones? Surely, if we have the technology to make cell phones the size of Star Trek communicators, we have the ability to make them telescope.

It puzzles me, because honestly, I can't figure it out. If this were the case with some cell phones, but not with others, I would understand. But it is so pervasive. I don't like puzzles I cannot solve. In the meantime, though, I must admit I prefer having a space and time in which nobody can bother me. It takes me 30 minutes to an hour to drive to and from work. And that is my "me" time; it is my time to think and ponder. But this question is really bothering me. Hopefully, someone will answer it, or at least I will eventually forget about it.

Ah well. So it goes...