Killing US citizens without due process-Once more into the breach

So if you’re not persuaded that killing US citizens without due process of the law is wrong by what I wrote before, then you won’t be persuaded by what I’m going to write in this post. I’m posting more just for selfish reasons-I think the drone policy is wrong, and I want to go on record, as loudly as possible, saying that American citizens should not be killed without due process.

Yes, Obama has admitted that he can kill any US citizen that a senior member of his administration believes is part of al Qaeda or an “associated force.” But anyone who has been following this issue knew that anyway-it’s common knowledge that he’s killed American citizens and a 16 year old son of an American citizen.

Do liberals honestly think that it’s fine for the president to kill US citizens without due process because he believes they’re associated with al Qaeda? You realize the war on terror, and this power, won’t end in our lifetimes, right? It’s not a one-time thing for Obama. The next president will have this power, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. Are you sure you’re willing to trust all presidents of both parties with the power to kill US citizens without due process?

Ideally, liberals would have tried to do away with this power when Obama was still running for re-election and they had political leverage over him. Of course, Romney was just as bad on this issue, and it’s too late for that now anyways. But there’s no more fear that pressuring Obama on this issue could lead to Romney’s election. Obama doesn’t have to worry about re-election, so he’s keeping this policy going because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Do liberals also think this policy is right? Do they wish Bush had this authority? If not, why not speak out against Obama?

A sad, sick part of me thinks that Obama released this memo because he wants political pressure to force him to do the right thing and reverse our policy of killing US citizens without due process. I know that’s wrong-Obama clearly thinks this policy is in the right. But even if he didn’t, there’s no political backlash forming strong enough to make him feel pressured to change it. And that’s the saddest result of all.

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Book Review-Wolf Hall

So the short version of this review is that you should read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and then go read her sequel to it, Bring Up the Bodies.*

One of the reasons why I’m such a history dork (beyond the fact that I find it enjoyable) is that I think it helps add perspective to see how societies have been organized differently in the past, and how humans behaved differently in the past in order to see what’s different today.

Wolf Hall is set in England roughly a generation after a traumatic civil war. The Tudors, who are the current dynasty, took over after the two dynasties who fought the vast majority of the civil war against each other (York and Lancaster) were exhausted from the conflict. Because the overthrow of English kings is still alive in recent memory, Henry the VIII, the current king, is especially eager to ensure that he has a male heir to avoid another civil war over the line of succession. As a result,  Henry wants to keep switching wives in an attempt to find one who will give him an heir (this was much more difficult to do legally and politically before the age of no-fault divorce).

Into this scene steps Thomas Cromwell, who is recognizable as a fairly modern figure. He is the right-hand man of the king-for political power (not ideology), imagine him as some combination of chief of staff-congressional majority leader-treasury secretary and attorney general-he fills all those roles at one time or another. He has a genuinely progressive view of England as a country at peace that modernizes and alleviates poverty. But because of the times that he lives in, the only path he sees to that future is one through keeping the Tudor dynasty stable, and the immediate way to keep the Tudor dynasty stable is be ensuring that Henry has a wife that gives him a son to be his heir. Thus, most of his energy is put into the goal of getting rid of Henry’s various wives. Along the way, Cromwell executes the wives, various political supporters of the wives, and quite a few people who were just morally opposed to the divorce (most notably Thomas More).

Mantel tries hard (and partially succeeds) to make Cromwell an attractive  figure-we can see why he kills the people he does (many of them would kill him if given half the chance). He really doesn’t have any other option-if he stepped down, or refused to kill those he does, Henry would attempt the same goal but in a less politically astute way that may lead to civil war again.

And yet, Cromwell’s career illustrates how much our choices are circumscribed by the times that we live in-even politically powerful leaders like Cromwell. Cromwell’s not perfect-he holds grudges and isn’t particularly disturbed by the death of others. But overall, he’s a very effective political leader who works hard for the good of the people. Given his times, however, most of his energies are dedicated towards removing various queens and executing others.

Perhaps a truly great person-an Abraham Lincoln-would’ve solved Cromwell’s political dilemma without the methods that he employed. Such people are rare.

Today, Cromwell would have of course a very different set of options for his career. In many ways, he would have more constructive outlets for his talents. Of course, with the present as his only means of reference, he might feel equally circumscribed as he did during Tudor England.

For myself, I feel more circumscribed by my past choices. Sometimes I dream of leaving everything behind and starting up anew in a different city where no one knows me or remembers my past mistakes. But I would still bring myself with all my flaws to this new city.

*note-I edited this post about 10 times, and I’m still not super happy with it, but I’m blogging for free, so this will have to do.

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one thing about adult life that i’ve had some difficulty adjusting to

is the realization that you don’t deserve anything. this is true both on a theological level (i’m a reformed christian, after all) and on a practical level-no one is going to hand you a job, money, a spouse, attention, etc-you will have to go out and get all those things yourself.

as a kid, things that you wanted may often be provided to you whether you merit them or not. but that’s generally not the case as an adult.

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2 quick thoughts on the shootings

because it’s never too soon after a tragedy to talk about responses…

1. it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t at least consider gun control at this point. i understand that handguns may be used for self-defense, but the only real purpose for long guns-AR15s, AK47s, etc. that are used in nearly all these killings is for hunting (it’s really inconvenient to carry around a gun that big for self-defense-handguns are much easier). The primary argument against most of the regulations of those rifles is that it will inconvenience hunters and target-shooters.

Now, my uncle and cousins are avid hunters and skeet-shooters. I have gone hunting with them, and while I don’t particularly enjoy it myself, I can understand that others do.

For myself, I really enjoy playing ultimate frisbee. When I have a free Saturday, I’ll go play for hours on end. But imagine that people started using frisbees as lethal weapons (work with me here). While of course I would prefer to be able to continue to play ultimate without any restrictions, I would give that up in a heartbeat if it meant that we could decrease the use of lethal frisbees.

Likewise, we are fortunately to live in an advanced industrial democracy, where anyone who has access to firearms to hunt also has the means to survive without hunting-it’s not like the Native Americans, when hunting was a genuinely important source of nourishment to whole tribes.

This is a long-winded way of saying when people complaint that limitations on semi-automatic weapons will inconvenience hunters, I don’t really care. If you need a handgun for self defense in a bad neighborhood, fine, I’m with you. You should have to get a psychological background check before getting one, but sure, you can buy one. But really, does anyone NEED a rifle that fires more than 1 shot every 30 seconds or so? I think not.

2. That being said, gun control as the primary response to these shootings is a sadly limited technological response that essentially admits that our society is unable to integrate and love all of its members. In a way, it’s a deeply pessimistic and conservative response to tragedy-we’ll never be able to help people like Adam Lanza, so let’s just limit the damage that they can do to others.

This may be realistic, given our society as we know it today, but I would like to think that this horrific tragedy can challenge us to go deeper and to really make an effort to love those around us. I’ll be the first to admit that I fall horribly short on this front every single day (I fell particularly short this weekend, but then again, I also fell very short the weekend before that, so it is unfortunately a trend). But I can fall short and still exhort myself and others to improve, to continue to make an effort to go above and beyond reaching out and loving those in your life. It’s unlikely (hopefully) that you’re surrounded by potential shooters, but that doesn’t mean that your love can’t make a difference in their lives.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a utopian.

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When I look out my window from work (sadly I have no working camera on my phone so this photo will have to do), I am impressed by the material civilization that humanity has built over the last 2 centuries or so. Then I’m reminded of how much work I have to do in order to maintain my place in that civilization, and I turn back to my desk.

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Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

I was amused to see this author make the case that “having sex before marriage is the best choice for nearly everyone” without even considering the religious or moral arguments against premarital sex.

Now, I take seriously her happiness and healthiness case for premarital sex-the studies seem legit, and it certainly seems reasonable to think that regular sex makes you happier and healthier, all other things being equal. I suppose her answer to any guilt that someone would feel after having premarital sex is that it’s good for you, so you shouldn’t feel guilty-sexuality is an appetite that it’s healthier to satisfy in a reasonable fashion much like food.

In return, it seems only reasonable that she should take seriously the idea that religious humans would have higher priorities beyond satisfying physical appetites-that if you believe in a spiritual world and eternity, then the happiness that comes from premarital sex is but a drop in the bucket compared to other possibilities that a deity may have in store for you.

But that would require her to take the arguments against premarital sex seriously.

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Let’s see if I can post about abortion without making my views on the subject obvious

In the vice-presidential debate, Joe Biden said that he accepts in his personal life the Catholic church teaching that life begins at conception, but is not willing to impose this teaching on others.

I understand how someone could be reluctant to impose a personal feeling of discomfort with abortion on others-after all, it’s a deeply personal decision. One could personally resolve to never get an abortion, and yet be unwilling to legally prohibit others from doing so.

However, if you personally believe that life does begin at conception, then it seems to straightforwardly follow from that that abortion is the taking of a life. In which case, if abortion really does take a life, then regulating abortion only imposes your belief on others in the same sense that regulating the killing of those outside the womb imposes your belief on others.

Yes, our society does impose a belief in general that the (involuntary?) taking of life is wrong. We accept that certain people-cannibals, psychopathic killers, etc.-may disagree with this moral imposition, and are nonetheless willing as a society to ban the involuntary killing of others (setting certain situations such as war, the death penalty, self defense, etc. aside).

The dispute between the pro-lifers and the pro-choices, to boil down a very complex debate, is essentially over whether abortion IS the taking of a life, or if a fetus is not really a life with the same moral standing as you or I. Once Joe Biden concedes that life does begin at conception, I don’t think he has a good argument to refuse to impose this belief on others, and I wish that Ryan had pressed him on it, or alternately, the media would question him about it.

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