September 24, 2006

Why I Like the Electoral College

Unsurprisingly, there is apparently a move to negate the electoral college in American elections. I’m not surprised, but (so far) I’m quite against the idea.

First, I’m rather against this particular proposal because it is using loopholes in our laws. That’s just silly. If we need to change the Constitution, there are specified avenues for doing that—and they should be used for such. We’ll only find ourselves in a horrible mess if we keep trying to live in loopholes. (On a sidenote—I love loopholes, but as a tool to do unexpected good, rather than just get around laws that don’t like.)

Second, and more importantly, I would argue that it is undermining a key principle of our Constitution: compromise. Admittedly, the original compromise is perhaps a bit archaic: the Founders did not trust average Joe’s to choose the President, but they didn’t trust the elite, either. So they formed a system where average Joe’s would elect representatives from the Elite, who would then choose a president. That’s been slightly modified since, with political parties and removing the actual people in the Electoral College. But there is still a principle of compromise that is important, and it is evidenced in the design of Congress.

Congress is formed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The Senate has two representatives from each state, and the House has representatives proportional to the population of the state it represents. Why? Once upon a time, small states were concerned that they would lose a voice if all decisions where made purely by popular vote: their opinions would be drowned out by the populous states. So, the two-house scheme was invented. In the House, the small states might not ever get a chance to speak their piece—but they would have a chance in the Senate. No, they’d never have the same “power” as a large state—but they wouldn’t be forgotten, either.

Nowadays, the relationships between the states are markedly less important. But, the Electoral College still provides a compromising balancing effect: rural areas are still allowed to have their say. If the nation went simply to a popular vote, the cities would often drown out the voice of the country. It isn’t that the country-folk are more important or wiser (though that can certainly be the case), but they deserve a say, just as the small states did once upon a time. The electoral college gives them a chance to sway the electoral votes in their state, which would then influence the national election. It isn’t always a huge say, sure, but it is enough to make sure that candidates listen to all sections of the populace and not just the majority—which is incredibly important in a democracy.

Finally, a little treat for the geeks out there. I read an article in Discover magazine when I was in high school, explaining how the electoral college often gave individual voters more power than a raw popular vote. It’s worth a read for further evidence of why I think the electoral college is important.

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September 18, 2006

How Islam Will Conquer the World

  1. Make sure that the primary belief in the world is that the greatest sin is to offend one’s neighbor. (Done.)
  2. Be easily—and rather violently—offended. (Done—at least by enough vocal folks.)
  3. Watch while the rest of the world trips over itself to avoid offending you. (Currently in progress…)
  4. Glory in your new-found power. (Wait and see…)

Though I am terribly tempted to point out the irony in the recent events surrounding the Pope’s recent speech, I don’t think it is simply a sign of how silly the Muslim clerics are. Rather, I wonder if many of us are simply blind to how successful they are being in gaining worldly power.

Or, perhaps, it is simply Muslim leaders using the problems in the Islamic world to gain power over their own people. It would, in as much as I understand Islam, would make a lot of sense to hear economic and political frustrations of a Muslim phrased in terms of his or her religion. Islam doesn’t try separate life into sacred and secular as we in the West try to do.

Ah, well. Back to watching the events here in bizarro-land.

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September 17, 2006

The Catholic Church, Muslims, and Jews

There has been a ton of hubbub about the Pope’s recent address at Regensburg, including a response from the Vatican, from the Pope himself, and plenty of general comments. (As pointed out, however, most of the reaction to the Pope’s speech was based on choice quotations, since it had only been available in German until just recently, and I still don’t see it available in any languages other than English, German, and Italian—certainly not Arabic.

Ironically, though, I’m not particularly interested in the Muslim reaction nor the dynamics between the Muslim and Roman Catholic worlds. (The quantity of links above notwithstanding.) I am most interested in the Nostra Aetate, a document referenced by the Vatican’s offical response.

Not being Catholic (though I have great respect for many Catholic thinkers), I am unfamiliar with the impact and purpose of this document. (Maybe many Catholics are, too, for all I know.) But I was surprised—and a little concerned—to read the part that was quoted in the official response:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Looking at the rest of the document, it appears that the document is largely trying to point out that there are substantial agreements between Christianity and other religions, particularly Islam and Judaism. Fair enough: Muslims and Jews are some of Christianity’s staunchest allies when it comes to issues of culture and morality. And, I can understand, though mostly disagree with, someone who says that the Jews worship the same God that Christians do. (Though make sure you read John 14:7…it’s why I would disagree.)

But how can the official Catholic position be that Muslims “…adore the one God”?

I’ve often deeply respected Catholic thinkers…but I am completely stymied how they think this makes any sense. If Muslims worship the same God, then Jesus is His Son—but, if you admit that, you are no longer Muslim. And, even more importantly, it is a core Christian teaching that the only way to deal properly with our wrong-doing is to look to Christ. Muslims, however, teach that you must try to be as good and moral as possible, and maybe Allah will be merciful. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Arabic Christians may use the name Allah to refer to God—but that doesn’t make him the true God any more than the fact that you and I each have a friend named Bob makes him the same person.

Or am I reading this document completely out of context?

Does anyone have any insights?

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From Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth:

The very concept of being “professional” has come to have connotations of being secular. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, explains Christian Smith, there was a drive to professionalize all fields—which meant in practice throwing off a Christian worldview and cultivating a secular approach that was touted as scientific and value-free. The process was nothing less than a “secular revolution,” Smith says. In higher education, colleges that used to promote “a general Protestant worldview and morality” were transformed into universities “where religious concerns wre marginalized in favor of the ‘objective,’ a-religions and irreligious pursuit and transmission of knowledge.”

Has any one else experienced this? I know I have: to bring up one’s personal life in almost any meaningful way at work—especially in areas of faith and public policy—is frowned upon. How sad. I suspect that such a public/private, secular/religious split has almost single-handedly made the Body of Christ nearly irrelevant in today’s culture—and we have bought into it hook, linker, and sinker.

Oh, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend Pearcey’s book, even though I’m only a couple chapters in. It is excellent.

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The Surveillance Camera that Could…Talk

Does a closed-circuit television public surveillance camera that talks concern anyone else? Well, I guess it doesn’t concern me any more than the cameras would in the first place. The analogy to 1984 is quite appropriate, I should think.

Now, some clarification:

  • The cameras are only (I think) in public areas, not in private as they were in Orwell’s book.
  • I’m actually rather for the idea of using shame to help deter crime—shame is a proper response to sin and wrong-doing that, God willing, may even be turned into true repentance. (See 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.)
  • I have much less of a problem if private business owners decided to employ this kind of tactic individually. It’s part of their right to protect their business—and is probably an extension of every citizen’s responsibility to uphold peace and order.

But will a centralized “control room” monitoring the public at large really improve our society? Or will it simply make us calloused to the real Voice from Heaven?

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September 01, 2006

First Came Antimatter

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good geeky post, so I thought I’d finally resume all geekiness with an article about “negative databases.” Few things are quite as good for a solid geeky-laugh as reading the following:

In the 1940s a philosopher called Carl Hempel showed that by manipulating the logical statement “all ravens are black”, you could derive the equivalent .all non-black objects are non-ravens…A number of computer scientists, led by Fernando Esponda of Yale University, are taking Hempel’s notion as the germ of an eminently practical scheme…The idea is to create a negative database. Instead of containing the information of interest, such a database would contain everything except that information.

It’s one of those ideas that is such a ridiculously backwards way of thinking that…it just might work.

Admittedly, though, I have a few doubts. The article goes on to suggest that such a database might be “safer” by preventing a hacker from gaining all the Social Security numbers of people living on one street. That makes sense enough, given that we are storing what their addresses are not. But, if we can actually associate Social Security numbers, one-by-one, with the correct address, what’s to prevent a hacker from gaining the information he wants by brute force? And wouldn’t whatever selection of information he gets be enough to steal an identity?

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the research. But I certainly appreciate folks who are willing to try do things the way that no-one else thinks would ever work.

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