Limbo

The Catholic church is conflicted over what happens to infants who die unbaptized. There is a contradiction between two of their beliefs that has lately disturbed the Catholic hierarchy. The problem: do we say that the infant, before baptism, is in a state of (original) sin and therefore will go to Hell when it dies? Or do we say that God is merciful and certainly would not do that to innocent babies?

Traditionally, Catholics have been taught that these babies don’t go to Hell. They go to a place of “natural” happiness (meaning: no direct experience of God) called Limbo. But this has been a subject of contention, with some arguing that the unbaptized baby is not innocent; he is in a sinful state because of Adam’s fall.

Some spokesmen say that Limbo has never been a Church teaching (I was certainly taught it in parochial school) and is not a matter of obligatory faith. So, the church has referred the matter to a committee. Surely the best way to resolve any contradiction?

Of course, when the contradiction involves whether an imaginary God might consign an unbaptized baby to an imaginary Hell, nothing but a committee could reach a conclusion. Surely a thinking individual would file the question in the same folder as the number of angels dancing on a pinhead.

–Ken

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Torture

Here’s a “what-if.” What if an Al-Qaeda member is captured in, say New York City. And what if there is very good reason to believe that he knows when and where a bomb is scheduled to go off in the city. He refuses to respond to interrogation on the matter. What should be done? Should the terrorist be allowed to hold his tongue?

Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about foreign terrorists here, not United States citizens, and that terrorists are not army troops of some country. They cannot claim protection of our Constitution. They are not signatories of the Geneva Convention nor any other agreement about how prisoners are to be treated.

Talk shows and editorials in the MSM are making a great deal of fuss lately over the use of torture in the interrogation of terrorist prisoners. There are expressions of horror at the thought that torture might be used. Those with the audacity to defend torture are denounced and called names. Authorities rush to say they abhor its use. Opponents accuse authorities of using torture and denying that they do so. Experts are found to say that torture is not useful and may be counterproductive anyway.

The question that seems never to be addressed: why not? Why not use torture? What is the argument against using torture?

Most commentators take it for granted that torture is just evil, intrinsically. If pressed for a reason, they might scornfully proclaim that it hurts, of course. It is immoral to hurt someone. As children are being taught these days, “people are not for hurting.”

Torture is characterized as dehumanizing, meaning that the tortured prisoner is treated as less than human. It is not made clear just what it is about torture that dehumanizes him. I suspect that those who agonize about this might have some foggy notion that the terrorist’s human rights are violated by torture.

So the answer to “Why not?” comes down to, torture causes pain, which is never to be countenanced. And it is presumed to dehumanize the prisoner through violating his human rights.

It is redundant to claim that pain hurts. Pain is hurt. Pain has the evolutionary value of enabling us to learn that we’re doing something detrimental to our lives which we must stop. The message of pain given to a terrorist prisoner is that he’d better stop withholding vital information.

What about the terrorist’s rights? Terrorists attacked us; not the other way around. They violated our rights; not the other way around. It is contradictory for the terrorist or his advocates to claim a right to withhold information about how his colleagues plan to kill more Americans. There is no right to violate rights.

–Ken

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Learning Curves

A “learning curve” is, in my understanding, a graph which describes the rate at which you learn something as a function of the time spent learning it. The progress of your learning measured against the time you take to acquire mastery. The more quickly you learn the subject, the steeper the curve on the graph.

The-common-man-in-the-street thinks of it differently. To him, “a steep learning curve” means the subject is a really tough one — hard to learn. This interpretation makes sense if you think of “steepness” as slowing progress. If you are going from here to there on a bicycle, for example, and “there” is at the top of a hill, the steepness of the hill is something to be overcome. It slows your progress toward “there.” (Bicyclist’s Lament: “The meanest dog always lives halfway up the steepest hill.”)

What’s all this relevant to? Well, I’ve lately been trying to learn calculus. I have a collection of about a dozen books that claim they will teach me calculus quickly and easily. Some of them are decades old, because my desire to learn the subject is long-term. I’ve finally decided to devote some time and effort to actually using the books.

I’m finding my learning curve for calculus is nearly flat, or very steep, depending on which interpretation of “learning curve” we go with. It has been a carload of years since my last math class of any kind, and over the years there has not been a lot of reason to use much of the math I ever learned, anyway. Thus far in my pursuit of calculus, the main thing I’ve learned is that my algebra is pretty weak. Now, I used to consider myself pretty good at algebra, so it’s sort of a blow to realize that my learning of calculus is going to be delayed by having to re-learn algebra as I go. (I suspect I’ll trip over some trig concepts, too.)

An added delay turns out to be …blogging. I have thought it might be fun to play around with a blog, and when Prodos made his offer of free use of his blogging resources with the only stipulation being that one is a proponent of Capitalism, I figured it probably wouldn’t get any better than this. I have been an advocate of laissez faire capitalism for donkey’s years. It’s the only social system that recognizes individual rights and private ownership of property.

But, blogging turns out to have its own learning curve. Prodos made it simpler by having format themes available and taking care of all the server stuff, but it looks like there are lots of things to learn as I go along — linking, text formatting, managing comments, if any, etc., etc. So, I expect this to be an on again, off again undertaking until I get comfortable with the mÃ

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