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Archive for the ‘Belief’ Category

UPDATE: Parts two and three of the series.  Treads similar ground but definitely worth a listen, just about 5 minutes each.

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While the title may lead you to believe this is a baseball post, it is not.  I will leave those inane ramblings about “the nations pastime” to Elijah.

Instead. this post is to direct your attention to a 3-part series that just begun last night on NPR by Ina Jaffe about California’s three-strike law.  It’s a thought-provoking, and I think, an even-handed approach to the topic.  Three Strikes (if you don’t know, or don’t want to follow the earlier link) is a law that basically states that if you’ve been previously convicted of two crimes, then if you are convicted of a third act your minimum sentence will be 25-years to life.  It is a law that was designed to keep repeat offenders off the streets… and it certainly does that.  The critique is that there are many cases where the three crimes are petty and certainly not violent.  The NPR segment documents an instance where a mother, intent on giving “tough love” to her son, pressed charges against him for stealing some of her jewelry which became his first two strikes, only to see him get a third strike and go off to jail for 25 years.

I personally find this a tricky situation.  I definitely want to see criminals go to jail, but I also think it should apply more towards violent crimes then smaller ones.  But I also see logic in what Mike Reynolds, the citizen behind the original initiative for the law, who says:

All they have to do is stop doing crime.  That’s all we ask. And they’ll never be charged under three strikes. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

It does make sense.  It’s not really an oppressive law, we all have the ability to avoid it.  And the fact of the matter is that we all have the choice to be criminals or not and three opportunites to decide if that is what you want to do with your life seems enough.  Do some people have tougher lives or situations that make that choice seemingly harder than others?  Yes.  Does that mean the law is unfair?  No.  The question I think is compelling is whether it is just or not.

The Department of Justice estimated that the average sentence for a convicted rapist is 11.8 years, and actual time served amounts to around 5.4 years.  Does it seem just that a person who stole items from a retailer on three occasions could get 25 years, whereas someone who only once had been convicted of rape serves just over 5?  It doesn’t seem just to me, but I think that is a reflection of our poor sentencing on rape crimes rather than injustice in the three strikes law.  Three strikes is a merciless statute in the midst of a system that is riddled with arbitrary guidelines and favorable sentences for celebrities and such… so maybe we need more merciless statutes.  The NPR segment pointed out that prosecutors have the ability to decide on some cases whether a crime should be classified as eligible for a third strike.  But that just leaves it up to the whim of the individual prosecutor, which again shows the subjective nature of our system.  Perhaps if we had less ability to be flexible it would make for more just sentencing, but at the expense of mercy.

But what about mercy, and forgiveness and things of that spiritual realm?  Is there room in our legal system for that?  How can our faiths play out in that way?  My short short answer would be that I don’t think mercy and forgiveness are implicitly tied to lack of punishment or consequences.  Christ forgave the sinner on the cross next to him… the man still ended up crucified and dead though.  And in this world my view would be that we have a compassionate-less legal system where punishment is measured out despite whether the victims or others desire mercy to be given.  The task then would be to make sure our laws are just, and not leave that up to the sentencing process.

I look forward to the rest of the series, and invite you to check it out and chime in with your thoughts.

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I saw the film Inglourious Basterds the other day, upon the recommendation of a number of friends.  I left the theater feeling two simultaneous and somewhat contradictory feelings (in a word: ambivalent).  On the one hand, I “enjoyed” the film:  the tension-building dialogues exploding in a climactic release (apologies for the sexual undertones there), the hip, “anything goes” approach to style (anachronistic soundtrack, insider cameos, visual homage, etc.) and the powerful archetypal film characters (the bad ass soldiers, the avenging victim, the brilliant psychopath, etc.).  It was an incredibly well-made film, but it also gave me exactly what I would want (on one level) from a movie about people taking on the Nazis.  [SPOILER ALERT]  The Nazis get SLAUGHTERED!  The good guys win, and even if some of them died in the process, it was heroically in the act of destroying some of the most evil people in history.

inglourious-basterds-poster

But this is where the contradictory feeling came in.  It felt wrong to enjoy the massacre of Nazis.  (There was some part of me that felt like I was watching Team America: World Police without realizing it was a satire of American military arrogance.)

The scene that came back to me as I was reflecting on the film & realizing my ambivalence was when Hitler, Goebbels & the Nazi elite were watching the film within the film about the young Nazi war hero who killed 300 Allied soldiers from a tower.  Repeatedly, we watch the Nazis applauding scenes of the sniper picking off his attackers (probably Americans) and we scoff at this propagandistic depiction of violence against the enemy, portrayed as inhuman, anonymous targets for the hero to destroy.  Even the young Nazi hero seems to feel disdain for the way this is portrayed…

Though I did not find it ironic at the time, subsequently, we as the audience are treated to the sight of these Nazi filmgoers being burned to death & shot down like fish in a barrel by  Jewish soldiers (along with a highly fetishized moment of actor Eli Roth ripping Hitler’s face apart with a hail (heil?) of bullets).  It seems implicit that we will cheer this on, indeed, the whole film feels like a set-up for a moment that we can hardly believe could end this way (knowing actual history as we do).  Of course, it was an “alternate history” reality we see occurring, but it felt so much more satisfying than what actually happened.  However, I began to wonder how we as the filmgoers were much different from the Nazi movie audience cheering the death of Allied soldiers.

This led me to see the director of IB, Quentin Tarantino, as a sort of Joseph Goebbels figure of American populist cinema (depicting simplistic good/evil characters, giving an audience what it wants, using techniques–such as the score, B-movie conventions, etc.–to tap into the collective audience subconscious and manipulate them to the filmmaker’s ends), which oddly then, would make Harvey Weinstein, a Jew,  the Hitler figure…although I suppose it’s not completely surprising as he has been seen as a bit of a fascist dictator in the filmmaking business.

The film had a number of role reversals of Nazi for Jew (Aldo referring to Nazi’s as “not human”, the brutal beatings/casual executions of German soldiers, all of the Nazi’s being burned to death similar to the crematoriums), which made me feel like I was being set up/propogandized to applaud the same thing for the Nazis which I lamented for the Jews. I may be seeing something that is not there at all, but it seems like to take this film simply as a “revenge fantasy film” for Jews (see reactions from descendants of Holocaust survivors and Rabbis here)  lacks a certain amount of incredulity that a savvy director such as QT would expect.  Am I supposed to resist my enjoyment of this slice of fantasy justice, or give into it and become implicitly akin to the Nazi filmgoers?

Anyhow, regardless of whether I have appropriately interpreted this sequence of scenes, I would recommend anyone else who “enjoyed” watching all of the Nazis get killed as inhuman representations of pure evil to watch a film like Stalingrad where the audience follows young German soldiers, who don’t seem as gung ho about the 3rd Reich as we usually see in films, heading to the Russian front where they are led like sheep to a slaughter.  Anyone associated with the Nazi regime certainly finds themselves on the wrong side of history,  but we may need to be careful to allow ourselves to be duped into seeing ANYONE as less than human…even those who we feel like are the worst people in history.

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Oskari Juurikkala of The Acton Institute has an interesting column on whether increased regulation in financial markets increases or decreases the virtuous behavior of market participants.  I’ve reposted a good chunk of it here:

 

In his book Not Just for the Money, economist Bruno Frey sheds some light on the question. Invoking research in motivational psychology, he argues that external compensation or punishment does not always produce the desired results. Human persons are more complex actors than traditional homo economicus models suggest.
Frey writes: ”Intrinsic motivation is of great importance for all economic activities. It is inconceivable that people are motivated solely or even mainly by external incentives.” There is more: according to Frey, the use of monetary incentives and threats of punishment crowds out intrinsic motivation under identifiable and relevant conditions.
For example, giving monetary compensation to a child for doing household chores is likely to result in decreasing contributions made without compensation. Or if, at the end of having dinner at a friend’s place, you insist on paying for the dinner, you may destroy your friendship. Similarly, given that some university professors work harder than others, imposing strict working hour regulations will probably provoke those better workers to reduce their effort and dedication.
Frey talks about the hidden cost of reward or regulation. When an external intervention is perceived as controlling and not respecting the rightful autonomy and reasonableness of the person, extrinsic motivation tends to crowd out intrinsic motivation. When people feel that they are being forced to act in a certain way, their behavior becomes more extrinsically guided.
Incentives are not always harmful, of course. External interventions may enhance intrinsic motivation when they are perceived as supportive. When the father gives a present to his daughter who has been helpful in the house, he may reinforce her willingness to help, as the gift is a token of affection and gratitude rather than a payment conditional on specific performance.
When you go to a restaurant and leave a generous tip, the diner-waiter relationship is strengthened. Hard-working professors will work even harder if their dedication and effort is rewarded with, say, being elected to form an official delegation to an important conference in an attractive city.
According to Aristotle, a good ruler is much like an educator. A skilful educator does not focus on external conduct alone, but seeks to instill a sense of the good so as to encourage virtue chosen freely. Putting too much weight on external incentives – sticks and carrots – has hidden dangers that often reveal themselves later. Vice is the common fruit of the manipulator and the tyrant.
Is lighter regulation the solution to present and future economic crises? It depends. Let it first be noted that some over-the-counter financial derivatives are practically unregulated at the moment, so there is nowhere to cut regulation. It might be more appropriate to cover such clear gaps in existing rules in a principled manner so as not to lead people to the temptation of recklessness.
But a few clear and fast rules are often better than numerous rules that are hard to understand – especially if they are poorly enforced. The latter is arguably the state of the art in financial markets regulation.
When designing rules for a game, one must take into account the moral character of the players. But there needs to be adequate variation: general laws designed for crooks will not produce any saints.
Soft measures are sometimes more productive in the long term. Strict regulations imposed by law tend to damage the intrinsic motivation of better managers; in contrast, their motivation can be enhanced by explicitly acknowledging the value of those who maintain sound policies. The support principle could be applied in numerous ways in economic and regulatory policy.

In his book Not Just for the Money, economist Bruno Frey sheds some light on the question. Invoking research in motivational psychology, he argues that external compensation or punishment does not always produce the desired results. Human persons are more complex actors than traditional homo economicus models suggest.

Frey writes: ”Intrinsic motivation is of great importance for all economic activities. It is inconceivable that people are motivated solely or even mainly by external incentives.” There is more: according to Frey, the use of monetary incentives and threats of punishment crowds out intrinsic motivation under identifiable and relevant conditions.

For example, giving monetary compensation to a child for doing household chores is likely to result in decreasing contributions made without compensation. Or if, at the end of having dinner at a friend’s place, you insist on paying for the dinner, you may destroy your friendship. Similarly, given that some university professors work harder than others, imposing strict working hour regulations will probably provoke those better workers to reduce their effort and dedication.

Frey talks about the hidden cost of reward or regulation. When an external intervention is perceived as controlling and not respecting the rightful autonomy and reasonableness of the person, extrinsic motivation tends to crowd out intrinsic motivation. When people feel that they are being forced to act in a certain way, their behavior becomes more extrinsically guided.

Incentives are not always harmful, of course. External interventions may enhance intrinsic motivation when they are perceived as supportive. When the father gives a present to his daughter who has been helpful in the house, he may reinforce her willingness to help, as the gift is a token of affection and gratitude rather than a payment conditional on specific performance.

When you go to a restaurant and leave a generous tip, the diner-waiter relationship is strengthened. Hard-working professors will work even harder if their dedication and effort is rewarded with, say, being elected to form an official delegation to an important conference in an attractive city.

According to Aristotle, a good ruler is much like an educator. A skilful educator does not focus on external conduct alone, but seeks to instill a sense of the good so as to encourage virtue chosen freely. Putting too much weight on external incentives – sticks and carrots – has hidden dangers that often reveal themselves later. Vice is the common fruit of the manipulator and the tyrant.

Is lighter regulation the solution to present and future economic crises? It depends. Let it first be noted that some over-the-counter financial derivatives are practically unregulated at the moment, so there is nowhere to cut regulation. It might be more appropriate to cover such clear gaps in existing rules in a principled manner so as not to lead people to the temptation of recklessness.

But a few clear and fast rules are often better than numerous rules that are hard to understand – especially if they are poorly enforced. The latter is arguably the state of the art in financial markets regulation.

When designing rules for a game, one must take into account the moral character of the players. But there needs to be adequate variation: general laws designed for crooks will not produce any saints.

Soft measures are sometimes more productive in the long term. Strict regulations imposed by law tend to damage the intrinsic motivation of better managers; in contrast, their motivation can be enhanced by explicitly acknowledging the value of those who maintain sound policies. The support principle could be applied in numerous ways in economic and regulatory policy.

This sounds reasonable to me, but I also realize that my bias towards laissez faire economics may cause me to enjoy hearing what I want to hear.  But trying to put that aside, a reason it does sound reasonable is when I compare it to a Christian faith.  Christians talk of legalism and how setting rules or checklists to try and live a Christ-like life is most often (or always) defeating, since the spirit of the law is obviously not resonating, it is simply the letter of the law that is being followed and no transforming of the heart is taking place.  I believe it is when we get to the core of our own reasoning for making a moral decision that we will be more consistent and more likely to make that moral decision again and again.

Obviously there is the matter of the Holy Spirit and its role in our lives that cannot be applied to a financial managers decision-making.  But equally obvious is the fact that people who do not believe in the Holy Spirit or God or what have you, can and do make morally responsible decisions all day long.  And if that is true, then perhaps as Juurikkala proposes it would encourage even better decisions when less regulation is enacted. 

Is this is an appropriate comparison?

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If you read this site, then you know the title is in jest.  However, I am putting a call out to recommendations of books, websites, or any other material that any CAI readers or authors would recommend as being powerful arguments for socialist or socialist-like policies.  The reason for this request is in anticipation of a small group discussion I will be leading for 4 weeks this summer at my church on capitalism and socialism.  

As evidenced on the “pages” of this blog and also in many other outside discussions I have had with people there is considerable support for redistribution of wealth, and socialization of services amongst Christians.  My feelings are opposed to these views, but I am legitimately curious how people (and Christians in particular) come to embrace it.  And I am hoping in the group to have a equal proportion of capitalists and socialists (or whatever the preferred term is) engage in discourse on the pros and cons of each position and also where they fit into a biblical and gospel-oriented framework.  Since I will be moderating the discussion and hope to be as open as possible to the views of others I wanted to delve further into the literature beyond just The Communist Manifestoerr, the parts I have read at least.

Et tu Jesus?

Et tu Jesus?

Thanks for the help dear readers.

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Reader Josh pointed me to this gallup poll that shows for the first time since they began polling this question in 1995, that more Americans are pro-life then pro-choice.

gallup poll

You may know from some of my posts that I am fairly libertarian on drugs, same-sex marriage, and some other views. But on abortion my conservative feelings run deep. So I am glad to see this trend changing, but I am highly curious as to what spurned it? I don’t remember this being a huge issue during the election, and certainly right now the focus of our country seems squarely on the economy.

I wonder if media can take some credit? There is certainly a difference between Cider House Rules and Knocked Up. And apparently we have had a 10-year decline in sexually active teens, that is now leveling off. I doubt that there is a religious bent to these changes, but rather some sort of secular-based change in the culture toward some more conservative-type views.

Very interested in your thoughts.

MARK ADDS:

A point I failed to see in the polling shows that this shift against abortion is all coming from the republican/conservative wing.  Appears the chickens are coming home to roost (is that the expression?):

The source of the shift in abortion views is clear in the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey. The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) calling themselves “pro-life” rose by 10 points over the past year, from 60% to 70%, while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

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God’s Body

Remember when NASA ended up proving the Bible was true by finding “the lost day” described in Joshua?  Well now they’re providing us with pictures of the almighty from space.  Here’s God’s hand (they may not have called it that, but only because they don’t want to lose their federal funding from the LIBERAL godless government):

Reach out and touch someone...or some supernova.

Reach out and touch someone...or some supernova.

We’ve also got a shot of one of his eyes from a while back:

I always knew he'd have blue eyes...

I always knew he'd have blue eyes...

At this rate, we can create a composite photo of the almighty in just a few decades.  And THEN we’ll have something that will FINALLY and DEFINITIVELY prove through science itself that God is real.  Take that Hitchens and Dawkins and all you atheist flibbelty-foos!

Or maybe this is another merely another example of apophenia.  (PS Hey Boojsh…as LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback–I’ve been here for years!”)

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In preparation for Easter Sunday a friend of mine invited me to a gathering of people that intended to prepare for the celebration by focusing on the pain of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday as a means to fully appreciate the joy of Sunday.  He sent the invitation through evite and used this image for the invite:

peex

If you are not familiar with this picture, it is known as “Piss Christ” and is a photograph by Andres Serrano.  It is of a crucifix standing in a jar of Serrano’s own urine.  It is an image that caused a bit of an uproar with many Christians as you can imagine.  For my friend however it is an image that leads him to a place of worship.  As he told me (with his permission to use):

I know that many (for obvious reasons) have seen it as sacreligious and offensive, but I’ve never been able to shake the image from my mind whenever I think of the crucifixion and art.  I think that the piece actually captures the fact that cross is the intersection of the holy with the profane, the sacreligious/offensive with the pious.  That’s why personally this piece actually leads me to worship.

I thought this was incredibly interesting.  I personally think the image is nonsense but, being the free-wheeling semi-libertarian that I am, I would cherish free expression and speech over any offense to my religion.  This picture certainly does not lead me to worship, but instead reminds me of two things: 1) The way that we vigorously defend free speech in America is amazing compared to the way many Islamic countries react to even an innocent image of Muhammad, let alone how they would react to Muhammad in urine. 2) That the fact that our government partially funded this piece through the NEA shows how much our government has stepped into territory that is not listed in the constitution.

But I was curious what other people thought.  With Easter coming tomorrow, would this image (knowing now what it is of) illicit rage, indifference, reverence, or anything out of you?  I know this is an unusual post to prepare for Easter Sunday, but we are nothing if not provacative here at CAI.  I wish you a wonderful day tomorrow and hope that you are led to worship our Savior.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

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