Libya: Another Foolish U.S. Intervention

1 Comment

President George W. Bush and President-elect B...

Image via Wikipedia

The neoconservatives, nation-building liberals, and a few pseudo-libertarians are whining about the opposition to another foolish U. S. and European intervention–against Qaddafi in Libya.¬† “We’re just trying to overthrow a cruel dictator,” or “We’re trying to save innocent people” are the excuses such individuals give for bringing the United States into another Middle Eastern conflict. The U. S. only removes dictators it finds inconvenient–it does not remove the authoritarian regimes in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The U. S. did not militarily intervene in Pinochet‘s Chile when he was in power murdering his people, nor in the semi-dictatorial China. The sheer hypocrisy of American policy is nauseating. Long-term, that is how those in the Middle East, even those who appear to support the U. S. intervention, will view the United States. The direct involvement of France, which sent fighter jets, will not help matters–the old North African colonial power strikes again. Despite claims of limited U. S. involvement, pressure will mount for further bombing and eventually for the introduction of U. S. ground troops. Hopefully Mr. Obama will at least fight that suggestion. He has followed the warmonger Hilary Clinton‘s advice too much already. Mr. Obama has become, in effect, George W. Bush II. Not only has he intervened in Libya, he has not brought back most of the troops in Iraq, and he has expanded U. S. intervention in Afghanistan. He has not renounced the use of torture in the treatment of prisoners held by the U. S., and he has not closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The United States has become a permanent warfare state–and wars cost not only lives on both sides, but also money. Although it may be a matter of time before U. S. national debt is so large that the U. S. imperium will collapse, much harm can occur in the meantime–and is occurring. It is long past time to stop the influence of warmongers on the left and on the right as well as the influence of the military-industrial complex on United States foreign policy.

The Earthquake in Japan and Theodicy

Leave a comment

Japan Earthquake LIVE News

The earthquake and resultant tsunamis that hit Japan marked, according to Japan’s prime minister, the greatest crisis for Japan since World War II. Besides the massive loss of life, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people are homeless. Many are grieving the loss of their loved ones; others wait with trepidation for any news. It is easy to forget, so far away in America, that this tragedy is not an abstraction. Real flesh and blood people died, and real flesh and blood people are suffering. During such times of tragedy, some people may lose their faith in God or in the particular tenants of their religion. The thousands of people killed were not bad people; the vast majority were good people struggling to get by in life like everyone else in the world. Many children are among the killed and bereaved. Where is God in such a time? Why did God allow an earthquake so massive to occur, one that destroyed so many people’s lives?

No one knows–not this side of eternity. We can give our guesses–“this gives people a chance to come together and show their love and concern for others”–but couldn’t there have been a less destructive way to do this!? Another answer may be that “the laws of nature must operate in stable ways. With a system of plate tectonics, when one plate slides under another, sometimes the plate snaps back, causing earthquakes.” But the positive changes in evolution that result in part from the motion of continents occur over millions of years. What about the people in Japan now? And if natural laws must remain stable, why can’t God make a world with different natural laws in which earthquakes do not occur or are not as severe? One plausible answer is that the number of possible universes compatible with intelligent life with significant freedom is very small–perhaps even this universe only–due to the specificity of natural laws that are so finely tuned that a minuscule change in the laws of nature would result in no life at all or at least no intelligent life.

Ultimately such answers will not satisfy a grieving parent who has lost a child or someone who has lost a spouse. In the predominate mixture of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan, invoking karma at such a time is just as unsatisfying as the answers I just presented from a Judeo-Christian perspective. The practical response of Christians is to support the relief effort in any way they can and to pray for the victims and their families. Ultimately the greatest gift Christian belief offers in such times is hope–strength to hope for a recovery from this great disaster, and the hope of eternal life for those killed. This world is full of tragedy–diseases, earthquakes, deadly weather, accidents, and dangerous radiation. The only way such tragedy can be redeemed is through a restoration of all things that transcends our present space-time order. In the meantime, we pray that the death figures will not go much higher, that those alive can be rescued, and that those who live can, at least in part, recover from their losses. May God be with the Japanese people during this time of trial.

People’s Reactions to Aspies

1 Comment

Hans Asperger

Image via Wikipedia

More often than not I overhear a conversation among young people in which someone says, “Did you see that weird guy over there?”

“Yeah, I took a picture of him. Lookin’ down at the floor all the time, not lookin’ you in the eye, talkin’ to himself.”

“What a creep!”

When I hear this, my first reaction is that my view that American young people are among the least accepting of difference and the most conformist of all groups in American society. They are fed an ideological-based view of multiculturalism in school and university that has little to do with the actual diversity of real, concrete human beings living in the real world. Despite being taught to be non judgmental (which is dead wrong, for judging certain acts to be wrong is part of our common humanity), they become judgment in a nasty way. They look down on those people who behave differently, those who do not understand social norms–people who may not look them in the eye when speaking, people who look at the ground, people who may talk to themselves from time to time. I would bet, being an Aspie myself, that many of these individuals have Asperger’s Syndrome (what the new edition of DSM, it is rumored, will refer to as “mild autism;” the photo on the right is of Hans Asperger). I will not claim to be “holier than thou” on how I have treated people–like every person, I have said hateful and hurtful things to people. Mea maxima culpa, first of all. But I do have some advice to those people, especially teenagers and traditional-age college students who seem to identify difference with evil, and some advice to those persons with Asperger’s Syndrome, since some of our behaviors do tend to “put people off.” I also note some of my own experiences with people in my past who failed to understand my “odd” behavior.

1. If you label someone a “creep” who behaves in a way you consider to be strange, remember that you do not know that individual personally. Suppose that person is an Aspie. He may be a good moral person and a kind person, but a person who has difficulty relating to people, especially strangers, in public. That is true of many Aspies individuals. And if you say, “He should have worked on his social skills,” my answer is, “How do you know he has not.” For some Aspies, it is difficult enough to go out in public, much less to train themselves to deal with social norms with strangers. Perhaps he has worked to improve his social skills with family members and friends, but has not gotten to the point that he can relate well to strangers. Perhaps, no matter how hard he tries, he will never pick up the proper social skills to relate to strangers. Does that make him a “creep”? One day you may have an accident that makes you behave differently or appear differently than so-called “normal people.” Imagine how you would want to be treated in that situation. Then apply that lesson to dealing with Aspies and other people who are “different.”

2. When I was in high school I pulled up to the drive through window at a fast food restaurant. When I drove up to the pay booth, the woman told me the price–I fumbled around to find the correct change and muttered to myself, “I guess I find the exact amount here somewhere.” The woman opened her mouth wide and looked at me as if I were insane. Besides being unprofessional to a customer, it was cruel, and it hurt deeply. Some Aspies talk to themselves because it helps to calm them and helps them to think through the issues and events of the day. Sometimes I will talk to myself because I am thinking of ideas for an academic paper or for a creative story or poem. Remember that just because a person talks to himself, this does not imply that he is talking about you or insulting you. I can understand why seeing someone talking to himself can make you nervous; it even makes me nervous! But I try my best not to judge the person’s character or sanity because I realize my own habits. And I have worked on it–I talk to myself less than in the past–but often I slip. I am sure this is the case with other Aspies.

3. Now some advice to people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Aspies have particular areas with which they are fascinated, and they love to talk about their eccentricities. This is something they should work on avoiding since this tends to bore people or make them nervous. But it is easy to slip. One of my fascinations is collecting skulls of various animals. One bit of advice if you share this fascination: Do not talk about that interest if you have met someone for the first time. I made that mistake and the woman thought I was a freak who was interested in bones for some nefarious reason. When I heard her reaction (second-hand) I was in tears. Later, I heard than when someone explained to her that I was an Aspie, she then understood and no longer felt threatened by me. But of course I am wary of her now. Perhaps if I had approached her differently, we could have been friends. Now that is not possible–and I admit I will not open the door, even though that may be unfair and unchristian. Aspies, take note–if you have an odd interest, find some other Aspie that shares that interest online or in person–then you can talk your heart out about it. For you who are not Aspies, try to understand that those of us who are Aspies have difficulty in not steering the conversation¬† to our special interests. Kindly change the subject and avoid being rude.

4. Aspies, do not say the first thing on your mind to a friend without thinking about it first–you may, like me, have problems with being tactful. If you send a personal e-mail to a friend, re-read it several times. Aspies tend to be literal about relationships and oftentimes they lack tact. I have been in more than one situation in which I lacked tact in e-mails (without even realizing it), and then I was surprised at my friend’s defensive reaction. This is good advice for everyone, not just for Aspies. If you are a friend to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, be patient and forgive–your friend will be loyal to a fault, but will sometimes say what he thinks without realizing that what he said hurt you. Point out why you are offended–then forgive–not seven times, as Jesus said, “but seventy times seven,” that is, without limit.

5. Although not all differences are good (a serial killer is “different” but is also evil in his difference), the fact that people have different personalities makes the world more interesting. Instead of calling the odd looking person who won’t look you in the eye and who talks about trains or physics or whatever his special interest is (or interests are), be friendly and talk to the individual. You may find a friend for life.

Airlines’ Treatment of Passengers

Leave a comment

Near Logan Airport - Airplane Coming in for La...

Image by The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

The first of my flights left a half-hour late, but arrived in the connecting city only two minutes late. Great, it won’t be a problem reaching my gate for the next flight–so I thought. The plane remained on the tarmac for almost thirty minutes before a gate was available, and it took another ten minutes for the jetway to pull up and for the doors to open. Ten minutes remained to make it to the gate for the final flight. Of course I was at the far end of one terminal with two more terminals to go. I arrived two minutes after the flight time. The agent informed me that the flight had closed eight minutes early to make sure it took off on time. The next two flights were full. I was on standby for the next flight, and after seeing someone else in the chain of employees, a flight after that was guaranteed. Everyone showed up for the standby flight–how many times does that happen. So I waited for the 5:55. It was late, and didn’t leave until 8:20 p.m. I arrived at my destination city at 11 pm, got a cab to the hotel, and finally put my things in the room. By then I was so hyper I needed a drink at the bar. Then I still couldn’t get to sleep until after 2:30 a.m., in plenty of time to get up bright and early to attend an 8 am session at the conference–riggghhht….

Airlines have been involved in some well-publicized incidents recently in which planes stayed on the tarmac for two to three hours with no bathrooms available and with the plane getting hot inside. Obviously the passengers were hot and were suffering from other…discomforts. This has lead to a movement for passengers’ rights, since when these things happen the passenger is powerless and is at the mercy of the airline.

I have never cared for rights language; even the theory of natural rights is based on an overly individualistic view of human nature based on the myth of the autonomous, isolated individual. Natural law seems more reasonable to me. Yet the airlines are still behaving in a morally reprehensible way, not because of a violation of abstract “rights,” but because they are treating human persons as mere means to profit and not as people who should, by their very nature, be treated with respect. This may sound like a Kantian point, but the idea of human dignity is present in the old natural law tradition stemming from the Stoics, Augustine, and Aquinas. People are not mere cogs in the machine and should not be treated as mere means to profit. “They’ve paid their plane fare, so it doesn’t matter if they get too hot, have to go to the bathroom when there is no bathroom available, and miss their connecting flights. People who were supposed to make business presentations might miss their meeting time. Academics scheduled to give a paper might miss their session (this happened to me three years ago; thankfully I arrived this time at my destination two days before my presentation). Even worse, some people may miss a loved one’s funeral or the last breath of a loved one. When airline executives consider people in the abstract, they seem to have no feelings about the real people who are hurt by their policies.

What is the answer? More federal regulation? Generally such regulation does more harm than good, however well-meaning it may be. However, the large number of flights at the busiest airports does create a safety concern, and safety can be regulated by the FAA. My own thoughts on this matter is that from the very beginning of training of future business leaders, there should be an emphasis on character development. Obviously if someone has already lost his virtues, this will do no good. But in people who have a conscience, in-class exercises on empathy using real cases may educate students’ moral imagination so that they can put themselves into the shoes of other people. Businesses, including airlines, must be careful to ensure virtuous leadership. If they do not, then the airlines may accrue further federal reglulation whether or not airline executives want it.