Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE RECESSON NEVER ENDED, DUH: THE REALLY REAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

THE RECESSION NEVER ENDED, DUH:
THE REALLY REAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
NOTE: BOLDED TEXT IS MY EMPHASIS




Unemployment fell to 7.8% in September [2012]. But that doesn't mean the other 92.2% of adults are working.



Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US Department of Labor releases six measures of unemployment, numbered U-1 through U-6. The figure U-3 is the measure most often referred to in the media. Here are the definitions:
  • U-1: Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force.
  • U-2: U-1 plus persons who lost their jobs and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force.
  • U-3: U-2 plus total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force ("official" unemployment rate).
  • U-4: U-3 plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force [J-VICTUS NOTE: FOR CLARITY, A DISCOURAGED WORKER IS SIMPLY ONE WHO IS NO LONGER LOOKING FOR WORK. HOWEVER, STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, WORKERS ENTER THIS CATEGORY AFTER THEIR ELIGIBILITY FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ENDS BECAUSE AN ACTIVE JOB SEARCH IS A PRE-REQUISITE TO OBTAINING AND MAINTAINING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS].
  • U-5: U-4 plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force [J-VICTUS NOTE: "marginally attached" includes both discouraged workers and workers who may or may not have part-time work, but are seeking full time work, a situation referred to as underemployment].
  • U-6: U-5 plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force. 


It is plainly insufficient and misleading to emphasize the U-3 figure over the subsequent and more inclusive measures which provide a clearer and more complete picture of the state of the labor markets. Notice the slippery language such as "total unemployed" and "as a percentage of the civilian labor force." This sounds inclusive, but under their legal definitions is actually not. The civilian labor force only counts those who are actively looking for work.



The National Bureau of Economic Research is the unofficial recession start-and-end time authority. They say that the recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Yet the U-6 number continued to climb into January 2010. This is due to their extremely broad definition of "recession":

A significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.



In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month. A recession is a period of falling economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. The trough marks the end of the declining phase and the start of the rising phase of the business cycle. Economic activity is typically below normal in the early stages of an expansion, and it sometimes remains so well into the expansion.The committee decided that any future downturn of the economy would be a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in December 2007. 


If NBER wants to play games and suggest that another downturn would be a separate disaster from the latest recession, fine. But one should note the Recession of 1937, which took place, according to some economic historians, during the Great Depression.


Among those who oppose government intervention in the economy due to its generally deleterious effects, it is quite popular (and correct) to emphasize the U-6 number as the so-called "real unemployment rate." 


According to the BLS, the latest official U-3 unemployment rate is 7.6%. It reached its peak in October 2009 at 10.1%. Meanwhile, the latest U-6 rate is at 13.9%. In January 2010, it reached its peak at 18%. So even if we aren't improving, at least we are down from the peak, right? Nope.

There is yet another measure (the really real unemployment rate) that shows us even more about the true state of the labor markets. That is the Employment-to-Population Ratio/Rate. It is quite straightforward. It is simply the rate of the working age population (generally defined as ages 16 to 64) that is actually working (on the books, that is). The relatively steady working age population is the standard here, rather than the deceptive and constantly and rapidly fluctuating "civilian labor force" which may fall due to the cessation of a job search and exhaustion of all unemployment benefits, not job creation.



Such data began to be compiled in January 1948, when the rate was 56.6%. It's lowest point was 54.9% in October of 1949. It's peak was reached in April 2000 at 64.7%.

This measure does not concern nor does it have any implications regarding the reasons for not working like the U-4 through U-6 statistics (discouragement). It simply notes that they are not working. As well, it must be made clear that unlike the U-1 through U-6 measures, where a higher percentage is a bad thing, as the Employment-to-Population Rate falls and stays fallen it should be cause for alarmHere are the working age population figures from 2007 to 2011:

  • 2007: 231,867,000
  • 2008: 233,788,000
  • 2009: 235,801,000
  • 2010: 237,830,000
  • 2011: 239,618,000


The situation is dire. The working age population continues to grow while the number of jobs falls and the real wages of those who have jobs continue to decline.

In December 2007, which is when NBER declares the recession to have started, the Employment-to-Population Ratio was 62.7%. In June 2009, when NBER declared it to be over, it was at 59.4%. The working age population grows and grows, but job creation sputters. Even using the lowest of the lot, 2007's figures) a 3.3% drop is massive, approximately 7.5 million.  



It is both tragic and comical to note that the Employment to Population Ratio continued to fall for many months after the supposed end of the recession in June 2009. As of April 2013, it stands at 58.6% [NOVEMBER 12TH, 2015 EDIT: THE RATE IS CURRENTLY 59.3%, STILL BELOW THE 62.7% FIGURE FROM DECEMBER 2007, NBER'S RECESSION STARTING POINT]. The true asininity of the suggestion that the recession ended in June 2009 is that not only did the rate continue to drop, but in the nearly four years [NOVEMBER 12TH, 2015 EDIT: NOW OVER SIX YEARS] since NBER said the recession is over, the rate has not even risen to the lowest point of their official recession.



And to show just how important that is, consider this graph which goes back to the 1940's:




This is unprecedented. Since the 1940's, we have had 10 official recessions. After each one, the ratio recovers. it is only during the current malaise that there has been no improvement. We continue with an Employment-to-Population Rate that was seen in the 1970's and 1980's. Why? The Great Recession (which I recommend calling The Lesser Depression) never ended.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

FOSSIL FUELS ARE GREEN: WE HAD BETTER PRAY THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS ANTHROPOGENIC

FOSSIL FUELS ARE GREEN: 
WE HAD BETTER PRAY THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS ANTHROPOGENIC

NOTE:
BOLDFACED TEXT DENOTES MY EMPHASIS
UNDERLINED TEXT DENOTES IMPORTANT TERMS, ORGANIZATIONS, OR PEOPLE
ITALICIZED TEXT DENOTES QUOTATIONS/REFERENCES
IF ANY LINKS ARE BROKEN, THEY HAVE BEEN SEPARATELY SAVED
For some reason, certain factions seem to have got hold of the idea that warming the planet up is bad. They point to flooding, coral bleaching, forest fires and other problems as indications that change is undesirable. Warming the planet might have some side effects, it is true - but at least it helps avoid the devastating global catastrophe that re-glaciation would represent. It seems to me that many of these folk are Luddites - who see the issue as a good excuse to place limits on industrialization and growth. You might think environmental groups would be in favor of improving the habitability of the planet by getting rid of the parts of it that are uninhabitable frozen wastelands. You might think that they might regard CO2 as plant food - and would embrace plans to pump it into the atmosphere. However, they seem to be more interested in polar bears, bushfires and floods.


I am not a climate change denier. I acknowledge that the climate changes, and is currently changing. As well, far be it from me to challenge the scientific consensus that the world is warming, and that warming is due to human activity 
(Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)). While I have in the past stubbornly denied that warming could be anthropogenic, notably from carbon emissions, I have altered my view. But rather than being on any one pole of the issue, it is a third position and one that throws for a loop climate change alarmists calling for strict emissions controls. On the other hand, deniers of AGW (who are most likely wrong anyway) need to accept that adaptive (not mitigative, as discussed later) measures need to be taken. I suppose my position could be considered alarmism in its own right. But as I hope will be clear, it is truly something to be alarmed about!

On the one hand, I acknowledge the distinct possibility (indeed probability) that human activity (again, mostly the emission of carbon) contributes to a greenhouse/warming effect. But I oppose the restrictive policy recommendations of those countless scientists who believe that warming is a relative threat. Relative to what? The opposite of warming, i.e., cooling, and its accompanying ice sheet/glacier expansion (glaciation).


It seems rather plain to me that it is cooling and not warming that presents the real potential dire threat to civilization as a whole. First, some terms:

  • Ice Age (More accurately Glacial Age): The term as used in paleo-climatology (the study of ancient climates) differs from the modern colloquial usage. The latter just defines it as any expansion of the ice sheets (glaciers). However, it is used by scientists to refer to specific time periods in Earth's climate history. There have been 5 Glacial Ages: 
    • Huronian Glacial Age (2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago)
    • Cryogenian Glacial Age (710 to 640 million years ago, and consisted of two major glaciations: The Sturtian and the Marinoan)
    • Andean-Saharan Glacial Age (460 to 430 million years ago) 
    • Karoo Glacial Age (350 to 260 million years ago)
    • Quaternary/Pleistocine Glacial Age (40 million years ago to present)
  • Interglacial Period: Relatively short sub-eras during Glacial Ages which see glacial retreat and a warming of the Earth. 
  • Glacial Period: These are epochs when the ice sheets have expanded. This status makes up the vast majority of a Glacial Age.
  • Climate change feedback: conditions that either amplify (positive feedback) or dampen (negative feedback) the rate of climate change.
  • Albedo: One of the most important feedback mechanisms. It refers to the solar energy that is reflected off of or absorbed by the earth. In warm periods, the oceans, ground, and foliage absorb that solar energy. However, solar energy that strikes glaciers (or any snow or ice) is reflected back into space. This has the effect of cooling the planet further. As the ice sheets grow, a tipping point may be reached and from then on this effect amplifies and feeds on itself, accelerating the process.
The most important thing to note about this clarification of terms is that, in fact, the world is currently in a Glacial Age. I do not think this fact can be emphasized enough: THE WORLD IS CURRENTLY IN A GLACIAL AGE KNOWN AS THE QUATERNARY GLACIAL AGE.

Despite this, another truth should be observed: As Tim Tyler says, while Glacial Ages last millions of years, relative to the normal climate of the earth over billions of years they are 
(emphasis his)

an abnormal and relatively rare state of affairs. They are usually temporary and fleeting sicknesses for the planet. Details are here. Ending the [glacial] age - if that is possible - would return the planet to its normal state. 
So, as explained, the world is in fact in a Glacial Age right now. Thus humanity's challenge is to avoid reglaciation. The reason the ice sheets are receded is because the world is also in an Interglacial Period. Ice cores show that in the current Quaternary Glacial Age, approximately 100,000-year Glacial Periods are punctuated by approximately 10,000-year Interglacial Periods. The current Interglacial Period is the Holocene Interglacial. It began between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago and ended the Glacial Period known as the Wisconsinan/Baltic-Scandinavian/Weichsel Glacial Period.


The infamous concept of a Malthusian Collapse refers to the point at which a society's population outpaces its capacity for food production. It is rightly castigated today (and has been for centuries, including by one of my favorite economic thinkers Henry George). But the reason it is wrong is because the climate is conducive to agriculture and settlement. This enables a stationary and growing population to establish and develop the institutions necessary for civilization.

Virtually the entirety of recorded civilization occurs within the current Holocene Interglacial. The reason for this is simple: Only nomadic/hunter-gatherer tribes can survive without land that is suitable for both agriculture and settlement. In a Glacial Period, thick ice sheets obviously cover much of the globe. Where there are not permanent glaciers, the climate remains harsh and not conducive to intensive agriculture. Relative to the current Holocene populations, animals too would be scarce. This dire scarcity creates and maintains a wide chasm between the daily necessity of hunting and gathering to just survive vis-a-vis the ability and opportunity to settle, engage in agriculture, and engage in the improvement of agricultural techniques. The Neolithic Revolution, discussed in the previous links, and also known as the Agricultural Revolution, represents the historical delineation between those two conditions, coinciding with the dawn of the Holocene. If humans are not fed, then humanity will not thrive. Period.


A look at the etymology of Holocene is, forgive the pun, quite chilling. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Holocene is:
... in reference to the epoch that began 10,000 years ago and continues today, 1897, from French holocène (1867), from Greek holo-, comb. form of holos "whole" (see safe (adj.)) + cene.
While the meaning of the word "safe" is rather intuitive, its page says:
"uninjured, unharmed,"  from Old French sauf, from Latin salvus "uninjured, healthy, safe," related to salus "good health," saluber "healthful," all from PIE solwos from root sol- "whole" (cf. Latin solidus "solid," Sanskrit sarvah "uninjured, intact, whole," Avestan haurva- "uninjured, intact," Old Persian haruva-, Greek holos "whole"). Meaning "not exposed to danger" is attested from late 14c.; of actions, etc., "free from risk," first recorded 1580's.
In short, this is the Safe Era. Safe for what? For flora (plants), for fauna (animals), for humans, and for human progress. Safe from what? The glaciation that preceded it, and that will follow it. If the Holocene ends, it is no longer safe. It is that simple. 

Freeman Dyson, a well-known proponent of the benefits of global warming versus cooling says:

In each hundred-thousand year period, there is [a glacial period] that lasts about ninety thousand years and a warm interglacial period that lasts about ten thousand years. We are at present in a warm period that began twelve thousand years ago, so the onset of the next [glacial period] is overdue. If human activities were not disturbing the climate, a new [glacial period] might already have begun.
The website Skeptical Science defends the scientific consensus and claims to take on those who deny AGW. But of course, my position (and Dyson's and Tyler's) is not that at all. In a most curious article, (and, whether purposely or not, in which it amusingly uses the term "Ice Age" in the incorrect colloquial sense) it is said:
According to ice cores from Antarctica, the past 400,000 years have been dominated by glacials, also known as ice ages, that last about 100,000 years. These glacials have been punctuated by interglacials, short warm periods which typically last 11,500 years. Figure 1 below shows how temperatures in Antarctica changed over this period. Because our current Interglacial (the Holocene) has already lasted approximately 12,000 years, it has led some to claim that a new ice age is imminent.
So not only do they acknowledge the 100,000 year/10,000-12,000 year cycle, they include the graph of the cycles as well. They continue:
The warming effect from CO2 and other greenhouse gases is greater than the cooling effect expected from natural factors. Without human interference, the Earth’s orbit and tilt, a slight decline in solar output since the 1950s and volcanic activity would have led to global cooling.
It seems that Skeptical Science agrees with Professor Dyson and we should be thankful for human interference. The scientific community does indeed have an overwhelming consensus that human activity has warmed the planet since the Industrial Revolution. But taking the research of climatology as a whole, it boggles the mind that one does not realize that if humanity had not been releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then we might have been unable to debate about releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at all. 

None of this should be taken to suggest that there are no urgent environmental problems to face. There are dozens. 


One of the most popular claims from warming alarmists is greatly increased desertification. It is obvious that warmth will evaporate water and contribute to drying. However, deserts are deserts because of that drynessnot due to temperature. They lack water and so the obvious course of action is to get water to the area via irrigative infrastructure. No matter how much it costs to build, how could the policy of restricting carbon emissions reverse desertification at a rate and to a degree at all comparable to irrigation? 


There are brilliant solutions being developed to render water crises moot. Not only can human and animal thirst be quenched, but agriculture (from the largest farm to a backyard greenhouse to a windowsill garden) can have a steady supply of water. 

Human society itself can adapt to warmth. During the Medieval Warm Period in Europe, the population exploded and flourished. But then a cold period known as the Little Ice Age emerged. Its exact time period is much debated, but one reasonable beginning would be the early 1300's, given the massive European crop failure and resulting mass starvation in the Great Famine of 1315, one of the most devastating famines in history.

Even if all the glaciers in the world melted, the primary impact of that will obviously be coastlines (while also affected would be local water supplies, which is what water infrastructure is for). 


If it is true that carbon emissions warm the planet, and if it is true that the warming of the planet directly causes or indirectly contributes to more frequent extreme weather such as severe thunderstorms, monsoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes, then as awful as those things are, they are local and regional tragedies and challenges, similar to glacial melting and sea level rise.


This goes for many more of the potential problems listed by global warming alarmists. Even if human sources of carbon emissions were entirely and permanently ended by tomorrow morning, carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries and perhaps up to a millennium. Thus, once again, it would seem there is little point in pretending that laws and treaties restricting emissions will actually have any effect besides driving up the cost of living. Rather, we must focus resources on direct infrastructure projects to adapt to global warming.

[MARCH 17TH, 2015 EDIT: HAVING JUST WATCHED AN EPISODE OF HBO'S VICE ON RISING SEA LEVELS, I FEEL I HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS INDEED A GLOBAL CRISIS. THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE ALONG THE WORLD'S COASTLINES WILL BE FORCED TO MOVE INLAND. REGARDLESS, THE EPISODE ALSO LAMENTED THAT IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP GLACIAL MELTING. THUS, THE POINT REMAINS THAT ONLY PROJECTS TO ADAPT TO WARMING AND SECURE A STABLE SUPPLY OF FRESH WATER WILL YIELD POSITIVE RESULTS.]

There are also many ways to directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Such techniques ought to be proliferatedCO2 is very useful and carbon capture entirely feasible.

For example, some refrigerants used today are R-134a (refrigeration and automobile cooling),  R-22 (Freon used in homes), and R-410A (Puron used in homes). The former two deplete Ozone, while Puron is thought to massively contribute to warming. But the fact is that CO2 can run air conditioning and refrigeration and as long as the system running it is sealed properly, that CO2 is a non-factor in global warming.


I realize that warnings of an imminent glaciation is just another form of climate change alarmismObviously no one knows when the next round of glaciation will begin. In fact, some climatologists say that the next glacial period is already indefinitely postponed and we have prolonged the Holocene into a new era, the Anthropocene (again, anthro- for human).

But t
he fact remains that we are currently in the Quaternary Glacial Age. The Quaternary Glacial Age is currently in an Interglacial Period. That Interglacial period is called the Holocene. Quaternary Interglacials last about 10,000 years. The present Holocene Interglacial has lasted at least that long. If indeed carbon emissions are what warm the planet and hold off reglaciation, then is restricting them not utterly insane?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

...BUT A SWORD?

...BUT A SWORD? 


A LOOK AT VIOLENCE, THE STATE, THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, AND THE NATIONALIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY



***Note: Text highlighted in yellow is my emphasis***




There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
-- Will Durant


The State corrupts the Church and a corrupted Church abuses the State.
-- Me

On February 27th, 380 C.E., something happened that would from then on impact the way professed Christians dealt with the non-Christian world. With The Edict of Thessalonica, Roman Emperor Theodosius The First declared Christianity as the official and sole legal religion of the Roman Empire. Thus was established an entity that became known as The State Church Of The Roman Empire. What a travesty! All true Christians should rue that day. 


This move brought to completion a process that began with Emperor Constantine The Great earlier in the 300's. At first, Constantine's changes were benevolent, starting with his two Edicts of Toleration, the former finally bringing an end to the Roman Empire's brutal persecution of Christians and the latter officially recognizing Christianity as a legitimate faith. But this came at a cost, a contamination of Christian teaching by political leaders. While it should be remembered that Constantine's changes were benign compared to his successors, this period is known as The Constantinian Shift. What was shifting? The relationship between the Church and the State.

In my opinion, there should be none at all. But during the Fourth Century, the Constantinian Shift led to a meshing of ecclesiastical (church-related) and political power. This entangling became known as Caesaropapism (Caesar for the Roman Emperor, Papism in reference to the Church leaders in the various centers of Christianity (The Pentarchy, addressed below), not just the Papacy in Rome, as the Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox split was still centuries away).


For a flow chart of changing laws through the 300's dedicated entirely to Christianity in that period, see this website.


By the 500's C.E. under Emperor Justinian The First, Caesaropapism was firmly established. Early 20th century scholar John Ayers, in his 1913 "A Source Book for Ancient Church History" says Justinian felt he:

had the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline, and also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church.
Just like Jesus taught, right? Wrong, of course:
Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Emperor Justinian also established The Pentarchy, a political alliance between the Church and Imperial leadership in Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, declaring they had collective control over all of Christendom. Quick side note on the word "Christendom": I am wary of using that term due to its obvious connection with statism. The only true Christendom is Christ's Kingdom, not the physical jurisdictions of elitists.

Above I said:


The State corrupts the Church and a corrupted Church abuses the State.

That is the essence of my view that libertarianism and Christianity are complementary. Christians should not brush off non-believing allies of liberty as non-believers should not discount working with Christians who realize that government is not the Holy Spirit--it cannot change men. If your end is liberty, we mustn't quarrel over religion to the point of non-affiliation. That's how governments win, by dividing its subjects. The State was an early and horrifyingly brutal persecutor of Christians. The point is: Totalitarianism threatens us all.


But there is quite an important issue that both of these systems address (and some believe diverge on): Violence. The purest libertarians formulated a concept called the non-aggression principle, which declares initiatory violence or threat of violence unjustifiable, but perfectly justifies defensive violence.

Christian pacifists have argued that there is a theme in the Bible of condemning man-made violence (7/30/2011 EDIT: of course, there are many examples of God-ordered violence. Here is my analysis of that) and that especially Jesus taught a pacifistic reaction to the evils of the world.

I agree that He did teach us to be non-violent. We are to be patient, well-mannered, and well-informed in evangelism and being that light of the world. But are we ordered to be passive in the case of physical assault? No, sir.

Anti-pacifist sentiment can be based on some innate disgust to inaction in the face of violence. I share this distaste. Perhaps the most reflexive and common response to pacifist assertions is "What would you do if your family were attacked?" Indeed, I am sympathetic to this sentiment, and if I found myself in a situation like that, the attacker should start making his peace with God because his time is short.

However, what did this prove? For one, it in no way ***disproved*** that Jesus espoused pacifism because no text was analyzed, nor even cited. What it ***does*** prove is that man, attacker or defender, is violent, sinful, and selfish. No amount of human sensibility can contest God's command. So we must jettison these emotional arguments and focus on the commands themselves to interpret them.

One text cited as a blanket condemnation of violence is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:
38 You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person... 


The phrase "do not resist an evil person" is translated from the Greek word "antistenai" which almost always means violent retaliation, even war-like. What follows are three examples of how to react in verses 39 - 41:


38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 
39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.



These acts are not particularly acts of violence, but insults to the person. Indeed, note in verse 40 how it is not a mugging that is described, but a lawsuit. So Jesus was telling us not to act with violence against insults, and then explains (with examples clear to his audience) how we ***should*** react to such situations. It was the law in the Roman Empire that soldiers could require subjects to walk with them for up to a mile, any distance thereafter being subject to penalty. By going another mile, the Christian is either being a nuisance to the soldier so that he will not bother Christians, or gives them more time to talk to them about the Gospel. By giving the person who is suing you your cloak as well a tunic, the people of Jesus's time would have been exposed to nakedness, which was simply unacceptable to see. Even the cheek slap should not be taken to be as an aggressive physical assault. If I slapped you, would you think that I am trying to start a fight or that I am insulting you and consider you  inferior? This slap would be done with the right hand, as the left was considered unclean. The first slap was on the right cheek. Therefore, the slap would have been backhanded. In first century Palestine, a backhanded slap on the cheek was even more poignant: an assertion of dominance of a higher-class member over a lower-class member. By offering the left cheek to be slapped, the receiver is wordlessly mocking the man-made hierarchy and letting it be known that the insult was ineffective. We are not being ordered to submit to and embrace the beatings of any and every thug we may have the misfortune of meeting in a dark alley. What Jesus was teaching here is that Christians are not to get caught up in trading insults. There are more important things to do.

Here is an example of a pacifist argument using perhaps the most important contested texts on this issue, Luke 22:35 - 53:

35 Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered.
36 He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
37 It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."
38 The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied. 
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."
41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 
42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,
48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"
49 When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?
"50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?
53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns."
First and foremost, a very weak argument for Christian pacifism (that the above writer did not use) is that Jesus halted Peter from fighting back and, on top of that, restored the servant's severed ear. Well, of course He did. His mission was to die and there was no reason to resist the arrest.

Next, it must be pointed out that the word translated as "sword" (machaira) actually means "dagger." So we are not talking about a vicious, offensive, decapitating longsword, but a defensive weapon, the sidearm of the day.

The pacifist author writes:
First, Jesus reminds the disciples of his mission for them before he arrived in Jerusalem (Luke 9:3; 10:1-17). Did they need a purse, a bag, or extra sandals? No, because people were friendlier, and their opposition to him was spread out over three years.



This does not follow, however. Why would they not need bags and extra sandals if the people are friendlier? There is simply no correlation between the friendliness of people and the need for a change of clothes and footwear. Also, did Jesus not warn that there would be receptive and unreceptive people (as there were, have been, and always will be)? Friendliness is no issue here. No, they did not need these things because during Jesus' Ministry, they were preaching to their fellow Jews in the Land of Israel. But once everything is fulfilled, their mission will expand and they will be charged with spreading the message to all nations. Great journeys, to be sure, and travel that would require a change of clothes or two. And since the world is dangerous, a weapon would be needed, too. In fact, so essential was the dagger that one should sell a piece of clothing in order to get one.

The pacifist author also writes:
The third and final nonliteral interpretation says that Jesus frequently used physical objects (seeds, lamps, vineyards, coins, lost sheep and so on) to teach nonphysical, universal truths, and the same is possibly true of the two swords.

It is doubtlessly so that Jesus often used symbolism and hyperbole in His teachings and the recognition of that is essential to understanding what His teachings actually are. However, He was not teaching here. He was speaking very plainly that His time on earth was almost done and that the Apostles must prepare themselves to proliferate the Gospel far and wide and without Him. I also find it inconsistent to consider the admonition to buy swords as symbolic while the admonition to bring bags and money (and presumably sandals) is not.

The Apostles, of course, don't understand that Jesus is telling them that He will soon be tortured and killed in accordance with His mission. This is an assumption, but I would venture to say that most of the Apostle's did have bags with extra clothes and sandals and purses with money (Remember, Jesus told them simply not to ***bring*** them on their missionary journeys in Israel). Therefore, the confused Apostles, who understood only the advice to gather materials, naively point out that they already have two daggers.

Then comes the response, "That is enough." Christian pacifists interpret this as "two daggers are enough to be numbered among the transgressors" in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. I find this lacking, however, as the Sanhredin had already set their mind on arresting Jesus. He was ***already*** counted as a criminal. Also, he was never charged with possession of a weapon.  Indeed, the only charge the Sanhedrin could muster was blasphemy and Pontius Pilate found that absurd. Nor did any of the arresting party point out that the possession of the daggers was the (or a) reason behind the arrest. Also, would we not expect Peter to have been arrested as well if it were unlawful to have a dagger? No, it was a premeditated operation. A sham arrest with a target.

I rather see "That is enough" as "I'm through here." I see it as an expression of Jesus' frustration with the Apostle's naivete, so He goes to talk to His Father, Who will understand everything. Further evidence of the Apostle's misunderstanding is that they repeatedly fall asleep when Jesus has ordered them to keep watch while He prays. However, even if we take it to mean that two daggers are enough to be arrested, when looking at verses 35-36 as practical advise rather than symbolic teaching, it simply means that those two daggers would suffice to be arrested tonight, not that they could only have two swords among them always.

Next, we have Matthew's treatment of the incident which includes Jesus rebuking Peter for cutting the guard's ear off and finally this, Matthew 26:52:
"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."


As the pacifist writer points out:


On the other hand, Jesus said to Peter in the Garden, 'Put your sword back in its place,' meaning, back in its scabbard or holder or in Peter’s belt or another article of clothing. He never said to throw the sword away, off to the side at a distance.


Yes, Jesus did say that the sword has its place with men, at your side drawn only at the right moments, i.e., for defense.



Does the second half the verse call for pacifism? Well, it's clearly not true that every single person who has drawn a sword/dagger has died by one. So this phrase is a bit of proverbial wisdom that we should seek always to not draw our weapons, for it is a dangerous path whether one enters as the attacker or defender.

The pacifist continues:
Therefore, it is entirely possible that some disciples carried the two weapons after  the crucifixion and burial when they lived in hostile territory, and maybe some did after the Resurrection and Ascension.

Friend, it is not only possible, nor even simply probable, but almost certain that most or all of the Apostles (and the converts from them and the converts from them) carried daggers, and that also applies to everyone else. Throughout history, it has been the norm for individuals to be armed. In fact, there were once laws that demanded citizens be armed. How the world has changed due to anti-gun/weapon propaganda. Even the pacifistic Essenes armed themselves.

He continues:
However, later reliable tradition says that none of the Apostles fought or even tried to fight their way out of fiery trials with swords, as some sort of misguided, twisted, violent martyrs. Instead, tradition says that all of the Apostles but John were martyred as a direct result of persecution.



But it does not make sense to compare martyrdom with an act of self-defense against thugs. The Apostles were prepared to die to defend and proclaim the Gospel. This is much different than being jumped on a street corner by punks. Jesus used a whip to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple. Not in ***His*** house, you don't!

Finally, is Jesus contradicting himself in these two passages?

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 


-- Matthew 5





34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’


-- Matthew 10



Surely not. As always, context is the key. Matthew 5 is, of course, the Sermon on the Mount, i.e., the teachings of Jesus for daily ethics. But what was happening in Matthew 10? Let's have a look:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 


Jesus, as mentioned above already, was talking to His fellow Israelites about His fellow Israelites. What He said there refers to the turmoil that would follow after Christ's Crucifixion and eventually result in several armed Jewish revolts against Roman rule (in fact, this is the most powerful argument for the truth of Christianity and, sadly, very rarely used.). But factionalism among the Israelites, even splits within immediate families, led to their defeat..


But to close, we may all say that violence is a disease. Christians should never seek to use it. From the prohibition of aggression, I would say Christians have no place in the military or law enforcement. We should be working towards peace in the world because indeed, blessed are the peacemakers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

DID HITLER BAN GUNS?

DID HITLER BAN GUNS?




In order to persecute your victims, you must first disarm your victims.
-- Me




There is a popular claim among supporters of gun rights that may be dubious: After coming to power, the Nazi regime severely restricted the private ownership of firearms. Google the topic and there are as many denials as affirmations.

I wish that it were true, as it indeed delivers a powerful rhetorical punch against arms control. But alas, it is false.

Or is it? In fact, on one level, it is so plainly true that I do not know whether to laugh or cry at supporters of arms control and their silly assertion. Let us have a look at some of the details and nuances of the history. 


The government prior to the Nazis was the Weimar German Republic. The conditions of the post-World War One Versailles Treaty required stringent restrictions on both military armaments and civilian weapons ownership. However, nearer to the end of the Weimar Government, these civilian restrictions began to be relaxed. Constitutional lawyer Stephen Halbrook says:

Within a decade [1918 to 1928], Germany had gone from a brutal firearms seizure policy which, in times of unrest, entailed selective yet immediate execution for mere possession of a firearm, to a modern, comprehensive gun control law.
But Hitler's government did not reverse this trend. In fact, the liberalization of weapons ownership was expanded. German gun law was revised in 1938. Its measures included:

1. Near total deregulation of shotguns and rifles. 

2. Extended handgun permits to three years from one.
3. Lowered the minimum age for handgun permits to eighteen years old from twenty.
4. Even fewer restrictions on Nazi Party members, incentivizing growth in the ranks of the Nazi Party.


For your information, here is a pro-Nazi article on the topic.

So are defenders of an armed populace (and even more fundamentally: armed individuals) wrong in referencing Nazi Germany as an example of the dire potential consequences of restricting citizens' access to weapons? 
Hardly!

What must be realized is that Nazi Germany was a State and society based on an expansionistic ethnoracial nationalism (as the above pro-Nazi article confirms). Trust of fellow Germans was taken for granted. And in pursuit of German Lebensraum (living space), an armed German populace was required to establish and maintain a strong German presence in these new colonies.

I do not mean to insult the Germans of the pre-Nazi era, the Germans of today, nor even the Germans of the Nazi era as a whole. The circumstances of the rise of the Nazis were made all but inevitable by the Versailles Treaty of 1918, harshly punishing Germany for a war that was the fault of all parties involved. For more on what and how the German people thought and how they responded to the radical message of National Socialism, see this excellent work.

Returning to the matter at hand, make no mistake that the Nazi regime did impose restrictions (or rather, outright prohibition) on the possession of firearms and even clubs and knives for ethnoracial minorities and political opponents. Indeed, the 1938 gun law revision was itself edited with a section entitled "Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons.
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More accurately, it might be said that the Nazi regime selectively upheld the prior restrictions, then particularized further restrictions. But that is really a distinction without a difference. Imagine that, prior to their rise, weapons ownership was just as liberalized as the Nazis made it, but for all German citizens. It is ludicrous to assert that those groups which did not have the prior restrictions lifted in reality would not have faced being restricted anyway.


Stephen Halbrook, who above noted Weimar Germany's arms liberalization in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law titled the article the statement is in as Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German JewsWhile pompously proclaiming that Hitler was "pro-gun," the Salon.com story linked to above says:
The law did prohibit Jews and other persecuted classes from owning guns,
The author has just conceded that Hitler only wanted the people he wanted to persecute to be disarmed. Yet he seems utterly oblivious to the fact that this destroys his entire attempt to refute the validity of gun rights advocates' references to Nazi Germany.The rest of the statement from Salon.com:
but this should not be an indictment of gun control in general.
Of course it should be. He continues with ridiculous straw men:
1. Does the fact that Nazis forced Jews into horrendous ghettos indict urban planning?
Though called horrendous, the rest of this amusing statement seems to be suggesting that the infrastructure, edifices and facilities in the ghettos were of high quality, which is what dedicated urban planners seek, but it is of course absurd to suggest that the Nazis' ghettos were maintained in any serious way (For a short tangent, there are practical and ethical ways to fund the development and maintenance of high quality infrastructure, edifices and facilities.). He continues:
2. Should we eliminate all police officers because the Nazis used police officers to oppress and kill the Jews?
3. What about public works — Hitler loved public works projects?
Of course not. These are merely implements that can be used 
for good or ill, much as gun advocates like to argue about guns themselves. If guns don’t kill people, then neither does gun control cause genocide (genocidal regimes cause genocide).
After reading that the first time, I was truly speechless. No one is saying that gun control causes genocide. The argument is that gun control enables persecutionThat persecution (a broad label) was genocide (a narrow one) in Hitler's case. This is merely a look at one period of recent history.

The contradiction of so-called "gun control" and the logical disconnect of its advocates is manifest in the following simple observation: Most supporters of gun control are not, in fact, anti-gun. If a private citizen were in possession of whatever firearm they would want illegal (regardless of whether or not the owner has engaged in malicious activity with that firearm.), they somehow feel it proper to send armed men with weapons of similar and far greater lethality and destructiveness to raid (burglary), disarm (theft), employ initiatory violence (aggravated assault and battery), arrest (kidnap), and, if any of the militarized law enforcement feel "threatened," they may kill the private citizen (murder). It seems they are just pro-control. Or perhaps, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they are unaware that their positions, while superficially reasonable, are fallacious and contradictory.


I do not think people should be worried about gun control undertaking a new overt racism. But that is not the point. The modern civilian disarmament push knows no race and all are targeted.

Nevertheless, it seems that the popular claim of gun rights advocates that arms control was fiercely imposed in Nazi Germany on the general population is false.

Yet, when remembering what Nazi Germany was and considering its crimes against Jews and others, this history ultimately vindicates gun rights and discredits gun control as it shows quite clearly that in order to persecute your victims, you must first disarm your victims.