Saturday, March 29, 2014

Science Fantasy and Science Reality

OK, it's not that hard to understand why there is no reason to believe physicists will ever have a Theory of Everything, a T.O.E. and that cosmology will never have the equivalent, a complete and total knowledge of the universe.   Physics, on which cosmology depends, does not have a comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge of even one thing in the universe, not even of a single hydrogen atom or molecule, not even a subatomic particle.  The discoveries of physics in the first half of the 20th century would seem to pretty much rule out that ever being possible, and that's not to mention the epistemological [update: epistemological, not epidemiological, damned spell-check] barriers that aren't really part of physics but which became ever more relevant as they started looking at things way down there on a subatomic level.

If you can't know everything about even one member in a set of objects, you can't know everything about the set of objects.  And the universe is a mighty big set of objects, not all of them of any known character, not all of them even known to be "objects".

That is all the more true if you can't even know how big the set is and even what kind of objects are contained in it or possibly contained in it and that is a description of the quest to have a Theory of Everything.  The claim that one could be had is absurd, it, literally, violates what is known about physics to claim that one is possible.  Why that violation of known physical law doesn't upset the ideological materialists, oh, sorry, in Carroll's case that would be "naturalists", as much as other claims made about the universe is worth considering.   The primary reason they seem to be in it is to construct a model of the universe in which God is impossible and that, in itself, is a more ridiculous quest than the famous one Cervantes mocked.

In the mean time, here is some real science that was ignored, to little notice by the champions of science and a lot of people got killed because of it.

The plateau above the soggy hillside that gave way Saturday has been logged for almost a century, with hundreds of acres of softwoods cut and hauled away, according to state records.

But in recent decades, as the slope has become more unstable, scientists have increasingly challenged the timber harvests, with some even warning of possible calamity.

The state has continued to allow logging on the plateau, although it has imposed restrictions at least twice since the 1980s. The remnant of one clear-cut operation is visible in aerial photographs of Saturday’s monstrous mudslide. A triangle — 7½ acres, the shape of a pie slice — can be seen atop the destruction, its tip just cutting into where the hill collapsed.

Multiple factors can contribute to a slide.

With the hill that caved in over the weekend, geologists have pointed to the Stillaguamish River’s erosion of the hill’s base, or toe. [Now that's a toe that is indisputably there and really matters.]

But logging can also play a role in instigating or intensifying a slide, by increasing the amount of water seeping into an unstable zone, according to an analysis of the watershed submitted to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
In May 1988, when a private landowner, Summit Timber, received approval to begin logging above the slope, scientists raised alarms about the removal of trees that intercept or absorb so much water, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

Paul Kennard, a geologist for the Tulalip Tribes, warned regulators that harvesting holds “the potential for a massive and catastrophic failure of the entire hillslope.”
Others echoed his concerns. Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for the state, wrote that “Timber harvesting could possibly cause what is likely an inevitable event to occur sooner.” And Pat Stevenson, an environmental biologist for the Stillaguamish Tribe, cited “the potential for massive failure,” similar to a slide that occurred in 1967.

The agency that issued the permit — the DNR — responded to the concerns by assembling a team of geologists and hydrologists to study the harvest’s potential impact on landslides.

Lee Benda, a geologist with the University of Washington, wrote a report that said harvesting can increase soil water “on the order of 20 to 35 percent” — with that impact lasting 16 to 27 years, until new trees matured. Benda looked at past slides on the hill and found they occurred within five to 10 years of harvests.
In August 1988, the DNR issued a stop-work order, putting Summit Timber’s logging operation on temporary hold.

“1988 was maybe the first time that we were getting serious as to what you should or should not do in terms of logging and road construction around those things,” said Matt Brunengo, at that time a DNR geologist.

A week after the stop-work order, a Summit representative wrote DNR, saying $750,000 to $1 million worth of timber was at stake. He listed alternative steps that could be taken to lessen the risks of a slide — for example, having the state relocate the channel of the Stillaguamish River that was cutting into the hill’s base.

How many hits do you think a story about that would get at Alternet, Salon, Truthdig or any of the other places where neo-atheist click bait will rack up more than a thousand hits of something that is not life threatening nor of any knowable reality.

The Materialist's Creation Museum

While sowing seeds in flats - soil blocks almost exclusively these days and couldn't recommend them more highly - I listened to the debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig.

Of the scientists who have debated Craig, Carroll holds up his end better than the others.  I suspect he bothered to prepare, which some of the others clearly haven't. Carroll does get off topic,  God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology,  on occasion, but as he is a cosmologist, he doesn't make a fool of himself as a couple of his colleagues in ideological atheism have. 
He does, at times, veer into an attempted condescension to Craig, which is probably more just from the common habit of thought among big name scientists who, as their careers in research are ending, go into a retirement career as a professional atheist.  How many humble atheists can you name, off hand?  But I think he is smart enough to quickly realize that is a mistake with someone who has his own area of relevant expertise as one of the major philosophers who has written extensively on the question of time and who has, clearly, bothered to understand the arguments of his opponents far more than they've bothered to understand his. 

It is truly remarkable how many of the big names in science clearly bring their atheism, or, more accurately, their hostility to religion, into their science.  You would think that the rather hopeless quest to come up with a Theory of Everything, the holy grail of cosmology, when, as Carroll once admitted, they don't have a Theory of Everything about even one object within the universe*.   Why is the question of God so important to these guys?  What is it that so clearly bugs the hell out of them when other people believe in god?   And why is their insertion of their ideological anti-religious obsession within science such a success when it has no proper place within it.  

Another of Craig's specialties is his exposition of and extension of the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God (see some of his many lectures at the link).  Which shouldn't be listened to as a proof, I believe as careful a philosopher as Craig wouldn't claim it as a proof but as a persuasive argument.  I will say that even being somewhat resistant to that form of argument it can be persuasive.   But the problems I find with it as an argument for the existence of God are the same as those I have with Carroll's and the other anti-religious cosmologists arguments using cosmology to argue against God.  

As I said here recently, if  in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth, there is nothing about the universe that could disprove the existence of God the Creator, nothing Carroll comes up with is outside of that universe discussed in that famous sentence.   Whatever comes after that by way of human understanding of that universe, it doesn't overturn that understanding of its beginning.  Atheists in physics and cosmology have been twisting themselves in knots to try to avoid a beginning of the universe, of time, space, because they hate that, if the universe came from a nothing that is nothing, that has no material explanation that is susceptible to science.  The extent to which those guys are willing to put science, logic, everything on their altar of materialism is the proof of how much their intention is ideological and not scientific.  And they are willing to light the kindling and burn it up.  And the extent to which other scientists allow them to do that, passing it off to the wider public as being a scientific pursuit is truly stunning. 

No matter what you might think of Craig's arguments and his theological orientation,  he is a very accomplished and careful philosopher and he wouldn't violate the rules of scientific discourse in the way that Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, a parade of minor figures in the social-sciences who have argued with him and most of the big name scientist-atheist polemicists do.  It's really the same thing that the "creation scientists" do, just for a different religious orientation.   

The fact is that no matter how much physics figures out it will never have a comprehensive knowledge of the universe and every theoretical beginning of it that avoids there being a real beginning merely moves the problem back.  And, cosmology being what it is, I wouldn't bet a dime that anything Carroll and his generation comes up with will stand even twenty years.  It won't work to kill off God, though it will come up with a lot of preposterous ideas that will be discredited. The Materialist's Creation Museum generates one creation fable after another after another, it has been for more than a century.  Those rise, are inserted into the public discussion, are discredited and fall.  There must be some kind of slow motion discrediting of the effort as some of the onlookers notice that what they were sold as science is shuffled off the stage in silence.  The question for science is how long and at what public cost those discredited theories can pile up before it discredits science.  Maybe that's something other scientists without an ideological obsession on this issue should start to press.  

*You will have to forgive me for pointing out, yet once,, again, that I once got Sean Carroll to answer a question during a long argument about whether or not physics was on the verge of having a "theory of everything".   It is something I'm rather proud of having gotten after many, many days of trying to get it.

I'll make a deal,if Sean will answer the question I put to him, I won't post another comment here. Is there a single object that physics knows comprehensively and exhaustively?

Sean Carroll said, Anthony @ 21: "No."  Thanks for commenting.

Considering the context of the two brawls on his blog in which the question was posed, I'm not convinced his thanks were sincere.   I believe at least two rather involved posts he wrote were in response to my question, including the one in which he gave me his one and only response.

Friday, March 28, 2014

"staunchly supportive despite all" The New York Times Review of Books Review of Mother Country

Note: For some reason this post gave me a lot of trouble with fonts and line justification which I was never able to straighten out.  Please excuse the form of it.

In the days as the Fukushima reactors were melting down,  there were a number of blog fights on the topic at Eschaton blog, where I hung out quite a lot.   I was involved on the anti-nuclear side.   One of the the pro-nuclear antagonists, and in his case that word is a massive understatement, was one,  Chris Tucker,  a typical example of the frequently encountered angry atheist whose religion is scientism.   Some of us brought citations from The Union of Concerned Scientists, George Kistiakowsky, other specialists I don't specifically remember to the argument.  Tucker brought an xkcd cartoon asserting that the dilution of nuclear pollution in the general, background radiation,  make it innocuous,  harmless.   As an aside, I wish I had ten bucks for every time some college educated  disciple of scientism had turned to the authority of xkcd or the like to, as they believe, clinch an argument.

When I pointed out that the cartoonist included a disclaimer at the bottom that his drawing shouldn't be mistaken as a serious reference,  Tucker, who was prone to enraged tantrums, had one.  He had a number of them over the coming weeks at a number of us, as our predictions of meltdowns and pollution became lines in news stories, stories that were clearly pushing a nuclear industry line of minimization of the risks of what many scientists, some of them prominent figures in nuclear science, warned of.

Believing that the truth merely has to be true in order to justify telling it,  I'm going to tell the rest of the story.   It would probably be called out of bounds and, somehow, outrageous to note that in the weeks after that, Chris Tucker announced that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and that he  was reported to have died after several months of reportedly drastic therapy, the modern medicine he expressed a rather bleak hope in.  It will be seen as unseemly to note this outcome to his story, though I, for the life of me, can't understand what is unfair about noting the extreme coincidence and irony of him very possibly serving as an example of what we were talking about mere months before.   I will tell it to stand in for those people who will die of thyroid and other cancer deaths, the people who ingested or inhaled nuclear materials from the Fukushima meltdowns and will die of it, many of whom didn't promote nuclear energy on a leftish blog, sitting on North America as the Fukushima reactors were melting down, as it were, before our eyes, remotely.


I mentioned the New York Times review of Mother Country in my post yesterday.   It was one of the cases when that most august of book reviews assigned someone with a clear, ideological agenda against the subject of the book to review it.  Typical of scientists who want to shift attention from the argument,  Max Perutz, began his review by putting the case Marilynne Robinson made against the Sellafield operation which was intentionally and knowingly  and openly pumping nuclear wastes, including plutonium, into the ocean.

Here in Britain we are all criminals: guilty of conniving at a crime against humanity committed by a government that is polluting the Irish Sea, the British Isles, the entire globe with the radioactive discharges from its nuclear plants at Sellafield, a village in northwest England, on the Irish Sea.

Just to start, Perutz clearly lied about what the book said.   As I've shown this past week, in one of the most detailed indictments ever given in a book of the type, Marilynne Robinson took enormous care to show that the large majority of Britains were innocent of the pathological indifference and selfishness that allowed the Sellafield plant.   Even if the New York Times reviewer and eminent scientist, Max Perutz, had entirely neglected to read the long first section of the book, the second section that deals with Sellafield is largely concerned with showing how it was the British people, themselves, who were the first and most numerous victims of the criminal acts of the British government and the industrial-scientific elite which lied to them and duped them.  

Having attempted to achieve the discrediting of the book by absurd exaggeration, Perutz immediately went in for the kill by noting that Robinson was a novelist, as he continues to mischaracterize a very detailed and carefully stated case.

According to Marilynne Robinson, the author of the novel House-keeping and now of the book under review, “The earth has been under nuclear attack [from Sellafield] for almost half a century.” This book is aflame with indignation at the diabolical practices of the British Atomic Energy Authority, at the irresponsibility of our National Radiological Protection Board, at the careless indifference of our venal members of Parliament and of the British public, at the American press for failing to warn unsuspecting tourists of the deadly dangers threatening their health if they set foot on these poisoned isles, and the American government for wasting its armed forces on their protection.

The effrontery of non-scientists in questioning what scientists do is a common and frequent resort in these kinds of confrontations.   Especially, but not exclusively,  those scientists with a financial and professional interest, what for most of us constitutes a likely impeaching SELF-INTEREST.  It is interesting to note that a short review in arts section of The Times,  the editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Len Ackland noted the same passage to an entirely different tone:

Sellafield, located in Cumbria on the northwest coast of England, is the sprawling industrial complex where Britain produces deadly plutonium for war and for profit. In the process the Irish Sea has been turned into a radioactive cesspool, untold damage has been inflicted on the human and natural environment. ''The earth has been under nuclear attack for almost half a century,'' in Ms. Robinson's words. She seeks to expose why this outrage has been allowed to happen.

I will take a step into the present to point out that even according to the British government, Sellafield today is the ongoing and developing disaster that Mother Country warned of almost a quarter of a century ago.  Since it is part of Perutz's discrediting operation to fault the book for concentrating on Sellafield,  citing that concentration on that outrage instead of on the American sites that were also releasing nuclear pollution,  I will point out, in passing, that in the American context, the cult of national security could stand in place of the British class system in providing cover for the same kind of outrageous, criminal behavior in the United States.  History seems to be vindicating the case Marilynne Robinson made in a way that it hasn't Perutz's review, it is also vindicating those who have been making similar arguments about the Hanford and other sites, to a similar reaction presented in the name of science,  here.

Perutz's hatchet job on Mother Country, appearing in the extremely influential New York Times Review of Books, probably had a similar effect on its suppression that the lawsuit did in Britain.  Being the land of the First Amendment, the means of suppression here take a peculiarly American form and a bad review in the NYTRoB probably is more effective than the suppressive British libel law* in achieving that end.

I will grant to the Review of Books that they published a response by Marilynne Robinson, with a reply by Perutz, and further exchanges with other letter writers.  Oneby David J. Brenner, Ph. D.
Assistant Professor Center for Radiological Research Department of Radiation Oncology
Columbia University, New York City was a succinct refutation of Perutz's major scientific assertions in the review,  claims related to the xkcd cartoon mentioned above.  Since, as published, his letter ends in ellipsis, it makes you wonder what else he had to say which the NYTRB didn't think was fit to print.    A further letter from Jay M. Gould, Director, Radiation and Public Health
Project, United Church of Christ, pointed out further problems with the pro-nuclear case Perutz made.  All of those and Perutz's responses are still worth reading.   

I suspect fewer people read the exchanges than read the original review and that those had far less of an influence in the reception of the book by the audience for such books.   The role that the review had in the de facto suppression of what is an important book is worth considering.  The Review, as all other influential book reviewing bodies, at times, assigns books to people with a known bias, as it did in this case.  I don't believe that assignment isn't done without an intention.  

Marilynne Robinson was clearly aware that her status as a lay person instead of within the hierarchy of science would be used against her.  She was clearly aware that her status as a novelist would be used against her.   In the first paragraphs dealing directly with Sellafield she made what is as clearly true a case as possible justifying her book:

Having come finally to my subject, Sellafield, I am forced to confront the epic scale of my narrative.  My inability to invoke a suitable muse is really my only deficiency in treating this great subject.  To the objection that I know very little about plutonium,  I can reply that I know better than to pour it into the environment.  On these grounds alone I can hope the British nuclear establishment will learn something from my work,  so that I may repay them for the insights they have given me into the nature and prospects of humankind.  

The point that anyone can know enough about plutonium so as to know better than to pour it into the ocean is sufficient to support the case against doing that.   The fact is that even scientists have to rely on nontechnical literature to inform them of things their professional competence doesn't prepare them to understand.  The decisions of voters depend on that kind of information. That plutonium is, in fact, being pumped into the environment isn't denied by Perutz and other nuclear industry apologists, they have to rely on denying the science that indicates it is dangerous.  As Robinson pointed out in her reply to his review:

Mr. Perutz’s argument, an argument which this eminent man clearly intends as a daunting and chastening demonstration of the scientific mind in action, suggests that scientific discourse is not what it claims to be, or what we must all wish it were. His essential tactic is to dissociate radiation from cancer and environmental damage, and to imply that an unsavory mix of hysteria and ignorance is the whole cause of my indignation.

and later:

And look at what Mr. Perutz concedes: Britain reprocesses wastes from its own and foreign civil reactors, and, in the course of producing plutonium, flushes plutonium into the sea, where a quarter ton of it has now accumulated. Plutonium and caesium 137, the only materials Mr. Perutz chooses to talk about in any detail, “were expected” to have no harmful effect because one is insoluble and the other highly soluble in water. After thirty long years these expectations were at last found to have been disappointed—there is plutonium in the surf and the wind, plutonium is highly concentrated in fish and shellfish, which people are allowed to eat. Children in the region of the plant develop leukemia at a rate ten times the national average. A government committee has considered that exposure to plutonium is a “conceivable explanation.” The government concealed information about the Windscale fire in 1957. The factories at Sellafield have produced misleading information about their discharges. When radioactive effluent is found on the coast, the government must be told to warn the public and to clean it up. The plant is shoddily built and technically primitive, characterized by “scandalous malpractices” which have shaken public confidence. The functioning of the plant through its whole history has been based on naive assumptions about the “harmful biological effects of radiation and the possible buildup of radionuclides in living creatures.”


As can be said of religion, there really is not a single thing that is "science" about which you can make accurate, unconditional universal statements.  Science discovers good and useful things that enhance and extend life, it informs us of how we could try to save environments and species and, in fact, our own species. It produces a lot of information which is mainly valuable because it is fun instead of useful for anything.  It also produces weapons, biological, chemical, bullets and bombs of increased killing power, it produces oil wells, pumping secret poisons to frack for gas and environmental toxins that probably will be bemoaned in the same media that is promoting them.  What science has given to us with one hand it has taken, and more so, with the other.   When any criticism is made of science, as in all professions, there is a circling of the wagons and they blast away at their critics with everything they've got.   Much of that effect is enhanced by massive funding of public relations by the industries and the governments that the malignant science is produced for.

In order to kill a book dealing with a technical,  scientific or scholarly topic, one of the most effective things is to give it a general air of unreliability with the casual, slightly informed reader who would likely pick it up or buy it.  The kind of person who reads The New York Review.  A bad review of the kind noted above can kill a book in that way.  I think reviewers know that they have that power.  They may not with movies or sensational garbage that can flourish on bad reviews, but for a serious book on a serious topic, which would never be likely to make any best sellers list, that power is a serious impediment to our intellectual life.  In the case of this book, it was a danger to the ability of an informed people to make political decisions and the lives of many millions of people.

* As unsuccessfully resorted to most infamously and, luckily, ineffectively, by David Irving.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Third Option Has To Be Revived

This was a post I wrote as I was posting the excerpts from Mother Country last March.  I believe it is still valid. 

"a society based upon individual autonomy, to be achieved through policies of government that by act or omission enhance the specific, tangible material well-being of individual people, by creating or protecting conditions of life that enhance vigor and morale.  These include education, fair wages, wholesome food and water, and reasonable hope for one's children"

In several of my recent posts I've rejected the nearly ubiquitously encountered  political analysis that places fascism and Marxism as polar opposites on a line of political identity, calling to attention the numbers of corpses which those have both produced.  You would think that mountains of murdered humans, numbering into the tens of millions would be the predominant feature of governments that produce them, overshadowing any merely theoretical assertions put forward as to intentions and motivations.

But in the academic analyses of political theory, it's the would be scientific abstractions and asserted intentions - even less often realized than under democracy -  that rule the analysis.   Our academic habits lead us to look past the carnage that governments do to something that is deemed to be more important in judging them.   I think in that oversight there is a lot to be learned about the limited value of academic theory as compared to real life and practical politics.  I proposed that real liberalism, that real democracy is characterized by its rejection of murder, by war, intention, neglect or mere indifference or it is not democracy in any meaningful way.   A real democracy would include real and effective measures to prevent industrial murder of individuals through pollution, selling dangerous, poisoned and infected drugs and anything else which leads to death by profit.

Marilynne Robinson's third option outlined by her in the words above seems to be to be a far better description of the polar opposite of fascism and Marxism.  If it were to be turned into a formula, I  would add the word "equality" to it because without equality the equations will always tip to the side with more power and more money, though it is clear that equality is a given in her statement.  The line of political identity should be based, first and always, on whether the results are of more people standing alive and well in an environment that can sustain life or people dying in misery in a depleted, poisoned, destroyed environment that risks extinction.  Both fascism and Marxism, as practiced, are on an extreme opposite end of that from the best results of democracy.  The line shouldn't be thought of as a segment ending at any status quo which has ever existed or which has been imagined by academic scribblers but of a progressive movement in the direction of equality, well being, of the moral obligation to respect the inherent rights of all people and the well being of the environment, which will be a challenge enough to match human abilities to partially achieve it.

The great question in the United States in 2013 is the extent to which Barack Obama and the congress will save our endangered democracy, our great liberal tradition of movement towards Marilynne Robinson's formulation of good government, and, in fact, the very basis of human life on our planet.  The signs aren't good.  Barack Obama has appointed a series of treasury and economic officials and an Attorney General whose every impulse is to the protection and promotion of oligarchy.  His choices in replacing Geithner and Summers have confirmed suspicions  that is what he intended to do.   His continued support for Eric Holder and his Department of Justice, encode Holder's reluctance to challenge the enormous banks and the enormous fortune which are becoming the de facto government of the United States, to an extent they haven't since the most corrupt periods of our history.

The austerity which is presented by Barack Obama, as well as the majority in the congress and by the media, as the only obvious course in an economy in which a tiny but growing number of billionaires confiscate the largest, by far, percentage of the wealth produced by labor, amassing insanely huge fortunes in legalized theft on a scale that would make the ancient Roman super rich envious.   There is no austerity at the top, that is left for the overwhelming majority of The People.  To a great extent this has been accomplished through transferring jobs to foreign populations living under despotic governments, without real political rights or the ability to organize to demand their rights.  Free trade has produced the dream of all aristocrats, the ability to amass wealth without having to have to deal with the laborers who produce that wealth.  The mass of the American people are superfluous to the huge banks except as needed to bail them out when their plunder has been excessively undisciplined.  The spectacle of nearly complete housing developments being torn down, never lived in, of houses repossessed to be resold at a loss or to be allowed to rot unoccupied, is a good example of the perversion of an oligarchic economy funded by the government with taxes payed by people whose ability to pay is diminished by the economic system they live under.   Whatever relief that the government has provided to the destitute and those just above them is what the allegedly liberal government in office proposes to put on the chopping block in order to rescue the situation.

Barack Obama's economic policies are more like those of the opponents of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal than they have been any other Democratic president since Cleveland during the gilded age.  He doesn't seem to be able to imagine really disturbing the tranquility of the super rich, the mega banks, the academic and media mouthpieces that they fund or the legal hacks who they have funded.   In the fifth year of his presidency, for him to put the legacies of Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson on the cutting table while presiding over the continued enrichment of the already obscenely  filthy rich, made legally impune by the disinclination of his Attorney General to prosecute,  leads one to suspect he doesn't intend to do anything but participate in the destruction of that American political option that Robinson points out.


Marilynne Robinson cites Lincoln's famous statement of a black woman's absolutely equal right to the bread that she earns by her own hand.  A fuller quote will show that it was an extremely radical statement for his day, while one with troubling content for us:

Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.

In a statement, in answer to one of the typical assertions of racism, an accusation that he wanted to "mix the races" by asserting their equality,  he begins by asserting agreement, stating that black women were "in some respects" "certainly not my equal."   He did that, plainly, to diffuse what would have been a politically untenable idea in the 1850s, interracial marriage.  Any discomfort we have to his assertion of inequality is due to our quite different thinking and a changed world.   But Lincoln then turned the tables to say that in the crucial matter  under discussion, economic justice, she was absolutely equal to all others by virtue of her having produced wealth.

Mary Frances Berry,  the most prominent member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in its history among the best experts on civil rights as they really are in real life,   wrote in 1980  about this and related passages to show how Lincoln advanced equality over the course of two of the most troubled decades of U.S. history.

Politicians in their speeches, writings, and actions must, as Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum recently stated, "strike the proper balance between a naive idealism and a craven pragmatism." Abraham Lincoln was a politician who understood that political action is compromise. But the highest calling of the expert—successful—politician is making compromise creative and not corruptive. It is proper that successful politicians have always wanted to be both popular and political. Being popular is easier; it is accomplished by telling audiences what they want to hear—something that touches a responsive chord because it is consonant with their own personal experiences and beliefs. Being political is more difficult. It requires telling people what the politician wants them to hear in a way that they will be inspired to think differently and more sensitively about things. As we consider Lincoln, the successful leader and politician, dealing with the civil rights of Negroes, let us ask two questions. How much did he tell people what they wanted to hear, and how much did he give them a new sense of direction? Did he strike a proper balance between idealism and pragmatism? I believe he did.

Since the matter is about politics, it is inevitably caught up in what was currently possible and achievable, the question is moving towards an ideal, not the impotent insistence on making it real immediately.

For the first years of the Obama administration it was still possible to suspect that he was trying to play some kind of chess game to move things forward, in the face of a Republican party, a Republican majority on the Supreme and other courts, and a corporate media which used the most primitive forms of racism to destroy him and his administration.   It was possible to believe, even with Obama's obvious intellectual brilliance, that he was playing a weak hand in which he had to court and not alienate the very corporations and billionaires he could win over in order to make any progress at all.   It has been a given since his election that his opponents would use racism as a tool to organize and to fight him, and they have.  It was a given that they would use everything they threw down to impede and destroy President Carter and Clinton and even more.

As his first term continued, as he refused to use his position to force the Democratic Senate to move his own agenda, as his and Harry Reid's dithering left hundreds of bills the Democrats in the House passed to die, as he lost the House in 2010 and he faced an explicitly threatened, oligarchy financed, right wing insurrection, he continued on in the same way.   Like Bill Clinton in 1996, Barack Obama's political luck in reelection was that Republicans put up an extremely bad candidate who a majority of voters rejected.   Like his policies and appointments, the best thing that can be said for him was that the alternative was demonstrably worse on most issues, equally bad on others.

What Barack Obama and his administration has done so far isn't even adequate.

In order to save democracy, in order to save the middle class, in order to move things as entirely important as progress in halting global warming, more than what Barack Obama has done is necessary.   His political gaming hasn't been to move things forward, when possible, it has been to move it to a slightly modified status quo.  That new status quo will not allow even his signature achievement, a moderate, corporate friendly health care expansion, to remain as a good for the large majority of The People.   As even Adam Smith acknowledged,  private capital will always seek ways to extract money wherever they can.   His health care system will be plundered as every other marginal attempt at reform has been in the absence of an effective countering force in government.

In all of this I see the erection of peculiarly American forms and, more importantly, cultural and intellectual thinking that are documented in Mother Country.   That is why it is such an important essay, that is why it could not be allowed to become widely read.   What the American oligarchy wishes to destroy, it, first, mocks, second prints a negative review of in the New York Times, thirdly merely marginalizes and ignores.


I have asked some of my friends who consume enormous amounts of British literature and its history and culture as presented by the BBC and others who export the stuff to America if they'd ever heard of the Poor Law or the New Poor Law mentioned in any of those.  Not a single one of those educated Anglophiles, devoted to all that is British,  had,  that they could recall.

Since the provisions of the Poor Law were a massive presence in the life of most of those in England and then Britain, that omission is, in itself, extraordinarily important to understand.  In that clear effort to ignore or forget a major atrocity in the history of one of the major world powers,  to suppress mention of it, we see a model for the imposed ignorance of the American People since the introduction of TV.

One of the most fondly, frequently recycled stories in the American media is how ignorant Americans are of their government, the world, history, etc.  Those media corporations were given rights under the Bill of Rights in exchange for them informing The People, the only legitimizing force behind government and, in fact, the very constitution,  so they could make informed choices.  To have them mock the ignorance of The People, something that is the result of them reneging on their part of the deal contained in the First Amendment, should be intolerable.  It would certainly be an intolerable situation to real American style liberals, who would see that the real good, an informed people governing themselves, as at least as important as the corporate right.  A real liberal would see press freedom as an inferior right granted to artificial corporations as opposed to the right of that informed people to self-government.  But liberals have been duped out of valuing things of real value in favor of entertainment.  I blame PBS, the BBC, and the other media corporations for that as much as I do overtly commercial networks.   I certainly blame them for promoting the likes of  Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley, the members of the corrupt D.C. based media and the Anglophile propaganda that has contributed in the corruption of the American common consensus, such as it is, in their audiences.

From Lingering to Chronic

Still sick.   Will write more when I'm out of bed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More Three Little Words Men Find So Hard To Say

Ranger Gord on getting struck by lightning.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Those Three Little Words That Men Find So Hard To Say

Now with science.

Listening With New Ears For Atheists Reciting Magical Spells

Since writing the post last Saturday about the enormous amount of magical thinking done by exactly and precisely those folks who hate magical thinking, the scientistic atheists,  I've been discovering I was wrong about only one thing,  they do it ever so much more than I realized at the time.  Since writing that I have listened carefully for them using the phrases and words I mentioned, "natural selection" "probability" or their variants,  "we evolved to" "we are hard wired (by natural selection) to"  when they come to one of the many and sizable gaps in their whole close of allegedly scientific world view.   And they do so, most often, without any evidence, whatsoever, that, if they could work out what actually happened in the course of evolution or through the impossible to calculate probabilities involved, that the results would, in the end, support their use of those terms.

I just got done listening to an informal debate between John Lennox and Margaret Battin, in which he turned her challenge to explain why God created us so as to be prone to depression.  Among the things she said in not answering the question boiled down to "that's the way human beings have evolved."   Which says nothing and there is absolutely no evidence that depression is the product of evolution.  The problem isn't that it is impossible that we "evolved that way" it is that there is absolutely no empirical evidence that we did "evolve that way".

Now, Margaret Battin is billed as a "medical ethics professor" so you would think she would consider the ethical problem of making assertions about science in the total absence of evidence and as someone who, one would hope, had some understanding of science that she would understand the need, if you were going to invoke science, to actually have evidence of a scientific nature to support your contention.  But she has none.  In her argument she is trying to fill a gap in understanding with an evocation of  "evolution" when it is entirely possible that evolution is irrelevant to the existence of depression.  It would be hard to imagine how depression would be an adaptation that would be selected to persist in the long line of evolution, especially as depression can shorten life.  Also relevant to the ability to leave descendants, it is a cause of impotence in men.  I would like to know of any contemporary data that show that people who suffer depression are more prone to having children, which, by the way, would be a different question as to whether people who have children are more prone to depression, the "evidence" on that, most of it in the form of testimony would seem to be quite mixed.   I can find no evidence at all that our ancestors suffered depression in the clinical sense in the distant past.  I remember asking some of my older relatives who had lived through the poverty during the depression and world wars, if they had ever suffered depression and the ones who give me any answer said they were too busy to get depressed.   Maybe depression is a modern illness.  How long can it reliably be traced back even during the historical period in a way that is not prone to self-serving interpretation?   I wouldn't be surprised if something like what we call "depression" wasn't there but the identification of mental illnesses and disorders is hardly a hard science, as the appearance and disappearance of them from the official SCIENTIFIC catalog of mental disorders demonstrates.

But listen for the use of those magic spells as used by atheists and other supposed non-magical thinkers because once your ears are listening for it, it's amazing how much of it there is.   I do a lot of my listening to such stuff while I'm planting seeds in flats and transplanting in the spring so I'll probably be reporting on more of it as I find it.

Discourse Under The New Atheist New "Law' Will Not Be Rational So We Don't Have To Pretend It Is

I've decided that if atheists can invent self-serving "laws" and spout them endlessly, so can we. Here's one I just did up on being told by an atheist that "the burden of proof isn't on atheists".

Atheists don't get to decide who has a burden of proof and anyone who accepts their double standards, inevitably set up to favor them is allowing them way too much. Religious people can decide what they require of atheists and if atheists don't like that they can lump it.

As long as atheists demand that there is a double standard of their own invention that rules internet discourse operate under, all previous rules are suspended and it's anything goes.

Poor People Turned Into Industrial Resources

Following on from the last excerpt posted yesterday, it describes situations in the late 1980s when the book was written but there is a lot that sounds like current discussions in the United States.  A similar scheme of youth employment has been discussed in some states, even as education,  social services and welfare are cut. 

So very much depends on a poor man's wage.  At present there is a Youth Training Scheme in Britain to absorb the energies of unemployed school-leavers.  Industries are encouraged to take on trainees in place of regular hiring.  These youths are paid by the government at wages that about equal the dole.  In other words, the government donates to industry the free use of unskilled labor.  Without reference to the wealth these young people produce, their subsistence is counted as welfare spending, and they are thought of as the beneficiaries of this arrangement, from which it is hoped they will learn the value of honest work.

People in their teens are historically the most coveted workers in the British economy.  They are relatively healthy, and from the government's point of view, they are cheap, because they have no dependents and normally live with their families.  This scheme merely reproduces the ancient pattern, severing work from pay, making the wage a charity, while reducing work to an escape from the opprobrium of idleness.

Britain invests more money abroad per capita than any other country, and invested more in absolute terms, util Japan surpassed it in this decade.  Those who control capital,  whether banks or industries of the government itself, have always  had the means  to punish or starve policies they disapprove of,  or to crown with success policies friendlier to their interests simply by leaving money at home or by siphoning it off to the United States or to South Africa or elsewhere.

Mrs. Thatcher was described in an essay by Bernard D. Nossiter in The New York Times (June 15, 1988* as arguing to a church assembly "that abundance, the rich, were blessed while poverty, the poor were not, and Creation proves it."

She has her reward.  Britain is experiencing economic growth, of the hectic, selective, up-market kind which does not threaten to drive upward the cost of industrial labor or the demand of social services.  British economics is a game of keep-away.  Whence all the jiggling of statistics - it is easy to get a big percentage increase from a very small base, as in calculating wages and pensions, and it is easy to take away with one hand what is given with the other, to raise wages a little and cut benefits more, and it is easy to increase rates of saving and contribution to private pension plans by reducing benefits for the elderly or cutting back on the administration needed to deliver them or adding to the obstacles involved in obtaining them or threatening to phase them out altogether, as the Thatcher government has done. 

Ralf Dahrendorf, in his book On Britain, quotes respectfully as follows from a book titled Equality, coauthored by Keith Joseph, an important figure in the Thatcher government:  "Ultimately the capacity of any society to look after its poor is dependent on the total amount of its wealth, however distributed."  One might object that the way in which wealth is distributed determines, in a society, how numerous "its poor" will be.  To distribute wealth away from employed people, as the British do, creates poverty, which must be looked after, perpetuating the ancient relation of those who work to those who employ, which has analogues, or cousins, in slavery and forced labor.

Marilynne Robinson's contention that the Poor Law is still present or, at least, always threatens to be resurrected in Britain is clear.   The language of it seems to be almost unconsciously encoded in the way we talk about work, wealth and economic rightness.  We seemed to be learning new ways to think about those and talk about them, to break out of the Poor Law form of slavery.  My fear is that has been regaining a presence in American thought since the Reagan administration and that, now, our "liberals" in the Democratic Party sound like conservatives of the 1930s. 

[Note 2014, this debate over raising the minimum wage is still going on in Washington and state capitals around the country.] This week as Nancy Pelosi proposes to raise the minimum wage again, to certain opposition with the usual arguments that paying a fair wage inhibits employment, as the stock market floats to new highs over the stagnant unemployment figures and in a week after we found out who the worlds biggest billionaires are (with some having more than fifty billion dollars in personal wealth),  How we've gotten to where we are and the kind of barely realized assumptions that allow us to tolerate it are worth thinking about very hard.

Update:  Intellectual Materialism Is Just Sugar Poured On Vulgar Materialism

One of the worst successes of the rich and powerful is the extent to which they have gulled people, including themselves, into believing that the artificial rules for appropriating the products of other peoples' labor are laws of nature and, by sheer force of habituation, convince people that that is how things are, always were and always will be.  The formation of habits in people who will accept injustice done to them is one of the most potent of means of oppression and injustice.  The history of materialism, even that materialism which may have originally aspired to liberate workers from that system, is one of reinforcing the habits of taking that injustice as an atavistic fact of life.  It was one of the bigger surprises I had over the past decade to realize that the habits that produce materialism are the same habits of thought that produce the ruthless treatment of people, animals, the biosphere as objects of commerce, including the habits that lead to that materialism allegedly of the left.   

Justice depends on a transcendent view of life.  If there is a law of nature involved, that is it.  Whenever a life or life in general is seen in mechanical materialistic terms, justice will be pushed aside.  Whenever justice is pushed aside, you will find vulgar materialism at the bottom of it.   I have come to believe that the motives of intellectuals adopting materialism are, in every case I've looked at, based in motives of personal enrichment and the hope of social and financial advancement.  That there may be other motives is possible but, based in what I've looked closely at, I think those must be quite rare. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bud Powell Tempus Fugue It

Bud Powell (piano)
Ray Brown (bass)
Max Roach (drums)

The Case Condemning Modernism

Rereading "Mother Country" again,  it has to count as one of the most important essays written in the past century in the English language.   So far as I have been able to find, it was republished, once, in paperback ten years after it was first published, I can't find that it was issued again, after that.  You can buy it as an e-book, however and it is available in used copies and from libraries.   Compared to any number of frivolous essays on pop culture or some ridiculous theory of "theory" about "culture" its subject and Ms. Robinson's treatment of it, couldn't be more important and more serious.  But our culture, thoroughly steeped in the purposes and tactics - what replace methods - of modernism has ignored it for a quarter of a century.

The deep unseriousness of modernism is a practical demonstration of the results of a materialism that deems everything to be merely random, merely transiently deemed to be of importance, of everything to be the product of atavistic forces not, really of our choosing.   I have come to see that the primary motivation of modernism is cowardice, of taking every excuse to not make choices, to not choose to believe our own experience, cowering behind some indeterminacy that is supposed to bring the methods of probabilistic science into our real lives of sensation and the experience of living.   The appeal of that pose to people who have not had training in probability or the sciences that have to make recourse to those due to the limits of direct observation is clear.  It allows them to pretend to following scientific methods when they don't even really know what those are. The appeal of it for scientists and mathematicians who should know better is the status they gain from the ignorance of the mass of those with an education or who aspire to be mistaken as such.   Not to mention the opportunities to sell the products that scientists have a stake in on the alleged uncertainty of their harmful nature, what climate change denial and the pollution of the ocean by the British government and scientific establishment that Marilynne Robinson, in a act of genius, positively ties to the horrific history of British social policy.

In such a decadent, corrupt culture it is no surprise that an essay, laying out in detailed scholarship, resulting in a sold case, true indictment beyond any reasonable doubt, would be either incomprehensible or blacklisted from consideration.   If the human species survives, the environmental destruction that resulted from the application of science within the demoralized culture of materialism will be item one in the condemnation of modernism.   The reduction of human beings to material entities that are properly used up and disposed of in a way that refuses to address their rights and the moral obligation of those with power to respect those rights is an older indictment, one that, as Ms. Robinson shows, extends back into the medieval period in Britain.   Modernism certainly didn't reject that ancient heritage, in the cases where that was successfully abandoned and condemned, it was, in almost every case, religious conviction that did it, as unmodernistic as it is possible to imagine.

Modernism is an ideology that has brought us the disaster that we face, the disaster of the potency of science unregulated and restrained and, in some cases, not made illegal, by the application of the old fashioned concepts of morality.   It is a failure in any human terms, in any terms that life can continue under.

Turning Every Good Thing Into a Mode of Exaction More from" Mother Country"

Note Update March 2014 below

We have never ceased to talk about overpopulation, though true instances of it seem very rare.  The English workingman Francis Place, having contrived to educate himself under astonishingly unfavorable circumstances, became the first writer in English to argue for birth control.  He accepted Malthus's view that workers were poor because there were too many of them, and he argued that their improvement lay in self-restraint.  Of course, like poor people almost everywhere, they had children for their economic value.  As late as the present century the prosperity of a family fluctuated with the number of employed people in it, and the early redundancy of the father, as well as such vicissitudes as sickness and injury, were more easily borne the more shoulders they fell on.  Any glut of labor was the result of employing people from childhood, for sixteen hours a day or more, at wages that denied them any possibility of withholding their labor.  A higher wage would have relieved the glut by allowing women to stay home with their new infants, or allowing families to keep older children at home to attend to younger children.  Physical efficiency would have been enhanced at the same time.  
But "working class" is the primary term in British social thought.  The coercive implications of the phrase are glossed in every version and institution of the Poor Laws, right through Fabianism and the Welfare State, which is only the latest version of the ancient view that what the worker earns, his wage defined as subsistence, is not his by right, as property.  The welfare system indeed assures that the wage will never amount to any specific sum of money but will be nuanced to provide subsistence itself, not in a money equivalent, however calculated.  In other words, workers earn their existence by working.  At the same time, their employment exists at the pleasure of those who employ, first of all, the government.  The Welfare State, being designed for the employed, is designed for the less necessitous   Those who do not work are historically regarded as a sort of scandalized aversion, exactly like people without caste in a society based on caste.  

Place accepted the blame for poverty on behalf of the working people, and accepted the notion that there could be an excess of people relative to their economic usefulness, and that that excess should be eliminated by sexual abstinence so that it need not be carried off by disease and starvation.  He accepted the notion that there was a natural balance, a marketplace of survival glutted with laborers. 

Darwin was likewise indebted to Malthus, and freely acknowledged his influence.  Overbreeding relative to available food sources harrowed out those less well adapted to survive, in Darwin's view.   Herbert Spencer, who was to Beatrice Webb as Aristotle to Alexander, seized upon the ida immediately as a model drawn from nature, which justified just such horrors as had been Malthus's point of departure one hundred years previously.  Competition supposedly described the hard scrabble existence of the laboring classes, who sold their labor by the day and were constantly thrown out of work by a change of season or fashion, or the invention of a new machine  It was a commonplace that they helped one another as best they could thorough these disasters.  The idea nevertheless had great impact because it made death a legitimate part of the social and economic order, a function rather than a malfunction of political economy  a measure of the extent to which the new industrial society cleaved to the ways of nature rather than departing from them.  It affirmed the idea that there exited a human surplus, whose survival could only be secured at the cost of creatures worthier to survive.  In such a context subsistence would be a positive reward, easily withdrawn, as in Darwinian nature. 

The penchant for developing theories to account for the suffering and death proved useful.  Press and parliamentary reports of the Victorian period describe a system of exploitation which ravaged the culture, extruded every ounce of labor from those able to work - including small children and women recently delivered -  starved them, beat them, poisoned them, housed them in cellars into which sewage drained from the streets, taking from them everything that could be taken,  turning every good thing into a mode of exaction. 

If you read the passage above and noted something that seemed uncomfortably familiar  you've been paying attention to the political and economic reports.  The language is more modern and less explicit but the trend is to reenacting British social policy in the United States.  Even as innocuous seeming a concept as Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" divides the deserving from the "undeserving", it sets even the deserving against each other in a competition for meager resources as a means of exacting an alleged benefit.  The extent to which that kind of elite British thought pervades the ruling, Ivy League educated elite of the United States,  from which our "liberal" ruling class is drawn, should be troubling.  Read the speeches of Barack Obama and compare them with those of Lyndon Johnson to see how far the American tradition of liberalism has been overrun with a similar concept of the world laid out in these excerpts.

The Republican accusation that Obama is too European is, of course, ridiculous. If anything he's too British. 

As an aside, it's pretty telling that in the thousands of hours of British costume drama that PBS and the movies have presented to us, I don't recall the Poor Law being mentioned once*.  Not once.  Considering the totalitarian impact it has had on the lives of the large majority of those who lived under it, you have to wonder why it's so effectively swept under the rug.  Clearly, it's seen as something to be hidden.

*  Update March 2014 Someone told me, though I am not able to confirm it, that last season's Downtown Abby mentioned work houses.   And I can also say that there was one other example I can confirm, an episode of "Call the Midwife" mentioned the true depravity of the work houses that were an intrinsic part of the New Poor Law, though in its considerably less depraved, 20th century manifestation.  The Poor Law, officially, ended in 1948, within living memory- though seldom mentioned as compared to scandal of the "Magdalene Laundries". British government depravity of that sort during our lifetimes is oddly ignored as compared to any that can be attributed to religious institutions.  But only oddly if you discount the biases involved in popular culture.

My research last year, into the work houses, after I did this series, exposed me to the terrible fact that they were, in practice and, clearly, by intention DEATH CAMPS that were a prelude to those that would be established by Germany and the Soviet Union in the next century.  The numbers of deaths listed in the horrific roles of deaths of internees in work houses, the numbers of those listed as dying of STARVATION months and years after the detainees were incarcerated in them, exposes their true nature.  The literature dealing with the starvation and death of internees due to the purposely squalid and cruel conditions within them was entirely public and known at the time.   Reading that literature, recalling that Charles Darwin regretted the existence of work houses and the poor law, NOT BECAUSE THEY WERE CRUEL AND CRIMINAL BUT BECAUSE THEY WOULD LEAVE TOO MANY OF THE POOR ALIVE TO HAVE CHILDREN OF THEIR OWN, was a definitive experience,  entirely overturning the last part of my own willfully pretending that he was anything but a full supporter of even more depravity than the British law instituted.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

And Then There Were The Times Square Two

Bartok Three Burlesques Sviatoslav Richter (played as encores)

I've only played the second one, wish I'd played all of them but I couldn't have played them nearly as well as Richter did.

Desmond Tutu Said It Better Than I Can

More Sundays than not, I should send Krista Tippett a thank you note because listening to her program, most weeks, she could provide me with a fantastic topic to write on.   She and her guests do most of the work for me.  

Today it is the great, living, saint, Bishop Desmond Tutu who has provided the strongest possible evidence to support one of the things I write on over and over again,  that political freedom comes from a complete conviction that the metaphysical truths of inherent rights, equality and the moral obligation to respect those.   I will add something else now because I have come to really believe it, that unless you believe those are an endowment of human beings by the grace of God, your belief in them will be insufficient to carry through to making them manifest in society and in politics.   His example is as concrete in anything else in human experience, human experience, itself.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You had spiritual companions.

Archbishop Tutu: Yes. They are more than that. I mean, they are people who helped to form me. And then discovering that the Bible could be such dynamite. I subsequently used to say if these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn't have given us the Bible. Because, whoa, I mean, it's almost as if it is written specifically just for your situation. I mean, the many parts of it that were so germane, so utterly to the point for us …

Ms. Tippett: Can you recall one of those early discoveries as the Bible as dynamite? Some teaching that you suddenly saw as so relevant?

Archbishop Tutu: Well, it's actually right the very first thing. I mean, when you discover that apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity, and you saw how the scriptures say it is because we are created in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our physical circumstances may be, no matter how awful, no matter how deprived you could be, it doesn't take away from you this intrinsic worth. One saw just how significant it was.

Although I was a bishop, I was working now for the Southern Council of Churches and had a small parish in Soweto. Most of my parishioners were domestic workers, not people who are very well educated. But I would say to them, "You know, mama, when they ask who are you" — you see, the white employer most frequently didn't use the person's name. They said the person's name was too difficult. And so most Africans, women would be called "Annie" and most black men really, you were "boy." And I would say to them, "When they ask who are you, you say, 'Me? I'm a God-carrier. I'm God's partner. I'm created in the image of God.'" And you could see those dear old ladies as they walked out of church on that occasion as if they were on cloud nine. You know, they walked with their backs slightly straighter. And, yeah, it was amazing.

Ms. Tippett: I think much of the world, and this has to do with my profession of journalism as well …

Archbishop Tutu: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: … experienced the events in South Africa, those decades leading up to the end of apartheid, primarily as political happenings. But there was a great religious drama at the heart of it, right?

Archbishop Tutu: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: So on the one hand, the church, the Dutch Reform Church, the primary church in South Africa, sanctioned and sustained apartheid to near the end. And also, as you say, there was this parallel drama going on of religion, theology, the Bible becoming a great force of liberation.

Archbishop Tutu: Well, one of the wonderful things was how in fact we had this interfaith cooperation — Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus. And now, when you hear people speak disparagingly about, say, Islam, you say they've forgotten the men that that faith inspired people to great acts of courage.

Ms. Tippett: And that coalition, those friendships, were they building in those latter decades of the 20th century?

Archbishop Tutu: You discovered the thing you were fighting against was too big for divided churches, for divided religious community. And each of the different faith communities realized some of the very significant central teachings about the worth of a human being, about the unacceptability of injustice and oppression. Many times, actually, it was quite exhilarating. It was fun.

And, because I've got a lot to learn,  here is what he says about the limits and problems of living with mere political freedom when society isn't structured to maximize the reality that all people are made in the image of God.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I like that. I wonder also, is it right you were 63 years old when you voted for the first time? What was that like?

Archbishop Tutu: How do you describe falling in love? I mean, people asked then when we voted for the first time. It was an incredible experience. For you, going to the poll box is really a political act. For us, it was a religious act. It was a spiritual experience because, you know, you walked into the polling booth one person with all of the history of oppression and injustice and all the baggage that we were carrying and you walk and you make your mark and you put the ballot into the box and you emerge on the other side. And you are a different person. You are transfigured. Now you actually count in your own country. You — hey, I mean, it really was a cloud nine experience. We were transformed from ciphers into persons.

Ms. Tippett: You know, one thing that I feel also runs throughout your writing is how freedom in terms of politics, I mean, this freedom to vote, is absolutely something you demanded and needed to demand, and yet you also knew people across the years who were free while they were imprisoned. And there's also this specter now of people who are politically free but not free in, I don't know, maybe the deepest Christian sense, for example.

Archbishop Tutu: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: So I wonder if you'd reflect a little bit on what you've learned about the limits of politics.

Archbishop Tutu: Well, you know, I mean, you've got prepositions. The preposition "from" — you are free from and then you are free for. We have gone to being free from, which turns out to be one of the slightly easier things to get to do, although it took so long.

Ms. Tippett: Yes.

Archbishop Tutu: The being free for, I tell you, is tough. You know?

Ms. Tippett: So what is the freedom for what that you now wish for, for your people?

Archbishop Tutu: I think many of us were involved. I often say you know what? We didn't struggle in order just to change the complexion of those who sit in the Union Buildings. The Union Buildings are something like your capitol and so on. Yeah. It wasn't to change the complexion; it was to change the quality of our community, society. That we wanted to see a society that was a compassionate society, a caring society, a society where you might not necessarily be madly rich but you knew that you counted. I don't think that we've got — yeah. I mean, we've got a number of the things, sort of material political things, not all of them. I mean, we have levels of poverty at home that are unacceptable. There's the crime, there's disease. We still do not, I think, have the kind of place where you say I really am proud to be here. I know that even when I don't have a big bank balance I count, I matter. What we have found is that original sin actually doesn't know very much about racial discrimination. Original sin infects all of us. I mean, when you see how so soon people have become corrupt, it leaves you feeling sad.

Just about everything he said was abundantly worth pointing out,  you will certainly get something important from listening to the podcast and reading the transcript of his entire interview.   It helps a lot to read the transcript.

Ok, one more point because at least a dozen times this week I've encountered what blog atheists believe is their ace up their sleeve,  you know, their disproof of God that mentions Zeus, Odin, etc. 

Archbishop Tutu: Yes. Do you really think that God would say, "Dalai Lama, you really are a great guy, man. What a shame you're not a Christian."?

Archbishop Tutu: I somehow don't think so. I think God is just thrilled because no faith, not even the Christian faith, can ever encompass God or even be able to communicate who God is. Only God can do that.