Saturday, February 27, 2010

Believing Christ

I just read a book that talks about the difference between believing in Christ and believing what Christ says. I've mentioned Suzette Haden Elgin who starts with "be ye therefore perfect" (and the "yes, I really mean it") as a starting place.

But I've been reading Stephen E. Robinson who asks if we believe what Christ says when Christ says he is our savior. It is an interesting approach, one that I am finding nourishing.

While I've bought copies of Steadfast and Immovable: Striving for Spiritual Maturity by Robert L. Millet for people in the past, I think I am going to start buying copies of this book for some people now. Guess that is how I evaluate books -- have I felt the need to buy copies of it for people I know?

This book passes the test. Even better, like everything else, it is available for free through interlibrary loan.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Suzette Haden Elgin's poem about her son's death

The most recent draft is here:

It is very powerful.

Inside my mind,
-- all of them --
are tightly linked
to my son's death.
Go to her page to read the rest of it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Getting side-tracked ... Yoo and Bybee

My latest post on torture was intended to discuss the foolishness of payback and the evil of torture.

It got sidetracked into a discussion about how if an attorney gives an opinion someone doesn't like, then the attorney should be prosecuted. In the case of Yoo, he authored an opinion that resulted in a policy implementation. After the policy was implemented, Bybee signed off on the opinion.

I think the opinion was wrong. Basically it starts with a concept everyone agrees with: intent matters. I know of a case of a martial arts trained linebacker who interrupted a gang rape. In most circumstances what he did, in attacking fifteen punks, would be assault and battery. Since he was rescuing someone, he was considered heroic instead. But the concept is that if you are seeking information rather than seeking to cause pain, it changes what you are doing.

Then, given that intimidation and interrogation are allowed, they followed a definition that separates conduct by whether it causes permanent physical harm or not. No one faults giving sugar free cookies to a diabetic (something the FBI did). Eventually that argument can take you to very evil places.

I think the combination of arguments that was used were wrong. People who have implemented the policy have committed suicide over the feelings they've had after participating in "harsh interrogation tactics." Those in training who take the opportunity to experience the receiving end of the tactics are likely to drop out -- once they have been on the other side they can't bring themselves to do those things to others.

No one would think it acceptable for the police, or for a congressional inquiry panel, to question witnesses in that fashion.

But, prosecuting people for arguing for a position, especially Yoo who has taken a set of positions as a long standing academic approach? I have real problems with that.

My biggest problem is that there are a number of people who advocate trying people for being on the other side of the debate -- they are advocating trying people for treason. Their argument is that it aids the enemy to attack people, such as Yoo, and that even discussing what is wrong with torture is an act of treason.

Those people, when polls are taken, get more than half of the respondents in favor the treason trials. On the other hand, when prosecuting Yoo is suggested, the number is far less than half.

My suspicion is that if "payback" starts and if we start prosecuting people for opinions, it will not take long before the prosecutions are of those the majority favors prosecuting. That is how it goes and how McCarthy and others gained so much power. I see such an approach as dangerous and foolish.

Further, it distracts from the real debate: the one about both the evil and the futility of torture. FBI critics have been consistent in their challenges to the claims that torture works, to the individual cases (pointing out that torture failed and cookies worked, for example) and to the illegality. To allow the matter to be sidetracked into the politics of retaliation is likely to result in a complete rout of those who oppose torture.

As an aside, Bybee has spoken out that he thinks the position he took is very problematic. He was faced with a policy already in place and people in the military who had relied on the memorandum being signed to do things that if it was not signed were criminal. So he signed off. Should he have protected people who were following orders? That is a part of the Nuremberg question, after all. Just how far do we go in chasing down those whose thoughts we disagree with? That is our question now.

So, that is my opinion, that is where it takes us.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Luck, gratitude, an aside.

Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.

That really resonated with me. So often I look at the things for which I am grateful and I know that I did not earn them, do not deserve them, and would be bereft without them. Especially my wife and my children.

Words fail me.

As an aside, I confess that I don't blog about work. There is not much to say. I'm impressed by the significant efforts they make to abide by their code of conduct. Talking with my brothers about my boss led to a discussion of how in 30-40 years most of us had had, at most, one boss we really respected as making life and work better. Mostly a "good" boss is merely one who does not make things too much worse. A very good boss -- one in a hundred -- that is what I have right now. I like my co-workers.

My work is mentally demanding and challenging. I don't blog much about the attorneys on the other side of me in cases, but I have been impressed, over all, by the level of integrity many of them attempt to bring to what they do, and the brilliance of some. This last week I was on the other side of a case of an attorney who bills $600 an hour or more. I would say he is worth it.

I'm not going to mention his name either, because I do not want to change my focus, but I feel very lucky in every regard.

My wife has often told me that if she dies before she does, she expects me to remarry as a tribute to how much marriage did and does for me. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone who could fill my life, be my heart, give me joy, as she has and does. I had hopes for marriage, expectations as well, and dreams. She doesn't understand, but she has given me a life better than I had dreamed possible.

Yes, I've had some incredibly bad luck. A friend noted that the way my daughters died was like winning the lottery in reverse, not once, not twice, but three times in three different ways. But on the balance I've had incredibly good luck as well. Just more extreme, with a balance that is not always obvious from the outside.

So, some people tell me that I've had a life that must have not let me know any hardship or loss and that I can't understand. Others told me I must have deep stains on my soul or God would not have let such hardship affect me. I could use a good editor ;)

But mostly, I remind myself that I am grateful.

Video of me, on the internet!?


If the movie doesn't run, drop over to and page through the videos until you get this one (ok, I know it only runs in the edit post menu, I figured out why, and, since it appears that is part of how they want the site I borrowed it from to run, I'm not going to defeat the code over there, but it was fun to run across and I wanted to share it).

By Makikomi, my personal ikon from Judo Forums (from a base, but edited and used with permission by the original artist, with my changes).

So, now when I see that, I will remember it is really me, being thrown.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Torture, John Yoo, Obscenities and Silliness

My brother derailed his military career over issues involving torture, avoiding it and advocating changes in policy that peaked when fifty generals signed a statement in opposition to what he proposed. That was a score or so of years ago. He was right. They are still wrong.

Torture is never an option. That is because it never works (intimidating people, co-opting people, interrogating people -- all of those work -- but torture and breaking people does not). That is well known from the Israeli experiences, other history and the FBI's long studies of the issues. Torture is merely an obscenity, seductive, and pornographic. It should never be an option [see link in sidebar to blog on that point].

On the other hand, should we prosecute people for having opinions we disagree with, advocating positions and being persuasive? Should John Yoo be prosecuted?

Before you answer, consider the academic who felt that Secretary of State Rice's doctorate should have been revoked for political reasons. The academic was brought up short when it was pointed out that if doctorates could be so easily revoked, the most likely target was not a close friend of the President of the United States, but Ms. Rice's critics.

Those who would prosecute Yoo are, quite frankly, the same people Ann Coulter advocates having tried for treason. Put to a vote in before the public, we already know from opinion polls that Yoo would win and his critics would be exiled from the country. Most of the efforts to attack Yoo are silliness at best.

At the worst they are an attempt to criminalize advocacy for those we disagree with. I see it often enough in efforts to make criminal defense attorneys share the fate of their clients, the attempts to castigate investigative writers like Taubes, claiming that his advocacy will do nothing but lead to early deaths for thousands and that he should be preemptively jailed for murder.

Of course, you may say, Taubes is right. At least he looks right now. But if I were using the scientific consensus of ten years ago, Taubes would be in jail.

Some things are obscene. Torture is one of those. Others are at best silliness, such as attempting to jail or assault the advocates of those we disagree with us, especially when they
represent the thinking of the majority. Should that succeed, what protects the minority from payback? Personally, I think of payback fantasies, revenge fantasies, as a form of pornography.

Our country deserves better. It needs better. Neither the obscenely attractive pornography of torture in a "just cause" nor that of revenge fantasies is one that we should allow to captivate us. We need to free ourselves, in all ways, from torture, obscenity and silliness.

For more on torture, read

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

John Fabian (CarterSteelGuitars)

John was a man of great integrity, in his passing he will be missed. -- his on-line memorial.

Assume Good Intent

There are two important life lessons that are often in conflict. The first is "not everyone wishes you well." The second is "assume good intent." So very often we have failed to teach, and to learn ourselves, that we should assume good intent on the part of our children, our parents, and most of all, our spouse.

Our bad habits, our compulsive disorders and our addictions are all a part of us, not an evil demon riding us. More so, they are a part of us that is not hostile to us and they are not our enemy. They are a part of us that strives to help us as strongly as they can.

The problem is that they are misguided int heir efforts, which is go terribly awry. That is why our weaknesses can become strengths. It is also why recovery from our issues needs to be spiritual, not just physical, to heal that loss of perception and that misguidance that causes us to be self destructive from forces within us that are trying to help us with all their misdirected might.

Recovery, recognition and transformation redirect our mistakes to positive channles where they strengthen us rathr than destroy us (note Ether 12:27). If we have the humility to surrender to God and seek help from a power greater than ourselves, and can do so with honesty, we can find the transcendence we need. We do not lose ourselves, we do not finally free our souls from destructive demons that are riding us; we regain our self. All of it, this time all pulling in the same direction with the same vision.

Last week was my 25th wedding anniversary and the 17th anniversary of Jessica's death. I had some vacation time, but ended up having to go into the office for two days that I had scheduled off that week. Win was sick (but modern antibiotics are a wonderful thing), so all in all it is probably all for the best that our travel plans fell through.

What surprises me is just just how joyful I felt in the week.

On facebook.