Wednesday 30 November 2022

Evil Simplified

                                                       Dr Mike Licona, in Repose

Dr Mike Licona is a well-respected, tenured professor, in New Testament studies. Due to my interest in theology, I have followed his work and enlivened my day by watching videos where he is involved in vigorous debates with other scholars. Though I often disagree with Dr Licona's theological stance, he is undoubtedly an erudite gentleman with a passion for his work. For context: Dr Licona, besides his academic credentials, is also a committed Christian. He sincerely believes Jesus' resurrection is provable based on sound historical methodology. This places him as an academic outlier. The consensus amongst historians is that the resurrection cannot be understood using the tools available to the historian and the matter is only intelligible in the context of faith.

Today, I came across a short video of Dr Licona addressing an audience of young Christians. A member of the audience asked Dr Licona a question concerning the problem of evil. In essence, it revolves around the following: how can a loving god permit evil. To my mind this problem is one of the most fundamental and important questions that need to be addressed by thoughtful Christians, and, in my opinion, the failure to obtain a satisfactory answer is a serious impediment to a belief in the Christian god. Dr Licona's reply was both illuminating and distressing. Indeed, his answer was rather bizarre and frankly, odd. First off, he effectively states that a belief in a deity is a prerequisite for the basis of objective morality. Does he really believe that atheists can't have a sound grasp of morality? Clearly, you don't have to believe in a supernatural agency to understand that killing and stealing are bad. These moral precepts form the basis for the formation of any civilised society. Surely we are not to follow the morals of  Jahweh of the Old Testament, whereby he indiscriminately destroys whole populations of Caanaites using Joshua and the Israelite armies as an instrument of death. The citizens of Jericho are put to death because god wants the land for his 'Chosen People'. This is hardly a morally edifying tale for us to emulate.

Dr Licona goes on to expand/expound his thesis by using the Holocaust as an example. He argues, that the event happened on the 'cusp of the nuclear age' and the evil of Hitler forced the Allied nations to wage war and defeat him. He goes on to say, that had the Allies intervened later, Hitler may have had the time to develop nuclear weapons. And if that was the case he may well have succeeded in becoming the master of the world. I find the whole argument specious reasoning in the extreme. He treats a very serious theological issue in a simplistic, superficial manner. This is not the answer I would expect from a scholar of his calibre. No doubt the problem of moral evil is an issue that is difficult for serious theologians to tackle. It is a debate that stretches back to the ancient Greeks and subsequently, there have been many sophisticated attempts to explain the disparity between god's supposed 'goodness' and the manifest evil in this world. Dr Licona should know better than present the problem in such a facile way. 

Dr Licona's sincere faith blinds him and I suspect supersedes his academic rigour when it comes to Christian theology. He starts from the premise that the bible elicits literal truth and proceeds to fit the evidence into his own agenda and belief system. This is not how historians work in the modern intellectual arena. Like scientists, they should follow the evidence and then formulate their conclusions accordingly. Often, with limited data to hand, historians, if they are to be intellectually honest, must admit that many of their conclusions are tentative at best. This is not how Dr Licona presents his case and conclusions. His glib and trite response does him no service at all and indeed makes him appear rather shallow, naive and straight-out, silly.  

Am I being overly harsh in my assessment? Listen and weep, and let me know what you think in the comments.



Tuesday 29 November 2022

Edumucation II

Please note the following YouTube video I came across after posting my previous contribution to this blog. It is relevant and of merit. The world is indeed a crazy place and the modern education system in the West is very much part of that crazy mosaic of insanity. In my adopted country of Nuzzyland, much of what I wrote in my previous prattlings, although I had the US firmly in mind, is applicable. I would counsel prospective students to exercise due care, diligence and great contemplation before entering the hallowed halls of Higher Education. Are you smart as a whip and willing to work hard? Are you interested in the hard sciences or medicine- and have a realistic chance of being accepted at university to study these subjects? Have you considered how your time at college is to be funded and are you happy with the possibility of being burdened with many years of student debt?

Are you interested in attending college to study one of the following: sociology, philosophy, history, English literature or psychology? I ask because you may wish to ruminate very carefully and ponder how your study will help you prosper once the course is complete and how it will further your work prospects. Personally, I'm interested in many topics, including history, however, I would never have gone forth to study the subject at the college level. McDonald's is replete with philosophy graduates.


Friday 25 November 2022


                                                              None Transferable    
The power of education. I've approached this topic on my blog before, possibly from a few acute and even obtuse angles. However, tis possible that in this post I have something new to add.

Higher education (post-High School) has been elevated as the ultimate attainment and the necessary requirement for the fulfilment of financial success and stability; an automatic pass unto the 'Middle-Class'. Here everything is rosy and white picket line fences adorn orderly immaculately kept lawns abounding serried ranks of detached homes. Tis/was the American dream after all.  

As a lad, I came to the world of acaedemia rather late. However, once ensconced upon the path of 'enlightenment', I pursued the intellectual route as if Damascus bound. In those halcyon days of the 1970s, my higher educational aspirations were funded by the taxpayer. Not only was my degree paid for but I received a modest stipend. Once graduated I continued my studies and my post-graduate programmes were funded, for the most part, by scholarships. Race forward unto the modern era. The taxpayer no longer funds higher education and the aspiring student (most of them at least) will have to succumb to the pernicious system of serial loans. Their reasoning: once complete, education will lead to high-paying jobs and the money spent will be seen as an investment in future prosperity.

No doubt, the path of Higher Education, in today's bustling economic market and society contributes to the future success of some. Of course, there are those that cannot fail because of familial connections. There is a reason why barristers and doctors have a tendency to run in families. Hunter Biden, anyone? 

It seems that to get any job these days a degree is a prerequisite. For the most part, a degree is not really necessary and the degree itself, in the content taught, is not applicable to the job. This obviously does not apply to vocational positions.  For prospective employers, a degree indicates an air of intellectual respectability and a marker that the candidate has the cognitive wherewithal to be a competent and easy-to-train employee. This argument held sway 40 years ago when perhaps 5% of the population partook in higher education. But in the age of meritoxcracy, 50% of New Zealanders attend University. This statistic is mirrored and reflected throughout the known Western world. What does it mean when higher education becomes commonplace? It has to be a universally good thing, where everyone benefits? Job seekers are more knowledgeable and intellectually prepared for the modern workplace. Employers are gaining employees who are intellectually mature and prepared for entry into the innovative work enviroment. As a counterpoint: if most members of society are obtaining degrees, what does this have to say about the quality of the education being doled out? Back in the day- O those yesteryears when the streets were paved in gold (not dog shit) and a quid could buy a bushel of ferrets (neutered)- those times are no more. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. In the 1960s, for example, higher education was reserved for the intellectual elite and attendance necessitated a degree of mental acumen. It was hard to get in and the degree programme was intellectually demanding. Today, however, all it takes is a participation certificate and a note from mom and the gates of knowledge open, as if by magic, and you enter on a magic carpet made of bank notes.......

Higher education is big business. Governments can no longer fund higher education through taxation and thus it behoves the student to be rich, or more likely, to enter the dark world of debt at the tender age of 18. And then after obtaining the prized degree the newly, intellectually franchised individual, is ready to enter the workforce with a debt of 100k. When making money is the main concern in education you can be assured that the quality of that education is secondary and invariably suffers as a consequence. Let me be frank: a good proportion of students in higher education do not have the innate smarts to complete a legitimate degree course. Sadly, I have seen the effects of the 'money first' principle first-hand. In my previous life, I used to teach and mentor students engaged in a degree course for Lab Scientists. For the most part, the quality of the course and the students encountered was high. This is in keeping with expectations. But even in a topic where intellectual rigour is paramount, I encountered a couple of choice specimens who had wandered far from the ideal. One lad, actually a very nice chap, although not endowed with any intellectual attainment, was particularly exasperating to teach. During the course the students were bidden to undertake a practical research project culminating in a PowerPoint presentation to their peers. I remember the day as if were 15 years ago (it was 15 years ago). The whole presentation was excruciating to watch as it was apparent that the student was struggling with the concepts engendered. I had the task of informing the University Department, by email, that the student would fail this aspect of the course. I received a phone call, within a thrice, informing my good self, that failure was not an option. This particular student was magically transferred to a new mentor for academic consolation.       

You can get a degree in anything these days? Want to study: 'The Patriarchal Oppressor in Western Society', then there is a course for you. My point: many modern degrees are worthless in study and application. There is a reason why entry into the STEM subjects and medicine is hard. You have to show, before admission, that you have the intellectual mettle to complete an intellectually challenging and demanding subject.    

And the upshot: we churn out a host of graduates with unrealistic expectations. Employers are not to be fooled. A degree in gender studies or philosophy is a great foundation for working at Mcdonald's. The student dream of using their degree as a pass into a high-paying profession, is just that, a dream. As it has always been the case, those with talent will do well (all other things being equal), while those cut from lesser cloth will have to tailor their ambitions accordingly. 

Thus far, I have not considered the logical extension of running Universities directly funded by the students. Over the last few decades, there has been an explosion of 'for-profit' institutions. There is no pretence, here. The bottom line is money and the cost of attending is way higher than attending a traditional edifice of education. The only qualification for enrollment is the fee. As for the quality of education, I will say no more here. I have already covered this elsewhere in this esteemed blog. And if you are a really lazy student, there are 'colleges' that will send you a degree certificate without the fuss and dedication of years of study. Just send a cheque and matriculation and graduation are covered by your work experience.

I'm going to be accused of being cynical, world-weary and no doubt, an elitist bastard. Guilty on all counts, M'Lord. I'll leave the post with this last thought (actually it is penultimate): the world is a tough and scary place. Unless you are so fortunate to have been born white, in the West, and rich, you will only rise and succeed by your own ability, grit and mettle. As a viable alternative, for the favoured few,  if you are female, beautiful and blond you could marry into wealth. But for most, there is no real alternative to being smart and hard-working. There is one constant though. The world is still run by the 'True Elites' of this world. And unless the fundamental laws of human nature are about to change, this will always be the case.   

I now come to my last point. How come after my many years of higher study, I still can't bloody spell. Arse.    


Thursday 17 November 2022

Fat Ugly Bloke Wins Beauty Contest


Seems Legit

And so it has come to pass that a biological, 'transgender' man (Brian) has been declared the winner of a US beauty contest. No doubt he will go on to win the title: Miss New Hampshire and subsequently, he/she/it will be crowned Miss United States of America. 

Afterwards, the fat lad opined:

“I am so honoured to be crowned your new Miss Greater Derry 2023, and I am thrilled to show you all what I have up my sleeves. This will be an amazing year”

I'm guessing that he/she/what? will have fat hairy arms up those voluminous sleeves.  

Truly, I have no more to say. 


Saturday 12 November 2022

Ramblings with a a side of Barbed Wire


In 1867, an American cattle rancher patented, 'Barbed Wire'. A simple invention that revolutionised stock control. A wire structure punctuated every 6 inches by a curly barb- so tantalisingly simple, but effective, in keeping stock from straying from designated areas. It did not take too long before military planners decided to adapt this bucolic device to matters bellicose.

Not only could the wire limit the meandering of the curious ovine, bovine and swine, but its barbs could prevent ingress/egress of the casual interloper. The device was cheap to manufacture, easy and quick to install and performed its designated role with reckless efficiency. It found limited utility in the American Civil War and the Anglo-Boar Wars but it would make its main debut, and prickly presence felt, during the maelstrom of the Great War (1914-1918). After the flurry of military offences at the opening phase of the conflict, combatants quickly realised, that if the war was to be conducted, without further catastrophic casualties (a forlorn hope), a defensive stance would have to be maintained, albeit temporary, until offensives could be undertaken from a position of tactical stability and strength.

At the outbreak of war the concept of adopting a defensive stance was inconceivable and an anaethema to all nations who took part, with the exception of poor Belgium. The accepted and unified dogma dictated that success on the battlefield can only be achieved by aggressive offensive action. Those reliant on static defensive positions would cede the initiative to the aggressor and thusly be doomed to react and be compliant to their enemy's whim and will. And of course, this made perfect sense from an August 1914 perspective. For the French, right from the start, an aggressive attack was considered absolutely essential to carry the day. Sheer moral/morale fortitude was the most respected martial quality. Even the reality of 'modern war', made manifest, would not deter the French offensive spirit. Thus, French trenches always had an air of temporary occupation. The trench system seemed perfunctory to the industrious trench construction of the Germans and, perhaps, the British. Let us not judge the Gauls too harshly. After all, the initial German advance had captured vast swathes of sacred French land. It was a matter of national pride that drove the French to undertake their disastrous offensives of 1914/1915. Let us not forget that the last five months of 1914 accounted for one million French casualties. The flower of French manhood had been squandered in ill-conceived offensives and the French army would never truly recover from the ruinous loss incurred during those scant months of 1914.

By the late months of 1914, it became apparent to even the most hardheaded proponents of offensive action that static defence had become sovereign on the battlefield- the reason(s) are manifold and interrelated. Tis a grand mystery that the power and strength of the defensive position were not fully appreciated by military strategists and thinkers prior to the Great War. All the elements that contributed to the strength of  'defence'  were there to see. In the end, I suspect the various militaries wanted to conduct and enact war according to 'Victorian' social theory, of the time: attack is always bold, heroic, glorious and manly. In contrast, defence is somehow stolid, cowardly and not consistent with the best military virtues (whatever that might mean). Perhaps, the 'Victorian' generals of the Great Conflict could not conceive of war in any other way. They could not conceive how a defensive tactic could eventuate unto a strategic battlefield victory. However, an active, responsive defence, could and would, win battles and wars. As an example consider the battle of Verdun: the Germans battered the Verdun salient from three sides with heavy artillery. The Germans guessed correctly, that the French would defend this patch of land until the last man due to a misplaced sense of honour- a tactic not in keeping with sanity at this stage of the war (February 1916). Equally, senseless, the Germans could not resist throwing in their troops, wave after wave on well-defended positions. They should have stuck to their original plan and their guns that dictated that the artillery would inflict the majority of casualties. But initial success with relatively small numbers of troops goaded the Germans to change their master plan. Never a great idea to change a well-thought-out plan ad hoc. In the end, the Germans suffered as badly as the French and after 6 months of heavy fighting, the French achieved a Pyrrhic victory, of sorts. Also, consider the Kaiserschalkt of March 1918. A close-run thing and the British were but a ferret hair (ferrets have very fine hair/fur) from being pushed to the channel ports. However, the British with French support managed to halt the Germans and begin their own offensive culminating in the armistice of November 1918. In this instance, the attacking Germans not only lost the battle but also lost the war.

As implied, barbed wire was, in many ways, the perfect instrument for the maintenance of a defensive line. Often employed in layers, many yards deep, it was not designed to be impenetrable to infantry; its presence was designed to impede and delay. The attacking infantry would scurry looking for gaps caused by the preceding artillery barrage. More often than not, there was no gap to be had as the shells rarely achieved their purpose. In most instances, the wire was tossed, reformed, rearranged, augmented and reaffirmed in a more effective and deadly impediment to pedestrian progress. Indeed, could there be a more insidious, devilish, humdrum device of war? So banal, so commonplace and so destructive, both physically and psychologically. Men supine, exerting and terrified would have to rely on metal shears, and iron nerves, to carve a path through this dense, oppressive, grasping jumble of wretched steel. And as the men struggled, the machine gun chatter would decimate their ranks, producing scarecrows by the bushel, embraced in a phantasmal, entangled, dance of death.

The coming of the tank in July 1916 gave the Allies the edge to cut the wire. Not only could the rhomboidal behemoths cross the standard German trench, but they could also crush and carve a path for the following infantry. What took artillery days and men hours to effect, the tank did so in mere seconds. It was not the perfect solution, however, as the tracks of the primitive vehicles would become rapidly clogged when traversing thick belts of wire rendering/rending the tank inert, and vulnerable to the ubiquitous drum roll of shell fire.

Enough of the waxing lyrical, Flaxen! True eloquence lies with the men who experienced the horrors and faced the grim reality of war. I have no more to add.

Listen and weep.