Thursday, October 4, 2018

Superior Hiking Trail Southern Terminus

This isn’t exactly about religion, but I’ll include some Ursula Goodenough quotes to add that flavor to it. Mostly, I’ll be talking about the first 14 miles on the southern end of the Superior Hiking Trail. The first 5 are new within the last few years and then they connect in Jay Cooke State Park where existing trails are now designated as SHT. Much reconstruction has been done since the 2012 flooding. Old guide books will need to be rewritten, but the signage is up and the parking well marked now, so get out there. We live near this park, so we used two cars to make our hikes one way. We split it into two days, but kept a pace of 2 miles per hour, so it could be done in one.

We started at the northeast corner of Jay Cooke State Park and worked back to the Wisconsin border, so I’ll be taking it in that order. The Grand Portage Trail can be done as a loop in this section. It’s part of a much larger historic route used by Natives, then by Voyageurs to get between Lake Superior waters and the Mississippi. Stop at the Visitor Center for your parking sticker or whatever else you’ll need, then head east. On 210 on the park maps, it’s trail point 25. Look for the well marked big lot, skip the little pull offs. From there, walk back to the road, across the embankment and look for the signs. We wanted to take the actual SHT, but you could take the other part of this loop and end up in the same place. Apparently that is also a more challenging hike.

It gets beautiful right away, and you see the river along this section. It’s down river from all the rapids, just calm and peaceful. Cross the highway and start heading up hill. It gets a bit more challenging but it is well maintained. You get the sense of being well out into the wilderness even though you are not far from Duluth. There is a parking lot to the north that locals use to access this and the other loops in this area, so you might see a trail runner and possibly horses, but you won’t likely find the family campers from the State Park. You will hook in to Oak Trail, probably without noticing, but watch for Gill Creek Trail, it is a connector between loops.

"And so I once again revert to my covenant with Mystery, and respond to the emergence of Life not with a search for its Design or Purpose but instead with outrageous celebration that it occurred at all. I take the concept of miracle and use it not as a manifestation of divine intervention but as the astonishing property of emergence. Life does generate something-more-from-nothing-but, over and over again, and each emergence, even though fully explainable by chemistry, is nonetheless miraculous."

Goodenough, Ursula. The Sacred Depths of Nature 

Remnants flooding in Gill Creek
You’ll get to give back some the elevation you gained as you get through the creek valley and then you get to gain it again. The creek is a raging river in spring time so watch the weather reports, even into June. We went in late August and I would say it was dicey for pumping drinking water. There is a small bridge, but I doubt it is much use in the spring. When you come up from there, you’ll meet up with the Triangle Trail and start to feel like you are in a State Park. From there, you connect for a short time to the paved Willard Munger Trail, then Greely Creek Trail which will take you by the power station dam and finally White Pine Trail. White Pine is nothing spectacular, but it takes you right to the campground. According to my GPS tracker, everything up to here was 6.2 miles.

Yep, we could text from the Park.
The camp sites at Jay Cooke are excellent. Sometimes you have quite a bit of trees between you and your neighbors. It’s all pit toilets, but when the buildings are open in the daytime, they are flush. There is a fire handle type water spigot always available near the Visitor Center. They are working on a shower building, which will probably make the place more popular for campers. It’s already one of the most visited parks in the state.

"Mystery generates wonder, and wonder generates awe. The gasp can terrify or the gasp can emancipate. As I allow myself to experience cosmic and quantum Mystery, I join the saints and the visionaries in their experience of what they called the Divine,..."
Goodenough, Ursula. The Sacred Depths of Nature. 

Heading out from the park’s main attraction, cross the swinging bridge headed south and take your first left. The official trail for the SHT is the River Trail where you get eye to eye with some of the big rocks that form the rapids. This is a rocky trail, so it’s not groomed in winter and it’s underwater in spring. You’ll get back up on the Silver Creek Trail pretty quick and get the views from higher up. It’s wide and smooth, made for skiing in both directions. It connects to the Lost Lake Trail and the Bear Chase Trails, where the difficulty factor slowly increases. Park maps show where Lost Lake Trail crosses a stream coming off the St Louis River. It’s the best water source besides the river itself and, well, the plumbing, and has this awesome bridge.

There is a park map at intersection 40, but it’s for winter and the trail you want is not a winter trail so it is in gray. It might not be mowed as well and you’ll feel like you are leaving the park, but that’s the one you want. You’ll come to a sharp corner on the southern end of it and there will be a SHT arrow pointing up a hill back into the narrow single path trail like most of the SHT. This is an excellent section of the trail, with great vistas across a wide valley, great for fall colors. If you do this hike coming from Highway 23, it is about 3 and a half miles to this point. There is a scenic overlook about 3 miles from the highway. You’ll gain over 400 feet of elevation over those miles (going south) and have to pay for them with some trips down to creek beds. 

When you’re through all that, you’ll pop out onto Highway 23. Look to the south for Wild Valley Rd. When you are driving to this trail head you probably won’t see the tiny SHT signs, but the road has a sign for it. It turns into a minimum maintenance road, again, no SHT signs, at least not when I was there. The parking however does have the familiar trail head. As you can see, it’s a half mile from the highway and 5.9 miles to the park visitor center. The road continues on to hunting land, so wear your orange in season if you're going that direction. The 1.9 miles to Wisconsin is a nice rolling hike, with more creek bed valleys (usually dry). It’s a young forest with a few old trees, which is something you don’t see much of on the SHT.

The campsite is great. There is one tent site that is as nice as a State park and a few others if more people join you. There is a nice view down a steep drop off of a stream and no way to get down to it. Get back on the trail and hike a short hike towards Wisconsin to get to it. It’s big enough to deserve a bridge and was a couple feet deep in August, so pretty reliable. It’s a perfect place to begin your exploration of the entire Superior Hiking Trail.

Life, we can now say, is getting something to happen against the odds and remembering how to do it. The something that happens is biochemistry and biophysics, the odds are beat by intricate concatenations of shape fits and shape changes, and the memory is encoded in genes and their promoters. We read the notes, we hear the emergent chords and harmonies, and we marvel at the emergent musical experience.
Goodenough, Ursula. The Sacred Depths of Nature.

 Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, conveyed this concept to an assembly at the United Nations:

I do not see a delegation for the four-footed. I see no seat for the eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior, but we are after all a mere part of the Creation. And we must continue to understand where we are. And we stand between the mountain and the ant, somewhere and there only, as part and parcel of the Creation. It is our responsibility, since we have been given the minds to take care of these things.

Goodenough, Ursula. The Sacred Depths of Nature

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Index to blogs about skepticism

These entries are almost all non-religious. When you leave a believe system, you have to rebuild a foundation for how you figure what is true. The same problems keep coming up, like we can't be 100% certain and that there are many experts that need to be sorted out but we don't have the expertise to challenge all of them.

I've argued with Libertarians as a way to try to understand them, with gun advocates to try to find a peaceful solution and with my liberal friends who often use the same flawed logic that they accuse conservatives of using.

I put what I think are the best in bold. They are in reverse chronological order, but only a few mention something topical.

Complexities of fighting for peace
Wrote this one to a young person who linked to this rapper who was saying everything needs to be torn because it’s so messed up

I link to this one whenever someone tries to tell me that we can’t really know anything

Would letting starving children die solve the hunger problem?
This is my ongoing challenge, to speak to the problems and to acknowledge the beauty and genius we meet every day
Reconciling personal and social responsibility
Another GMO, how anti-GMO news uses inflammatory language (about the so-called Monsanto Act)
A little more geared toward woo, but I think I made a decent point here about how Aquinas actually forwarded the conversation, while Chopra takes us backward

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Someone recently asked about the problem of in/out groups and how we treat not just our neighbors, but the rest of the world. We've never had this many people on the planet and the questions of how we live together are getting more pressing. 

There are two levels to explore this; how I approach my local tribe and on the world stage. My bumper sticker answers; I would never refuse someone a meal or shelter if they came to me in need and I could provide it. For the big picture, I believe anything I do to benefit the billions of people who have so much less than me, benefits me. I’m from the land of Paul Wellstone, where we all do better if we all do better.

Granted, there is a lot of devil in the details. That one word “could” in the part where “if I could provide” leaves a lot of wiggle room. I don’t have a sign on my door that welcomes everyone and I don’t bring home a homeless person every night. If I did that, I would exhaust my resources and I no longer COULD provide. That’s the hypothetical situation that gets presented by people who don’t think these things through, when I say we should open borders or just NOT build a wall. I can’t save the world, I need the rest of the world to help me with that.

So, let’s look at the hypothetical. Let’s say we are somewhere that doesn’t have grocery stores or homeless shelters or other excess resources that we can spread around. I have friends who are growing their own food and live off the grid or are otherwise prepared for a day when there is no grid. They do this out of a sense of love for the planet and with an eye toward a communal lifestyle. I’ve also heard a few of them talk about what they would do if they were surviving while most of the people, the unprepared people, were not. A few of them have said they would defend their homes, violently if necessary.

I would not do that. Partly because I just don’t want to prepare for that. I don’t want to buy weapons and learn to use them or even consider combative types of self defense. I’d lose against almost anyone except the feeblest. But let’s same I’m just part of a group and I could just cook the food for the warriors. I still wouldn’t do it. If I did that, I’d no longer be the person I am now. I would in essence die. I would rather die a death of starvation while trying to feed and house as many people as I could, than live a life that depended on the deaths of others, deaths that I caused.

I realize as an American, I’m already living that life. My safety and security depends on a vast military supported by my taxes. That is not the same as the kind of direct action discussed above. As a citizen in a modern nation, actually for any nation or kingdom going back thousands of years, we have all benefitted from acts of violence. If we were not the beneficiaries, we wouldn’t be here. The refugee depends on the country that lets them in and defends its borders from the place they escaped. The conquered ones benefit from the peace treaty that prevented their complete annihilation. We are all born into a world with these acts in our history and most of us don’t have the power to stop it.

So what do we do in a world where the lines of good and evil are not always clear?

First, to the person who asks me why I don’t take that immigrant from Nicaragua into my home, I say, we all do that every day. As a modern democracy, we’ve decided to pay for housing for criminals. It’s called a prison. Almost half of our taxes go to take care of men and women in the military all over the world. We take of children that we’ve never met because we know something could happen to us, and that could be our kid. This is just basic altruism on a scale of millions. When we understand a need for the world, we work together to satisfy it. Obviously we don’t all agree on how to do that. That’s a conversation about democracy that is beyond my scope here. The point is we muddle through.

But what of my statement that I’d rather die than stand by while others die. Why am I not out there right now doing everything I can to save every one of those people that my military is threatening, or the kids closer to home who are hurting because of the oppressive environment and sub-par schools. I’m not going to defend my every action or list my community involvement, that’s a losing game. What matters is we aren’t all starving. This is not a post apocalyptic landscape we are living in. Truth is the things that have been important to me for most of my life have improved. There is less pollution, less hunger and more education.

Also true, I could do more. If I had better leadership skills, I could get more people doing the things I’ve done and more kids would be fed and maybe even more men would understand that it benefits them to have educated daughters. I know I’ve made some difference in the world. I’ll leave judgments up to some other power. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a theory I have. We talk about the “1%” and how they make all these higher ideas difficult to implement. We also sometimes recognize that it’s our participation in their system that benefits them. My theory is, if the people in the 50-99% range would focus more on the lower 50%, the 1% wouldn’t know what to do.

Put it this way; I’ve never known anyone to discuss helping someone who is chronically hungry by supplying them with a new flavor of potato chips or the latest variation of fizzy water. We don’t throw a banquet and invite someone who is struggling with addiction. For that matter, we don’t pick up someone living on the street and enroll them in college. Instead, we start a garden on an abandoned neighborhood lot, we hold a seminar about how to apply for and keep a job, we say hello to someone we see sitting on a corner. These are low cost measures that contribute to the same economy that the 1% say they are responsible for.

That economy depends on the participation of everyone across the entire income spectrum. What we have right now is a few people who are secure enough that they think they can experiment with how much poverty and starvation and all the problems that come with it the system can stand. They don’t care about any tribe as far as I can tell. Most of the world does not think this way and never has. History has not turned out well when there is this much wealth disparity. It is not tolerated. The question before us is can we make the correction peacefully?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


When attempting to understand someone who holds an opposing opinion to your own, a useful exercise can be to attempt to make their argument. This can lead to more discussion with understanding and less arguing. Here, I attempt this with the immigration debate in the US. I focus on illegal immigration, but that crosses over to the general question of how we regulate all immigration.  I did my best to remain neutral about what the laws currently are. I had a little more difficulty in finding data to support the conclusion that immigrants are the cause of broad social ills. In the end, I think this is a question of who we want to be as a nation and as citizens of the planet.

A nation of laws

Laws regarding immigration to the United States have been a heated political issue for as long as there have been any laws about it at all. Immigration Acts date back to the Reconstruction era, but that’s too much to cover in one blog post. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and its storied history is engrained in our culture. The World Wars led to increasing trepidation of foreigners entering the country and to the Immigration Act of 1917, which imposed quotas. Despite quotas being abolished by the Hart-Cellar act of 1965, restricting the number of immigrants continues to be central to the debate.

Fundamental to the discussion is that we are a nation of laws. There should be no debate about that. Ideas about open borders are up for discussion, but until we design and implement laws that can promote that idea and maintain a safe and civil society, we need to operate within the laws we have. There are other aspects of this discussion that are sometimes brought up but are not covered by laws. We don’t have a law that requires anyone to speak a certain language. We don’t have laws that require patriotic statements or participation in patriotic rituals. We have a law that says you are free to practice religion however you want. There is no test for how much you love America. There is a civics test for immigrants that many natural born citizens would find challenging.

A law that is central to the current debate is how a non-citizen gets into the country. To cross the border, you must use a designated US immigration border inspection point or port of entry. To do otherwise is a misdemeanor offense. Repeated attempts can carry stiffer penalties. A misdemeanor is not a crime that automatically results in deportation. The classification “misdemeanor” includes hunting on a wildlife refuge, assault, using counterfeit money, desecration of the flag, parading without a permit, and possession of illegal drugs. These can result in jail time, but often don’t.  The consequences of crossing the border can also vary. There are also a wide variety of visas and permits that allow people to work, study and live here for limited times. When those expire, technically, they are in violation of the law if they don’t return to their home country.

 A little more complicated is the law regarding requests for asylum. If you aren’t already in the country legally and you try to make the case that you fear going back to your home country, it can come down to the judgment of one Customs and Border Protection officer and you could be refused entry, or you could be detained. These actions are discretionary under the law and recent Presidents have varied widely in their policies regarding who they detain, why, and for how long.

We are a nation of laws, and that includes due process under that law and it extends to non-citizens. A young citizen of the US accused of assault would most likely be allowed to continue their education and their work while they awaited trial. They are more likely to receive counseling and do community service rather than jail time. A person who crosses the border because they fear for their life would most likely not be able to find any legal help or be given time to prepare their case and get a fair hearing. That is how the law currently works.

The scenario I referred to above applies mainly to our southern border, a border that can be accessed via foot and is not far from countries where we know violence is occurring. Those in countries farther away can register as refugees. They will then go through background checks, extensive interviews and even biological screening involving multiple law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies. This can take up to 2 years. Only a few of these are referred for resettlement.

When looking at a single instance and making assumptions about the innocence of the people involved, it’s easy to find flaws in the system. But there are larger issues, and policies need to be designed to protect everyone, not skewed toward a particular group. To determine if that is what is happening, we need to open up the conversation to questions of how immigrants affect our economy including our crime rates. Are they in fact, “taking our jobs”?

Who is coming to the US?

Estimates of immigrants living in the US illegally are somewhere around 12 million. That’s about 3.5% of the total population. 12 million is also the number of people who arrived through Ellis Island. When it closed in 1954, our population was half what it is now. That brings us back a couple generations. According to the US census, 3/4 of the population today identifies as at least a 3rd generation immigrant. I don’t see much argument about the fact that everyone descended from immigrants (except the native population that can trace its history back thousands of years). The current immigration debate tends to be more centered on demographics such as the few percentage points shift toward more 1st and 2nd generation immigrants that has occurred since 1998. 

This shift is a reversal of the trend of the last half of the 20th century but similar to the trend of the first half. One difference is where the immigrants of those few generations ago came from versus those from the current generation; Europe as opposed to Latin America and Asia. These are all factors that contribute to the perception of the current generation of immigrants, legal or otherwise. It would be difficult to sort out the contributions of millions of people and trace the impact of immigration from 100 years ago and compare it to recent immigration. I can however address current talking points. There is ample anecdotal evidence of crime committed by people born in Latin American countries and acts of terrorism committed by Middle Eastern immigrants. There are stories of high crime and high unemployment in some areas and stories of 1st generation immigrants working as laborers as well as owning businesses and even fighting and dying in the US military. There are stories of young Spanish speaking people having babies and dropping out of school.

What I can’t find is data that says crime rates or teenage birth rates or drug abuse occur at higher rates in immigrant populations than they do in the population as a whole. Even acts of terrorism, that is, someone killing or plotting to kill people they don’t know, are committed by legal citizens of European descent. Nor can I correlate unemployment rates to the rise in illegal immigrant population. The current rate is lower compared to before that population began rising in the 1970’s and it has fluctuated while that rise has occurred.

Controlling the southern border

Some data can support actions. The rise in border crossings on the southern border from a quarter million in 1970 to over 1 million per year during most of the 80’s and 90’s was a problem for people living along that border. A sparsely populated region can’t respond to a situation of that magnitude with its normal level of law enforcement. Serious efforts to secure the southern border began under Bill Clinton and continued with the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by George W Bush and voted for by then Senators Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Apprehensions at the border have since returned to 1970 levels.

Meanwhile the population of Mexican-born people now in the US has steadily risen from under 1 million to over 12 million. It might be that tightening the border has led to this, since it is now harder to cross back and forth. Whereas before, people came and worked temporarily, now they stay rather than risk another crossing. Also noteworthy is that annual immigration from Mexico has declined sharply since 2005, long before talk of extensive additions to border security. The policies enacted since then may be reacting to problems that no longer exist or that could be dealt with in new ways.

Economic policies

There is no question that millions of people work in the US without proper documentation. There are also gangs that consist largely of foreign born members. There are high profile cases of people living here legally who have participated in horrific crimes in the name of their religion or ideologies that are mostly foreign to our way of life. The connection I can’t make is to how additional restrictions of immigration would alter the overall data. The elimination of a class of people to reduce problem behaviors means also eliminating workers, entrepreneurs, military personnel and others who contribute to the economy. I would need to see how those contributions can be sorted out from the problems. Is their country of origin a cause, or are crimes rates the same in all groups and better correlated to age or economic status?

There is more than anecdotal evidence that immigrants use the social services provided by our government. It is a separate debate, but many of these services began around the same time we began restricting immigration. As states it, since we have been running at a deficit, “essentially everyone receives more in public expenditures than they pay in taxes”. So, questions about socialism aside, are immigrants causing these deficits? Do they take more than they contribute? This is a complicated question. I can’t make a case that they are a cause, but I would need more understanding of economics to make the case against it.

What is an American?

Putting all the dry data about economics aside, a key issue for many is the question of just what this country “is”, what is our essence, who are we? I’ll avoid mining our history for quotes from founding fathers because support for our Christian roots can be found just as easily as quotes about keeping government and religion separate. There is more to this than our 1st amendment and even if I provided case law that supports the separation, there are still those who feel those laws should be changed. The complicated nature of our identity as a nation of immigrants and one that desires purity can be found in our Declaration of Independence, where it is stated that King George,

“has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

This appears to be a response to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that said although the colonists had participated in defeating the French, who fought along with natives, they could not expand their boundaries into the territory they had won, across the Appalachian Mountains. This could be seen as just one of the ways we wanted to be free from British rule, but the language is unmistakable, we felt we were superior and had a right to that territory. To be clear, when I say “we”, I’m referring to a group of white male land owners from a long time ago. We can’t know the pulse of the entire population at the time. We are not beholden to every thought of the men that signed that Declaration. It is however one of our most important founding documents and something we should fully understand and come to terms with.


We are a nation of laws, and currently our laws restrict immigration to a degree that many more people want to become citizens than are becoming citizens. Since we export food and have experienced unprecedented economic growth over the last century, I see no reason to believe we are at any kind of a limit to capacity. It seems rather we need more people willing to come to places that are experiencing growth and are in need of people ready to contribute.

We are a nation of laws and those laws include traditions of restricting others from crossing our borders and of welcoming others. Our Constitution is designed to allow for change because our founders knew they could not anticipate the changes that have occurred in the last 250 years. I think the best question to ask ourselves is, who do we want to be?

Friday, August 3, 2018

Jesus didn't say that

A response to a response, from the Counter Apologist.

There are few ways to go with this. CA’s original statements stands well on its. Also, in any current form of religions I know, there is no preferable universalism that I know of. My problem with Randal is, he doesn’t go far enough with interpreting hell out of Christianity. I think that can be done, although it strips Christianity down to its Jewish roots, even into some type of Reformed Judaism, so it probably is not a popular route. My problem with the Counter Apologist is the use of assuming beliefs by the gospel writers when it’s convenient while claiming we don’t know what they meant most of the time. I think this hinders the very reforms we want to see in religion.

Starting with the reforms; I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the arc of the Biblical narrative is that history has a goal, that there is some inherent reason for our existence, and it’s something good, and we need to discover our part in making it happen. This is the MLK thesis on justice and even if you take the atheist view of meaning created by the individual, it is compatible with a goal oriented form of utilitarianism as a theory for morality. To have this discussion across cultures, we need to be reasonable and accept that neither modern philosophers nor the Bible have a clear sense of what “justice” and “good” are. Modern philosophy accepts that, practically as a premise. The Bible has its moments, like Job arguing with God, but for the most part modern day practitioners of Abrahamic religion believe a supernatural force is the source of “good” and don’t care if they can’t prove it with scripture.

The above point is somewhat proven in the way Randal backtracks on his own religion when confronted with a rather straightforward problem like eternal or long lasting punishment. So let’s look at how CA supports the argument.

If atheists want to make the point that the Christian version of hell is wrong, I don’t think they need to stray deep into what the Bible says hell is. The Bible is not clear on that, that’s clear. Atheists don’t need to quote Jesus to prove Jesus was saying something. This degrades their own arguments since they begin with the understanding that the gospels are a poor reflection of any actual Jesus. This is the consensus of scholars, including religious scholars, but it seems to get forgotten when atheists start looking for proof texts. We are always quoting unknown authors and worse we might be quoting many authors in the course of just one passage.

For example, “torments” and “flame” in Luke 16 might be an allegory of justice for the rich man who neglected to care for the poor man at his gate. The thrust of the parable up to that point is about upending the power structure, and rewarding goodness for goodness sake instead of rewarding the powerful just because they do their rituals. This passage looks like a Greek version of hell getting tacked on to an earlier tale. Whether that was for better marketing of the book or because that belief was creeping into Jewish culture is debatable and barely relevant to a debate on the reality of hell.

What I think is important here is to recognize the opening Randal gives us. Christian scholars are quick to say things like Hellenism had crept into and corrupted Judaism at the time the gospels were being written, but they are slow to say exactly how. Christian scholars probably won’t lead those discussions because they suspect or fear they will result in less believers. This is exactly why atheists should be pushing in that direction.  Two passages from Revelation were included in CA’s list. Maybe Randal is open to eliminating Revelations from the canon. It has been debated since it was first proposed and is not in some Bibles. If it is an inaccurate depiction of hell that is incompatible with 1st century teaching, then let’s settle that and then move on to the next misinterpretation, redaction or mistranslation.

This might sound daunting, but I don’t think every line of scripture will need to be addressed before Christian culture begins to change. This approach to the Bible has been happening for a long time and has altered many denominations and led to reforms like women and gays being accepted. Atheists would do well to understand it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Light at the end of the tunnel

I'm getting very near the end of the 3 year Lectionary cycle at 

When I started, I didn't want to start in Christmas or Easter, because I thought they would take more research. I started in the first week of "Proper" time in year C, which was about May 2016. As it turns out, the summer time readings are much more interesting than those classics most people are familiar with. You know, the coming of the baby Jesus and the whole thing with the tomb.

The downside is, I just missed a really interesting entry from the book of Nehemiah. It's the only entry for that book. The book firmly sets the stage in the time after people are released from exile in Babylon. There is no ambiguity about the historical context. Then Ezra starts preaching. As he does he explains the meaning of text and clears up what might be seen as contradictions.

This is time in history when the ancient scriptures were being assembled and sometimes redacted and here is a story that essentially tells you they are doing that. How we got from there to people to believing that the Bible is the exact word of God that anyone can read and get the same message, I can't explain. It took centuries to screw it up that bad. The opposite is true, that is, you can read it and it tells you that is a collection of writings written by men attempting to convey a variety of meanings throughout time.

Basically the theme of my Lectionary helper in one chapter of scripture.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How to argue on the Internet

I’m thinking of making a sarcastic website about how to argue on facebook and other internet sites. Sarcastic, in that it would teach you how to do all the bad arguing I see people doing. Here is a good example. In arguments about gun control, someone inevitably brings up the problem that “you don’t know what AR stands for”. This is actually a non-issue with regards to sensible gun legislation and it doesn’t  illuminate just what an assault weapon is.  Worse though, it’s just wrong.

How to argue about gun control: 

Lesson #1: Present some facts that have nothing to do with gun control. Hopefully no one will notice how irrelevant they are.

Someone I don’t know added this link, with no other comment, to a thread on gun control. It’s just a non-argument to begin with, but the point of doing it is lots of people think it is an argument. It’s a timeline that starts in 1989, when they began producing AR-15’s for the consumer market. This is should be immediately suspicious, since it says “for the consumer market”, telling you there was a different reason the weapons were first manufactured.

As it turns out, the term “assault rifle” is a direct translation of the first such rifle created by the Germans during WWII for military purposes, the Sturmgewehr. This is easy to look up once you know that name, but more trouble than most people will go to if you are just searching for “history of the term assault rifle” or something like that. This anonymous poster was trying to take advantage of people not having a lot of free time.

Lesson #2: Exclude actual history and facts that might hurt your argument.

I don’t doubt that the post was made to educate me that the term “assault” is a liberal invention, intended to make the guns sound worse than they are. The introduction tells you what AR does not stand for, but says nothing about where the term “assault” came from.  If you read the comments below the time line, you’ll see many people believe it was an invention of liberals to serve the anti-gun agenda. What’s unfortunate for them is, comments are open to anyone. What’s unfortunate for intelligent sensible people is, you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find the factual comments.

Lesson #3: Be technically correct. Sometimes called partially correct.

People who say an AR-15 is not an assault rifle are partially correct. It’s like saying a Canon copier is not a Xerox copier, or Puffs is not Kleenex, or an instant photo is not a Polaroid. But when something gets invented, the brand name sometimes becomes what we call it. There is no technical definition for what an assault rifle is, so they can never really lose this argument. No matter how you try to define it, you are never correct, technically. This was one of the problems with enforcing the assault weapons ban. They created a legal definition, but laws can be skirted on technicalities.

Normally, we frown on this. From Perry Mason to Law and Order, the prosecutors are always lamenting people who get off on a technicality. I’m sure the makers of the ban were hoping that people would want to comply with this law and would work to improve on it so safe and legal gun owners who had no intention of killing anyone could have the guns they want, and easy to use death machines would stay out of the hands of criminals and disaffected youths. That’s not how it turned out, and the law expired.

Instead of having these bad arguments that lead to nothing, we could be discussing the practical issues and how we can create a safer world by examining the features associated with this type of weaponry and gun ownership in general and, as with anything dangerous, like dynamite or cars or pseudoephedrine, we could make regulations that we could all live with. Such as:

Large, detachable magazines
Automatic and semi-automatic fire
Proper storage and trigger locks
Caliber, range  and velocity of the bullets as well as the design that causes them to tumble.
Background checks
Loopholes to background checks such as private sales
Education about gun safety
Counseling and services for people who are thinking about misusing weapons

Lesson #4: Now that you have made definitions meaningless, use your own.

What definitely was a deliberate creation of a marketing term is MSR, Modern Sporting Rifle. I know a few hunters and none of them use an AR or AK or anything like it for sport. It takes away the sport of carefully siting and killing a deer or other large animal and would leave you with no meat for small game. I’ve heard they are good for coyotes, but who hunts those? The firearms industry first adopted the term “assault” as a new and exciting sounding product line, but with mass shootings making the news, decided to change that. See 2009 on the timeline.

By careful use of the above lessons, one can take something that their side of the argument is doing; making up terms that provide an emotional appeal, and make it sound like the other side is doing it. Congratulations, you’re ready to join the exciting world of arguing on the internet.