Thursday, January 23, 2014

NSA Spying and COINTELPRO

For those who aren't aware, from the Wiki article on COINTELPRO:
"COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. National Security Agency operation Project MINARET targeted the personal communications of leading Americans, including Senators Frank Church and Howard Baker, civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, journalists and athletes who criticized the Vietnam War."
This is a real program, which really happened (not hypothetical, not fiction).

In light of this, consider recent revelations:
"Some of the vulnerabilities, if exposed, would likely call into question a radicalizer's devotion to the jihadist cause, leading to the degradation or loss of his authority."
This is not a program to discover real, imminent threats to the safety of Americans.  It is a program to gather information to use against anyone the government considers a threat (whether a threat to American lives, or a threat to government interests).

Again, the argument is not that the program has been misused, or that there are no safeguards to prevent misuse.

This capability should not exist - it is a threat to the freedom of Americans.  Do not look at how it is currently being used, imagine how it could be used by your political enemies.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Icon Smashers

You don't meet many Eastern Orthodox in day-to-day life.  For some reason, they are more aggressive and conspicuous on-line (like a lot of weird, tiny groups).

I had sudden insight that the Great Schism occurs after the rise of Islam.  I wanted to investigate how much EO have been influenced by dhimmitude and Islam in general (seeing as how the EO view Protestantism as a step away from themselves).

I started on Wikipedia, and (as such things usually work out) ended up reading on Iconclasm.


Some might try to view iconoclasm (or the iconomachy - "icon conflict") through a Reformation lens.  However, I don't think it can be seen that way.


The records are somewhat scarce (the iconolaters or iconodules won the struggle, and purged the iconclasts).  The first phase is connected to 726, when the Byzantine emperor (Leo III) is said to have ordered the removal of icons (religious images).

It's unclear how dedicated to this cause Leo was, as later historians seem to have targeted him as the fall guy for later events.  It does seem Leo's son (Constantine V) was more dedicated to the cause.

Constantine went so far as to summon an ecumenical council, although he stacked the deck with iconoclastic bishops.

What's most remarkable is that it was Constantine's son's widow who had iconclasm overturned.  There was another council, this time enshrining icons.  The wording used is most remarkable:
"As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."
We see here an attempt to make a distinction between "reverent adoration" and "worship".

There was a second period of iconoclasm (814-842), which was again overturned under the guidance of the king's widow.


Perhaps most interesting, this all does not seem to have arisen from any particular theological crisis or revival.

The Muslims had started to invade the Byzantine empire, and they had an extreme aversion to religious imagery.  It appears some in Byzantium attached their military troubles to God's displeasure.  It was thought that eliminating these idols would restore God's pleasure (and allow them to defeat the Muslims).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is it Legal to Build Skynet?

Imagine (if you will) we had the technical capacity to build Skynet.  Assuming they understood what it would lead to (that there was no doubt), would people build it?  I used to assume "no".

Now, a panopticon is not exactly the same as Skynet.  Where one leads to a post-apocalyptic world ruled by man-killing machines, the other might lead to a dystopia like that depicted in 1984.

We must avoid conspiracy theories, but (you would think) those in authority also have a responsibility to not make the conspiracy theories true.

Let's examine some coverage from Ars:
"These are some incredibly complicated systems that NSA was not able to fully and accurately articulate to the court, in large part because no one at NSA had a full understanding of how the program was operating at the time," said Robert Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
I would argue that is immoral to build a system which has the capability to violate people's rights on such a large scale (particularly if the system has the potential to take on a life of its own - Cube anyone?)

Much of the argument has been "it hasn't been abused" (so far) - but that is not my complaint.  A system like this should not be built (in much the same way Skynet should not be built - even if one has no intent to turn it on).
“The fact is, while the NSA is not perfect and screws up from time to time, there is absolutely no indication that there has ever been any abuse of this, or frankly, any other program—spying for improper purposes or intentionally exceeding the bounds of proper authority,” Robert Litt, general counsel for ODNI, told reporters.
Again, the system should not exist.  There cannot be abuse if the system doesn't exist.  There has been no evidence given such a system is necessary, productive, or even good or desirable.  There has been no debate, no discussion.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Sacred Search

"The Sacred Search" (Gary Thomas) - This book was recommend by Focus on the Family, and I find them to be a little moralistic and light on the Gospel oftentimes.  This book is representative of that, but it does have some good principles and reminders of what is important (the kingdom of God), and what is not important (our emotions).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Big Brother is Watching

I'm not excited to go over this now, but I've got over one hundred articles backlogged all relating to this topic.  I won't be able to go into a lot of detail, but I want to catalog what is happening, and what I think about it.

The first thing to realize is that our government is monitoring us on a level which only crazy (tinfoil hat) people have speculated.

There have been accusations and scanty evidence presented for years.  There were some who believed this was in view when the Patriot Act passed, but I remember the government assuring us this sort of thing would not happen.

There is a good overview of the history of the program at the ACLU.  There are many technical details of the program at Ars.

Highlights from the ACLU:
  • The challenge to the program was started when the program was discovered in 2005 (under President Bush).
  • Aug 2006, a district court ruled the program unconstitutional
  • July 2007, the 6th Circuit Court overturned that decision
  • Feb 2008, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal
The key to overturning the decision was:
"the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, ruling the plaintiffs in the case - which includes scholars, journalists, and national nonprofit organizations - had no standing to sue because they could not state with certainty that they have been wiretapped by the NSA."
The implicit claim here is that the surveillance was limited.  It was not applied to everyone, everywhere.  When asked for details as to who could be monitored (under what conditions, to what extent, or for how long) - we were told this information was classified (in effect, "trust us").

It was only when one man chose to reveal the classified details that we were able to discover that the government could not be trusted.

Their secret implementation of a secret interpretation of a secret law was in violation of a plain reading of the Constitution.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Slave

"Slave" (John Macarthur) - Who is a Christian?  Is it just whoever says they are?  Is there anything one must believe or do?

One failing of most English translations (including the King James) is the word doulos.  This goes back at least to Tyndale, and does not appear to be any sort of systematic attack.  It seems the word "slave" (which is the closest English word) did not hold much meaning to people at that time.

Yet, today, we have people who claim that Jesus can be Savior, without being Lord (the Lordship salvation controversy).

Is it any surprise we have people making their own way?  Past evangelists have emphasized a "personal relationship" with Christ, and that is certainly necessary.  But it is the relationship of a master and slave!

John Macarthur (as always) brings deep exegesis to the subject, and brings to bear all of Scripture on this vital topic.  Even if you are convinced of the need to have Jesus as Lord, you will be encouraged, exhorted, and educated on every aspect of this personal relationship.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Erasing Hell

"Erasing Hell" (Francis Chan) - Francis Chan is no Frank Turk.

When you're wrong, Frank Turk will slap you and say "What are you doing?"  It's probably for the best that there is only one Frank :)

Chan has a much more irenic approach.  He is pleading, and cajoling.  I am probably not in the audience he is targeting, but I know there are a lot of people who are there.

This book is short, but very well researched and argued.  If you are at all in doubt on the doctrine of Hell, and not able to take a helpful slap, this might be the book you need.

For those who are familiar with the doctrine of Hell, most of the arguments Chan presents will be familiar as well.  I did learn that the notion that Gehenna is a burning trash dump is actually a medieval invention.