December 07, 2004

a pause to remember

I sense that the infamy of this commemorative date isn’t quite what it used to be. Nothing heals old psychic wounds quite like plasma screens and hemorrhaging terrorist inflicted wounds delivered live on national television.

Still, many of us will pause and consider the 2,390 men who lost their lives on the day that Yamamoto awoke the sleeping giant. Time will determine whether 9-11, which claimed an even greater number of unsuspecting American lives, will be commemorated as a seminal event on the order of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lately, I have begun to believe that perhaps it will.

Pearl Harbor is rightfully considered the essential event that lead to the World dominance of the United States in the second half of the Twentieth Century. In our cultural consciousness, the attack stands as a closing bracket on the Great Depression and an opening bracket for a period of new greatness. And make no mistake, our internal self-image was one of not simply greatness in size and power, but also one of greatness in purpose and spirit.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps Americans do themselves a disservice by over-glorifying “The Greatest Generation”. And while there certainly is a point to taking a cold hard look at our past lest we repeat the lessons learned, such as those of Manzanar, I reject that we overdo this veneration of our ancestors because it is important to remember that there are causes greater than our individual selves. There is no doubt that the people of that time were just ordinary people, more or less like you or me, doing their best in extraordinary circumstances. The label of greatness was not conferred, but rather earned when these ordinary people answered the call to a higher purpose.

Like many, I suppose, I found my fellow American’s response to 9-11 initially encouraging. Just maybe, I let myself wax optimistically, this tragedy, like Pearl Harbor, will lead to a rebirth of American spirit and a rededication of individuals to those great ideals for which it is worth suffering and dying. The heart warming response of Americans in the initial aftermath was indeed a beautiful thing. Sadly, and far too quickly, my naiveté was eventually squashed by the venom I saw hurled toward Arab people.

Perhaps Manzanar was not after all a lesson learned, but rather a harbinger for our time.

Part of the pride in being American has always been, or at least for the last century, a sense of a national desire to behave well as a world citizen. While we often execute poorly, the intentions have been noble and generally defensible. And we knew what we stood for with clarity: freedom rooted in a proper appreciation of human rights. And when it comes to certain uncivilized things, well, America just doesn’t do things like that.

But with the revelations of Abu Ghraib, many of us have been forced to reconsider our internal image of America. Molly Ivins wrote recently about American torture and expressed the angst this Curmudgeon feels extremely well. The revelations regarding the treatment at Guantanamo Bay brought Molly to a new level of rage wherein she pleaded forcefully:

What are you going to do about this?

It's your country, your money, your government. You own it; you run it; you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. The people we elect to public office do what you want them to do. Perhaps you should get in touch with them.

I would certainly encourage you to write your Congress Critters regarding this matter, though I am doubtful of the result. Doubtful because the elected elite do not seem to listen very much to any voice that doesn’t threaten their next re-election bid. And of course, we have recently been “in touch with them”—its called an election.

You see, the last election was well after the torture revelations. Well after we had all read that this administration considers human rights “quaint”. Months had passed since we found out that Rumsfeld was aware of what was going on and that regardless, our President was standing by his Secretary of Defense.

Yes, we are the board of directors and the board spoke pretty clearly to the Executive officers when we returned the President and almost the entire Congress to office. The ballots were not yet all counted when they reported back to the board of directors, “mandate accepted”.

Yup. I do think that terrorists have set us on a path as radically different from the one previously trod as was the new road onto which Yamamoto nudged us Sixty-three years ago.

It is a good thing for us to pause and remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. To remember a time when Causes were bigger than Ourselves. A time when they were the ones that flouted the Geneva Convention and held human rights in contempt. A time when we were the ones that coveted freedom not just for ourselves and our posterity, but also for all people no matter their nationality, race or creed.

Now hold that thought.

Keep holding: the next election is two years away.


Blogger Common Good said...

"A time when we were the ones that coveted freedom not just for ourselves and our posterity, but also for all people no matter their nationality, race or creed."

Question: is the term "Freedom" a generic term? Can the US take their definition of Freedom, package it up, and take our Puritan ethic to the global street and say "We have the answer". IMO, I think what passes for "Causes bigger than our own" tends to me US Nationalism, perceived self-interest, and the arrogance to tell others that we know best.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Well no, I don’t think as a broad proposition we can or should tell other nations exactly how to conduct themselves. That said, I believe that we were founded on certain core values that transcend American or even Western culture.

Imposing a specific political solution on other countries is far different from resisting tyranny. But, I do not blanch at the notion that there are times when we (as in the Western nations) should impose solutions on nations. That this can work out well can be seen in several obvious examples. But me must not make the mistake of assuming that those successes translate into a general rule.

I think it is instructive to consider the example of Turkey and its long slow evolution toward something that is increasingly free and democratic. I for one doubt there would have been such (relative) success if the West had imposed a political solution. What the West has done with Turkey is to encourage its development and moderation and that is what we should do with the rest of the world.

In the current issue of Foreign Policy (Nov/Dec 2004), King Abdullah II said:

"...the [reform] process must be homegrown and inclusive. Success demands the energy and engagement of people across society, including teachers, entrepreneures, community leaders, public servants, and tothers. Imposing a process from outside—one not rooted in people’s history, communities, and culture—cannot generate the commitment that progress requires." What he says here is simple truth even if to some extent it is self-serving. And of course Jordan does not have the handicap of oil money.

So what I have long advocated is not coddling oppressive regimes. Not appearing to unduly prop up tyrants is the only path to credibility in the regions (well, coupled with serious efforts on the Palestinian rights issues). Americans are incredibly ignorant to be offended when Arabs scoff out our commitment to democracy. After all, we supported people like Saddam and the Taliban when it suited our strategic interests. I’m not saying that we are automatically evil because of that, but rather a healthy skepticism from that part of the World is both expected and justified.

And I of course agree that our broad defense of Liberty in generations past has morphed into a present generation ugly hubris that is quite unbecoming of our nation.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"That said, I believe that we were founded on certain core values that transcend American or even Western culture."

1) How can a man-made constitution transcend anything?
2) Why would we want it to? See below... transcend defined as "beyond understanding".
3) Trascend has the ring of "religious duty to proselytize to others".

tran·scend ( P ) Pronunciation Key (trn-snd)
v. tran·scend·ed, tran·scend·ing, tran·scends
v. tr.
To pass beyond the limits of: emotions that transcend understanding.
To be greater than, as in intensity or power; surpass: love that transcends infatuation. See Synonyms at excel.
To exist above and independent of (material experience or the universe): “One never can see the thing in itself, because the mind does not transcend phenomena” (Hilaire Belloc).

Let me cut to the chase, and save several blogs. :) I believe in the following:

1) We live in a pluralistic world
2) We live in a pluralistic country
3) Forces that work within, and support #1,#2 make for a more peaceful existence. Forces opposed work against a peaceful existence.

Examples of positive forces:
1) Secularism
2) Liberal domestic and foreign policy regarding poverty and opportunity
3) acting militarily when we have to. Reality is that sometimes "not acting, not going to war" is the greater evil. Iraq wasn't one of those times.
4) religion treated as a private matter
5) human reason winning out over human nature
6) science and technology (with obvious exceptions like nuclear weapons)
7) relativism

Examples of negative forces:
1) religion as public/nationalistic force
2) government (i.e. democracy) exporting/proselytizing
3) US propping up of dictators for our own good (I agree with you, although there were always short run and long run considerations. i.e. Who comes after the Saudi oil barons if they topple. It can get worse... i.e. religious fundamentalist in charge.)
4) goverment leaders in it for themselves and not their people (I guess that's every country on the planet).
5) human nature
6) bigotry, intolerance regardless of the source (i.e. absolute truth).

2:53 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


First, I must say that you have a most unusual dictionary. While that definition of transcend might be at “b” definition of some kind, I think good old Merriam-Webster captures what most people mean when they use the word:

Main Entry: tran·scend
Pronunciation: tran(t)-'send
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin transcendere to climb across, transcend, from trans- + scandere to climb -- more at SCAN
transitive senses
1 a : to rise above or go beyond the limits of b : to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of : OVERCOME c : to be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence)
2 : to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality, or power
intransitive senses : to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits
synonym see EXCEED

If you are starting to look at ordinary words like transcend and see religious connotations, I think you are getting a tad sensitive my friend.

Your list of positive and negative forces is intriguing and calculated to get a rise out of me no doubt. First let me say that most of what you list on each list can not be demonstrated to be strictly “positive” or strictly “negative”. A good example is science and technology-on the surface good, but if you look at many of the social consequences of technological progress, there are large negatives to be found. But these points are all pretty obvious and I will not waste your or my time there.

My foremost objection to your little list is the obvious one: where you equate bigotry with a belief in absolute truth. This very statement illustrates more plainly than any elucidation I could provide the fact that relativism is not an automatic force for good. In your rush to declare absolute truth as bigotry, you yourself made a profoundly bigoted statement.

How dare you declare my beliefs inherently bad? If you are a true secularist, don’t you have to respect my beliefs as valid? Obviously you must though of course validity has nothing to do with truth because there is no Truth. And if my belief is defined by you as valid, and my beliefs are further defined as bigoted, then is not my bigotry as valid as any other belief system?

Keep up the good work. Eventually, I’m sure you will arrive at something internally consistent here. In the mean time, I can’t thank you enough for demonstrating so vividly how the secularists who claim the moral high ground end up the least moral of all when you follow the reasoning to its logical conclusion. I can’t remember who first said it, but folks such as yourself have been properly described as having “a mind so open that your brain falls out”.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...


Don't see how your dictionary changes my questions... why would a society want their man-made rules/constitution to transcend anything?

From your (Merriam-Webster) definition:

"1 a : to rise above or go beyond the limits of b : to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of : OVERCOME c : to be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence)"

Why should man base his society rules (Constitution) on "Beyond the universe and material existence"?

"2 : to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality, or power intransitive senses : to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits"

I will take my society rules within man's ordinary limits... thank you very much.

"If you are starting to look at ordinary words like transcend and see religious connotations, I think you are getting a tad sensitive my friend."

Read the definition of transcend again. How can the word be taken as anything other than "beyond man", which certainly sounds religious to me. I have become sensitive however, to being told we are a Christian nation... VERY sensitive. I am sensitive to any faction, majority or minority claiming our country as THEIRS... period.

"Your list of positive and negative forces is intriguing and calculated to get a rise out of me no doubt."

Caught me. :) That said, I believe in the list. Regardless of the list, the main point would be whether or not you agree with forces working against pluralism provide the fuel for unrest on this planet.

"My foremost objection to your little list is the obvious one: where you equate bigotry with a belief in absolute truth."

Do you have a reading disability? The items reads as follows:

6) bigotry, intolerance regardless of the source (i.e. absolute truth).I obviously did not equate the two, but rather made the point that bigotry and intolerance worked against pluralism REGARDLESS of the source. Do I think some folks absolute truth leads them to bigotry... absolutely. That is not the same things as saying everyone that believes in absolute truth is a bigot... big difference. Now if you are a Christian and not a liberal... you are a hypocrite, but not necessarily a bigot. (Chill... just trying to get another rise :).

"How dare you declare my beliefs inherently bad?"

Seriously, are you smoking something... you see things that aren't there. Again back to the pluralism premise of my reply... I said I belive public religion in government (i.e. nationalism driven by religion) works against pluralism. To me, working against pluralism is exactly the same as working against what this country was suppose to be. Relgious freedom was a goal, not theocracy. You can agree or disagree with my pluralism theory, but don't make up stuff by saying I think your religion is inherently bad. I said public religion is inherently bad. Now if you still want to stick with the "how dare you" on that front, certainly an equal "how dare you" from the secularist side is "how dare you religious folks tell the rest of us it's a Christian country" or "how dare you religious folks tell us we have to hear your prayers in public school". Lot's of "how dare you's" to go around if you want to head down that road.

If you are a true secularist, don’t you have to respect my beliefs as valid?"

Of course not, I just have to recognize you are entitled to your beliefs. Valid isn't the right word at all. I'm equating secularism with pluralism and religious fundamentalism in the public square as anti-pluralism (i.e. faction getting specials rights). I believe we are all entitled to our beliefs... valid is in the eye of the beholder. If I'm a liberal, and I succeeded in getting big government ideas taught in public school, I would be just as wrong as the religious right pushing for prayer in school. Seriously, how can WE ALL get along if one faction claims the nation for themselves?

"Obviously you must though of course validity has nothing to do with truth because there is no Truth."

True. :) Actually, there may or may not be an absolute truth, but it lives in the land of belief and faith, and should not live in the land of man-made constitutions. We have many beliefs in absolute truth in this country (Christian, Muslim, etc). Absolute truth's based on faith can live side by side when treated as a private matter. It's a win, win. The only way to screw that up is for one side to say THEIR absolute truth is a truth EVERYONE must live under.

"And if my belief is defined by you as valid"

Let's divide that statement into PRIVATE and PUBLIC belief discussions. I'm not in the business of defining your private beliefs as valid or invalid... that's a calling of the religious and not secularism (or at least the secularism I subscribe to). I don't have a absolute truth template I need to apply to everyone, therefore I'm a good part in the pluralism machine. The religious right comes with a rule book and a template, and therefore are pluralism agitators. Any faction that claims this country is a FACTION country is an agitator. I don't claim this country is a liberal country, or a conservative country, at least as far as a statement of ownership.

So I try and stay out of the business of worring about other's private truth beliefs... none of my business. I guess the main point would be I do not require an Absolute Truth. It makes perfect sense to me to conclude there is shit I don't get, but in the mean time, that doesn't stop me from making the best of it. However, when absolute truth beliefs/faith is pushed in the public arena, what choice do I really have? I don't want a public school teaching prayer in school. I also don't want them preaching liberal social policy. I don't want the Ten Commandments in Judge Moore's public building, and I also don't want liberal social policy chiseled in stone on display in the building (Actually, I may want it, but understand why that can't be in a pluralistic society).

So, How Dare you How Dare me. :)

Just a brief relapse back into all of this bs.... now back to .NET. :)


12:09 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


Nice spin there. Let me see if I can help you out with your illogical deductions.

You know you are talking to a hardhead when they wish to argue with a dictionary. “Transcend” is a great word that is used constantly outside the metaphysical realm which you seem to insist that is a part of its definition. Feel free to have your own private definition of the word (where the third definition is the only one that matters) and I’ll continue on with the way the rest of the English speaking world uses it.

Which renders all the rest of your blather about me saying something (and I’m not sure what you think I said) about religion when I was talking about human rights, pretty much pointless.

Well, if you didn’t mean to call people who believe in Absolute Truth bigots, then perhaps you could have chosen your words better. I think at best it was ambiguous. Perhaps if you had said, “bigotry arising from any source, including absolute truth” then you would have been much more clear. But that just helps a little, because you are still singling out the belief in absolute truth for alignment with bigotry, however loosely you might now claim to have intended the alignment to be.

So hypothetically, lets say that you did not call my beliefs “invalid” (you have, but that is not for this paragraph). You claim only the religious right has a rule book but like most of the secular left, you do not care to recognize that you have a rule book as well. Such is the way ideologues often view things.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


Actually, spin is turning this into a argument about the dictionary or name calling. Hint: when your response includes the word "pluralism", you will be at the heart of the matter.

Ocean's Twelve .... Not so good. :(


4:53 PM  
Blogger noel said...

Common Good,

I'll bite.

"Pluralism"...the mantra of a world view which accepts everything, and embraces nothing.

I sat through a High School commencement address in which a student, aspiring to be an adult, could not seem to bask adequately in the virtue conferred by the mere mention of the word. I still do not have a clue as to what he thought he was praising.

As an inductee into this brotherhood of secret knowlege, perhaps you could expand beyond the Rodney King plea that "we all get along" (Which, if ever achieved, would not only transcend man made rules... but human experience).

Please, if you will, enlighten me on your use of the word without resort to the dictionary.


1:27 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


I’m not arguing about the dictionary, you are. This isn’t the first time you have insisted that your personal understanding of a word somehow trumps the rest of the world’s understanding of a word.

I’m pretty puzzled how you think that somehow I am missing something because I didn’t speak of pluralism. I have vigorously defended the minorities of our pluralistic society at every turn. I get these sense that your version of secularism means that every hit of religious practice must be purged from our public view and anything less is intolerant or bigoted. You claim otherwise, but at every turn you seem to find an issue with religious practice of any kind if it ventures out past the four wall of a home or church. Correct me if I’m wrong.

And herein lies the irony (again): I find I am much more tolerant than most of the various rationalist types that are out there. (I use rationalist in the broadest sense intending to cover all worldviews that start with man as the center and proceed on materialism. [Materialism in the philosophic sense of the word.]) This is not to say that the majority of religious types of our society are tolerant either.

Which brings us to the second irony: that the most intolerant among us (the extreme left and the extreme right) neither seem to intellectually grasp their own intolerant attitudes. Their worldviews, for reasons that mystify me, seem to blind them to an objective understanding of the world around them. And none seem more blind than the zealots who preach belligerently to us that a moral God should damn the sinful here and now, or who expound preachily that a moral Man must damn God to oblivion.

Lastly, I will be sans computer (and happily so) for the next week, so if I fail to respond to a post, I am not retreating from the discussion in any way.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...


Hello Noel.

""Pluralism"...the mantra of a world view which accepts everything, and embraces nothing."

Noel, I believe we have some middle ground between My absolute truth is right, so the rest of you who aren't in the know just follow us AND no faction gets to claim the country as their own (i.e. this is a Christian nation). Lots and Lots of middle ground betweent those two points, don't you think?

My bad for having a relapse and posting again. This country just gave Bush another 4 years given all of the evidence that was in front of them. In Honor of TexasCon... "I get it". Greed and entitlement, favors for the moneyed elite, gutting any form of environment protection (guess that dominion thing on steroids), childish arrogant national hubris, intolerance, inequality, theocracy-lite... their's your world view Noel if you supported this administration. Congratulations for STANDING FOR SOMETHING.

Tony said: "I get the sense that your version of secularism means that every hint of religious practice must be purged from our public view and anything less is intolerant or bigoted."

Well, I already clarified the intolerance and bigotry point. Not sure why you bridged that back in. Intolerance can stem from many places... racism, homophobia, ignorance, nationalism, religious intolerance (i.e. one's absolute truth belief includes instructions to not accept homosexual's getting married or treating others as infidels).

"You claim otherwise, but at every turn you seem to find an issue with religious practice of any kind if it ventures out past the four wall of a home or church."

No, I'm not claiming otherwise. I said it in my post... I do find issue with PUBLIC religion. I think it is one of the major agitators against a democracy (democratic republic... have to say that or someone always calls you on it :). Arguing about social justice government policies, big vs small government, etc is one thing. Arguing that public schools should allow Christian prayer in school because "most of us are Christians" is quite another. If anything in a secular pluralistic society should be treated as a third rail, it should be an uprising of a fundamentalist religious movement claiming the country as thier own.

Religion is both a extremely personal issue, and an area where negotiation is not possible... how can one negotiate a belief in absolute truth. The problem on the ground around these parts is ... we don't all believe in the same absolute truth. Two sides have a fighting chance to work out differences if they aren't starting from stances of absolute truth, but no chance if either side starts from it. When I hear "religious beliefs deserve it's chance in the public square (government) in the battle of ideas", it's just the same as saying major passions based on beliefs that can't be compromised are brought to the table. Absolute truth is a ALL OR NOTHING type of proposition... you are either a theocracy or you are not. A little theocracy is like a little bit pregnant. Curm (and Noel) are free to tell me how you think that can work out. Actually, I would be interested in both of your "Ideal Americas". Explain it to me. You guys push for more absolute truth (believing in something) in our government.... spell it out. What does it look like? Does the bible become our nation's law? Do non-Christians become second class citizens overnight. Does the Church network take over welfare... if you don't believe, you don't deserve any help? Does Falwell and Robertson have more power than the government? Is pluralism dead... was it a bad concept all along? Seriously... I never really hear you guys project your hopes and aspirations into real world terms. PLEASE do that for me NOW. :)

One last question. Why do you feel the need for your personal religious beliefs to extend beyond your church? I'm being serious here, I'm interested. Do you really think you will improve our government by bringing in more fundamentalism? I obviously do not. IMO, much of the motivation to push religion into the public square is more about personal reenforcement of one's faith. I could be wrong...

It's seems like such a blessing... to be able to worship as you please with no state interference. Seems like a win win to be able to worship as one pleases in private, and to keep religion out of government.


6:58 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

So is this judicial activism, or just the proper application of absolute truth in our legal system? I think this guy just blew right past theocracy-lite to a full blown version. Where is Alfred Hitchcock when you need him... the crazies are running the asylum.

"McKathan told The Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong."

Ten Commandments in the Courtroom

10:17 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

I can't say it better than Ralph does on the following thread. Regardless of your beliefs, it's an excellent discussion.

"People are full of grays. I understand that, to you, God is black and white, but let me suggest another possiblity -- one that even Shakespeare talks about in Hamlet. That is: "There is nothing either right or wrong, only thinking makes it so." Yes, it troubles Christians, but I think it is closer to reality. Humans place constructs around actions to give them a moral context. And yes, I AGREE with that. I think we should have moral codes. But I think any good study of history and law will show that moral codes change over time. And what is right in one generation (slavery) is wrong in another."

Absolute vs Relative Truth/Morality

9:44 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


You said, “Religion is both a extremely personal issue, and an area where negotiation is not possible... how can one negotiate a belief in absolute truth.”

You are of course correct in that statement, but I look at things a bit differently. While I am steadfast in my assertion of the existence of absolute Truth, I understand that I have a flawed nature that does not have a perfect grasp of exactly what the Truth is. Though confident in certain things, in others I must still struggle and grapple. To me the mark of intellectual maturity is to face one’s uncertainties and deal with in a constructive way-- not to simply say, “I just believe” at the raising of a tough question.

And this in my view is that which is missing from modern society. While it is important for our institutions to remain neutral in matters of personal philosophy it is not wise to abandon the discussion. In our rush to phony neutrality (phony in the sense that to steadfastly assert neutrality is itself taking up a position-I have no doubt the secularists are by and large sincere) we are abandoning the tools of social compromise.

What would my idea of an ideal America look like? That is hard to answer because I don’t think you mean utopian ideal. I will answer in terms of a realistic America that I can envision happening with fallen men and without the Second Advent of Christ.

My vision would start with quality universal education-the real stuff. Not the watered down “no religion here” vision of the secularists. Rationalists would have their schools, Christians their schools and we could get back to the business of raising kids who are contributors to society. And I mean this seriously: we need to rebuild a social consciousness.

My vision would include tolerance for religion and irreverence. I have said a million times it seems that I believe in the arena of ideas. At times, I think perhaps I’m one of the few. Most of the people who claim to support the competition of ideas at the same time demand that only those ideas that are completely inoffensive to others be allowed into the arena.

I guess I would call for thicker skins.

I would ask that we learn that we are different and to appreciate those differences. I would simply seek that people not freak out because they heard that “God is dead” or that “Jesus is the Way”.

I envision a world where people desire less government, but require as much government as is necessary to build a civil and good society. A world where people question leaders who tell us that black is white or at least investigate pigmentation and spectral analysis rather than accepting a message for no other reason than it has personal appeal. I seek a world where the nihlist is free to stand on the corner with his sign that says, “nothing matters” and advocate his view with utter and complete freedom. A world where those who claim the label Christian spend more time working in soup kitchens than shopping for SUVs.

In short, I can not and will not put my faith under my bed in a box because some people do not like it, and I will not ask them to do so either.

It is hard to negotiate with Christians you say, and I understand that point. I understand because it equally hard to negotiate with secularists who tend to be equally unaware of their own contradictions in beliefs. My answer is not, however, to duck and run from the conflict but rather to air it out daily. By doing battle in the legislatures, we can come to a public policy that makes sense and respect the rights of all men-not just those whose minds are so open that their brains fall out.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


"It is hard to negotiate with Christians you say, and I understand that point. I understand because it equally hard to negotiate with secularists who tend to be equally unaware of their own contradictions in beliefs."

I absolutely do not think those two statements equate. I appreciate your response to "what is the America you are shooting for", but it doesn't satisfy me regarding understanding the line you draw between "not wanting a theocracy", but wanting more "religious expression" in government. Any belief in supernatural absolute truth knows no bounds. It is not something that can be compromised. IMO, there are only two choices 1) theocracy OR 2) treat religion as a private matter. The perpetual tension trying to stradle the fence between theocracy and the right amount of religion in government leaves us in a never ending battle that ends up serving us very poorly. It prevents us from evolving, IMO. The religious are the majority in this country. I here charges of a lack of being magnanimous towards Christians, but Christians (or at least religious) are the majority. The threat to democracy doesn't come from a minority, it comes from a majority. When a majority faction pushes and pushes for a minority to have to share in their customs because "the majority of folks believes in it", we are violating the tenets of democracy. Free speech issue... NOT. I do not view my secular beliefs as anti-religion. In fact, as I said (I think here) nothing protects your religious practices more than a secular nation. Pushing more religion into government only increases the chances of more government in religion... it's just common sense. Someday some Christian practicing fundamentalism-lite may find out their flavor of Christianity doesn't measure up to the Falwell government run variety, and find themselves lumped into the same second class citizen bucket as the rest of the pagans. The tired argument that "secular government beliefs" is a religious belief like "Christians wanting more Christianity in government" that should be battled out in the public square in the contest of ideas is a false argument.... always will be no matter how many times you say it. The motivations are totally different. On the one side, we avoid religion in government because man is not capable of being "a little religious, or just the right amount of religion" when it comes to government. If it was a equal and opposite belief system, the motivation would come from believing "religious beliefs are wrong, and therefore invalid". I laugh when I hear the religious make this blanket charge against secularism. It makes for a great soundbite, but it is a false argument. Our government was created as secular by the founder, not because most believed "belief in God was wrong", but because we did not want to be a theocracy, or theocracy-lite.

I won't do "public schools" with you again, but will restate my opinions:

1) Public religious schools are not possible or you would have government involved in religion (that's illegal)
2) Public schools did not end up as secular as some kind of anti-religious plot. They ended up there by default. The only two valid choices was 1) equal religious expression (free speech) for every religion reprented at the school, and work out the rules to allow that unmanageable nightmare OR 2) Leave religion to the parents. I think you would agree, allowing ONLY Christian free speech expression in school was a non-starter.
3) Private religious school needs of parents are not a valid reason to prevent families who want to continue the public secular school system, OR reduce it's per student funding, OR damage the public school systems potential for any other related issue. I actually hope for a solution that would provide parents with affordable options to pick that path they prefer as you described, but believe any proposal must pass the hurdles I just mentioned. Is that not being magnanimous. Of course not, it's just understanding why public schools had to end up not being in the business of religion.

Other than that, I have no opinion. :)

If you want to take another shot at explaining how we get "the proper amount of religion in government", I will respond. Otherwise, I'm good with letting this blog die it's natural death. BTW... I don't think it was that far off-topic. Trancending Constitution -> Why trancend man in man's society -> More religion in goverment. :)

6:41 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Just heard a guy on Bill O'Reilly (promise I don't listen to him much anymore, just flipping channels :) explain what's going on in our culture wars in what I thought was very accurate.

Paraphrasing: "Our society has changed significantly from our founding. We are a much more diversified society, including race and religion. We are in the struggle of defining what America should be or will be, and it's only natural that this struggle ends up in our schools. The folks who want us to be exactly what we were at our founding are wrong, and the folks that want zero religious expression in the public sqare are also wrong. The answer should revolve in keeping religion out of government, and government out of religion, but NOT preventing religious expression on public property."

An example would be it should be fine for a student to put up a religious display in school as long as all religions could do it, and the school employees were not sponsoring or supporting a religious belief. (I don't think that is manageable, but if it was, in theory it sounds about right to me.) Another example would be that it should never be ok for the Judge Moore's to put up the 10 commandments in his courthouse, but in theory, it should be fine for someone from the public to do it. Again, that seems fine in theory, it's just a matter of practice. For example, does each courthouse have to section off a part of the floor plan for religious expression, and we have competing bible and Koran displays?

7:45 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


I said, "It is hard to negotiate with Christians you say, and I understand that point. I understand because it equally hard to negotiate with secularists who tend to be equally unaware of their own contradictions in beliefs."

To which you replied, “I absolutely do not think those two statements equate”

Thank you for illustrating the point for me. It is an amazing thing to behold that secularists not only are unaware of their inherent contradictions, but also entirely certain of the fact that they do not have any contradictions. I can say no more than the poetic symmetry is truly a magnificent wonder.

On a different point, you said, “IMO, there are only two choices 1) theocracy OR 2) treat religion as a private matter.” I appreciate your attempt to simplify, but it doesn’t hold water. You identify the two most extreme positions and state that those are the only options. For a guy that likes to revel in shades of grey, you don’t seem to appreciate compromise in this area. The truth is that everybody should get to participate and the social discourse. When it comes to legal matters, the rights of the minority should be respected.

This is all really very simple. Our Constitution, if We the People would bother to read it, understand it and demand our leadership actually follow it, strikes a wonderful balance between the expressions of the majority and the protection of the minority. We have a place in our society for every –ism and world view. To say otherwise is to contradict the lessons of our own national experience.

More fundamentally, it is impossible to purge religion and philosophy from the public discourse. What we are as men is living beings and the meaning of life is central to that existence. One’s worldview, affects every choice one makes and public policy is no different. I respect your right to deny this simple and obvious truth, but I would be remiss to not point out that you are being illogical and unreasonable.

You seek a bright line of some kind so that you can exclude things that YOU classify as “religious”: that line absolutely does not exist. I take the rational course and understand we have are differences and believe that the friction between competing world view produces the best public policy.

I do not seek more Christianity in government, and in fact have been very outspoken about my belief that overtly attaching a Christian label to politics and public policy is heretical. What I do seek is a society where someone is not excluded or shouted down for no other reason than that they happen to be a Christian, Muslim or Rationalist.

On Schools. I guess I will repeat myself as well. Your argument that education can be artificially separated from one’s religion or philosophy does not gain strength through repetition. Taking religion and philosophy out of school is like taking sugar out of cotton candy: all that is left is bunch of air.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

I don't really blame you for the false "equating" argument. I mean, if I was in your position trying to explain why religion needs to be anything other than a private matter, I would recognize the insanity of such a position. About the best one could come up with is some subterfuge to cloud the obvious.

Just curious.... was the Judge Moore Ten Commandments issue a government or public square issue?

3:42 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Me clouding the argument...that is rich.

Judge Moore is a boring old story. Clearly, erecting a huge monument to the ten commandment crosses the establishment clause line. This is so obvious that discussion is pointless.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"Judge Moore is a boring old story. Clearly, erecting a huge monument to the ten commandment crosses the establishment clause line. This is so obvious that discussion is pointless."

Pointless? Hardly. We will have these questions from now until the cows come home as long as religion gets PUSHED beyond a private matter. It's good to have you as a expert source on the proper amount of gray on this issue, which is ironic given your usual anti-gray stances. I will check in from time to time to get your thumbs up or thumbs down on particular public square religion activities. Maybe you could start a Proper Public Religion Checker blog entry, and we could use the comments as a FAQ. :)

OK, so Judge Moore stepped over the line. What if a citizen had setup the display in the courthouse? Should we allow citizen religious displays at the courthouse? at any public property? If no to the courthouse, and yes to other public places, what's the public places and the rules?

4:15 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

I never said the discussion topic was pointless, but rather that Judge Moore discussion was pointless.

As far as PUSHING religion goes, I think it is entirely unfair to single out religious topics as somehow distinct from any other agenda out there. I find the neo-con agenda about as offensive as anything I’ve ever heard but you don’t here me calling for them to keep it to themselves.

And I would be the last person to insert myself as an arbiter of public religious practice. What I’m suggesting is that you not insert yourself either.

Now, what business would a citizen have erecting a religious display on government property unless they had permission? None of course. As far as what should be permitted, it is pretty simple. If a government body deems that making certain facilities available to the general public for use, then they should be neutral as to that use-Hari Krishnas would be no different than the Rotary Club. Personally, I do see the utility of making government property a venue for messages of any kind, but if you do, then you have to be prepared for every thing from, “Jesus Saves” to “Fuck the draft”.

I would, unlike many civil libertarians, make so room for tradition. I don’t think a crèche that has been erected for 35 years is that offensive but I would question putting any further resources into new displays of religious significance. And I would also say that it would be reasonable for other groups to be allowed to add tasteful displays. Clearly, over time, I would expect such displays to disappear – I just don’t see it as being so offensive as to demand immediate removal.

Of course, what Judge Moore was doing was erecting an new monument for overtly religious purposes. In my view, he deserved criminal sanctions for his conduct.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"If a government body deems that making certain facilities available to the general public for use, then they should be neutral as to that use-Hari Krishnas would be no different than the Rotary Club."

It occurs to me that the best way to make my argument would actually be to allow public building religious expression, and have the myriad of beliefs come out in mass and put their statements\expressions up. I would also suggest a national atheist or Muslim federal holiday, and try and get it in front of the Supreme Court. I would be very interested to hear the reasoning why one religious faction is allowed a holiday while others are not. Tradition? Maybe then, and only then will some finally understand the difference between being "a Christian nation" and "being a nation where the majority are Christian". What irony if a group claiming the nation as "their's" result in a national education on pluralism. I can hardly wait. Nothing like a Muslim vs Christian sports contest at the federal courthouse. That should be just splendid given the current global terrorism and tension.


1) US Christians majority claiming they are being discriminated against
2) Rich people claiming they are being abused because they are taxed too much, particularly at a time of war
3) Poor people fighting the wars for the rich people noted above
4) Lake homes mattering more than universal health coverage
5) Bitching about the federal public schools when that has never been tried. Funding local and unequal based on property taxes.
6) This free market consumer-choice and human rights freedom proselytizing administration giving the ok of companies to outsource manufacturing and labor to a country like China, but claiming we can't import drugs from a country like Canada.
7) A president lying us into war, but still getting a second term
8) Claiming Iraq hasn't become another Vietnam
9) Claim to be a freedom loving nation, but couldn't give a rip about the free guy standing next to you. Personal responsibility on dude... OR DIE.

I'm out of here. This doesn't work for me anymore. :)

11:43 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


It might surprise you to know that most churches get started using public facilities of one sort or another. But you are correct, let us see the public reaction when somebody wants to use a public convention center to start a Mosque. My view is that free means free. And if we allow one organization that privilege, then me must allow another so long as they stay within the ordinary bounds of non-violence.

On discrimination against Christians. Your protest strikes me as hollow because it is hard to understand persecution unless you are in the persecuted class. While I do not assert that Christians are significantly oppressed in our society, there is a wide spread overt hostility to Orthodox Christianity. While 78% of Americans wear the label “Christian”, those that actually practice their nominal faith is a far smaller number. It is more than a bit like those Americans who believe in our Constitution but have never read the document and have not even the slightest clue how the legal system functions.

As you are aware, the specific way in which I feel oppressed is our educational system. I have paid out the nose for education my entire life but when it comes time to educate my own child, a secularist/rationalist world view is shoved down my throat as the only option available to me if I don’t have enough money to go elsewhere.

As to your other ironies of life, I pretty much agree with the sentiment you expressed, though I’m troubled that you are “out of here”. Please don’t leave. You may at times be sadly misguided, but some masochistic impulse in me enjoys administering the rod of correction.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Just out of here for today. You can bend me over with the rod of light and knowledge later.

Some people are sensitive and think they are being oppressed when in reality they are just being shunned. :)

12:27 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


Shun is probably about right for how the world feels about me. But given the state of society, I take comfort from being shunned.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Prof. Ricardo said...

Tony said: “I have paid out the nose for education my entire life but when it comes time to educate my own child, a secularist/rationalist world view is shoved down my throat as the only option available to me if I don’t have enough money to go elsewhere.”

Wait a second. I thought public education was free?

CG , I miss your input at Wilderblog. Tony drops in occasionally to shock himself at our mud wrestling.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Prof. Ricardo

11:16 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Prof! Hola!

Yeah, public education is "free"...I forgot! HAHAHA.

Ah well.

FYI, we are thinking harder about homeschooling. Not our ideal choice, but out of what we can afford, it may be our best choice. I may need to get your phone number and chat someday soon.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...


My wisdom to WilderLand is now provided in annonymous mode. Perhaps some obviously intelligent annonymous poster has said nice things about you recently ... sort of :)

I think you and Tony should get together in person. You guys have much in common and he would certainly be interested in your home schooling wisdom. You never know, you may even get some dirt on Common Good that could be used against him on the message board. :)

Steel vs Steel, right?

Merry Xmas Prof

2:54 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


While I allow and support Anonymous posting, I think anons are girlie-men (in a gender neutral sense of girlie-men).

1:09 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...


First, what's annonymous. Is Prof or Common Good annonymous? :)

Second, check out some non-annonymous internet results.

Rat Terrier Non-annonymous Internet ConnectionCOMMON GOOD

2:41 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...


I am aware of the risk of posting on the internet as yourself. I thought long and hard about that before I started The Disenfranchised Curmudgeon. I decided against anonymity for two reasons.

The first, and most important, is that I care deeply about what I write about and I truly wish to be heard. I’ve got no illusions about the breadth of my audience but it is growing and I truly believe that flesh and blood people get more traction than Max Headroom. While in theory and argument stands on its own, people often don’t pay any attention unless they think you have a dog in the fight. Just witness the criticism (and even hostility) I have endured because of my non-voting stance-the unfair criticism is exactly that I don’t have a stake in things.

The second reason is that I do have dreams of some day writing professionally, however unlikely and improbable that might be. I decided I’d like to earn whatever limited name recognition I can.

Sometimes it is tough being out in public with what you believe. The attacks get personal and even creepy at times. That hasn’t been a problem as much here as on other messageboards, but it is something you have to think about if you are going to put opinion out there. That is why I bristle sometimes when I’m accused of things like “not being in the arena” by some one posting under a handle. Most of these types don’t have a solid conception of what being in the arena really means.

I would add that I do not blame people for wanting to use a pseudonym at all. The reasons are sound. Pseudonymic and anonymous writers are welcome here if for no other reason than it encourages the shy types to post their thoughts. I just think hanging it all out there lets people know that you aren’t just kidding around and it isn’t some game. Unlike most of the blogosphere, I can never retreat silently from what I write here.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two words, one name,

Thomas Paine

Sometimes the argument is MORE effective in annonymous mode.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Paine wrote in a far different era than the present one. An era when freedom of expression had not been secured an anonymity was understood as a necessity. Often during that time people wrote “anonymously” even though everyone knew who the author was in order to avoid All the King’s Men. Still, your point is well taken. Anonymity does not automatically disqualify the writing in the minds of everyone. But I still stand by my assertion that hanging one’s real name on the product gives a bit more weight to the argument with almost any listener and makes a substantial difference to a large portion.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"Anonymity does not automatically disqualify the writing in the minds of everyone."

I would add:

"'Being named' does not automatically disqualify the writing in the minds of everyone."

It's a two edged sword. Tom DeLay could make a very reasoned argument, and I would never hear it to it's conclusion. My bad? Tom's bad? Doesn't matter, it is what it is. On the flip side, I would listen to almost anything Thomas Freidman has to say, even when he gets out of his lane. :)

It occurs to me, that our government may actually work better if proposed bills were done in annonymous mode. The ideas could be battled on their merits without ideology baggage, rather than someone seeking credit and one party winning or losing. Voting by our elected types, however, should be VERY PUBLIC.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Well, I admit I don't have the numbers to back it up, but it is my hunch that while the sword might have two edges, one is substantially sharper than the other.

As far a submitting bills to Congress anonymously, while I can see your point, I don't think it would change much. The fundamental problem is the corruption of the two-party system and accompanying influence peddling. You have to cut that axis of evil off if you want any real change.

1:33 PM  

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