Freedom of Speech Is Not Absolute

For some months now the American public has been tasked with what to think about the Eric Snowden case and the NSA.  This boils down to what citizens have a right to say, what the government knows and how they know it.

There is a good reason that the first amendment to the Constitution is the freedom of speech; it is because those who wrote that document had firmly in their minds the restrictions of what they said and wrote under British rule.  They believed that dissent was healthy and that any truly free society needed to allow for dissent, sometimes to the extreme.  Imbedded in the first amendment is the freedom of the press.  Pre-revolutionary dissenters usually wrote under a pen-name so their words could not be held against them in a court of law.  The press was viewed as a way to publicly discuss possible government transgressions against the people in an open and free forum.  And in almost every attempt to limit these freedoms, the US Supreme Court has seldom narrowed its scope.  A well-known exception is the law against yelling “fire” in a movie theater.  Threats of violence are also a prohibited speech.

Even before our country was founded, governments understood the need for secrecy in certain of its dealings.  Throughout recorded history, governments have collect information about other countries, some of it needed to be held in secret.  Always in such cases the sake of national security was seen at stake.  As with anything, some, if not all, governments have taken such things to an extreme, far beyond reasonableness.  Other time, governments have thwarted or restricted its people’s desire to openly dissent.  Such instances still occur regularly in many parts of the world.  Closed societies such as China and North Korea are a few of the more prominent who do not allow much freedom of speech.

The United States is unquestionably one of the most open societies in the world.  We pride ourselves on that very fact and like to hold it up to the world.  The problem with that is the general public’s lack of understanding of classified material, and the government’s overreach with over-classifying and its methods of gathering information.

Eric Snowden is absolutely guilty of something, which is for a court to decide.  He is absolutely a coward who knew he had caused great harm and who absolutely knew the consequences of his actions.  He is absolutely guilty of being a coward.  While it is certainly difficult to whistle-blow on government agencies, particularly those dealing with intelligence gathering, it is far from impossible.

The Federal Government was certainly remiss in its due diligence when it hired Snowden in the first place.  But before being allowed access to classified materials, Snowden was fully briefed and signed documents that he acknowledge a full understanding of what was expected in his guarding against release of any classified material.  That he saw and revealed government misconduct is an entirely different discussion.  A reasonable person who had discovered such things, and feared reprisal from his agency for whistle-blowing, knows there are two groups of people who lives are dedicated to ferreting out government misconduct, the Inspector General of each agency, and the Department of Justice.

The NSA’s practices were brought into sharp focus, as they should have been.  But the manner in which it got there is indefensible.  Snowden released thousands and thousands of documents which had absolutely nothing to do with the NSA’s purported spying on American citizens.  Not only did that achieve nothing, it comprised our standing in the world.  That compromise may take many years to fix.

Intelligence gathering agencies are paranoid by both necessity and legacy.  Governments spy on other governments, friends as well as foes, but none want such facts aired in public.  It is unlikely the German chancellor was particularly surprised by anything revealed, but to show otherwise would reveal their own complicity.  Such events are almost always revealed in privacy and repaired that same way.

There are formal groups in the U.S., the ACLU not being the least, who make it their job to protect freedoms and play watchdog of the government.  Snowden  could easily have appealed to the ACLU and caused the NSA and Federal Government deserved shame without compromising national security.  At some point Russia will certainly see him as a liability and he will be returned to the U.S.  Other countries are unlikely to allow him a place to hide.

The U.S. press, for its part, has failed to report evenhandedly, portraying Snowden as something he is not, a martyr.  They need to report the true of his actions and, while not absolving the NSA, reporting that Snowden too has a price to pay.


A Yankee’s Introduction to the South

Sometime around noon, February 20, 1968, I stepped off a Delta airlines Boeing 727 and into the airport in New Orleans Louisiana.  It was the first time in my life that I had ventured out of the northeast, and greater Boston in particular, in my life.  It was only three months prior that I had dropped out of Boston University knowing that I was not yet ready for college life.  I was not sure what I was ready for so I decided to enlist in the army, staying one step ahead of the draft board which would have been hot on my newly designated 1-A status.  But even with the Vietnam war roaring, I had no thoughts of going there.  I wanted to fly and had managed to get myself into the Army’s aviation program for helicopter pilots.  First, however, I had to go through the army’s basic combat training which, for officer candidates, existed at Fort Polk Louisiana.  When I left Boston the temperature was a chill 23 degrees and was greeted by  the low 60s in New Orleans, short sleeve weather for me.  A short lay over in New Orleans was followed by a flight to Lake Charles on Trans-Texas Airlines, or as the locals euphemistically called it, “Tree Top Airlines” from its TTA logo.

The Lake Charles of 1968 was sort of a non-descript place.  It contrasted northern cities with its wide concrete boulevards, corrugated steel roofed buildings, and in inherent slower way of life.  But just below the surface of this typical American town of the south were smoldering embers of a highly change resistant south.  There was an uneasy tension between black and white which shown through but the still existing Jim Crow laws.  But my 18 years of life had no experience with such things.  My experience with blacks to that point was limited to my schoolmates at the boys school in New Jersey I had attended over the previous two years.

About mid-afternoon I boarded a bus destined for Leesville Louisiana where the army would claim me.  But at the beginning of that bus trip I watched out the window as the landscape passed by me.  At a bus stop along the way I was introduced to the old south when I observed a pair of water fountains, one barely a foot away from the other.  But above each was a sign, “white” and “colored.”  My virginity was taken and my mind indelibly imprinted with the sight.  I had had the good fortune to be brought up by parents who believed racial equality was a given, not an argument.  But still, I did not yet realize, how much racism has been infused, thought unwittingly, into my spongy mind.

The US Army in 1968 did not have time for racism.  It had been integrated in the early 1950s, and whatever racism existed in any single soldier, was considered unacceptable by the army in general.  While the US population in 1968 was roughly 12% black, the army was at least double if not triple that number.  During my entire basic training, and all training afterward, there was never a hint of racism either between my fellow trainees, or in the case of the all southern drill sergeant cadre, them towards the black trainees.  And such thoughts would have quickly faded had it not been for the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and the ensuing race riots that occurred in the neighboring Leesville.  Fort Polk was closed, all leaves of absence cancelled.  But at least on the fort, there was no tension between white and black troops.  Still, we were all stunned by the events in Leesville.

A little over a year later I was station in Yongsan Korea when I became aware of a group known as the Black Panthers.  There existence, and reason for existing, came to me from a white soldier who was sadly misinformed,  However, I was uneducated to the facts and took his word that they were in Korea and looking to knife white soldiers while they slept.  But rather than seek out the truth, I allowed myself to believe his lies.  But then, I had believed the old government pronouncements, J. Edgar Hoover to be exact, that Martin Luther King was a dangerous person.

It took another year plus for my ideas to be corrected, while I was stationed in Livorno Italy.  At that time I saw a black soldier reading a book named “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” by Sam Greenlee.  My memory says that the title actually used an even more derisive epithet, but I cannot find any supporting evidence.  Regardless, my shock must have registered well on my face because the soldier informed me that it was about race relations in the US.  He went on to educate me about the true reason for the existence of the Black Panthers and other black radicals of the late 1960s, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and Angela Davis.  The FBI went to great lengths to associate these people with violence when the truth was something entirely different.

As the years went by, I learned that what the south had been doing overtly, the north had been doing covertly.  The great lesson of all this was, I needed not look at the south as the home of racism, it was always all around me, had I only known what I was seeing.

Science Proves God Exists!

My title, of course, is fictional but I firmly believe that one day it will be science that definitely proves, or disproves, the existence of God.  The best of all possible outcomes would be a theologian, who is also a scientists, is the one who finds that proof.  It is not any religion’s task to prove God’s existence, theirs is one of providing faith to their followers.  But faith, by definition, is a philosophical belief system which works in the absence of proof.  That is a good thing.  But some religions, the more conservative, seem to believe it is their job to proclaim that certain theories and facts of science are nothing more than the work of the devil, or that such science is in direct contradiction to either the teachings of God and Jesus, or contrary to what is said in the Bible.

It seems that the Bible, of all things, is the root of some problems between certain religions and science.  Those people who believe that the Bible is the source of many absolutely which man needs to accept, fail to allow for certain conditions that must exist when dealing in absolutes.  That is, when someone, in this case the writers of the Bible, declare something to be true it is their responsibility to offer either empirical or first hand proof.  The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses.  Moses’ only first hand experience appears in the book of Exodus.  He certain lived long after the book of Genesis as he relates it and offers no proof.  The rest of the Bible was written by at least 40 different people none of whom claim first hand experience.  This includes the New Testament.  Theological scholars have dated the earliest New Testament documents having been created at least 60 after the death of Jesus.

The New Testament is full of quotes attributed to Jesus.  It is my belief, however, that most of those quotes are truly paraphrases.  The most basic problem of that day is the extreme lacking of literate people at the time of Jesus and for many centuries following.  By tradition, stories of family, history, and religion were passed along by story tellers.  These story tellers can be compared to today’s television news reporters.  They take a story reported to them and pass it on to others.  The story tellers of Jesus’ day were paid to do their job, just as news reporters are today.  The Hebrews, Romans, and all other civilizations required such people to maintain their traditions from one generation to another.  A scribe was a rare person who was usually connected to persons of political position or wealth.  The population of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was approximately 50,ooo.  The number of scribes in that one city likely did not exceed 10, most of whom would have been assigned to Roman politicians.  And in looking at who the 12 disciples of Jesus were, it is unlikely any were literate, to include Jesus himself.  Scientists today know that human memory of any particular incident is accurate for about 48 hours.  After that, without a concerted attempt to remember, our ability to recall details quickly diminishes.  This is not to say that people living at the time of Jesus could not have remembered with great accuracy what he said it did, but that it would take much effort to do so.

Theologians know for fact, for instance, that Moses actually brought in excess of 500 commandments to his people for his supposed meeting with God.  This, of course, raises the question of what to believe.  The Bible says there are only 10 commandments, but theologians know there were truly at least 500.  Jesus lived 1500 years after Moses.  Unfortunately, whatever progress there was in creating the Bible was insignificant if you want to use it as a document for historical fact.  More moderate theologians will tell you it is a book a faith.  What is certain, in this case, is that it cannot possibly be both a book of fact and faith.  Either the “prove it” or “disprove it” argument necessarily win out.  It is best left as a book of faith to be interpreted by each person according to his own conscience.  Left in that sphere, it is an exceptional book worthy of much study and faith.

Most scientists do not deny that certain aspects of creationism have associate truth.  But conservative religions fail to give that same respect to science.  What they fail to realize is that their most basic belief, that God created everything, necessarily means God created science, and with it all the laws of science.  In His creating the universe, God created all the laws of science which scientists use every day.  God gave man the blueprint to find Him, but only if man choses to look.  For reasons which confound me, it seems conservative religions do not care to see God.  Science named the Higgs Boson as the “God particle.”  And Steven Hawking has stated that when we figure out the “big bang” we will see the hand of God.  These are not idle comments made by extremely intelligent people to poke fun at religion.  It is their true belief.

Recently, astro-physicists have offered pictures of the universe as it existed about 250 million years after the big bang.  In astronomical times, that is very close to birth.  The truth is, scientists have absolutely no desire to disprove, or prove for that matter, the existence of God.  Their job is to tell us, in as exacting terms as possible, why things are happening, and how they happened in the past.  That being the case, like a good detective novel, you eventually find and prove “who done it!”