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I think that as long as we’re still killing people all the time we should keep all our flags at half-staff all the time.

Keith Olbermann: Special Comment About “Sacrifice”

To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship – those bonded, still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this “sacrifice” – proceed at your own peril.

We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country’s most precious assets – the lives of its citizens who are in harm’s way.

If you do not, you are not serving this nation’s interests – nor your own.

November should have told you this.

The opening of the new Congress on Wednesday and Thursday should tell you this.

Next time, those missing Republicans will be you.

And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.

President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr.Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.

The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.

It wants fewer.

Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.

The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. Bringing God closer to the Soldier and the Soldier closer to God.

Question: why don’t Army chaplains tell soldiers: “Lay down your weapons“?

Proposed answer: because that’s not their job. That’s not what they’re hired to do.

But in that case, what are they hired to do?

You can have faith — maybe — but you cannot have religious faith.

I do not say you should not: I say you cannot. It is not inadvisable, it is impossible.

Firstly, there are no gods — not even one. Therefore, you cannot direct your hope or your dreams or your attention to any deity because no matter how much you want them to be there they are not. They cannot receive anything from you, or give anything back, because they do not exist.

I don’t care what you say, people say. I believe there is a god. Well I’m sorry, no belief can change the facts, and you know it.

Look: if you believe you can walk through walls, will that help you walk through walls? Obviously no amount of belief (whatever that is) will increase your chances there.

Second point. I said hypothetically: if you believe you can walk through walls. But you cannot believe this. Because to really believe it would mean that you could walk toward a wall expecting, not just hoping or dreaming or imagining in a sort of daydream, but actually expecting to pass through, and being genuinely surprised by the painful result. You cannot do this. No one can who is not insane.

Can you honestly believe there is a god who answers your prayers and cares about you and is also the Creator of the whole Universe? OK, then why are you not honestly surprised when it does not answer your prayers? Does that not contradict your belief? What is it that you believe, exactly? — that it answers your prayers when your prayers make sense? Sense, to who? How can you tell the prayers that make sense from the ones that don’t? And if you can’t, if it’s totally up to a god and you never know what that god will choose, what does it mean that this god answers your prayers? It could be doing the opposite of some of them, and you would not know which, or why. Again, I am saying not that you should not have such a belief, but that you cannot have such a belief.

We are touching on the third point. It is more subtle than the others. It is that the idea of this kind of belief, the idea of believing such a thing, makes no sense if the thing you “believe” makes no sense.

Imagine that I tell you, “Sofa Europe artichoke.” Well, I have not told you anything. This statement does not communicate. It is in fact not a statement, because nothing has been stated; not a proposition, because nothing has been proposed. A string of random words has no meaning. The three words might each mean something — though Wittgenstein would say: not without a meaningful context! — but in any case, the “sentence” of all three put together certainly means nothing. My speaking it was a babble of sound with no purpose. It might as well have been a scribble in the sand, or a spill of of salt crystals on the kitchen table.

Now take it further. What if I told you, “I believe that sofa Europe artichoke”? What can this possibly mean? That I believe a statement that’s not even a statement? — that does not say anything? — that’s not about anything? What would such “believing” consist of? How is it done? Can someone believe a scribble in the sand, a spill of salt? No, the idea makes no sense. The claim that I “believe” that sofa Europe artichoke is no more interesting than the original proposition that sofa Europe artichoke. That is, it is not a claim at all. In saying it, I have said nothing.

This connects with “religious belief” in the following way.

Religious propositions are incoherent; therefore, the statement that someone believes such a proposition is incoherent.

Maybe there are some kinds of faith you can have. Faith in a partner, for example. But religious faith is not one of them. There is no such thing.

More on this topic later.

I am not a total fan of Sam Harris but his new one-pager is a real winner. Excerpt:

The problem with fascism and communism … is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

… is a brilliant name for what seems to be the standard response to scholars who dare to question religion. PZ Myers uses an illustrative fable to help define the term. Excerpt:

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

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This is the “Stryker” light armored infantry carrier, with the optional 105mm canon on top. The Stryker is made by General Dynamics (see the color brochure). The U.S. Army has ordered two thousand of these vehicles, at two to three million dollars each. Total payments to General Dynamics will exceed five billion dollars.

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In this WWII photo three German soldiers are manning a .50 caliber Browning captured from the enemy. Today’s M2HB machine gun is a direct descendant of the Browning. The bullets are half an inch in diameter and a little more than three inches long. You feed belts of 100 into it and it spits out ten rounds per second. The range is amazing. With the right ammunition you can pierce half-inch steel armor from a quarter-mile away. Even from two miles, you can still kill people, if you can see them. Or even if you can’t.

Now, about the price. The gun costs $14,000, but this is minor compared to what you’re going to spend on ammo. The plain old “ball” type rounds are $200 a belt. (That’s 100 rounds, to be fired off in about ten seconds.) If you want incendiary, armor-piercing, or tracer capability — and of course you do — we’re talking ten dollars per shot or $1000 for one belt.

Of course the Nazis had their own weapons. Lots of them.

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These poor doomed people are on their way to a concentration camp. The caption at Zwoje-Scrolls.com reads:

The eastbound deportation of 995 Jewish inhabitants of the German town of Würtzburg on April 25, 1942. They would be transfered to the transit camps in Trawniki and Izbica and eventually to the death camp in Belzec in Nazi occupied Poland.

Now, why are they just walking along quietly? Why not run away? — or, why not gang up on the guards and overpower them? Maybe this is a complex issue but one thing is for sure: the guards have guns and the prisoners do not. One move in the wrong direction and you’ll be shot. Shooting you is actually easy for the guy with the gun. I mean, it’s no trouble. He pulls a little lever with one finger and a bullet flies out faster than sound. Before you can hear the report you’re already hit. Now in a few seconds you’ll be crippled or dead. That’s what a gun does. There’s no way a regular human being can compete with it, so most won’t take the risk.

Without their rifles so few guards would not have been able to hold so many prisoners. So where did those rifles come from? To answer simply and pragmatically: some people designed them, other people made them, and some other people sold them to the army.

The standard weapon for such guards was the Mauser Karabiner 98K rifle.

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The Mauser company was started by two brothers, Wilhelm and Paul. I don’t imagine they had to become weapons suppliers. I bet they could have found something else to do. But weapons suppliers is what they chose.

The Mauser factory in Oberndorf, Germany made over ten million 98Ks (along with a whole catalog of other weapons). I have been unable to find out how much money the brothers made during this time. Quite a bit, one would imagine. All these years later, by the way, Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH still exists and is still making guns.

Late in the war some of the ordinary soldiers had a sub-machine gun called the MP40, which until then had been reserved for elite forces such as paratroopers. This weapon was manufactured at Erma Werke (full name: Erfurter Maschinenfabrik Berthold Geipel GmbH) in Erfurt. A guy called Heinrich Vollmer designed the gun; workers molded and pieced and finished and boxed them up; their bosses sent out invoices and counted the money coming in. Erma Werke made over one million MP40s.

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How did it happen, and how does it continue to happen, that so many people are willing to work so hard to make machines that someone is going to use to kill someone else?

Did the people who worked at Erma not know what the guns would be used for? Did they figure that guns would “protect” their country from “the enemy”? Are the enemy worse than us, if we’re killing as many of them as they are of us? And who decided there is a them and an us in the first place? Can you say conflict of interest?

Did the Erma factory workers say, “If I don’t do it, someone else will”? People still say that. But of course they don’t know that it’s true. It’s an excuse.

Did they say, “I’m a working stiff and I have to support my family”? People still say that. But it exhibits a disregard of the people against whom the weapons will be used. I have to ask: Why should your family be supported rather than theirs? You are the weapons-maker. Your victims might be peaceful, generous, and entirely innocent. You don’t even know. Every gun you make can be used to kill hundreds of people — and you’ve made thousands of guns. Why should your work help your family survive while it destroys all these other families? How does that get to be fair?

Don’t bother telling me that weapons have other purposes besides killing people. That is not correct. Killing is their sole purpose. They have no other. If you never want to kill anyone, you will never need a weapon. There are no good people and bad people. Killing is bad. We’re all people! The people doing the killing should stop killing, period, end of story. And you can’t stop the killing by killing. It doesn’t subtract. It adds.

Weapons are still being made. Hundreds of millions of them, from handguns (a few hundred dollars each) to “daisy-cutter” bombs ($27,000 each) to cruise missiles ($1,000,000 each). The biggest manufacturer and the biggest international dealer? The United States, of course. It was not so long ago that there were factories, run by AT&T, Atlantic Richfield, BAE, Bendix, CH2M Hill, Dow Chemical, Du Pont, Exxon, General Electric, Honeywell, Kodak, Lockheed Martin, Monsanto, Raytheon, Rockwell, Union Carbide, Wackenhut, Westinghouse, and so on, making more nuclear bombs — at billions of dollars each — even though we already had tens of thousands stockpiled! Why would someone do such a thing?

It’s interesting to think about the flow of capital here. When a “government” buys weapons, where those funds come from? From taxes. That is, from all the ordinary tax-paying citizens. They — we — paid for those weapons. And this money we’re spending on weapons, where does it end up? With the gun-makers and the gun-sellers. Especially, of course, with their top executives. Because of course the ordinary factory workers are paid like ordinary factory workers, while the bosses are paid like bosses. So, one reason weapons are still being made is that it’s profitable for the individuals in the corner offices. They insist on making a good living, even if it involves the murder of millions of people. This is not just my opinion, it is a fact. They make guns (and grenades and mines and rocket-launchers and so on and so on) and sell them to just about anyone, knowing that the entire purpose of their product is murder. Can you even imagine a baser line of work? Yet these mercenaries, these parasites, these vile criminals are looked up to as successful entrepreneurs. Is this the kind of success we really respect? Is making money by any means necessary the acme of achievement in human society, even in the twenty-first century? I sure fucking hope not.

I say again: the money — trillions of dollars — flows from ordinary citizens, to the government, to the fat cats of the arms trade. And as a side effect, killing-machines get made and people get killed. And you say, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Are you sure? What if your refusal to do it inspired others to refuse as well? What if so many people refused, and the refusals made so much sense, that anyone still making guns would begin to feel ashamed? If no one were willing to make new guns, then after the old ones wore out there would be no guns at all. If everyone said, when offered a job at the machine-gun factory, “Why on Earth would I want to do that? Guns have no use other than to make a few very rich people even richer. They can’t do anything good ever. Not interested,” then there would be no more machine guns. And would that not be a better world? Is it not obvious? Did I miss something?

(5679) Traditional Damask Chasuble and Stole with Velvet Orphreys

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Price: $602.00 plus shipping.

Yahoo! News reports that when asked by Spanish-language reporters about his future plans in politics, Jeb Bush said:

No tengo futuro.

General Says Army Will Need To Grow

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Meanwhile, here are more of today’s headlines:

Executive Says Compensation Will Need to Grow

Pastor Says Flock Will Need to Grow

President Says Executive Powers Will Have to Grow

Kid Says He Needs More Toys