Monday, June 21, 2010

James White Asserts Confidently

I got to watch James White debate live last night. To the left is a crappy shot I took from my camera. Blurry unfortunately. Better pictures are here if you like. He had a pretty good night though, trouncing his opponent, Sheikh Awal. The topic was "Is The Bible We Have Today the Word of God." This ought to be a slam dunk for the negative, but it wasn't last night. White has done I don't know how many dozens of debates. Awal, while pretty knowledgeable about the Bible, just does not have the debating skills.

In addition Awal actually made some basic errors in his description of Christian belief. To me this made it pretty clear that Awal is just not of the caliber he needs to be to be involved in such a debate. So had I been debating him I would have felt a little sorry for him and tried to be gracious. Explain his errors, but in as gracious a way as possible. Not James White. It would be statements like "Honestly that's the worst example of the abuse of the text of the Bible I've ever heard" and similar statements. White would shake his head in disbelief at statements from Awal or lift his hands in exasperation, playing up Awal's ignorance.

While James White made it clear that no particular error in an English translation of the Bible is relevant Awal would just carry on and talk about mistakes in the KJV as if they proved something. White would reply to Awal's arguments specifically, briefly so as to reply to them all, and effectively. Awal barely interacted in rebuttal with the things White said, instead rambling about various often unrelated to the topic objections to Christian belief generally. It was kind of sad. For James White I suppose this is another triumph for the obvious truth of the Christian scriptures. For me it's proof that a seasoned and skilled debater can defeat an unskilled debater. The topic could have been "Is The Grass Blue" and James White would have won.

Questions were submitted on 5x7 cards, so I offered one. It was a little complex so I wasn't sure if White would have the knowledge base he needs to address it, but on the other hand discussion of textual variants was front and center throughout the debate. White seemed to have a command of these things. So this is what I asked, working from memory. And I explain this question in more detail here.

At Mark 7 Mark puts in the mouth of Jesus an argument that is based on an erroneous translation of the Hebrew scriptures from the Septuagint. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah saying that they are "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." That's what the erroneous Septuagint says, but in fact the Hebrew reads something like "Your worship of me is merely an act of going through the motions." It seems unlikely that the Pharisees would be stumped by a mistaken translation of Isaiah in Greek when they work with the Hebrew. Doesn't this suggest that Mark is unreliable and is putting words in the mouth of Jesus that he is unlikely to have said?

Here's how James White replied.

"Mark 7 is about certain hand washing practices from the Pharisees. The questioner presented NO EVIDENCE that there was any rational basis for his conclusion, so there's no way to respond to any of it."

He just extremely confidently said that there was nothing to my argument. Good enough. So I'm sitting there kind of confused. Didn't I just provide the relevant citations? Isn't that evidence? Now, I understand it's not easy to answer such a question on the spot. But part of the reason I asked it is because White constantly asked Awal questions like "Do you have any lexical citations that can justify your understanding of the Biblical text you cited." I thought that was a rather crappy way of treating Awal. What Awal does is he reads English translations and forms arguments based on them. White knows that Awal does not have lexical data at hand, so he can just pull this trump card as a stumper in every case and treat Awal rudely as if he hasn't done his homework. Well, has White done his homework? Shouldn't he know about the variants of the Septuagint and how they emerge in the NT? This subject was a major part of the debate.

After the debate I introduced myself to both Awal and White. I told White that I'm "Jon in Detroit" that calls his webcast sometimes to spar and I told him that I was the one that submitted the Mark 7 question. I told him that I have to fit the question on a 5x7 card and I'm not sure what he's expecting in terms of evidence. He replied "Honestly I have no idea what you're talking about with that question." And I said "Fair enough. That's a reasonable answer." So I suggested he look into it.

But that's not what he said during the debate. He could have said "I don't know enough about the references, so I'll have to consider the question later." I can respect that answer. But that's not his method. He's honed his skills and he knows that this is not the presentation he wants to offer to listeners. That's because truth is not the goal. The goal is being as persuasive as possible. And he was.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Catastrophes of the Unpeople

Everybody's talking about the BP oil disaster, which in my mind is frightening. But did you know that if this spill had occurred in Nigeria it would have been considered routine and probably wouldn't be known worldwide, as the Gulf spill is known. See for instance this article. But then the suffering is endured by those that have been called "the unpeople." Poor blacks in Africa. It's not noticed.

The year 2009 capped the hottest decade on record. 2010 will be the hottest year ever recorded if trends continue. That's tough on the unpeople of Pakistan who are enduring temperatures of 129F these days. The expectation is that the melting of glacial sheets in Russia and other locations will cause the release of vast quantities of methane, which is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Most scientists believe that man made CO2 emissions are contributing to the melting of these glaciers. As methane is released this will accelerate global warming, melting more glaciers, releasing more methane, etc, to where a cycle of heating is induced that will be difficult if not impossible to stop.

The brunt of the pain initially will probably be bore by the unpeople of the world. Poor farmers in India that rely on the cycle of glacial melting that irrigates their crops. These things tend to go unnoticed as the suffering of Nigerians today is unknown. When the pain reaches the West people will start to notice. By then it might be too late.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unbridled Free Markets

I learned this weekend something that was new to me. There are charges that the Coca-Cola company has played a role in executing people that attempt to unionize in third world countries, particularly Colombia. I was aware that Colombia was the world leader in execution of union organizers, but I was not aware of Coca-Cola's involvement. Some details are here.

Of course Coca-Cola denies the charges, but it's interesting to note that 23 universities have banned Coke products, including my alma matter, the University of Michigan. That's rather astounding when you consider how interested universities are in getting money. Coke's denial of the charges of course mean nothing. That's to be expected regardless of the validity of the charges. These university actions mean something because a priori there's no reason for a university to single out Coke for a boycott. If I had to bet I'd bet that Coke is guilty. The documentary "Life and Debt" shows video footage that is claimed to be a violent break up of efforts by factory workers to protest their treatment with a work stoppage in a Latin American country. This is the kind of thing that happens.

So consider that when you purchase cola at the store. Pepsi may also be awful in similar ways, but I don't have suspicions of them being involved in executions. At least not yet.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Forgotten History-East Timor

You've possibly heard of Pol Pot. You probably know that Iran has committed crimes as has Hezbollah and Hamas. In other words you know of the atrocities committed by enemies of the state. Do you know of the atrocities committed by friends of the state? A panel discussion regarding East Timor from 1992 begins here and I think it remains quite relevant. Amy Goodman's account of one massacre, one of the rare ones ever witnessed by western journalists, is absolutely riveting. Her and Allan Nairn appear to have exhibited such shocking bravery it's almost unimaginable to me. Watch and learn the history that should be prominently taught but is in fact ignored.

Why taught prominently? Not because I hate America and want to bring it in to disrepute, but because the first atrocities you should become aware of are the ones that you have the most responsibility for. Those are the types of atrocities you can control in the future. Our primary concern should be our own mistakes and secondarily we should discuss the mistakes of others. Germany does not shy from teaching the history of Nazism and the holocaust. Germans know these things very well and this has contributed to the fact that Germany today is such a peaceful and great country. Knowledge of these types of incidents can contribute to America's future greatness.

Grady McMurtry and Polystrate Trees

Pothelor54 has great youtube videos debunking young earth creationist and other nonsense and a recent one even covers a little of Grady McMurtry's material. Entertaining and informative as always. Enjoy.

Speaking of religion, which I've ignored for a while, where the hell is the Robert Price/James White debate audio? I'm dying here. Also audio from the Richard Carrier/Mike Licona debate is here. Battle of the nerds. Type nerd in my search bar and you get one post discussing Carrier and another discussing Licona. I'm about half way through it. DagoodS has commentary.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Rules for Global Warming Deniers

I'm not a huge fan of Bill Maher, but this is a pretty good rant.

Clinton Apologizes For Imposing "Free Markets"

A somewhat surprising admission from Bill Clinton on the effects of his NAFTA like policies on Haiti. Here's the key quote:

Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.

I also highly recommend the documentary Life and Debt, which covers the effects of IMF and World Bank policies on Jamaica.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Arafat Walked Away From a Sweetheart Deal at Camp David

If you pay attention to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict you've heard many times that it just seems those Palestinians won't consider any peace offer. The prime example is the Camp David summit in the waning days of the Clinton administration. Supposedly Barak offered Arafat the moon and stars and he walked away. Proof positive that basically the Palestinians are unwilling to consider peace on any terms.

Well, that's all a massive load of crap. I've had to explain this over and over in discussions so I thought I'd create a post that contains the relevant information that I can reference in the future.

A good starting point is to watch Joe Scarborough try this argument out on an informed person, in this case Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brzezinski puts a pretty severe smackdown on him for it. Watch that here.

The key to understanding what happened is in viewing the maps. A simplified overview is here. What Barak did was he offered a West Bank that was virtually entirely subdivided into three separate cantons broken up by Israeli controlled settlement blocks. It would have meant basically a discontinuous West Bank which would have been pretty well isolated from East Jerusalem, which is the cultural center of Palestinian life. A more detailed view of Barak's offer can be viewed here. To consider this a generous offer is rather ridiculous.

Here's a key point that people who repeat the Scarborough line don't know. Negotiations were not halted at Camp David. They proceeded to Taba, Egypt. Barak and Clinton understood that Arafat's objections had merit. So Barak proposed something far more reasonable. The map is here. Arafat reacted very positively and it was considered a reasonable basis for further discussion. But there would be no further discussion. Israel halted the negotiations after only a week.

Undeterred the Palestinians and the rest of the world (without the US) continued working and ultimately the result was the Geneva Accords of 2002. Starting from the Taba framework a two state settlement was reached. It enjoyed majority support of both Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Unfortunately it was rejected by Israel and ignored by the US.

Israel has chosen expansion over peace. It's the same story that has been repeated for many years. The world stands on one side prepared to adopt a two state solution. The US and Israel stand virtually alone in opposition. Here's the roll call of the recent peaceful resolution considered at the UN. They've been doing this every year for 30 or so years and every year the results are pretty much the same.

So the claim that it is the Arab side that is rejecting peace on any terms is nothing but an example of classic Orwellian thought that turns reality on it's head. The facts are exactly the opposite of the prevailing beliefs of most Americans.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How Far Gone Our Government Is

One thing that's great about having a Democratic administration is it becomes easy to see what a sham our government is. If you have a Republican President and Congress and you have an incident like what happened to the flotilla approaching Gaza (Greenwald has has great commentary here and here), you expect a Republicans to just rubber stamp everything Israel does as acceptable. Supposedly Democrats are leftists and doves. Your Democratic friends will be outraged at Republican acceptance of this behavior when they are in charge. Democrats would have objected had they been in power they tell you.

But of course that's false. There's world wide outrage, but Harry Reid and Joe Biden are looking like standard Republican war mongers. Obama regrets the loss of life. He wants a full, impartial, and credible investigation. To be conducted by Israel. It's just silliness.

The Goldstone Report that investigated the crimes of both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side in the Gaza "War" is another case in point. There were lots of reports on the incident. Amensty International put out several. Human Rights Watch put out a few. Palestinian and Jewish human rights organizations put out some. Finally Richard Goldstone put one out. According to Norman Finkelstein, who read every single one of these reports, the Goldstone report was the most judicious and "even handed" in the sense that it tried to heap some blame on the Palestinians. But largely all reports came to the same conclusions. Israel probably committed extensive crimes and should be brought up on charges in international courts.

There wasn't nearly as much said about the human rights organization's reports. Focus was on condemning Goldstone? Why? His credentials are impeccable. He considers himself a Zionist. He's a Jew. He entered human rights legal matters due to the Holocaust. A key jurist in South African apartheid matters. Why is his more nuanced report which is more favorable towards Israel than any other major report, why is his report producing such outrage and condemnation?

Precisely because of his impeccable credentials. People try and dismiss the human rights groups as hater's of Israel. Same with the UN. None of that can work on Goldstone. So there's only one reason he'd reach the conclusions he did. He believed they were true. So the only thing you can do is jump up and down and yell and scream. So this is what Israel did. The whole thing is silly.

But what's sad is our supposedly dovish Democratic government went out of there way to go along? Where is the outrage from Democrats? I don't see it. So when a Republican comes to power and wreaks violent havoc throughout the world I don't want to hear the outrage from the Democratic party's cheerleaders. You're fine with reflexive support for Israel's crimes when it's given by Democrats. Don't object to Republicans doing the same thing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Watch Dershowitz Spin

Not all of my posts equally important. This will be on the low end of the scale in terms of importance. But when I'm watching debates and sort of researching claims it's nice to just document my findings and this blog is a good place for it.

Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz had a debate on Democracy Now years ago that's quite entertaining. It starts here. Not the best in terms of information content but quite good in terms of entertainment. I'd watched it before, but I just happened to start watching it a second time just because it's fun.

Alan Dershowitz apparently had issued a challenge that he'd donate $10,000 to the PLO if anyone could find a factual error in his book "The Case for Israel". Finkelstein started by saying on page 80 in Dershowitz' book he cites Benny Morris to the effect that between 2 and 3 thousand Arabs had fled their homes during a certain phase of the 1948 Israeli conflict with the Arab states. In fact Morris has between 2 and 3 hundred thousand.

Sounds like an error. But Dershowitz said it was just a typo. Here he offers what he thinks is proof that it must be a typo. The context is a claim by Noam Chomsky that there's little evidence that the reason Arab's fled is because they were directed to do so by Arab leaders. Morris says that this did occur and he then talks about the 2-3 hundred thousand that left at this stage. So Dershowitz has an incentive to maximize the number of people that have fled. The more people that flee as a consequence of the directives of their Arab commanders the stronger Dershowitz' argument. Why would he intentionally reduce the number from Morris when that weakens his argument?

This sounded plausible to me when I first heard this because I didn't know the facts as well. But as I heard it the second time I realized that's crazy. Morris can't possibly be saying that this many left due to the directives of the Arab commanders, can he? That's almost half of the total number of Arab refugees that were generated throughout the entirety of this initial conflict. So I checked google books at the relevant portion from Dershowitz. In the book Dershowitz isn't claiming that Morris believes between 2 and 3 thousand fled as a result of direction from the Arab commanders. He simply quotes Morris as saying some did flee at the directive of the Arab commanders and then goes on to say that between 2 and 3 thousand in total fled at this stage. Inflating that number doesn't strengthen Dershowitz' argument because that number is not describing the number that fled as a consequence of the directives of Arab commanders. It's simply describing the total number that fled at a certain stage.

Apparently in Finkelstein's book "Beyond Chutzpah" he shows that Morris actually says that the vast majority that fled did so because of fear of Jewish military action. So this is just spin from Dershowitz. He did make an error. It might be innocent. But it is not true that he has an incentive to inflate the number. Though I have to admit that his spin did sound persuasive when I first heard it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Additional Sources for Debate Material

During the Q&A of my debate on Islamic terrorism I made a couple of statements that I wanted to document as I indicated I would.

I had mentioned that the whole world stands on one side prepared to accept an independent Israeli state at the 1967 borders while Israel, the US, and a few stragglers are on the other side. The roll call of the most recent vote is here. I think I had said it was 165 nations ready to accept peace, but really it is 164.

Also Norm had talked about how the Hamas Charter does not permit the existence of an Israeli state. This is true, but it's also true that the Israeli political party Likud doesn't permit the existence of a Palestinian state "west of the Jordan river." Meaning they already have Jordan and they get nothing else. You can read the charter here.

I'd also mentioned that the Taliban had offered to hand Osama bin Laden over. Proof is here.