Archive for November, 2010

What Will the End Look Like?

November 29, 2010

When the North Korean government collapses, which is going to be sooner rather than later, what will integrating the North and South cultures be like?

Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t expect too much difficulty. The reason is that both the people of the North and South are largely anarchic.

Let me explain what I mean. In the South, a lot of business happens without the government ever knowing about it. Cops don’t exist for a lot of people. Your reaction when someone steals or someone breaks a law that injures you is not to run to the police, but to either move on or extract justice another way.

Granted, there are limits. You don’t just go out and kill someone. You do, however, appeal to the street. That is, if someone cheats you, you loudly proclaim their guilt in a public forum where plenty of people can hear and see.

For the most part, this system largely works. From what I know of Korean history, it’s worked for a very, very long time. It doesn’t matter who is at the top of the system of government, it doesn’t even really matter who is at the bottom, the people really don’t care and will largely manage themselves.

From the limited videos I have seen of North Korea that were smuggled out of the country, I have a great hope for the North Korean people. For the most part, their culture is largely the same as the South Korean people’s culture. Sure, they don’t play Starcraft, their principle needs are not being met (mostly food, clothing, and shelter), but they have that sense of street justice.

The two images that stand out in my mind are one, the open-air markets being conducted, more and more, in the open. The other is an ajumma (middle-aged woman, likely a mother) berating a uniformed police officer. The open air markets are run by the ajumma for the ajumma. And they remain open because the police and state fear the ajumma and their brand of street justice.

The images of starvation and suffering, death and otherwise breakup of people’s families is heartbreaking. If it is true that starvation is wide-spread, then we have ever moral reason in the universe to invade North Korea sooner rather than later. The reason is simply because we have food, and we want to distribute the food, and the only thing standing between us is the North Korean government. Is it immoral to eliminate a violent gang that prevents people from distributing food, or is it more immoral to allow the gang to continue their ways?

However, starvation and suffering are easily remedied. It’s a matter of distributing food, clothing, and shelter. As a country and as a society and culture, we have plenty of experience with this. We can saturate North Korea with food in a matter of days, provided we were given the freedom to move about and build as we needed. Over time, we can help the starving develop skills to work productively in society, most likely in the growing or distribution of food.

The prison camps that dot North Korea are also another moral argument for invasion. I can’t imagine that we live in a world where people are allowed to be tortured and killed simply for disagreeing with their government.

Some propose that we allow North Korea to correct itself by subversively transporting arms and munitions into the countryside. They believe North Korea is better off like Afghanistan than what it is today. Perhaps North Korea could even become like the Old West.

I don’t understand this thinking. Korean people simply don’t think or act that way. Their culture doesn’t favor violent overthrow of their own government. If anything, it would take someone outside of their cultural norms to lead such a revolution, and that someone would be considered all but psychotic by the people who follow. You don’t have to look very far in their history to see this pattern.

If anything, I believe the North Korean people are waiting for their situation to change, just like they waited for the Japanese to fall, or the Mongolian occupation to end, or for the evil kings of history to die. Amidst the oppression and cruelty of the Chosun dynasty, after all, there were a few benevolent kings and leaders, such as the Great King Sejong and General I Sunshin.

If anything, it is up to the Americans to lead the Korean people to throw down the Kim Ilsung dynasty and replace it with something more agreeable, much like they did to the Japanese.

I think this is why the Koreans really don’t care when North Korea acts up. They secretly hope they have to do nothing about it but follow the lead of a great leader.

An Attack on Marriage

November 29, 2010

A Pew Poll shows that 39% of Americans don’t support marriage anymore. Everyone panic! The American people are shifting their view on that fundamental institution that has sustained our ancestors throughout all history!

Or not. It turns out it is a push poll. That is, one of those unscientific polls which try to get the results the want by asking loaded questions like, “Some people say that the present institution of marriage is becoming obsolete — do you agree or disagree?” Which happens to be the exact question asked.

Question: What financial benefit is there to pushing this poll result on the American people? Who benefits when marriage collapses? Who paid for this result? Why are they willing to spend their money on this?

Rights Require a Duty

November 28, 2010

This is interesting. I read the legal definition of a right here, and I discover this fascinating paragraph.

Right is the correlative of duty, for, wherever one has a right due to him, some other must owe him a duty.

In other words, for every right we have, we demand something of other people to acknowledge and respect that right.

For instance, my right to life demands a duty that no one lay a finger on my life. My right to liberty demands no one impede my movement or actions. And my right to property means no one claims what is rightfully mine.

This is why rights are so inherently tied to violence. If I believe I have a right, and you do not perform the duty in accordance with that right, then I must, by violent means, gain from you that duty.

For instance, if you come at me with a gun, obviously not observing your duty to respect my right to life, I have to somehow stop you from shooting me, or I lose my right to life. Or if you impede my movement or behavior, rather than leaving me free to move about as I wish, then I have to use some means to end your impediment of my freedom otherwise I lost my right to liberty.

It is thus another reason why rights rely on God. God sits on His throne in heaven, and declares, “People have a right to live” by uttering the words, “Thou shalt not murder.” In other words, He defined the rights in terms of duties. The right to property is the duty “Thou shalt not steal”, and so on and so forth.

Perhaps when we examine rights in terms of their mirrored duties, we see whether or not something is really a right.

For instance, I interpret the right to health care as the right to find a doctor, contract him for his services, and receive his services according to contract. As long as no one impedes my right to find a doctor and contract with him, and no one interferes with the execution of the contract, I can have my health care.

A liberal defines the right to health care as the duty of someone else to pay for their visit to the doctor. As long as someone else writes a check for their doctor’s bill, then they have a right to see a doctor, but if they have to go on their own dime and contract with a doctor who is willing to treat them, then they don’t have full rights to health care.

Obviously, I don’t agree with the latter definition of that right. It means I have to work to pay for someone else’s sickness, and if I don’t, then the sick is allowed to come after me to beat me up to take my money. That sounds an awfully lot like stealing, which is in direct contradiction to God’s clear commandment “Thou shalt not steal”, which gives us the right to property. In other words, the liberal right to health care is in direct contradiction to our right to property. Either we are allowed to own what we create, or we give free health care, but not both.

From now on, I am going to see the mirrored duty for every right, and put things in terms of duties rather than rights.

Atheists, Take Note

November 27, 2010

This man understands what religious people are all about. At least, to a much greater degree than any atheist I have ever spoken to or heard of.

In my empirical view, this is what religion remains for modern man today–not a desire to regulate the behavior of other men, but a sincere internal reach upward to the good…. I simply firmly believe that it is the quest for the good, not the corruption, that drives religious people to worship.

The article is the last of five pages exposing why Universal Preferable Behavior (UPB) has failed like every other system of morality based on logic has failed. The author is hoping, and dare I say, praying to his God, science and reason, that there will one day be a logical explanation for good.

Unfortunately, there isn’t. That is, God isn’t governed by logic, He defines logic. God isn’t governed by good, He defines good. Good and logic are thus related, but only where God is!

Your system of belief, no matter where it begins, if it is based on a sincere pursuit of logic, truth, reason, justice, science, or anything else that is roughly defined as good, including but no limited to the ever-elusive word happiness, will ultimately lead you to God.

And by God, I mean the real God, not the fake one or the shallow interpretations that vast majority of people, dare I say, all people, have of God. (I include myself here, for as a sincere believer in Christ I know that I do not know what His ultimate nature truly is!)

It is oh-so-important that Atheists and other religions, even religions purporting to believe in God and Jesus, erase the real God from our natures and memories and yearnings. We erect fences that we feel should set a boundary on what God is. All of these fences need to be smashed, and the sooner we do so, the quicker we can move forward with our lives.

My point is this. Simply pray. Pray to whatever it is you worship as that all-governing power. Your mind has an amazing power to communicate with the Infinite. Pray and ask Him for whatever it is you really, really want, even if you think it’s stupid and foolish. Don’t pray lightly, do it quite seriously.

But the most important kind of prayer you can utter, and the one that will most assuredly change your life, is that prayer that begins in your heart and asks simply for knowledge about who God is and what is best for you in His mind. I guarantee you, even if you don’t get your answer in the way you expected it, that’s the kind of prayer that God is waiting for, and when He hears it, He will answer it, every single time, if we simply let Him.

As you come to learn things in your heart about God, you have to live them. He doesn’t want to condemn you to all kinds of punishment by giving you knowledge beyond your means to live according to it.

As you stumble upon things that you aren’t entirely sure is part of God’s nature or not, then try it out. Let it sit in your heart and see what your heart has to say about it. Then take it to God and see what He has to say about it.

This is the most amazing thing I can tell the world, and I honestly believe it will work for you because it worked and still works for me. God is really out there, ready to touch your heart when you’re ready to receive His touch. He has amazing powers, powers that only a Creator God who wrote the rules of the universe can have, and His purpose is to help you grow and mature.

At the very least, you can no longer say that I use religion to control people or to try and justify the slaughter of people. That’s not the ultimate purpose, and I’m not the one wielding religion as a sword. (I am, quite honestly, wielded by it, to my and your benefit.)

Yes, I believe some people should die, sooner rather than later, yes I believe that some people need to be controlled, for their and our own good. These ideas may seem repugnant to you, now, and I admit that even I have to question seriously whether they are right. But that’s not what religion is all about, any more than physics is about measuring how fast a ball falls to the ground. This Atheist gets it.

New LDS Church Handbook of Instructions

November 26, 2010

As a leader in the local ward, I had the opportunity to attend the meeting where the new LDS Church Handbook of Instructions was released. I also have a copy of the book.

I don’t understand people that think there are any great secrets in these books. They are simply policy manuals, not unlike the employee manuals you have at your job. They are only distributed to leaders because only those leaders need to know about the policies that affect them.

Not unlike our temple ceremonies, there are no great secrets. If you go to our temple expecting to see some great secret revealed, you will be sorely disappointed. If you miss out on the spirit of the ordinances, what you have is dead and worthless, pearls before swine.

The principles and policies in the new manuals are very basic and plain, and only a few minor differences are noteworthy. Do you really care how an Elders Quorum President is supposed to organize home teaching? Likewise, if you are not on the Ward Council, do you concern yourself with how the Ward Council is supposed to conduct its council meetings and what matters are to be discussed? Such knowledge would be trivia to those who don’t need it.

Yes, this leads to a sort of stratification in the church. There are, roughly, three levels. You have the members who show up and fulfill their callings faithfully. Then you have the leaders who sit in presidencies and councils who run the affairs of the local wards and stakes. Then you have the leaders who are general authorities who run the affairs of the whole church.

This stratification is not only necessary but natural. I don’t really care what the general authorities do or what their specific responsibilities and policies are. All I care about is the corner of the kingdom I am called to watch over. If I weren’t assigned to lead a group, then I would only concern myself with my own calling, whether it be a teacher or clerk, relying on the instructions from my leaders.

Throughout the meeting, it was emphasized that policies are policies—decisions that have been made about how people are supposed to behave. These policies do not affect how regular, non-leader members behave or what they do. Those policies are laid out quite well in our scriptures, publications, and lesson manuals. These policies only affect how we behave ourselves as leaders in the church. If we understand the policies, and if we live by them, then the vast majority of breakdowns at the local level will disappear.

As Elder Holland said, he has never seen an issue at the local level that was not already addressed, clearly, in the Church Handbook of Instructions. Had the local leaders simply referred to that resource, the problems would have disappeared.

An especially important emphasis was put on the “magical” aspect of being LDS: revelation. First, that the priesthood is the power whereby the church is run, and we should rely on it as we fulfill our callings. This power is the power of service and love, of standing to represent Christ. We must be keenly aware of this huge burden and all it requires of us. Second, that the priesthood entitles those who have responsibility to revelation. We should not only seek it out as we are entitled to it, but carefully heed it. President Packer’s remarks at the end relied heavily on a scripture that emphasizes this point.

Is this any different than the advice that missionaries give to people learning about our church, or the advice that the First Presidency gives to the Council of the Twelve? Of course not.

The move the church is experiencing is designed to help members of the church run the church more through spiritual promptings and not so much as a heartless machine, as some may have done in the past. We are in the business of saving souls, and that means we have to be inspired with God’s love for each soul and God’s insight into how each soul can be properly helped. Like the new missionary manual, the emphasis I felt was on spirituality, tempered with clear teachings based on sound doctrine.

North Korea Must Be Stopped

November 26, 2010

We often worry that a war with North Korea would lead to thousands and thousands of civilian deaths on the South. The reason is because of their vast array of artillery along the border.

Here’s an article that details the attack and technology used. (link) The highlights include:

  1. The North used thermobaric shells, meaning they explode once to spread fuel in the air, and then again to detonate it. This kind of attack is devastating against concrete structures, and we see the devastation it caused in the village.
  2. Many, many shells did not explode, showing that the equipment is very old or that they simply don’t know how to keep their systems in working order.
  3. The North used a Time-on-Attack method where shells were timed to land at the same time for maximum effect.
  4. The North’s artillery emplacements could not be efficiently targeted by the South’s artillery because they were pointing southwest at the time of the attack. They had to rotate almost 180 degrees to point to the North. This makes the North’s excuse that the South was firing towards the North laughable, but it also shows that the North was scared of the South’s return fire.
  5. The North is working off of very old information, targeting structures that were military structures several decades ago.

This intelligence leads me to believe several things.

  1. The North is acting out of hubris. They think they actually have technology that can challenge the modern world.
  2. The North is acting our of ignorance. They do not understand their own weapon systems let along the state of the South Korean defense forces.
  3. The North is acting. They will continue to act until someone helps them understand their hubris and ignorance.

We do need to help the North understand their situation more accurately. For starters, they simply do not have the same scale that the South and the USA has put together. They are terribly small fish in a really big pond. They were small fish when the war began so many years ago, they have grown a bit since then, but the truth is the pond is so much deeper and wider than it’s ever been. In terms of manpower and dollars, the South has the North beaten several times over. It’s laughably pathetic what the North is trying to do.

How best to communicate this message? I propose we simply strike all their artillery outposts at the beginning of our military exercises. I know that we have the intelligence, the resources and technology to do so, all using an approach similar to “Time-on-Attack”. Sure, they may be able to fire a few rounds off, but it’s a good gamble since many of those rounds will not even explode. The South can quietly ask people living in old military areas to avoid that particular area during the strike, moments before the strike, to ensure their safety.

With their artillery disabled, the North will lose their one ace and will no longer be negotiating from a position with any power at all. They will come to realize the vast difference in military capability between them and the South, and we can continue our military exercise without worrying about another village going up in smoke.

North Korea will only have two options to escalate the war at that point. On the one hand, they can try a full-scale invasion of the South. Such a move would be suicide without artillery, or even with it, since the South is so well-defended that a handful of people could keep the invading columns from moving more than a few hundred feet a day. The targets would also be easy pickings for our air and artillery assets in the area.

The other option is to deploy their nuclear weapons. Such a move would be suicide. If we were able to detect their movement early on, we would be justified in whatever measures we use to prevent it. Likely, we could stop a nuclear missile attack with our defense systems in the region (the fruits of the Star Wars program started by Reagan), but we could also level Pyongyang with a single nuke to help them understand the devastation they intend to release. If North Korea ever points their nuclear weapons towards another country and actually intends to fire, then no country would be justified in allowing the state to continue to exist.

Give Thanks to Property Rights

November 25, 2010

“Thou shalt not steal” is what God spoke before the people of Israel in front of Mount Sinai. They heard God’s voice, and it was indisputable.

That is the foundation for property rights.

Or, if you prefer, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Since I like people to leave my stuff alone, I’ll leave their stuff alone.

This religious ideal, and our general obedience to it, is why we have never had a famine in our country.

Let us give thanks to God for His divine law.

Population Growth and Percentages

November 24, 2010

A simple mathematical fact. Take 70. Divide by the percentage growth, and you get the doubling period.

So, 70 divided by 5% annual growth gives you a doubling period of 14 years.

Now, what’s also interesting is that the increase during a single doubling period is always greater than all the growth that’s occurred before. So if it takes 10 years to double (7% annual growth), then the growth you see in one decade is always more than all the total growth from history.

This scares a lot of people who can’t think exponentially. After all, if we keep doubling the world population every 50 years, we’re going to run out of room and resources rather quickly!

This indeed has been a problem in times past. Populations across the world would grow and decline as they ran out of resources. If only there was a way to expand resources faster than the population growth. Then we would have more than the previous generation.

In other words, if the population grows at 2%, all we need is 2% growth in resources to keep everyone happy. Any increase beyond this is frosting on the cake.

The question now becomes: Are humans infinitely smart? That is, faced with challenges we cannot imagine, can they come up with solutions even more unimaginable?

For instance, let’s say we do reach the point in human population growth where there is one person for every square yard of dry land. Our puny minds have a hard time understanding what this looks like. After all, the population would be 180,000,000,000,000 (1.8 x 10^14), 27,000 times what it is today. This would take about 650 years to reach given today’s growth rate of 1.2%.

However, consider that we’d have the brain capacity of that many humans working on solving the world’s most pressing problems. Do you think there will be any difficulty covering the earth in high rises measured in miles, and subterranean apartments stretching down until the rock is too hot to handle, or ocean colonies, above, below, and in between? Wouldn’t we have satellite colonies, colonies on the moon, maybe even colonies on Mars and other planets by then? After all, we could have billions of people devote their entire lives to solving these problems and that wouldn’t represent 1% of the human population.

Would food be a problem? After all, they’d use farming techniques we could not imagine today. Who could’ve imagined modern farming a hundred years ago? Fertilizer was, at best, manure and raw sewage. The idea of irrigation was a novel and questionable one. (Farming in deserts? Those mormons must be mad!) The ideas that allow us to create hybrids and new species of edible plants barely existed back then. Genetic engineering of our crops is happening today, and despite the flaws, will likely continue. Maybe a few cubic yards of space inside a living unit will be enough to feed a family of four continuously.

We can approach exponentials with fear, or with faith. We can scare each other with numbers so big we cannot imagine them, or we can say, “All I need to worry about is today, myself, and the people in my immediate vicinity.”

As for me, I don’t see any limits to human progress, provided we temper our knowledge with wisdom. That wisdom includes the ideas that keep us humble, compassionate, and faithful to basic laws of civil society, such as managing our lusts and desires, and tempering our emotions with forgiveness and patience.

Snow and Life and Thanksgiving

November 23, 2010

If you haven’t noticed, it snowed all over our region yesterday. Today, there is still snow on our roads and people are encouraged to stay home.

I’d like to do a simple thought experiment with you. What happens if the snow doesn’t come off the ground for three months? Some of us are used to living in places where it snows 3-6 months out of the year. Some of us aren’t.

Question: Do you sit at home and starve, hoping government will show up to feed you? Or do you take responsibility for your situation and begin thinking how you can put the resources you do have available to you to use to obtain the food, clothing, warmth, and other things you need?

If you want to live your life as a parasite, then please, sit at home and starve this winter. Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper applies here. If you don’t understand, then let me explain. In the summertime, the ants were busy gathering food, while the grasshopper made fun of them for working so hard. Food was, after all, plentiful. When winter came, the grasshopper starved, because he had no food stores, while the ants survived. Are you a grasshopper or an ant?

Do you think, that in your moment of need, caused by your own stupid decisions, that the ants owe you a free meal? If that were so, then there would be too many grasshoppers and not enough ants. Potentially, both ant and grasshopper would equally die of starvation. Who would benefit then? If it came down to choosing who should survive the winter freeze, you have to choose those who prepared for winter, meaning, as a matter of morality, the ants must let the grasshoppers starve. If not, then next winter, there will be neither ant nor grasshopper. This is the harsh reality of the real world.

If, however, you are human, and understand that no matter what position in life you are, you have something, something you can build on, and something you can share with your fellow man, then start thinking about how you can best provide for yourself and help those who truly need it around you. This is the American spirit that beats within you. It is how the pilgrims survived Plymouth Rock. Let me explain.

When the pilgrims arrived in late autumn, the ground was already barren. They survived as best they could on the ship in the bay. Half of them died from disease.

That next year, they all shared what they had and all threw in their labor into a common resource. As would be expected (by those who know human nature), there was not enough labor, and so when winter came around that year, many people starved.

Seeing the error of their ways, the next year they divided the land up to able-bodied men. They were told that whatever they raised was theirs. That autumn, they had so much food and wealth that they celebrated in a days-long celebration we now know as Thanksgiving.

When you take a man, and tell him, “Use whatever you have, but you keep what you make”, then you give him the recipe to economic success. If you take that man and temper his natural greed (which causes him to lay up in store) with reasonable charity, then you have the founding of something even greater.

The pilgrims weren’t greedy Wall Street capitalists, hell-bent on turning a profit by hook or crook. They were religious fanatics, devoted to Christ’s teaching to love one another. And love they did! However, each had their own food, land, supplies, and tools, but each would, out of their sense of love and duty share what they had with others who were in need.

Communists, socialists, liberals, and progressives don’t get that human nature doesn’t change. The same heart that beats in us beat in the hearts of the Romans, Chinese, and Pilgrims. We can either adapt our lifestyle to accommodate the failings of our human nature, by tempering it with true religion and see the economic bounty from such, or we can fall prey to our own devious natures and suffer the consequences.

This Thanksgiving, thank God that He has shown us who we truly are, and thank God that he allows us to live our life according to the dictates of our conscience. Thank Him especially for all the food and material wealth we have in our own lives, and thank Him by sharing with those in need.

Our economic success is forever tied to our religious devotion. If we lose ourselves in worshiping the God of our fathers, the God who gave man natural rights to life, liberty, and property, but demands obedience to his laws and service to fellow man, then we will continue to see economic success and liberty. If we instead worship a different God, or turn ourselves away from these vital principles altogether, we will should not be surprised to see ourselves in poverty.

Solving Two Problems at Once

November 23, 2010

North Korea just attacked South Korea, sending hundreds of shells onto a small inhabited island, killing 2 marines and injuring several others, including civilians. The village on the island went up in smoke and the people evacuated.

This is shortly after we discovered that North Korea is building the other kind of nuclear bomb. In a nutshell, there are two types of nuclear bombs that primitive countries can build. One is the plutonium bomb, the other the uranium bomb.

To build the plutonium bomb, you need plutonium (which is easily obtained as part of the nuclear energy process), but you need shaped charges that are all but impossible to get exactly right. North Korea tested their design several times, and successfully detonated a plutonium bomb not too long ago.

To build the uranium bomb, you need uranium (which is very difficult to obtain). The uranium bomb is so simple even a child could assemble it. However, due to the difficulty of obtaining uranium, you need massive plants that are easily detected. North Korea is processing uranium to obtain uranium for a bomb.

There is no peaceful purpose behind this, like there is no peaceful purpose for Iran’s race to obtain the nuclear bomb. (They are building a uranium bomb, and are days away from having enough uranium to build one, which they promise to use on the Jews in Israel.)

North Korea is guilty of numerous war crimes, and this latest provocation is the most serious we’ve seen since the war in the 50’s. The last major action before this was to sink a South Korean warship with a torpedo, killing many of the crew on board. Before that, we’ve seen them hijack airplanes, send commandos into the South, and kidnap Japanese civilians. It is clear that either North Korea is banking on South Korea, Japan and the US doing nothing, or they think that a war with us will be to their advantage.

Here’s a modest proposal. We have extra nuclear weapons in our armory, weapons we don’t really need. We can dispose of them quickly and inexpensively, and solve the North Korean problem as well. All it takes is a couple of airbursts over civilian and military targets in North Korea, and we will have crippled the North Korean political, governmental, and military machine. At the same time, we can show Russia that we are reducing our inventory of nuclear missiles.

If that doesn’t satisfy Russia, we can level Tehran as well, reducing our nuclear arsenal even further.

These wars will be much less expensive than our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the liberals happy there will be more money to spend on schools and hospitals. Heck, we might even see long-term net savings as we can bring our troops home from the Korean peninsula.

But more importantly, President Obama will instantly become the most popular president in our nation’s history, solving every foreign policy crisis with the push of a few buttons. Do you think a weakened Russia or a timid China will want to mess with a country even crazier than North Korea and Iran?

On a serious note, at least our negotiator in the six-nation talks in Northeast Asia is standing firm: No talks, no aid, until North Korea completely abandons their nuclear program. Japan and South Korea remain firm on this as well.

The best result of all this would be the toppling of the Kim Jong-Il regime. I would hope that we actually follow through with our exercises. If we simply level Pyongyang and destroy all the artillery sites along the border, we will cripple the North Korean military, government, and economic system. What will be left is freedom, something North Koreans haven’t known for 60 years now. The South is ready and able to move into the North and modernize their economy. They have already shown themselves compassionate enough to spend countless fortunes trying to help their North Korean brethren. We simply need to get the military and government out of the way.