Thursday, January 17, 2019

Increasing Rates of Acceleration of Ice-Melt: Difficult for Humans to Grasp

The findings of two studies published in January, 2019 indicate that Antarctic’s ice had been melting “at an alarming rate” since 1979.[1]  The rate of melting looked at precisely tells part of the story of why people in general were even in the year before 2020 still catching up in realizing the full extent to which climate change was going on. The key here is the concept of acceleration. The rate of ice loss has not been consistent in that ice disappeared faster in each successive decade.
Specifically, ice loss in Antarctica increased from 40 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) per year from 1979-90 to 252 gigatons per year from 2009-17. That’s a six-fold increase in the rate of acceleration. In fact, the melt-rate accelerated most in the most latter decade. The last two decades saw a melt-rate up 280% compared to the first two decades. This change in the rate of change is extremely difficult to grasp; it is like trying to watch for changes in the rate of acceleration in your car. Paired with this greater difficulty is the fact that the problem is not getting worse at a constant rate; rather, the getting-worse is itself accelerating. The change occurring during the studies’ time-frame of four decades was also difficult to notice because it was being caused by deep relatively warm water hitting the bottom of the glaciers in east Antarctica; the ice-changed-to-water was going on below.[2]  
Whereas the Arctic’s ice is over water, the Antarctic’s ice is generally over land so the additional water raises sea levels more. Yet that won’t stop that water from raising the Atlantic Ocean off Miami in Florida, and sooner rather than later taking up about a third of the present peninsula. Given the very significant population in southeast Florida, that the land there would more likely be underwater sooner than anticipated increases the changes of emergency situations, such as mass relocations. In other words, the studies imply that we as a species could be caught off-guard both from not having kept up on the accelerating rates and the effects of those rates in bringing climate change sooner than would be the case had the rates been constant across the decades. A feedback-loop could develop whereby increasing rates trigger changes that in turn increase the rates even more than otherwise. The situation could at that point be out of humanity’s hands, yet the insufficient action while it can still make a difference has been caused in part because an increasing rate of change is difficult for humans to grasp, let alone see.

1, Brandon Miller, “Antarctica Ice Melt Has Accelerated by 280% in the Last Four Decades,”, January 14, 2109. On holes in a glacier in Antartica, see Sheena McKinsey, "Gigantic Hole Two-Thirds the Size of Manhattan Discovered in Antartic Glacier," (accessed January 31, 2019).
2. Eric Rignot et al, “Four Decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet Mass Balance from 1979-2017,” PNAS, January 14, 2019.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hidden Warnings of Climate Change: A Paralyzed Species Looks On

Global warming has been so difficult to slow down through political means at least in part due to the fact that most of the action has been going on in the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding permafrost land (which, it turns out, is not so permanently frozen after all, so methane is leaving that ground for the atmosphere). All this is far from almost all of the world’s population, so social consciousness has not been changed nearly enough for demands by voters that governments act in enforceable ways, globally. In short, what has been occurring in that far Northern region has both dwarfed consciousness of the impact of human-released carbon/methane.  The proverbial canary in the coal mine has been hidden from view for all but a few (e.g., scientists). The implications are truly astonishing.
According to Alan Buis at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in 2013, “Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system.”[1] In general terms, if the pace of global warming outstrips the ability of the ecosystem sustaining the human race to adapt, the species can be expected to suffer with inadequate prior notice. The planet's climate may get warmer too fast to allow us to adjust, for instance, in terms of such essentials as food and water. Hotter summers may be just part of the challenge. Lest it be forgotten, the more complex the organism, the less adaptable it is to external change. In addition to the biology of complexity, the motive of greed makes us even less adaptive when the costs are up-front and the benefits totally or even mostly in the future. 
So what is it that was going on up North that had Alan Buis so concerned in 2013? In his article, he points out that over “hundreds of millennia [that’s a very long time], Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon [because dead plants and animals do not decompose in the top soil]—an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons).”[2]  This amount of carbon is significant for two reasons. 
First, the carbon is in the soil that is likely to thaw. Once thawed, that soil, which has been warming even faster than the Arctic air, releases carbon into the atmosphere.  Second, the 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams dwarfs “the 350 petagrams of carbon that have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850.”[3] If you are reading this essay while eating in a restaurant, this is when you flag down your server and calmly say, “Check please!” so you can get your affairs in order.
In the frozen soil that covers 9 million square miles, melting would also emit “massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere,” according to Terrell Johnson of[4] He adds that methane is “much more potent as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, with more than 20 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year period.”[5] Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the E.U. have predicted tremendous economic costs as a consequence of the expected release of a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane in thawing permafrost under the East Siberian Sea.[6]. That is by no means all of the permafrost up North.
According to Buis, climate models at least as of June 2013 had not yet adequately incorporated the impact of carbon and methane that could be released into the atmosphere from the “permafrost” soils, which, by the way, had warmed as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees F (1.5 to 2.5 degrees C) in 30 years.[7] Regardless of the decade, we could have absolutely no idea where the Earth’s climate would be headed—and thus whether our species would even survive.
Although humans beings have not been holding blow-torches to the frozen tundra as if playing some sick joke on nature in the middle of the night, the vast majority—98 percent—of climatologists agreed in 2013 that the “human contribution” had been a significant factor in the carbon dioxide having reached the 400 ppm (parts per million) benchmark for what Johnson calls “a new danger zone."[8]
We as a species may have inadvertently helped light the fuse on a process even more significant than carbon in impacting global warming. To be sure, at the time, it was difficult to ascertain how much or even whether that methane-process would be mitigated or reduced in its extent should reducing our burning of fossil fuels mean that the Arctic air would not warm up quite so much as would otherwise be the case. Nevertheless, the sheer magnitude of the carbon and methane still caught in the frozen soil and the gigantic effect those gases would have if released into the atmosphere suggest that it is in our own best interest as a species to do what we can to reduce the amount of additional warming of the Arctic air as much as possible.
Making the matter more confusing, the warming at the Arctic has been more than at the equator. The slope between cold and warm air between the two areas fuels the Arctic jet-stream, or "the Polar Vortex." Less energy means the circling river of air around the Arctic is loosens and thus can belch Arctic air southward. Think of that high river of air as like a wobbly rubber-band. The wobbles send more Arctic air further south, the last week of January, 2019 being but one instance. Together, the instances give the false impression that global warming is not occurring. "We had a really cold winter last year," a man in Chicago, Illinois or Berlin, Germany, might say. He might conclude that global warming is a hoax, then he might vote. Hence Jefferson and Adams agreed that a viable republic (and we might generalize to world) requires an educated and virtuous citizenry. 
For all our amazing accomplishments technologically beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, the human race has shown itself to be remarkably blind concerning not only its own footprint, but also what might be unleashed in nature itself as a result of our thrashing about. In the film Avatar, Neytiri chastises Jake Sully, saying “You are like a baby. Making noise, don’t know what to do,” on account of his ignorance on how to conduct himself in the forest. The irony is astounding in that we humans have been able to get to the moon, and yet we are so ignorant—arrogant even—regarding how we are impacting our climate and ecosystems, both of which we rely on for our very survival as a species. In all likelihood, the sheer clumsiness in our corporate footprint and the astounding arrogance in our socialite swagger will be outstripped sooner than we suppose by the subtle yet enduring ways of nature. For all our power and money, for all our numbers across many lands, we are indeed a small species that presumes itself to be great.

[1] Alan Buis, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?” NASA News and Features, June 10, 2013. Accessed July 16, 2013.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Terrell Johnson, “Beneath the Arctic, a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirs,”, July 15, 2013.  Accessed July 16, 2013.
[5] Ibid.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Oceans Arising on Edifices of Arrogance

A study published in late November 2012 in the journal Science estimates that the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland had raised global sea levels by 11.1 millimeters (0.43 inch) since 1992. That represents one-fifth of the total sea-level rise increase in that period. Other contributors include the expansion of the sea water from warming, and the melting of glaciers, as for instance on mountains. In the 1990s, melting of the polar ice sheets in the Antarctica and Greenland was responsible for about 10 percent of the global sea-level rise, but by 2012 the effect had risen to 30 percent.[1] The study does not, however, uncover the underlying cause, or association, lying in a complexity in human nature itself. Our species has vaunted to the top of the food chain and leveraged a brain capable of engineering technological advances that would have seemed magical even just in the nineteenth century, and yet we seem hard-wired to accelerate our course to a self-destructive extinction. This lack of balance is reflected in the increasing extremes in the global climate. In this essay, I begin with the study and steadily work toward uncovering the underlying, subterranean culprit.

In Greenland, melted ice, or water, headed to the Atlantic Ocean. NYT

The study can be interpreted as essentially “firming up” what had been left to guesswork hitherto. “It allows us to make some firm conclusions,” Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds said. “It wasn’t clear if Antarctica was gaining or losing ice. Now we can say with confidence it is losing ice.”[2] This is significant because there are hundreds of feet of sea-level rise in the combined ice of Greenland and the Antarctica, and even that sort of rise could occur in even just two centuries. Unlike ice in the sea melting, water from land-ice is added to the sea and thus is particularly salient in the rise in sea-level.
Although correlation is not necessary causation, global emissions of carbon dioxide were at a record high in 2011, having jumped 3% from the previous year. The international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees (F) was all but disregarded at the time as unrealistic, according to researchers at the Global Carbon Project. Slowly falling emissions in some of the developed economies, including the U.S., were more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India. Coal was growing fastest, with related emissions jumping more than 5 percent in 2011 from the previous year.[3]
Moreover, the level of carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, had increased 41% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, the temperature of the planet increased about 1.5 degrees (F) since 1850. The New York Times reports that scientists expected at the time of the release of the 2011 figures that further “increases in carbon dioxide” would “likely . . . have a profound effect on climate, . . . leading to higher seas and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters like droughts and heat waves, and an extreme acidification of the ocean.”[4] The volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2013 was 396 parts per million, 2.9 ppm higher than in 2012; this represents the largest year-to-year increase since 1984, when reliable global records began.[5] As a result, "(c)oncentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ever-rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks but also, scientists believe, a diminishing ability of the world's oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans."[6] Accordingly, climatologists were predicting more accelerated ice-melt.
To be sure, distinguishing a causal connection from the sort of cycle that was responsible for Greenland being green in Mediaeval times has been the fulcrum of much controversy and debate; it is not as though scientists can treat one earth by increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while leaving another earth as a control-group and measure the differing climatic consequences. As the philosopher David Hume argued in the late eighteenth century, we actually know much less about cause and effect than we think we do. The human brain naturally that’s a strong positive correlation accompanied by a logical rationale as good enough to pronounce a causal relationship.
Regardless of whether our use of fossil fuels is a contributing factor in the melting of the ice-sheets, that the sea-level was rising even in 2011 and so much of humanity lives within fifty miles of a sea-coast suggests that major dislocations will undoubtedly be necessary within one or two hundred years, and perhaps even sooner given the record-high level of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere in 2013. As much as a third of Florida could be underwater again—whether it eventuates as a result of a natural climatic cycle or carbon dioxide emissions, or both. That the acceleration in the ice-sheet melting reported in 2012 was five times that which scientists had supposed earlier suggests that the data in from the following year may result in even more dramatic headlines. That the C02 and methane (from leaks in wells and distribution as well as from permafrost melt) levels were not only increasing, but doing so at unprecedented rates, suggests that we humans have literally outdone ourselves. It seems a fantasy to expect prudent measures that would obviate beforehand even just some of the anticipated damage. Even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Government could have given Louisiana a financial incentive to rebuild the city further inland, above sea-level. That would have been an easy decision compared with what to do about Manhattan, and yet the unquestioned, knee-jerk response was to rebuild on site.
Accordingly, even the study on ice-melt reported in late 2012 and the report in 2014 of the record increase in C02 in the atmosphere were unlikely to affect public policy significantly, at least in the United States. Enabling such negligence, Andrew Shepherd of Leeds said in 2012: “The signals suggest there is no immediate threat.”[7] Meanwhile, the carbon emissions were actually increasing from the previous year. This represents two degrees of separation from a reduction. The emissions targets in the UNFCCC agreement signed in 1992 had included stabilisations at 1990 levels for some countries and reductions for others by the year 2000.   In other words, we as a species seem pretty clueless, even as we promote ourselves being of the highest and most developed species. 
We are, it can be said, a species of today. The stock markets demonstrate this innate propensity clearly enough. For a complex organism not known for quick evolutionary adaption to a changing environment, it is dangerous to be so “hard-wired” for today when our artifacts collectively can shift a planetary equilibrium beyond its natural cycle. It is not a given that we will be able to rely on our prowess at technological development to make up for our convenient habit of looking on and even making a situation worse. I have personally felt this in momentary lapses of my new-found better diet when I eat one after another chocolate cookie after having fallen with one. My mind succumbs to the fallacy that in having lapsed, might as well open the flood-gates. The next morning, I make myself go running, as if the presumed cause-effect relation might prevent any future lapses. Nietzsche may have been right in suggesting that thoughts are really instinctual urges and reasoning is their tussling for dominance.
As Mark Twain observed, speaking through an angel in The Mysterious Stranger, “Man’s mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches little trivialities together and gets a result—such as it is.”[8] Yet so conceited is that mind, and in other matters too. In spite of having a moral sense, and perhaps because of our knowing right from wrong, our “paltry race [is] always lying, always claiming virtues which it hasn’t got.”[8] From an angel’s point of view, homo sapiens—arrogantly self-named here as the “wise man” species—can only be “dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased and rickety, and such a shabby, poor, worthless lot all around”[10] as to be met with utter indifference from the angelic perches so different—the pathos of distance being hollow rather than filled with empathy or even sympathy.[10] Twain’s angel does not mince words. Humans “have nothing in common with me—there is no point of contact; they have foolish little feelings and foolish little vanities and impertinences and ambitions; their foolish little life is but a laugh, a sign, and extinction.”[12] It is not merely the staying power of the moneyed commercial caste that moves us as a species to our own extinction; all of us are complicit.
We have built our mammoth edifices and modern conveniences on such a scale, and we use them as if we were junkies on a drug-fix that we have outstripped our own capacity as a species even to mop up after ourselves. This vulnerability becomes truly dangerous now that we are capable of having a significant impact on the planetary ecosystem, including its atmosphere. Even so, we continue to single our species out as “Made in the Image of God,” and as we preach our moral sense, ignorant of the probability that a more intentionally cruel and self-destructive race has never roamed on the land or swam in the sea. Our reckless conceit, it would seem to all outward appearances, is in such denial of its own existence that we naturally assume we cannot be wrong—that we affirm with such factuality, “I know what I know.” If only the ice on this towering edifice would melt from global warming; if only we could be so lucky.

1. Gautam Naik, Polar Ice Melt Is Accelerating,” The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2012.
2. Ibid.
3. Justin Gillis and John Broder, “With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming,” The New York Times, December 3, 2012.
4. Ibid.
6. Joby Warrick, "CO2 Levels in Atmosphere Rising at Dramatically Faster Rate, U.N. Report Warns," The Washington Post, September 9, 2014.
7. Gillis and Broder, “Carbon Emissions at Record High.”
8. Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger in The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories (New American Library: New York, 1962), p. 212.
9. Ibid., p. 192.
10. Ibid., p. 172.
11. Ibid., p. 176.
12. Ibid., p. 211.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Evolution of Just War in Roman Catholic Social Ethics: The Case of Libya

According to The Catholic Herald, there were originally only three conditions laid down by Thomas Aquinas for a just war:

1) “The war must be started and controlled by the due authority of state or ruler – in other words, it can’t be a civil war or a rebellion. This rules out the war being waged by the Libyan rebels, but not the military intervention of the Nato [sic] forces, since that was indeed started by the due authority, not of one nation, but of the United Nations itself.” Here we see what might be called Aquinas’ implicit Burkean political conservatism with respect to established regimes over what in modern terms we call rights of the people to protest and self-governance. Even under Aquinas’ criterion of due authority of state or ruler, the Libyan rebel movement, as distinct from the preceding unarmed protesting, could be rendered as just provided that there is a rebel authority rather than fractured units fighting on their own. Even by this interpretation, the armed rebels may fall short, at least as they were in March of 2011.  Rather than proscribing civil war or rebellion, Aquinas’ criterion could simply be oriented to preventing the unintended additional harm caused by an army in disarray without a clear line of command. In terms of the Libyan rebels, the “unfairness” in a lack of clear command could be interpreted as “unfairness” to the international coalition, whose efforts could be in vain should the rebels refuse to bind themselves under one command. As for the international coalition itself, neither NATO nor the U.N. is a ruler having the due authority of state, for those international alliances or organizations do not enjoy governmental sovereignty. To the extent that the international coalition is based on partners whose militaries are not subject to a common line of authority, the mission may fall short of Aquinas’ criterion. This objection could perhaps be qualified to the extent that the partners meet regularly in common council, whose decisions are adhered to in practice. Other than the objections of the Arab League (and of Turkey in NATO to that alliance taking command), the international coalition may in its conduct have satisfied the criterion. In short, even though both the Libyan rebels and the international coalition could in practice satisfy Aquinas’ criterion here, their qualification is on shaky ground. In both cases, this shortcoming could be overcome by themselves.

2) “There must be a just cause. This wouldn’t include, say, a war for territory, but it would include the protection of a civil population, self-defense and the prevention of a worse evil. The UN resolution emphatically fulfills that condition.” Prime facie, this criterion seems pellucid. However, to the extent that cause can be interpreted in terms of motive rather than outcome, it becomes problematic to assess a given case because it is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to get into another person’s head. For example, if the Obama administration’s motive, or cause, is to reduce the market’s fears of future disruptions in the oil supply—fears because Libya itself only produces 2% of the global supply—then in terms of motive the cause is not just. However, even here, a “worse evil” could be interpreted as some consumers becoming unable to afford even the gasoline needed to get to work (and the rising cost of food transported to their grocery stores). Perhaps preventing mass poverty (and perhaps starvation and homelessness) could count as counting in obfuscating “a worse evil.” Even so, the protection of Libyan civilians, especially if at the point when they had been unarmed protesters, would be a more immediate prevention of a worse evil because such protection follows directly from Qaddafi’s violent betrayal of his own people. Alternatively, moreover, if the decisive element is outcome or consequence, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Libyan civilians have been spared as a result of the allied bombings would satisfy the criterion. In my view, the criterion applies to both motive and consequence. In the Libyan case, the fact that it took the Obama administration a month to respond militarily—after the protesters had given way to armed rebels and the price of oil had spiked on world markets—can legitimately be used to assess motive from the standpoint of just war theory.  Were Obama’s primary motive the protection of Libyan civilians, he would have intervened when Qaddafi violently turned on the protesters. As Obama himself said, Qaddafi had lost the legitimacy to rule.

3) “The war must be for good, or against evil. Think what Gaddafi said when he thought his tanks were about to roll virtually unopposed into Benghazi: that he would go ‘from alley to alley, from house to house, from room to room’ and that he would show no mercy’. Thousands would have died. Without any doubt, the airstrikes have been against a very great evil indeed.” This criterion is closely related to the second—the criterion going from “just” to “good” (as opposed to evil). The shift here is from just war as under ethical auspices to a theological basis. The book of Job in Hebrew scripture attests to the vital difference between the two. Theoretically, God cannot be omnipotent if conditional on observing an ethical system. In other words, the “good” theologically cannot be held ransom for the “good” ethically. Divinity transcends mere human (i.e., finite) systems. Hence God is said to be wholly other even as it is immanent in the very existence of creation. In terms of the Libyan case, the question of motive and consequence is relevant here too. In terms of motive, is the protection of consumers to obviate an evil, or is it merely a matter of convenience and fairness (to the consumers being impacted by the speculators and fear in the market)? Regarding Qaddafi’s intended action, the sheer magnitude of it could point to it being evil even as a stated threat; it is certainly unethical. However, to treat such suffering itself as pointing to an evil action risks reducing theology to ethics (harm itself to the absence of God). In other words, evil cannot be merely unrequited and unjust suffering. Perhaps the question of evil goes to the intent of the agent of the deed involving treating himself as a god, with the suffering of others being an effect of the conflation of the creature with the Creator. As with the matter of motive more generally, the problem may be in judging another person to be evil. “Thou shalt not judge”. . . but the intensity of inflicting injury tends to speak for itself. Lest our finiteness as human beings render us impotent to prevent or stop evil, we adopt such surrogates as a matter of necessity. In terms of stopping Qaddafi from murdering on a large scale (though are more lives worth more than a few?), the reaction of most of the rest of the world can be read as a rejection of evil, for Qaddafi did seem to take on god-like aspirations in having such power over life and death.

According to The Catholic Herald, “The Church later added two more rules, though St Thomas usually gets the credit for them (and why not?). The first is that the conflict must be a last resort. In other words, every other option must be tried first. In this case they had been. Sanctions, diplomacy, phone calls from Tony Blair to his pal Muammar, freezing of assets, the lot. None of it had any effect. The UN military measures were not only a last resort, they were employed only at the last possible moment, just in the nick of time.” Significantly, “last resort” does not necessarily means “after due time.” The timing of the response, and thus the alternative options available, must surely be impacted by the nature of that which is to be prevented.  For example, if a ruler is violently turning on mass protests, waiting for the go-ahead from the Security Council may not be a justification for not acting immediately. The fact that the Council does not have governmental sovereignty (e.g. five permanent members have vetoes) means that the body is not equipped to act on short-notice. This fact mitigates the claim that a U.N. mandate is morally (or theologically) of value before an evil can be prevented or stopped in its tracks. If the purpose of the international coalition’s intervention in Libya was to protect civilians, a timely response was implied because of the nature of Qaddafi’s action against the protesters. Excessive delay could be interpreted as an implicit complicity in the evil if more immediate intervention was possible. In short, last resort does not necessarily imply delay.
The Catholic Herald describes the last criterion of Catholic just war theory as follows: “Lastly, the war must be fought proportionally. This means that more force than necessary must not be used, nor must the action kill more civilians than necessary. Enormous pains are being taken to fulfil this condition, too. The supposed “smart bombs” they talked about in the first Gulf war (which constantly missed their targets and killed large numbers of civilians) appear to have been in the last 20 years perfected in the most remarkable way, so that tanks can be taken out surgically even inside urban areas without damage to their surroundings (special missiles are used, with a considerably reduced explosive charge).” Here, the purpose of the international intervention is crucial. If the end is to remove Qaddafi because he has lost the right to rule by international consensus, then the no fly zone acts are not proportionate.  However, the actual agreed-upon objective of the coalition (as per the Security Council’s resolution) does not reach regime change. In terms of protecting civilians, that Qaddafi’s forces continued to beat and kill civilians after the imposition of the no fly zone strongly suggests that the coalition’s intervention was not proportional. Divisions within the coalition on this point could thus be interpreted as contrary to just war from the Catholic perspective.
In summary, even though my analysis of the Catholic Church’s just war criteria is generally consistent with the judgment expressed in The Catholic Herald article, my particular stress is on the extent of nuances and  how they qualify the judgment. Moreover, the nuances raise theoretical questions that transcend the matter of just war. Among such matters is that of the relationship between human judgment (and ethical systems) and the divine. Just war theory can be viewed as presumptuous to the extent that it presumes a judgment on matters that transcend the boundaries of human cognition and perception. Even so, as human beings living in human societies, we are as though instinctively drawn to stop what seems to us to be evil to us even if we cannot be sure of our judgments. As is the case more generally on matters where theology meets the ground, we are in the condition of “already, not yet.” Accordingly, a good supply of humility is called for even when we are convinced that we are fighting evil rather than perpetuating it.

On changing theological takes on greed in relation to money and business, see God's Gold, available at Amazon.

Lawbreakers at the Mexico-California Border: Appealing to Law

At the Tijuana-San Diego border between Mexico and California on November 25, 2018, a “peaceful march by Central American migrants veered out of control . . . as hundreds of people tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border crossing.”[1] In response, the U.S. Government shut down the border crossing in both directions and fired tear gas to push back migrants from the border fence. The American media made much of the use of tear gas, with convenient stories from migrants of their kids having been affected. To be sure, the suffering of innocent children is horrible, so at the very least the use of gas is debatable. Yet this focus came at the expense of another on the mentality and conduct of the adult migrants, including parents, largely from Honduras.

Migrants trying to evade a police blockade were not interested in respecting Mexican law. Additionally, an Associated Press reporter saw U.S. agents use tear gas after “some migrants attempted to penetrate several points along the border. Mexico’s Milenio TV showed images of migrants climbing over fences and peeling back metal sheeting to enter [California].”[2] A migrant from Honduras reported seeing “migrants opening a small hole in concertia wire at a gap on the Mexican side of a levee, at which point U.S. agents fired tear gas at them.”[3] Missed in defining the main question as whether the use of gas was necessary or appropriate is the point that a significant number of migrants felt free to evade laws of other countries, and yet while appealing for lawful asylum. Whereas the Mexican government had enabled to law-breaking at Mexico’s southern border, the U.S. Government said no and meant it. Like enabled alcoholics used to manipulating people, running up against the wall of unmanipulatable people can trigger frustration and anger such that even outright force is used. To force oneself into another country over its objections indicates an attitude that presumes that law does not apply to the person.
Living in Phoenix at the time, I witnessed a lot of citizens and legal residents ignoring the law so blatantly that I had the sense that the underlying mentality is one of not being subject to the law. Watching people cross the light-rail tracks even to climb on the train platforms and even climb over moving freight-train cars to cross railroad tracks, not to mention crossing streets between intersections even in traffic, I could discern an arrogance in presuming to be above the law. Interestingly, though police and security guards go too far in trying to intimidate even law-abiding people, rarely had I seen a person committing a blatant act be stopped and held accountable. Once while approaching a light-rain platform, I saw a man run through traffic and cross the tracks to reach the platform in time to catch the oncoming light-rail train. On the train, I mentioned this to one of the several security guards in the car what I had witnessed and who the man is. “The street is not our property,” a guard told me, “so we can’t do anything.” Such convenient impotence! “But he crossed your tracks,” I retorted. Even though the guard had seen even that himself, he did not answer me. What an interesting stance for a security guard to have, especially as the guards presume to be entitled to cluster so much on a car as to intimidate paid customers.
So I contend that the main issue concerning the 3,000 migrants who had been unrestrained by Mexico to be able to reach the border with California is one of attitude toward the law—even valuing the law, even of another country. Considering the size of Mexico, moreover, it is interesting that so many migrants were able to make it to the California border so quickly. Perhaps there is not as much respect for law in the state of Mexico as there are in the U.S. states. Indeed, what unifies diverse populations in the U.S. is in large part an agreement to respect the law. For migrants who have demonstrated in action a mentality (or set of values) that is antithetical to what the U.S. stands for, barring entry (except for legitimate asylum) is arguably prudent as well as ethical. For as I witnessed especially in Arizona, the U.S. at the time had more than enough people without respect for the law. Would it be prudent to add even more? Eventually, the cultures of the states would change, with new default attitudes of law resulting.  

[1]Maya Averbuch and Elisabeth Markin, “Migrants in Tijuana Run to U.S. Border, but Fall Back in Face of Tear Gas,” The New York Times, November 26, 2018, italics added.
[2] Christopher Sherman, “U.S. Border Patrol Launches Tear Gas At Migrants Over Attempt To Breach Fence,” The Associated Press, November 26, 2018.
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Keeping the Palestinian Authority Down at the United Nations

In “defiance of retaliation threatened” by the United States and the state of Israel, the Palestinian Authority announced in November 2012 that it planned to hold a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on the Authority’s request to become an observer state. According to The Wall Street Journal, “(s)uch a designation would give the Palestinian Authority the right over its airspace and territorial waters.” The Authority could participate in General Assembly debates, sponsor resolutions, and nominate candidates for Assembly committees. The Authority would be able to accede to treaties and join specialized U.N. agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the International Criminal Court. The Authority could thus press charges against Israelis before the Court.
Because 132 states had already recognized the Authority as a sovereign state and the U.S. does not have a veto in the General Assembly, the vote was expected to be in the Authority’s favor. Rather than wade into the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian standoff, I want to investigate the nature of the responses of the Israeli government and the United States to the likely passage.
In retaliation, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said in Israel, “If the Palestinians continue to advance their unilateral move they should not expect bilateral cooperation. We will not collect their taxes for them and we will not transfer their tax revenues.” Had the Palestinian Authority had held a similar position concerning unilateral moves, the Israeli government would doubtless not have held off in its unilateral moves, such as building a wall. Perhaps taxation should be added to the rights of observer states. The hypocrisy alone would justify that, not to mention the threat being made.
I suspect the control over airspace and the membership at the ICC were of particular concern to Israel. Security concerns were a given. Given Israeli influence over the American Congress, I suspect that the Israeli officials would also bristle at Palestinian demands being enforced by an over-arching authority to which Israel was at least in theory subject. That is to say, being held accountable.
Also in anticipatory retaliation, the American Congress “threatened to cut off $500 million in security and economic aid” to the Authority. Here, the American Government having been accustomed to the comfort of its veto on the Security Council no doubt left officials feeling a sudden and as though terrifying loss of control. Hence, as though impulsively, the Congress acted out in a manipulatory fashion to circumvent being in the minority on a vote.
Furthermore, the American threat suggests that the Israeli government might have disproportionate influence in the halls of Congress and in the White House, even given the state’s ally status. The duopoly of two major parties in American politics may be complicit here. The result may be that Israeli interests come before even American interests in American foreign policy.
Concerning both the state of Israel and the fifty United States, it is the tenor of such blatant threats and manipulation that is particularly striking in this story. Might it be that the reactions, particularly if knee-jerk, are in essence cultural—meaning that manipulation and threats have come to be a common feature of human interaction in those states. Rather than being to criticize Israeli or American policy, my point is that the reactions themselves can be indicative of a certain cultural decadence concerning the way certain people “deal with” not getting their way. Beyond the sheer childishness in “taking one’s marbles” if one does not get to make the rules of the game is the sordidness of the mentality that threatens and manipulates as a matter of course. I suppose the real question is how—or even whether—such a value system can be changed. At the very least, one is inclined by the fitting moral disapprobation to see to it that that particular psychology does not get its way, or is at least frustrated in the pursuit of its particular tactics. Making them transparent can be a first step to a better world, at least as among persons.


Joe Lauria, “Palestinians Set U.N. Vote, Defying Retaliatory Threats by U.S., Israel,” The Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2012.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi: A Double-Agent Killed in Istanbul by Saudi Operatives

The New York Times labeled Jamal Khashoggi “a journalist critical of the Saudi government.”[1] His day job was being a contributing columnist to The Washington Post. Articles he wrote “included criticism of Saudi Arabia’s government. On [October 2, 2018], he entered the [Saudi] consulate in Istanbul and never emerged.”[2] Khashoggi was also a double agent, and it is for this rather than merely critical articles that he was really killed and cut into pieces in the consulate.
After “weeks of Saudi insistence that Mr. Khashoggi had left the consulate, unharmed, hours after entering,” Saudi Arabia’s government announced the “Khashoggi had been killed in a brawl inside the [Saudi] consulate [in Turkey].”[3] According to Turkish officials, the Saudi version was that “Khashoggi [had] died in a botched attempt at interrogation and abduction.”[4] Turkish officials even claimed to have recordings of the torture and killing.”[5]
The whole thing had been a “’’tremendous mistake’ by Saudi operatives acting ‘outside the scope of their authority,” said Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister. [6] What “compounded the mistake,” he continued, would be the attempt to try to cover up.”[7]
It is highly improbable, I submit, that 15 operatives would be sent without the approval of the Saudi government at its highest level. Turkish government officials firmly believed that Khashoggi’s death was ordered at the highest level of the [Saudi] kingdom.”[8] They told the media anonymously “that a team of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2 to kill Mr. Khashoggi, most likely on the orders of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.”[9] Additionally, the former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service (MI6), John Sawers, observed at the time, “It’s very hard not to point a finger at [the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia].”[10] So, why would the highest level of the Saudi government go so far as to kill a Saudi journalist living in Virginia? Why all the lies? The Turkish Prime Minister picked up on them from the beginning.
I contend, from an anonymous American source, that Jamal Khashoggi was a double agent whom the Saudis killed and cut up into pieces (so as to sneak the remains out of the consulate in Istanbul). Just months earlier, the world witnessed the attempted assassination on British soil of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who acted as a double agent.[11] So the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia could have considered killing Jamal Khashoggi as the appropriate response.
By implication, the world’s public could see only the lies meant ultimately to hide the fact that the Saudi Government killed a man who was not just a critical journalist who had left the kingdom in more ways than one. Behind the scenes lies the real story in more cases than the public could imagine. Such secrecy has always been a part of governing (and campaigning), but at some level the lies must surely impede democracy. Of course, autocratic governments would naturally be unmoved by such a constraint, but what about the U.S. Government, or at least its military, in keeping the real story hidden even from Americans?

1. Carlotta Gall and Ben Hubbard, “Turkey’s President Vows to Detail Khashoggi Death ‘in Full Nakedness,” The New York Times, October 21, 2018.
2. Emily Rauhala and Anton Troianovski, “The World Has a Question for the White House: When Do Murders Matter?The Washington Post, October 19, 2018.
3. Carlotta Gall and Ben Hubbard, “Turkey’s President Vows to Detail Khashoggi Death ‘in Full Nakedness,” The New York Times, October 21, 2018.
4. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Mary Papenfuss, “’Compelling Evidence’ Points to Saudi Prince in Khashoggi Death, Says Ex-MI6 Chief,” The Huffington Post, October 20, 2018.
11. Emily Rauhala and Anton Troianovski, “The World Has a Question for the White House: When Do Murders Matter?The Washington Post, October 19, 2018.