“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. . .“ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

For sale in Dallas

For sale in Dallas

A couple of days ago I was walking along St. Paul Street in downtown Dallas. A homeless man was rifling through the trash receptacle at the corner of Elm and St. Paul. He pulled out one soda can and put it into the clear plastic bag of cans he held over his shoulder. I’ve seen him on the street before, but always at a distance.

As we approached each other, we looked AT each other, not past each other. Our eyes met, and I said, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning. It’s hard today.” I asked him what was hard, and he explained that, with all the construction on the downtown streets, he was having trouble making a living.

Streets are torn up for construction of the free trolley from downtown to West Village, and the DART rail is being repaired between the St. Paul and Ackard Street stations. I was out of sorts because I had to get off the train at the American Airlines Center and take a bus to St. Paul Station. Five extra minutes, and two extra blocks to walk. This gross inconvenience is going to last on weekends until November 30.

My new acquaintance explained the construction had reduced foot traffic on St. Paul Street, and that meant fewer soda cans in the trash. He usually collects about ten pounds a day, but these days he’s getting only about six pounds.

He said he was down about $20 a day in income and things were tight. I, of course, had my “give it forward” $20 bill in my wallet. I gave it to him. He offered his hand to shake, and said—as every person I’ve passed the money on to has said—“God bless you.” With the Ebola Crisis, I should not have touched his grimy hand, but I did.

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

Not to single anyone out, but how much does a liberal TV host make a year?

From THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMN RIGHTS. (I challenge you to read it)

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people. . .

. . . Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. . .

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person. Before the law or otherwise, I would say.

For those who think the United States should not be a member of the United Nations, that we somehow are giving up our independence by trying to be members of the world community, here’s what our Constitution says about $20 bills.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Or, if you must,

“. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I suppose all along when I’ve been wondering about, terrified of, the “meaning of life,” and about my (incipient, it seems to a 70-year-old) death, that about sums up what I need to be worried about.

Please be a good friend and remind of that the next time you read my kvetching about anything.

The Stewpot, Dallas

The Stewpot, Dallas

Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins: conspiracy theorists extraordinaire

His explanation IS the evidence.

His explanation IS the evidence.

University writing students’ most frequent error in judgment is their assumption that for any given literary work, or any social or political problem, or any theory (about any subject) their explanation of the meaning is evidence that their explanation is correct. That is, the explanation itself is evidence for the truth of the explanation.

The so-called “History” channel on TV is replete with programs that make that exact error in judgment. Watch one of their programs such as “Ancient Aliens.” These programs are based on the writings and blatherings of a handful of “scholars” who believe their explanations for all manner of mysteries are, in fact, evidence for their explanations. Say, for example, they are studying an Egyptian monument that could not possibly have been built without enormous cranes and machinery even more powerful than we have today. Never fear, they have found a hieroglyph on a stone in the frieze of the structure in the shape of the nose cone of the US space shuttle, and that proves that aliens from outer space came here and constructed the monument. Why? Because they say so. Their explanation has become the evidence that their explanation is correct.

Or let’s come closer to home. Dallas is awash in programs and exhibits and all manner of memorabilia of the assassination of JFK fifty years ago next month (as it should be since the city never dealt with it when it happened–sweeping it under the rug and pretending it somehow did not happen here). The assassination has generated more conspiracy theories than any other event (save, perhaps, the events of September 11, 2001) in history.

All of the theories are, of course, based on someone’s explanation. Here’s a film by Zapruder. I see x, y, or z in it. Therefore, x, y, or z must be true. Or we know Kennedy’s brain was handled this way or that; therefore, he must have been shot from the front, not the back, because that’s the way I explain it, and my explanation is the evidence that my explanation is true.

I do not mean to imply that the explanations of such mysteries cannot be true (except for space aliens building Machu Picchu). The absurd explanation by some crackpot of an historical event may, with proper scientific investigation, turn out to be true. But it is the investigation, not the explanation by the crackpot, that eventually proves it to be true. Even then the crackpot has no cause to say, “I told you so.”

Recently I saw Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” which I watch whenever I have the opportunity. On the panel that night were The Rev. Al Sharpton, Valerie Plame, and Michael Moore. His guest “star” was Richard Dawkins. What a great time that promised to be! “Real Time” is one of the very few hours on TV that I consistently think is both intelligent and entertaining. Irreverent and stick-it-to-the-Tea-Baggers-and-all-they-stand-for.

I have noticed that conspiracy theorists consistently use the shouting match as their favorite means of communication. Just try to get a word in edgewise when someone is explaining that George W. Bush not only knew about but planned the attacks on September 11, 2011.

The only possible explanation for a father's anger is his religion.

The only possible explanation
for a father’s anger
is his religion.

I’m no TV host, and I have not written a bunch of best-selling books or movies, so I suppose I would be a little intimidated by Sharpton, Plame, and Moore. But even if I weren’t, I would not invite them to my home for a conversation and then shout them down every time they tried to make a point. I would think that would be something other than a discussion.

I would be wary of seeming to say that my explanation for whatever topic was under consideration was the evidence that my explanation was true.

Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are so convinced that their explanation of the evils of Islam is the evidence for the evils of Islam that they cannot carry on a civil or fact-based discussion of Islamic beliefs.

On this subject they are crackpot conspiracy theorists. Their explanation is true no matter what evidence anyone can bring to bear on the discussion. The sadness is that they obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

. . . the same theory can be subsumed under mentally inconsistent background beliefs. . . [Such beliefs] can be separated from scientific explanations by changing the specifying assumptions. . . This conclusion applies to background beliefs at all levels of generality . . . [Even with such “liberals” as Maher and Dawkins] this conclusion includes the highest level of generality or ultimate beliefs (1).

Maher and Dawkins are convinced that 1) all religious belief is childish and dangerous (which may well be true), and 2) some Muslims are terrorists (which is obviously true), and 3) there can be no motivation for terrorism other than religion, which is absurd on the face of it—which is “changing the specifying assumptions.” That is to say, they have changed underlying assumptions about both religion and terrorism so any other explanation than their own is “childish” and “dangerous.” They believe their explanation of the evidence is evidence for their explanation that Islam is evil.

Evidence for the explanation is the explanation.

Evidence for the explanation is the explanation.

And they are so convinced of their explanation that they apparently cannot listen to any other idea, even direct evidence that their explanation is at the very least questionable.

Even an immensely important scientist and an articulate and intelligent liberal comedian can be conspiracy theorists. And deluded.
(1)  van der Meer, Jitse. “Background beliefs, ideology, and science.” Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith 65.2 (2013): 87-103.