Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hijack This!

Public service announcement:

OK last week I picked up a very anoying pop-up that Ad-Aware and Spybot would not get rid of. Basically, EVERYTIME I moved my mouse a search box would pop up in my bottom tool bar.

Finally, I stumbled upon something called Hijack This!

Now this little program took care of all my problems. After reviewing this tutorial I was able to remove the malicious lines in my registry.

Anyhow, it's not for the novice but if you've tried everything else it's certainly easier than reformatting your hard drive!

Religion and Politics: Redux

So yesterday while going on a campus coffee run I ran into a Christian faculty member. Knowing that I have an interest in religion, politics, and all things secular, she started to complain to me about the recent filibuster flap (Note: I have already commented on the filli-debacle HERE and HERE). Top on her list was a lengthy rant about James Dobson and how the Religious Right™ has an "agenda" which is intentionally designed to portray liberal Christians as "un-Christian." Naturally, as a self-described (at least to me) "liberal Christian", she was quite upset.

Inwardly I sighed because I predicted that the various groups and news organizations would continue to carp about this. Outwardly however, I was unsure how to respond to her. On the one hand I was flattered that she trusts me enough to consider me a neutral sounding board--especially when the outward display of religious convictions on some campuses often gets faculty into hot water. In fact, this particular faculty member works in a school that is traditionally conservative, so part of the reason she was so upset had to do with some of her conservative colleagues and their views on this topic.

Now I don't know if my answer alleviated any of her angst but here is what I basically said:

Dobson does have an agenda--he always has. However, not all "conservative Christians" have an agenda. In fact, I really think that Dobson has over-reached himself and is fast becoming a liability to the White House and to conservatives (this is why I suspect Bush has distanced himself from Dobson) . Finally, (and unbeknownst to her) I paraphrased something Lee once said in his writings: "Nothing is so permanent that it will never change." However, I suspect that my comment fell on deaf ears because she kept venting.

Interestingly, this morning as I skimmed the news I came across this article from the Denver Post.
Political experts say Dobson's influence on moderate and independent voters is limited, however, and that he and other social conservatives run a risk, with their more confrontational rhetoric, of spurring a reaction against Republican rule. "This is such an overreaching by Dobson, I expect a backlash," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Dobson is now a problem (for Republicans)," said John Podesta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff who heads the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank in Washington. Recent polls show a large majority of Americans oppose changing the filibuster rule.
So, this confirms what I hinted to in an earlier post. Moreover, it's a nice seugway which I can use to introduce my Yin/Yang Theory of Politics®:

The Chinese use the Ying/Yang symbol to illustrate the balance of life. Yin (gentleness) and Yang (firmness) are often seen as separate entities. However, this is not the correct interpretation of this symbol. Yin and Yang are part of the whole and it is wrong to separate them. How I had this explained to me is through the metaphor of the willow and the oak: "The firmest tree is easily cracked by the storm while the willow bends and survives."

For Yin and Yang to function properly balance is needed. Nothing survives very long by staying in one extreme. If this notion is correct, then Dobson et al will lose momentum because they are all Yang (firmness).

Now if I only could have conveyed this notion to my colleague! This, of course, leads to my digression of the day:

My employer has a technology support department that constantly annoys me. Granted, in the four years that I have worked for this university, the department HAS made some improvement.

However a recent example should explain why I get so annoyed with this department: A few months ago the entire network went down after 6 PM. Naturally, tech support had gone home for the night and they do not publish the number of their on-call person. So, after one full hour of not being able to work, I followed the instructions in the sacred "computer manual" and called the name listed. After explaining my problem this person asked me if I consulted the manual. I replied: "Yes, it tells me to call you."

His reply: "shit."

So after another 40 minutes of monkey football this person finally gets me the number of the on-call person. Upon hearing my description of the problem the on-call person asks me: "So, do you want me to come in?" Sigh. "Well," I replied, "that'd be nice considering that students have been complying for over an hour. In addition, we cannot check out books or access any documents on the server--much less use the Internet or do our jobs."

So another 45 minutes go by and at approximately five 'til the hour the whole net comes back on line--this, after having been down for at least two hours. The best part: five minutes later the on-call guy arrives and cannot find any problems! (It that isn't an example of karma I don't know what is)

Now initially when dealing with this department I was all Yin (gentleness). However, this approach led to my problems not getting fixed and the technicians blowing me off. So, after about a year I strove for a balanced approach which led to moderate success in problem resolution. Four years later and I suspect that I am losing my patience. Granted, "nothing is so permanent that it will never change", however it sure would be nice if the change would happen before I die!

So, during the last year I've taken the Yang approach--at least when it comes to the computer that I need functioning in order to do my job. So, this is as close to balance as I can come with this problem. The more it affects me the more Yang I rely on, however the less I am impacted I strive for Yin. I suppose this is better than simply doing nothing at all; or, for that matter, going over to this department and recreating the copier scene from the movie Office Space!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Press Conference: Bush Rejects Frist’s Attack

Last night President Bush was asked if he agreed that there was an anti-religious agenda that was seeking to oppose his judicial nominees:

BUSH: … "I just don’t agree with it."

QUESTION: "You don’t agree with it?"

BUSH: "No. I think people oppose my nominees because of judicial philosophy."

QUESTION: "Sir, I asked you about what you think of…"

BUSH: "No, I know what you asked me."

QUESTION: "…the way faith is being used in our political debates, not just in society generally."

BUSH: "Well, I can only speak to myself. And I am mindful that people in political office should not say to somebody, you’re not equally American if you don’t happen to agree with my view of religion."

Some possibilities:

1) Bush is trying to calm a very acrimonious debate. By doing so he stands a better chance of getting his judges elected. (politics)

2) Bushs' advisors encouraged him to defuse the Frist situation because such a blatant interjection of religion into a secular government could potentially polarize the democrats (and voters), causing the power to shift back to the left in 08. (more politics)

3) Bush seriously believes that you can be an American, even if you don't agree with his view of religion. (personal conviction)

4) Various combinations of 1-3.

5) None of the above.

This much is certain: Over the next few days there should be some interesting comments from Dobson, Frist, and others on the uber right.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

On Being Irreverent

So for my semester project in my graduate history class I have been studying Hubert Henry Harrison, AKA "the black Socrates." Harrison is considered to be a race and class radical who was largely forgotten by history.

It is very likely that historians "forgot" Harrison for three reasons:

1) His personal philosophy of being true to his own convictions. Primary among these convictions was his intellectually honest and candid criticism of anything that did not fit with the evidence. This candidness inevitably offended many persons or organizations that should have preserved his memory.

2) Being a class and race radical, Harrison was involved with the Socialist Party of America. Consequently, eight years prior to his death Russia had a revolution which causes America's Red Scare. Thus, anyone who criticized our government or was associated in any way with socialism was automatically (and often unfairly) deemed a communist.

3) Harrison was an avowed freethinker. It is my personal opinion that historians are often unkind to those who openly criticize and reject the majority's religion. For example, historians HAD to remember the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin (all deists and freethinkers) because they were part of some major events in U.S. history. The same could be said of the philosopher Bertrand Russell (AKA "the father of analytical philosophy). Some of his many accomplishments can be found here.

However, other freethinkers who were notable in their day, yet were not part of some historically significant even are often forgotten. One such example would be one of America's greatest orators, Robert Green Ingersoll. Were it not for the work of a few diligent (and honest) historians, he would have been written completely out of history.
(First digression of the night: The original freethought movement was spawned in the Italian Renaissance and once was not associated with a rejection of religion. Rather, adherents encouraged a critical examination of all matters with the best science of the day. Eventually freethought turned it's critical eye on Christianity and the rest, as they say, is history.)
So, a combination of these three points coalesced and historians wrote Harrison out of the historical record. Luckily, an independent historian by the name of Jeff Perry rediscovered Harrison and is now sharing his work with the world.

This leads me to the second digression of the night: The value of being irreverent. The OED defines irreverence as: "The fact or quality of being irreverent; absence or violation of reverence; disrespect to a person or thing held sacred or worthy of honor."

Too many times people who are intellectually honest, open, and candid, OFTEN are described as "negative", "skeptical", or are accused of being "irreverent". In fact, more times than I care to count, I am often described in this manner. Interestingly, people who label me act as if they are omniscient--it's almost as if they think that they have a direct pipeline to what I am thinking.

Sadly they are quite mistaken.

While I am certainly no Hubert Harrison, he faced many of the same criticisms that I often have. Thus, it is with the words of Harrison that I respond to my critics:
“The old men whose minds are always retrospecting and reminiscing to the past, who are trained to read a few dry and dead books which they still fondly believe are hard to get—these do not know anything of the modern world…Get education. Get it not only in school and college, but in books and newspapers, in market-places, institutions, and movements. Prepare by knowing; and never think that you know until you have listened to ten others who know differently…Reverence is in one sense, is respect for what is antiquated because it is antiquated…Oldsters love ruts because they help them to “rub along,” they are easy to understand; they require the minimum of exertion and brains, they give the maximum of ease…If you wish to be spiritually alert and alive; to get the very best out of yourself—shun a rut as you would shun the plague! Never bow the knee to Baal because Baal is in power; never respect wrong and injustice because they are enshrined in the sacred institutions of our glorious land; never have patience with either Cowardice or Stupidity…Read, reason, and think on all side of all subjects…And set it before you, as a sacred duty always to surpass the teachers that taught you—and this is the essence of irreverence.”
Excerpt from:

Hubert Henry Harrison, “To the Young Men of My Race,” in Jeffery Perry, ed., A Hubert Harrison Reader. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 175-176.

Irreverent and PROUD of it!

Top 12 things Yoda says in the bedroom

  1. "Ahhh! Yoda's little friend you seek!"
  2. "Urm. Put a shield on my saber I must."
  3. "Feel the force!"
  4. "Foreplay, cuddling - a Jedi craves not these things."
  5. "Down here, I am. Find a ladder, I must!"
  6. "Do me or do me not - there is no try."
  7. "Early must I rise. Leave now you must!"
  8. "You know, this would be a lot more fun without Frank Oz's hand up my....."
  9. "Happens to every guy sometimes this does."
  10. "When 900 years old you get, Viagra you need too, hmmmmm?"
  11. "Ow, ow, OW! On my ear you are!"
  12. "Who's your Jedi master? WHO'S your Jedi Master?"

Monday, April 25, 2005


Politics at it worst: filibusters to prevent judicial nominations. So the recent flap is about the democrats who are threatening to filibuster the republican judicial nominations.

Some interesting observations from here:
While a majority of the Senate is sufficient to confirm a judge, it takes 60 votes under Senate rules to overcome a filibuster and force a final vote.

Rather than change the rules directly, Frist and other Republicans have threatened to seek an internal Senate ruling that would declare that filibusters are not permitted against judicial nominees.

Because such a ruling can be enforced by majority vote, and Republicans have 55 seats in the 100-member Senate, Republican leaders have said they expect to prevail if they put the issue to the test.
More excerpts from this source:
But history shows that Republicans did something similar to the Democrats' filibusters five years ago.

In 1999 and 2000, before he became majority leader, Frist was one of the Republican senators blocking President Clinton’s nominee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Richard Paez.

Frist and others repeatedly prevented a vote on the Paez nomination. In 1999, Frist and 52 other Republicans voted against a motion to proceed to a vote on Paez.

Six months later, Frist voted against cutting off extended debate — a filibuster — on the nomination.

Then he voted for a motion to postpone a vote on the nomination.

And finally on March 9, 2000, four years after Clinton nominated Paez to the appeals court, Frist was on the losing end of a 59-39 vote on the nomination itself...And Frist, once an agent of obstruction, is moving to change the rule on filibustering nominees so that the Senate can, as Schumer said, “vote them up or down.”

“I don’t think it’s radical to ask senators to vote. I don’t think it’s radical to expect senators to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities,” Frist said Sunday at a rally organized by the Christian conservative group Family Research Council.

Frist is considering a run for president in 2008. The republicans hold a majority in senate. Rather than change the rule, Frist is threatening to seek a majority vote that removes the option of filibusters. Frist has used the filibuster many times himself. Judicial nominations usually are on the court for a very long time. So, the judges that a president appoints usually has the power to affect legislation well after the nominating president has left office. Now, it is "possible" that Frist is having a "change of heart" and wants to change the rule for the betterment of government. However, I suspect something else is at play here:
Some Christian conservative groups feel that this is an opportunity to reshape the judiciary in their own image and that this chance may be short-lived, reports Chaggaris. Perkins and Dobson talked directly about the issue with supporters last month, with Dobson commenting that time may be running out because he feels President Bush will become a "lame duck" in about 18 months.

In an audiotape recording of their conference, obtained by CBS News from the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Dobson is heard telling supporters, "If we let that 18 months get away from us and then maybe we got (Sen.) Hillary (Clinton, D-N.Y.) to deal with or who knows what, we absolutely will not recover from that."
Most troubling is this statement:
Among the speakers Sunday was R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, who said that putting more evangelicals on the court will mean rulings more in tune with the religious convictions of churchgoers.

"We are not asking for persons merely to be moral," Mohler said. "We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."
This smells an awful lot like a theocracy--not a democracy and this concerns me deeply. There are MANY other faith groups in the US and it's my personal opinion that if we move down this road, it makes discrimination based on faith much easier for which ever majority religion that has the most politicians at the federal level--not to mention pushing a particular agenda based on their religion.

Digression regarding Mohler: I remember having a conversation many years ago with the Lutheran pastor who was teaching my Bible study class. We had gotten on the issue of witnessing, when it was appropriate, etc. According to Pastor Bass, he felt that there were many ways to witness and in his opinion prostylizing was a two-edged sword because it often turns as many people off as it wins them over (he compared it to telemarketers and how annoying they can be). His preferred witnessing tool was to lead by example and though he often invited people to "see what the church was about", he did so in a a very un-dogmatic way (this from a man who spent many years in the mission fields).

Moreover, adherents of any religion should know that you can't force or legislate people to believe! Belief is a very personal matter and only their God would know if they really believed. What Mohler is suggesting flys in the face of this!

The other caveat: If Frist pushes the issue and wins the vote then republicans of the future may well face a similar situation when they are outnumbered. So, years down the road when the democrats hold the majority they could push the Liberal Agenda® by nominating ultra liberal judges and force a vote.

Although filibustering is not perfect, it allows for both sides to negotiate over which judicial nominees will be voted on. It's not the best "check and balance" but it is a check and balance.

Finally, I think the points that I made about Elite Theory in my post on secularism apply to Mohler et al.

This is why I believe that religion and politics are a bad mix when it comes to a democracy.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Books: Martial Arts

What follows is a short list of my favorite martial arts-related books:
All of the books authored by Bruce Lee or the Bruce Lee Library.
A well-rounded introduction to all aspects of Wing Chung by an international master. Included in volume two is a picture-by-picture presentation of Wing Chun's three forms: Sil Lum Tao, Chum Kil, and Bil Jee.

Jeet Kune Do: Hardcore Training & Strategies by Larry Hartsell. Another core JKD book by one of Lee's original students. Included in this book is Lee's mook jong form. Hartsell has authored several books and I recommend them all to any martial artist.

Jun Fan Gung Fu: Seeking the Path of Jeet Kune Do by Kevin Seaman. A solid introduction to core Jun Fan/JKD principles and tactics.

Mastering Karate by Jerry Beasley. Beasley holds dans in numerous arts including karate and Tae Kwon Do. He is also a certified Jeet Kune Do instructor and has authored numerous martial arts books (all of which I recommend). In this book, Beasley applies the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do to core karate techniques. The end result is a book that will help the traditional karate stylist fight smarter in any street situation.

Nunchaku: The Complete Guide by Jiro Shiroma. A solid introduction to nunchaku techniques, katas, and applications.

The Warrior Within by John Little.
A very readable introduction to the philosophy of Bruce Lee. Highly recommended for martial artists and laypersons. Little has authored several other books relating to Bruce Lee and I recommend them all.
A good introduction to single and double stick fighting techniques; which, when viewed through the lens of Jeet Kune Do, can enhance nunchaku or Wing Chun's 8-cut butterfly knives techniques.
Wing Chun Kung-Fu, Volumes 1-3 by Dr. Joseph Wayne Smith.
V. 1 Basic Forms & Principles
V. 2 Fighting & Grappling
V. 3 Weapons & Advanced Techniques
This is an excellent overview of Wing Chun forms, principles, and strategies. Moreover, Dr. Smith takes a scientific approach to the biomechanical theories behind Wing Chun while yet preserving its tradition. Finally, in the spirit of advancing the art, Smith incorporates his knowledge of White Crane kung fu and Thai kick-boxing in an effort to add to the art.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Martial Arts Chronology

I received the following as a response to my first post. Rather than respond to it there I have chosen to make it the topic of this post.
Question dated 4/24/05 from "Jim": "I'm studying tae kwon do and have a brown belt...what style are you studying and do you have a favorite?"
Here ya go Jim!

Senior green belt in Tae Kwon Do -- 1991

After 16 months I grew weary of the forms, the over-emphasis on wining awards for the school, the over-emphasis on kicking, the lack of practical application/realistic sparring; and, I also had serious doubts that much of what was being taught by this particular school had much street value.
7th Kyu in Aikido -- 1995
Dropped out in less than 3 months after realizing that this art was not for me.
6th Kyu in Goju-Ryu Karate -- 1995
From a self-defense perspective I preferred this art over Tae Kwon Do. However, this school was somewhat dogmatic and the forms where much harder to learn.
Junior green belt in Tae Kwon Do --1996
You'd think I'd have learned my lesson once!
PPCT Training via the department of corrections --1995 -1998
PPCT stands for pressure point control tactics and is typically taught to law enforcement and corrections officers. There are different levels of proficiency and the two main styles are based primarily on the audience that it is being taught to (i.e., police vs. corrections). What I was annually certified in emphasized the following: 1) Principles of controlling resistance behavior, 2) Stimulus response training, 3) Handcuffing, 4) Joint locks, 5) Pressure point control tactics, and 6) Knife defense.
The problem with this system is that it was developed around a "use of force" continuum. That is, staff should use a level of force that is slightly higher than the resistance the subject is using, thus allowing staff to regain control of the situation without getting sued!
While PPCT has some value for police or law enforcement, in my opinion it is not the ideal self-defense system. In fact, were you to try 60% of the tactics in a street fight you'd likely get yourself hurt. That being said, after looking at PPCT through the lens of the Jeet Kune Do, there are some core techniques that can be kept or slightly modified.
Wing Chun Kung Fu -- 2004
Currently I am studying Wing Chun Kung Fu (or gung fu if you prefer):
Wing Chun has managed to retain its focus as a practical fighting art. It has avoided being modified into a competitive (rule based) point-scored sport or demonstration art. Wing Chun tournaments are rare or unknown.
The more effective Wing Chun strikes (eyes, throat, knee) are too dangerous even for freestyle competitions. Wing Chun is therefore rarely seen in competition.
Wing Chun is not just a collection of unrelated techniques. It has a core set of guiding principles which allows practitioners to decide what is correct or incorrect Wing Chun. This keeps the art a pure and integrated fighting system, while allowing direction for refinement that is consistent with its principles.
These guiding principles are strictly practical and is part of the reason for Wing Chun's uniquely scientific and logical approach to fighting. It is likely that Bruce Lee managed to develop Jeet Kune Do from Wing Chun because Wing Chun trained him to think about fighting in a scientific way.
So, after applying Lee's philosophy of Jeet Kune Do to the styles that I have experience in, I have been able strip away the useless and adapt what is useful. In other words, my personal expression of JKD includes techniques and strategies that I have learned from Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Aikido, PPCT, Wing Chun--not to mention the dozen or so use of force situations that I experienced while employed in corrections. Seen through the lens of Jeet Kune Do, these experiences make up my own personal "style of no style."
In other words I know enough to hurt myself!

Friday, April 22, 2005


From: "New challenges await the next pope."
"The next pope's biggest problem, I think, is the secularists of the developed world. Europeans are turning away from religion altogether. A new chapter will begin in the religious world with the election of a new pope," wrote Aaron Kinney, from Los Angeles, California. "Will he bring Europe back to religion or will Europe continue to snub the church?"
All week long I have been thinking about commenting on the late John Paul II. In particular, I wanted to list his many significant historical accomplishments and also comment about what the new pope is up against.

But, once again, all the carping and posturing about the evils of "secularization" has annoyed me enough that I decided to talk about secularism.

Secularization is defined as: "The process through which religious thinking, practice, and institutions lose their religious and/or social significance." The concept is based on the theory, held by some sociologists, that as societies become industrialized their religious morals, values, and institutions give way to secular ones and some religious traits become common secular practices.

In one sense, the attack this week on secularism by the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is no surprise. It has become a kind of knee-jerk response on the part of church leaders to argue constantly about the evils of secularism. However, I suspect that the reality of the situation is this: Recently the United States, the most secular nation on Earth®, witnessed an election in which "moral values" ranked higher than any other single issue in determining how people voted. Moreover, the Republicans masterfully courted churchgoers (evangelicals in particular) which may have gotten George Bush reelected. In fact, the US can be used as an example: secularism and the very public expressions of religious faith seem able to co-exist--albeit not with controversy or tension.

Ratzinger's concern, of course, is Europe not the US. I'm comfortable in asserting that Americans are one of the most church-going people in the world. In Europe, by contrast, the church-going population is nearing extinction and in Britain it is now less than 8% of the total population. In fact, the Skeptical Inquirer recently ran an article that lists some very interesting statistics concerning religious beliefs--both in the US and abroad (follow the link and you can view a portion of the article and statistics).

To understand why Europe is more secular than the US, it is worth remembering what history teaches us about what life was like in Europe BEFORE the rise of secularism. Up until the 1800's, in Britain, public office was denied to any man who refused to accept the doctrines of the Church of England, couples (irregardless of their religion) were required by law to be married by an Anglican priest, all teaching posts at Oxford and Cambridge were reserved for Anglican-only professors; and, even the mildest form of blasphemy could carry a prison term. Added to that was the fact even after secularism started to rise, the church in Europe still asserted its dominance. For example, as late as WW II it was law that Jewish synagogues had to be built shorter than Christian cathedrals.

The whole movement to remove these restrictions led to the rise of the secular societies of the 1850s. Sadly, among many theists, secularism is now thought of in negative terms. What history can teach us, however, is that many of these secularists were committed to the more positive goal of developing a system of ethics based on the social good of the community. Moreover, they were (and still are) committed to the notion of an open and democratic marketplace of ideas and beliefs (including religious beliefs).

When Ratzinger made his comments on secularists, I found myself compelled to go through my years-old electronic archive of sociology notes. As is the case with MANY things in life, secularization is a very complex issue. Granted, there are those that do have a "secular agenda", but I hold the opinion that this vocal group only fits into the larger picture of secularization/secularism. So, blaming the "secular agenda" or the evil secularists is an oversimplification of a very complex issue!

Outline of notes (circa 1992):

Secularization: Very complex. No single cause. There are distinguishable contributors to secularization.

1. Rationalization/Post-Enlightenment--dominant trend. (Weber)
  • Rational mentality stressing openness toward new ways of doing things (in contrast to traditionalism) and readiness to adapt to functionally of common/universalistic criteria of doing things. Key principle: belief that all phenomena can be rationally explained.
2. Structural Differentiation
  • Gradual dissociation of religion from other major institutional spheres. Idea of religious values replaced by separate spheres, each with its own set of values.
  • Causal Factors for Structural Differentiation
    • Division of labor secular state--separation of church and state
    • Secular education: Religious foundations of morality/law gradually replaced by laws based on rationalism
    • Church functions assumed by secular agencies
3. Spread of Capitalism (tangentially related to differentiation)
  • Quest for profit has sped up the "demystify" process by encouraging human mastery of technical skills.
  • Expanded markets, depersonalized work relations, increased reliance on industrialization, segmented tasks, helped to transition many areas of life to matters of planned performance.
  • Capitalism is "a world in which religion is replaced by a social organization in which technological rationality reigns supreme." (Giddens).
  • Pluralism/globalization (Berger)
  • No single world-view (capitalism promotes as well as science)
  • Religion as a legitimating function of society reduced
  • Privatization and individualism: Individuals find sources of identity increasingly only in the private sphere. Leads to moral individualism
Apparent contradiction: Fundamentalists in the US are often great supporters of capitalism and traditional values. However, a historical/sociological study of business and the industrial age shows that capitalism and globalism is arguably AS GREAT a threat to tradition as secularization is.

4. The Growth of Science
  • Scientific world-view challenges belief in supernatural powers
  • Promotes impartiality and skepticism
  • Tends to promote disenchantment and demystification among some
Finally, a fifth point that I am leaving out is the schism within the church itself. Many historians believe that schism weakened the church which also allowed for the rise of secularism. This may be true. However, I believe that points 1-4 are the likely reasons that secularism grew--along with the European people's revolt against the church. In fact, without the schism I think secularism would have grew and it would have done so based on points 1-4.

To summarize the causes of secularism:

1) A populace revolt against church practices which culminated in a schism (at least in Europe).

2) Structural differentiation: at one point in history the church was the only social institution. Now, there are many social institutions which have replaced the church in this role.

3) Capitalism and globalization: the bottom line is the bottom line! When money and power are involved many business persons who are religious will trade principles for profit.

4) Science: I personally believe that science has played a role in promoting secularism but it's not as strong as points 1-3. In fact, the general public (especially in the US) is usually quite uninformed or misinformed about science and the scientific method. This ignorance has led to all sorts of nonsensical beliefs (e.g., alien abductions, ghosts, crop circles, big foot, etc.).

Digression: Generally speaking I'm more concerned with how you arrive at your beliefs than what you believe. As long as your beliefs are not harmful to others and you don't dogmatically try to get me to subscribe to them, I am generally not too concerned with what you believe. In fact, there are a good many religious scholars and well-informed theists (you pick the religion) who have arrived at their beliefs via good methods (i.e., science, information literacy, etc).

Digression 2: Why does the Catholic church see secularism as a threat? Is it because there is a true "secular agenda" which is organized and powerful enough to topple the church? Or, is it something else? I've already argued that--to a certain extent--the secular agenda is a myth.
In fact, over the years I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to most institutional and/or societal problems the root cause is usually power.

Again, turning to sociology we see something known as Elite Theory: "Societal power is concentrated in elite groups who control resources of key social institutions and are not accountable to the masses." Origins of societal power lie in control of social organizations, regardless of how democratic (or undemocratic) a society may be. Elites hold the bulk of power and use all and any means to retain power--often to the point that the pursuit of maintaining power becomes an end in itself (e.g., democrats and republicans, special interest groups, big business influencing politics).

So, I personally think that the Catholic church is concerned with its survability as an institution and part of this has to do with an attempt to hold onto its fading power (especially in Europe). Hopefully, the new pope will follow John Paul's example and try to maintain church power for altruistic reasons and the betterment of societies--not for the sake of power itself.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Confirmation Bias

This post inspired me to write about one of my own experiences with confirmation bias.
Approximately eight years ago I worked in a maximum-medium security prison. The inmate demographics were males age 18-28. In addition, we usually got most of the gang members. Well, most of these gang members loved to play rap music on their boxes. In particular, when officers and case workers walked by they loved to play the various “cop killer” songs as a way to send us a message.
Consequently, every time I hear a violent rap song that encourages “cop killing” I chalk it up to an ignorant and violent class of society.
Now fast forward to the graduate history class that I am currently enrolled in. The class is titled Race & Ethnicity. This past Monday our assignment was to listen to various rap songs and view them through a historical lens. Or, as the professor said: “All of the songs and artists in one way or another express a historical consciousness…most importantly, the music represents a vernacular history of the nation. Consider how and why.”
One of the songs I had to listen to is from the NWA’s album titled “Straight out of Compton” and is titled “Fuck tha Police.” In fact, this song may set a record when it comes to using the “F-word”.
So after listening to the song I chalked it up to the gang banger mentality. Unfortunately, in this example, I was suffering from confirmation bias because my beliefs ARE prejudiced when it comes to gang bangers.
During the course of our class discussion the professor informs us of the local historical context of this particular song. When it was written the L.A. police were practicing a “beat first and ask questions later” policy. In fact, in the criminal justice arena there is a concept called “community policing.”
It is safe to say that during this time period the
L.A. police were NOT practicing community policing. So, the various "cop killer" rap songs that come from this era are one of the few ways that an oppressed and marginalized segment of society could express itself. In fact, the professor compared these rap songs to an oral history of what was happening to a particular class of people at a particular point in history. Interestingly, a few years after this song came out L.A. finally came unglued during the L.A. riots. Hindsight is 20/20 but it’s too bad that someone didn’t pay attention to all the warning signs.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Introductions and such

Here goes my first attempt at a serious “Blog”:

This first post may well be the hardest because I hope to describe "me". Now one would not think this too hard to do. However, after trying to explain myself to a colleague I found myself to be somewhat of an enigma to myself!

Should I "label" myself and if so, how? I could try to use any of the following descriptors: independent, thoughtful, curmudgeonly, humorous, funny, sarcastic, hopeful, self-motivated, benevolent, helpful, humanistic, civil libertarian, etc.

I suppose the best way to describe myself is by attempting to explain my core philosophy; the one that drives all the others--be they humanistic, scientific, etc. Moreover, for the most part, labels often come with baggage and preconceived stereotypes, which is something that I’m hoping to avoid.

My core philosophy is something that has developed over approximately 20 years and has been molded by my experiences with the following: Christianity, a liberal arts education, the martial arts, a blend of eastern and western philosophy (in particular, both eastern and western versions of naturalism), the military, factory work; and, having worked in a maximum-medium security prison. It’s suffice to say that I went from the stereotypical traditional conservative Christian to someone who almost can’t be classified or identified (especially to some of my long-time friends).

Now I never had a name for my eclectic worldview until I started to read the writings of the late Bruce Lee. Unbeknownst to many, Bruce Lee was a very intelligent man who, among many accomplishments, majored in philosophy. In addition, when he was incapacitated with his back injury he spent many months studying both eastern and western philosophy. During this time he developed his philosophy of Jeet Kune Do.

Jeet Kune Do--the literal translation is "way of the intercepting fist"--was conceived by Bruce Lee in 1967. Those who understand the "philosophy" of JKD are primarily interested in its powers of liberation. Thus, in the broader sense, JKD can be used as a mirror for self-examination and self-actualization.

As a martial art Jeet Kune Do is not a new style of kung-fu. Bruce did not invent a new art or style, nor did he modify a style to set it apart from any existing method. His concept was to free his followers from clinging to any style, pattern, or mold. In other words, Lee wanted his students to see the total picture--both in the martial arts and in life.

This notion of seeing the total picture is summed up from a line that Lee said in Enter the Dragon:
"Don't think; feel. It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory.”
This is not to say that Lee's martial art was a hodge-podge of "whatever worked." Rather, Lee advocated a systematic approach of "core techniques" that helped to develop speed, distance, power, timing, coordination, endurance and footwork. Once students learned his core Lee then encouraged them to "research their own experiences, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add to their experience what was specifically their own."

The most important lesson that Lee tried to teach is this: Jeet Kune Do is not an end to itself. Rather, if utilized properly it can lead to self-learning, self-discovery, and self-actualization. JKD is a prescription for personal growth; it is an investigation of freedom--freedom not only to act naturally and effectively in combat, but in life.

No surprise here but the JKD philosophy is definitely eastern in concept. Moreover, it may be hard for western minds to grasp the fullness of the idea (I know my western and scientifically biased mind has not completely grasp it). The essence of JKD as I see it is this: No art is superior to any other. That is, the object lesson of Jeet Kune Do is to be unbound, to be free: in both combat and life to use no style as style, to use no way as the way, to have no limitation as the only limitation. Neither be for or against a particular style. In other words, Jeet Kune Do 'just is'.

To borrow a phrase from “information literacy”, the JKD person has “learned how to learn”. However, this learning is not mere memorization and regurgitation of knowledge. Rather, it is based on a core of knowledge that allows the person to "research their own experiences, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add to their experience what is specifically their own."

Another component of JKD is adaptability. Or, as Lee often advised:
“Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.”
So, after having developed my philosophical worldview, it was not until three years ago that I finally found a term that could be used to describe it: Jeet Kune Do!

Which leads me to my first digression of sorts… I find myself biased, or as Lee would say, “clinging”, to two things: 1) Science 2) Not backing down. The first is really hard for me to overcome because I see science as the best way to examine, explain, and experience the world. In fact, I can plausibly explain many of what, for lack of better term, I would describe as “spiritual” experiences that I have had—be they religious, meditative, etc. However, I do not see this as lessening the experiences. I’ve always said that there is wonder enough in this world and when you get right down to it, humankind knows so very little about “all this”. I suppose this is one of the reasons I continually read and research in the areas of religion and philosophy; and, at least “try” to experience the world through a different view (i.e., the metaphysical view).

Not backing down is another matter. It comes from my inherent “rebel spirit”, was made worse by working for four years in a very rough factory; and, was further reinforced by working in a prison. In essence, I consider this one of my greatest weaknesses, yet it is an area that I have made great progress in. I often jokingly refer to it as the Don Quixote syndrome. Thankfully, my various experiences in the martial arts (Aikido in particular), helped me to realize that the direct approach is often a waste of energy. Moreover, it often does as much harm as it does good. In fact, by the time I started to work in prison I realized that the direct approach was not going to work because 1) I’m a small guy, and 2) I was outnumbered! Now this is not to say that I would completely yield. Rather, it means that I became “pliable” and only resorted to hard discipline or force when reason failed.

Ironically, once again, Lee was way ahead of me! He advises:
“Be soft, yet not yielding. Be firm, yet not hard."
Which leads me to my last digression: Last night I was channel surfing when I happened upon a Steven Segal movie. What “greatly” annoys me about Segal (besides his bad acting) is that he is not demonstrating true Aikido. Granted, I only made it to yellow belt (or 7th Kyu) in Aikido, which is not even close to expert. However, I did learn that Aikido is often referred to as the pacifist’s martial art for a reason!

The essence of Aikido is to neutralize your opponent without hurting them. A true Aikido stylist would go out of his or her way to NOT hurt their opponent. Anyhow, this is enough digression for the first post. Two caveats and then I need to sign off for the night: 1) I’m planning on experimenting with various blog templates so expect changes, and 2) I can’t guarantee that my foray into a serious blog will last! Book recommendations: Bruce Lee: Words from a Master, Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee's Commentaries on the Martial Way, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and The Tao of Gung Fu. All from the Bruce Lee Library.

Also John Little's The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee.

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