Let’s talk about the Golan Heights

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability,” President Trump tweeted earlier this week. As with everything else the President has said and done over the past two years, Trump has been greatly criticized for those words. But is he right or wrong in what he tweeted, and how much does it matter?

Golan is mentioned four times in the Bible. It is in the region of Bashan, east of the Jordan River. Under Moses the Israelites captured Bashan, and the land was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. Golan was designated a city of refuge, where a person guilty of manslaughter (but not of murder) could live in safety according to God’s law.

As the kingdom of Aram (ancient Syria) grew in strength, the Golan Heights became contested territory between Aram and Israel. Even before the development of modern weapons, the Heights had significant strategic military value. Like much of western Asia, the land eventually became part of the Assyrian Empire, then moved through the hands of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Byzantines. Eventually the land was captured by Muslims, under whom it was ruled first from Baghdad, then from Egypt, and finally from the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottoman Empire fell apart after the First World War, Syria (including Golan) was made a French protectorate, although the British seem to have been more involved than the French in developing the modern state of Syria. The country first declared its independence in 1941, but over the next thirty years several Syrian governments rose and fell before the Assad family rose to power in the 1970s.

After World War II, European governments gradually gave full independence to their Asian protectorates. The British divided the land along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Palestine, basing ownership of each section upon whether the residents were primarily Jewish or Muslim. (They had previously done a similar division of land between India and Pakistan, based on whether the residents were primarily Hindu or Muslim. Neither division has worked well for the residents of those countries.) Almost immediately war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. The result of that war was the end of Palestine as an independent nation: some parts were captured and claimed by Israel, and other parts were assimilated by Jordan. In 1967, almost twenty years later, a second war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. During that war, Israel captured two-thirds of the Golan Heights, recognizing their strategic value. After a third war in 1973, Israel and Syria were persuaded to negotiate their borders in the Golan Heights region and elsewhere. The negotiations, overseen by American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, involved a detailed study of the region. Kissinger spent nearly the entire month of May 1974 working with both governments. He describes the process as “grueling,” adding that “the long shuttle produced an accord that, with all its inherent complexity, fragility, and mistrust, has endured….”

Shortly after he wrote those words, in 1981 Israel announced that it was annexing its occupied portion of the Golan Heights. Syria protested, and the United Nations deemed the annexation null and void, without international legal effect. Until this week, all people speaking for the United States government on this topic have agreed with the United Nations ruling.

The involvement of the United States in the wars of 1967 was largely—but not entirely—conducted with an eye aimed at the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States was one of the first nations to recognize Israel in 1948, and the Soviets tried to draw Muslim countries in Asia and north Africa into the Soviet sphere of influence. Syria and Egypt particularly benefited from Soviet military equipment and advisors. When they nearly overwhelmed Israel’s forces in 1973, President Nixon did all he could to resupply Israel. One result of his action was an Arab boycott of petroleum sold to the United States and its allies, followed by a massive increase in the price of petroleum. This threw the United States into an inflationary recession for the rest of the decade. But Israel survived the war, and shortly thereafter Egypt threw out Soviet advisors and welcomed the United States as an ally.

The Iranian revolution of 1978 demonstrated that more is involved in foreign relations than a cold war between two superpowers, as the new government in Iran was equally opposed to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Of course, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet government in 1991; but terrorist attacks on the United States ten years afterward demonstrated that America still had powerful and determined enemies. In response, President Bush announced a war on terror, one which included attacks upon Afghanistan and Iraq. The primary goals of those attacks were to confront terrorists on their home ground and to eliminate their access to weapons of mass destruction. Another hope was that governments could be established in those countries that would include western values of freedom and democracy. It must be noted that Israel, during all these years, remained the only true democracy in the region; all its neighbors, even allies of the United States, were under dictatorships.

Years later, while the United States was still struggling to build democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, citizens of Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets and effectively overthrew their dictators. In what was being called the Arab Spring, it seemed at first that a wave of freedom was moving through the Muslim world. When the people of Libya rose against their dictator, Khadafi used his armed forces to try to remain in control. In response, the United States intervened with military force to keep Khadafi from killing his own people, and he was overthrown and killed. Assad in Syria seemed to be the next tyrant to topple, but the United States did not help the people of Syria as it had helped the people of Libya. Even when it was demonstrated that the Syrian forces had used chemical weapons against citizens, they received from the United States little more than a frown and a scolding.

What makes Syria different? One difference is that Assad has maintained ties to Russia in spite of the change in government there since the 1970s. Vladimir Putin does not want the Russian people to hear of dictators being overthrown, so he has provided much support and help to Assad’s government in Syria. While the United States under Barack Obama temporized over Syria, pro-American forces were weakened and an Islamic State was declared. Problems also arose in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as western freedom and democracy did not emerge as expected.

Donald Trump promised that he was going to do things differently. He showed this after the election but before his inauguration when he spoke with the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Ever since Mao’s revolution in the 1940s, American leaders and diplomats have joined the rest of the world in maintaining the fiction that China is one country and has only one legitimate government. From Truman to Nixon, the Communist government was treated by the United States as the illegitimate government, but Nixon opened communication with the Communists, and President Carter recognized the Communist government as legitimate. (All American Presidents, including Nixon and Carter, have made it clear to the Communists that a military taking of Taiwan would not be permitted.) President Reagan once spoke of “two Chinas,” but backpedaled from that position. Not speaking to the President of Taiwan was part of that diplomatic fiction which Trump chose to eschew.

Now he has recognized the reality that the Golan Heights belong to Israel and not to Syria, something which has been practically the case since 1981 (and since the occupation of the Heights began during the 1967 war, fifty-two years ago). As he does on many matters, President Trump has openly recognized reality rather than clinging to polite fictions. After all, the United States has no reason to appease Syria; its government is no friend of our government. Describing reality in blunt terms sometimes is the beginning of solving problems between nations. About the only reason to protest Trump’s statement about the Golan Heights is the reflex assumption some people make that, if Trump did it, it must be wrong. J.

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Can Trump be defeated?

CNN wants to be known as the child who observes that the emperor has no clothes. Instead, CNN is increasingly acting as the boy who called wolf. Every week we receive shrill warnings about the end of the Trump administration. Investigations will reveal terrible things that happened in the White House over the last two years, or that happened during the presidential campaign in 2016. Those who have left the administration have secrets to share, and those secrets will topple Trump’s government. Congress will Impeach him and convict him, or else he will resign before that happens. President Trump has no future.

So many Democrats believe this that those in Congress are prepared to open new investigations. They are eager to question every former Trump advisor and assistant. Meanwhile, dozens of Democrats are opening campaigns to run for President. Each of them is convinced that he or she is the one who can defeat Donald Trump in a one-on-one election. They are prepared to battle each other for that privilege. They are convinced that, by November 2020, the country will be so tired of Donald Trump that they will accept any replacement.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Richard Nixon was very unpopular in the early months of 1971. Many people, even in the White House, assumed that Nixon would be a one-term President. This, of course, was before he visited China and the Soviet Union. More important, it was before George McGovern was nominated by the Democrats. Nixon won the electoral college votes of forty-nine states in one of the most one-sided elections in American history.

Ronald Reagan was unpopular in the early months of 1983. The country was still struggling from inflation and unemployment. Many blamed Reagan’s economic policies for the nation’s woes. But by the summer of 1984, the economy was strong again. This time the Democrats nominated the bland former Vice-President Walter Mondale, and Reagan repeated Nixon’s accomplishment of winning forty-nine states.

Bill Clinton was unpopular in the early months of 1995. The Republicans had just taken control of both houses of Congress. Clinton’s efforts to change the national health care system had been defeated. The White House appeared to be ready for a Republican to move in. But once again, a strong national economy and an uninspiring opponent gave the incumbent President a second term in the White House.

Democrats thought that the narrow election of George W. Bush would make it easy to defeat him four years later. They failed. Republicans thought they could make Barack Obama look like Jimmy Carter and limit him to a single term. They also failed. In the 1970s, due to the turmoil following the Vietnam War and Watergate, voters resisted the reelections of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But Carter was largely overturned by the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan. The elder George Bush was held to a single term in spite of his popularity in early 1991. That popularity was due to victory in the Persian Gulf conflict, but by the end of 1992, the struggling postwar economy and the centrist policies of Bill Clinton denied President Bush his second term.

If, in the next fifteen months, the Democrats are able to identify a candidate with the personal charm and middle-of-the-road politics of Bill Clinton, they might remove Donald Trump from the White House. But if the voters in the Democratic primaries favor a left-wing candidate, they will lose the general election. If they choose the candidate who promises the most from government, the candidate who offers to tax the rich in order to take care of everyone else, Donald Trump will repeat Richard Nixon’s comeback of 1972. President Trump has positioned himself well to maintain his base. He can say that he has tried harder than any recent President (indeed, than any recent politician) to keep all his campaign promises. When he failed to deliver, it was not his fault. So long as Trump can point to a strong economy, to improved trade agreements with other countries, and to similar successes, he will have the support of enough voters to keep his job.

Congressional investigations and shrill news stories about suspected corruption will not overturn this presidency. Americans are already bored by these stories. We are ready to move on. So long as opposition to the President keeps playing the same tune, fewer and fewer American citizens will join them on the dance floor. History says so. And some people have forgotten to study their history. J.

Three questions about President Trump (from Doug)

In a comment on another blog, Doug asked these three questions:

  1. If your affinity for Trump, in part, is because you have a wish to return the country back to what once was (the idea reflected in MAGA)… what period of time would that be/have been when you felt the most comfortable?
  2. In what way have you suffered personally in the past that contributes to your favoring the President?
  3. If by some chance Trump gets impeached from office, resigns, or loses the 2020 election, are you willing to accept that and move on.. or would you want to strike back in some way, be it peaceful or not? (Understanding your answer could be different for each condition)

 

Those are excellent questions, which is why I decided to share them here. Even though I did not vote for Donald Trump in the primary or the general election of 2016—and, depending upon who else is on the ballot, would probably not vote for him today—I have been outspoken about the need to support him because he is President of the United States—not just President of the people who voted for him, but President of all the people. The shrill opposition to Donald Trump from many media sources is bad for the country and bad for the world. Disagree with his policies, sure, deplore his personality, yes, but honor the office in which he serves and stop predicting which week he will fall from power.

That said, I offer these three answers to Doug’s three questions—and I invite additional answers from others, because like Doug I am interested in what others have to say.

  1. I believe that America is great, not that it was great and needs to be made great again. I have no particular time in American history that I consider ideal. We’ve made progress in some areas and have lost ground in other areas. I do understand the purpose of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” It recognizes that we could be doing better than we are. But your question is very appropriate—when did America lose its greatness? I say we haven’t lost it.
  2. My personal suffering has very little to do with the federal government and its policies. On the other hand, our previous President (for whom I did vote) made some mistakes in domestic policy and in foreign policy which caused me some dismay. I think he tried too hard to get the government more involved in the life of citizens, which means loss of freedom and personal rights. I think he acted poorly as Commander in Chief of the armed forces. (When you are involved in a war, never announce to the world what you are going to do or when you plan to leave.)
  3. If Donald Trump loses the 2020 election, I will accord the same respect and honor to whoever wins that election that I give Donald Trump and that I gave Barack Obama. If he is impeached by the House of Representatives and is convicted by the Senate, I will respect and honor President Pence. Based on the evidence I have seen thus far, I do not think he would be convicted by the Senate even if he was impeached by the House. In fact, I would discourage my Representative in Congress from pursuing any attempt to impeach the President, unless some new evidence of a high crime is produced. Likewise, if President Trump were to resign, I would honor and respect his successor. When Trump was elected, I thought it likely that he would become frustrated by the lack of power in the presidency and would resign before 2019. At this point, it is clear that he is determined to stay the course, run for reelection, and spend eight years of his life trying his best to make America great.

Doug, I’m interested in your  reaction to these thoughts, and I invite others to join the conversation. J.

The benefits of gridlock in government

The writers of the United States Constitution did not want a national government that would work quickly and efficiently. They chose instead to build a government with checks and balances that would limit the power of the government and slow its ability to interfere in the lives of American citizens.

Therefore, they divided the government into three branches: a legislative branch that can make laws but has no ability to enforce laws, an executive branch that enforces laws but does not make or overturn laws, and a judicial branch that interprets and applies laws and that can overturn laws—but only when asked to do so by one or more citizens. The legislative branch is further checked and balanced by two houses which must agree with each other to pass a law. In the Senate, each state is equally represented; but in the House, states are represented proportionally. Members of the House must seek reelection every two years, so its members are focused on short term problems and interests. Members of the Senate hold terms of six years, so they can take a longer view of things. Potentially, the entire House could be changed in one election, but a minimum of two-thirds of the Senators would still be in the Senate after such an election.

Even when the President and the majority of both houses of Congress come from the same political party, the President and Congress maintain an adversarial relationship because of their different powers and concerns. During the past seventy-two years, American voters have frequently chosen to have the President come from one political party while the majority of at least one house of Congress represents the opposition party. When Congress convenes in January, the country will be in that situation again, as President Trump comes from the Republican Party while the majority of the House of Representatives—chosen by this week’s election—come from the Democratic Party.

What does this mean for the government of the United States over the next two years? The best-case scenario is that Democrats and Republicans—including President Trump—learn to communicate and to compromise, working together for the good of the country and pleasing Americans of various political viewpoints. Given human nature, a more likely scenario is that both sides experience frustration, unable to accomplish their goals. Given their desire for limited government, the framers of the Constitution would likely prefer the second scenario.

On the other hand, President Trump thrives on conflict. The more grief the Democratic members of the House try to cause him, the more he will rattle their chains in return. Already in the first half of his term, President Trump has been able to demonstrate that he has tried to keep his campaign promises but Congress and the courts have hindered him. We can expect the President to continue to act as he has been acting for the past two years. The dire consequences that his opponents in politics and among news reporters have been predicting have not come close to happening. For the next two years, we can expect much of the same results.

The Democrats in Congress would be foolish to attempt an impeachment of President Trump during the next two years. No matter what evidence they uncover, they are unlikely to find enough to convince two thirds of the Senate to remove him from office. Meanwhile, the time and energy spent on that useless venture would be time and energy not spent on seeking their other goals. For that they would suffer in the 2020 election. Their best ploy is to seek to compromise with the President and give him the option of working with them or spurning them. In either case, they would gain more from a posture of compromise than they can ever gain from continual opposition. J.

A letter to President Trump

To the Honorable Donald Trump, President of the United States:

Greetings.

Many people in our country are talking about the large number of Central Americans (now estimated to include 6,000 people) crossing Mexico on the way to the United States border. This situation brings to mind the 160,000 Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam, and also the 125,000 Cuban refugees who left Cuba in 1980 for the United States. In both cases they were fleeing Communist governments and were welcomed into the United States. But the procedure used to resettle them is one that could be repeated this year. As you no doubt remember, both the Vietnamese and the Cuban refugees were temporarily housed in US military facilities where they could be interviewed and processed, and troublemakers could be isolated. At the same time, sponsors were sought for each individual or family—sponsors who would watch over their resettlement, help them find jobs and adjust to American life, and keep them from causing trouble in their new home. Sponsors included families, church groups, other charitable organizations, and many humanitarians who wanted to assist these foreigners who wished to become American citizens.

I believe the same thing can be done with these Central Americans who say that they want to become American citizens. In addition to border guards and Army reinforcements, the people in these caravans could be met by Spanish-speaking clerks from Immigration who would help them to fill out paperwork to request permission to entry our county legally. Sponsors could be recruited within the United States—perhaps calling the bluff of those who are saying for political reasons that we should not try to stop these people from coming. These six thousand people who say they want to live in the United States could become a resource making America even stronger and greater, as waves of immigrants (including the Vietnamese and the Cubans) have done in the past.

Meanwhile, this is a tremendous opportunity to remind our own citizens and the other countries of the world of the greatness of America. Since no one is sure who is organizing and supporting these caravans, some Americans are beginning to accuse the Russians or some other foreign power of trying to embarrass the United States. What an excellent time this is to ask why thousands of people are not trying to enter Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The United States is a great country, and the rest of the world knows it, whether they admit to it or not.

You remain in my prayers as you continue in your difficult job as the President of all the citizens of the United States of America.

J.

Dear Senator,

I have just emailed the following message to my Senators:

“The current situation involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford has me (and many other Americans) deeply distressed. It is fundamental to American justice that every person is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Judge Kavanaugh is entitled to this right, in spite of the accusation of abuse directed at him. Professor Ford is equally entitled to this right, in spite of the accusation of lying directed at her.

We may never know the truth about what happened between them when they were high school students. I hope that both of them will have their opportunity to state their case to the United States Senate in the next week. I hope that the Senate will then move to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in short order. Further, I hope that the FBI will be directed to investigate Professor Ford’s accusations thoroughly and to return a judgment regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s innocence or guilt. Finally, I hope that all parties concerned agree that, if it is shown that Judge Kavanaugh has been knowing lying about this event, he will be subject to impeachment in the United States Senate.

One more thought: on occasion adolescents engaged in drinking and other illegal and irresponsible behavior will use the names of their classmates rather than their own names to avoid being caught and punished. In fact, it sometimes amuses them to use the names of classmates least likely to do the things they are doing. It may prove that Professor Ford is accurately describing an event that happened to her years ago, but that all this time she has been mistaken about the identity of the guilty party. I hope that investigators will consider and pursue this possibility.

Sincerely, J.

What President Trump is doing

Mainstream media now reports that the White House staff is piecing together scraps of paper that President Trump has shredded by hand. United States law requires the preservation of these papers, even though the President has acted to destroy them. I hope that the staff has consulted with professionals from the National Archives about these scraps of paper. If they are using transparent tape to reassemble the scraps, the long-term damage to those papers will be far greater than if they just took each set of scraps and stored them in an envelope or file folder.

Mainstream media reports situations like this to try to create and promote the idea that Donald Trump is unworthy to remain President. Like the Democratic party (who, ironically, just telephoned and asked me for one hundred dollars to reverse the course of Trump’s administration while I was typing the previous paragraph), many members of the mainstream media are not willing to accept the decision made by American voters in November 2016. I did not vote for Trump in the primaries or the general election that year, and if he was up for reelection this year I would not vote for him. But he is President—he deserves respect from all citizens, including those who report the news. Trump is, in fact, doing an admirable job of playing to the dark side of the mainstream media. Responding to him, the media sounds shrill, petty, and obsessive. They are helping the President keep the support of those who elected him—Nixon’s silent majority, the Reagan Democrats, the voters who usually tilt “blue” when casting their votes but will swing toward a conservative who seems to understand and relate to common Americans.

Donald Trump’s success is neither as a businessman nor as a politician, but as an entertainer. Years ago he discovered how to build a popular image of himself and keep it in front of the American people. A businessman in the White House would strive to maintain a calm and orderly atmosphere and present it as such to the public. Trump knows that the people really want drama and excitement. He provides it. His legendary ego and bluster are all part of an act that he performs for the American people, and his supporters love him for it.

In 2020, Trump will be able to campaign with the statement that he kept every promise he made the voters in 2016, or that at least he tried. Where promises have not been kept, Trump can blame Congress and the courts, and Trump’s supporters will trumpet his honesty and reliability as a man of his word. On issue after issue—from immigration to tariffs—Trump has held to his word and allowed others to take the blame for derailing his actions. When he is wrong, Trump does not need to admit it. He can blame his opponents for blocking his plans, and then he can turn to another issue.

Dealing with leaders of other nations, Trump has kept his promise to put the United States first. He has taken risks that no other leader would take, and he has prevailed. His strategy of brinksmanship plays well to his political base. While the mainstream media threatens that Armageddon is just around the corner, Donald Trump has continued to chart his own course and achieve his goals.

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy was summarized by this adage: Speak softly and carry a big stick. Donald Trump speaks loudly, but it works for him. It gets him votes. It keeps everyone’s attention. It makes it unlikely that the Democratic party will find a candidate who can defeat Trump when he runs for reelection in 2020. J.

Privacy (and where yours has gone)

Never in history has personal privacy been more protected by law. Yet never in history have people sacrificed their own privacy so completely. 

If you confess a sin to your pastor or priest, that member of the clergy cannot tell anyone else that you have said—not even a police officer, or a judge and jury during a trial. Your confession remains private among yourself, your confessor, and the Lord. 

Health professionals are also required to keep your information confidential. They cannot even share your information among one another for your own good without your permission. If you are in the hospital and a family member or friend (or your pastor or priest) calls the hospital for information about you, the hospital workers cannot say anything about you—not even whether you are there. 

If you are a student, your teachers cannot discuss your academic progress without your permission. If you are under eighteen, your parents or guardians have access to that information; otherwise, even they cannot know your grades unless you allow them access. A professor, teacher, or instructor cannot even give you information about your grade by email or over the telephone because of the risk that some other person may impersonate you to get this information. 

Your financial information is similarly protected. Your bank, your lending agency, your credit card company, and anyone else involved with your money cannot discuss your finances without your permission. Even your tax returns are confidential and cannot be discussed unless you have given permission for that to happen. 

To protect all this privacy, the entities that use our information frequently inform us what they are doing with the confidential information we share with them. Medical clinics, banks, credit card companies, and the like constantly bombard us with written descriptions of what information they have and what they do with it. When we see the doctor or when we open an account or take out a loan, we sign documents about our personal information. How many of us read all those documents and remember what permission we have given these entities to share that information? How many of us are careful to restrict every bank and school and health-related facility to minimal sharing? How many of us acknowledge with our signatures that we have read the documents about privacy and approved their contents—without actually having read them or even received a copy of them? 

With all this protection, no one can stop you from sharing private information where and when you choose. You can put up a poster downtown telling anyone who reads it who you are, what your health and grades and finances are, and any other personal information you choose to share. You can write a letter to the newspaper or buy an ad and tell the newspaper’s readers anything you want to share about yourself. You can write a letter to a government worker—whether elected or appointed—and anything you say about yourself in that letter becomes part of the public record which any researcher may access. You may post information about your private life on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, or any other social media platform, and what you have revealed about yourself is available to any person or computer in the world that has internet access. 

Even the research you conduct online is publicly available, unless you take extraordinary precautions to protect your privacy. Social media platforms and search engines and internet sites all keep track of your online activity, and the things you have done on your computer are available to government agencies, corporations, hackers, and anyone else curious about your life. Anything you tell your Facebook friends is public information. Prospective employers can read about your weekend parties. Prospective thieves can preview your vacation plans. Research an illness, and medical companies target you as a prospective consumer. Look on Google once to see if there was ever a purple Volkswagen Beetle (there was), and you will receive pop-up ads from Volkswagen for months. 

Some elements of this lack of privacy bother me less than they bother most people. If my neighbor is using the internet to learn how to make a bomb and then is using the internet to buy bomb-making supplies, I don’t mind the fact that law enforcement officers will be watching my neighbor and perhaps preventing a crime from happening, or at least shortening a string of potential crimes. For that protection from violence, I am willing to allow government agents to read about my political and religious views as I express them on Facebook or WordPress; the First Amendment protects me from any negative government reaction to my opinions. 

I am less content about my permanent record being open to private corporations whose interest in my life focuses on selling me goods and services I might or might not want. My on-line shopping and on-line research have created a public profile of my life that in some ways is frighteningly accurate and in other ways is comically distorted. Because I was curious about cerebral films starring Peter Sellers (having enjoyed Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and Being There), I now see regular Facebook promotions for the Pink Panther movies. Similar searches for various actresses appears to have convinced some corporation that I am interested in dating Russian or Asian women.  

Ignoring advertisements for things I don’t want is easy. Sensing that news stories and other items are being sent my direction based on assumptions about my opinions bothers me more. Because I am comfortable with my own beliefs, I want and value access to a wide range of opinions and information. I prefer not to have amazon or Facebook or WordPress suggest to me what I might like because of previous online activity. I prefer not to have search engines tailor my results to choices I have made in the past. I prefer not to receive telephone calls or mail selected for me by a computer because of something I have viewed online. I prefer not to have computers monitor my thinking and try to predict my thinking, out of concern that their input today may well flavor my thinking tomorrow.

Since the 1950s (if not before), science fiction writers have warned of a future world in which machines think for people and tell people what to think. We are closer to that dystopia being reality than ever before. The machines that want to serve us—and that, along the way, may begin to control us—come not from a totalitarian government or a worldwide conspiracy, but from corporations that want our money, or at least that want to generate money by selling our information.

Can Congress or other parts of the government protect our privacy? Probably not. We tend to discard privacy for convenience far more often than legislation can prevent. The more we ask government to guard our privacy, the more likely we are to surrender that privacy to government. The more we reveal about ourselves to social media and other non-government agencies, the less privacy we keep to ourselves. Our best choice is not to legislate privacy, but to preserve privacy by our individual choices. J.

Movie review: Dr. Strangelove

With Vladimir Putin rattling the Russian sabers last week, it seemed time to watch again the classic Cold War movie Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Made in 1964, Dr. Strangelove depicts the possibility of the world’s superpowers going to war because of the belligerence of one United States general.

The movie opens with a comforting statement from the United States Air Force that the events depicted in the movie could not possibly happen in real life. Yet the rules and regulations used by Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper seem entirely reasonable and likely in the context of the film. Usually described as a black comedy, the script contains remarkably few laugh-out-loud lines. (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here—this is the War Room,” is one of the few.) The humor consists rather in situational comedy and irony bordering on parody: an Air Force pilot replaces his regulation helmet with a cowboy hat after receiving the order to bomb targets in the Soviet Union; a military officer with the code that can call off the attack attempts to reach the President and his advisors from a pay phone but does not have enough spare change to place the call.

Dr. Strangelove combines the extemporaneous comedy of Peter Sellers with the micromanaging direction of Stanley Kubrick. Sellers is one of the very few actors who has had a major role in more than one Kubrick film. This improbable pairing shows the enormous respect the two professionals held for one another. The cast also includes Sterling Hayden as General Ripper, George C. Scott as General Turgidson (a gung-ho, gum-chomping general who must explain to the President and his advisors what is happening and why—the gravely voice of Scott’s future portrayal of General Patton can be heard from time to time), Slim Pickens as the Air Force pilot, and James Earl Jones as a member of his crew. Sellers is given three roles: the title character, the American President, and a RAF officer assigned to General Ripper’s staff.

The title character, Dr. Strangelove, is meant to portray German scientists like Werner Von Braun, who were brought to the United States after World War II to assist the military and the space program. As portrayed by Sellers, he is uncannily reminiscent of a then-unknown Harvard Professor of Government named Henry Kissinger. Of his three characters, Sellers spends the least time on the screen as Strangelove. His portrayal of President Merkin Muffley—said to be based on unsuccessful presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson—makes the character a single voice of calm and reason surrounded by insanity, yet Sellers’ comedic genius shines in his telephone conversations (during which only his words are heard) with the Soviet Premier. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake is also, for Sellers, an understated character, played against the madness of General Ripper. Yet his efforts to wheedle the call-back code from the general, along with his scene in the telephone booth, are among the highlights of the movie.

Kubrick based the movie on a serious novel and only realized along the way that the movie would play better as a comedy than as a serious war film. The foolishness of a Mutually Assured Destruction policy, followed by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1960s, is skillfully portrayed in the film. This movie may have help lead to the turn toward détente that both governments attempted in the 1970s. Peter Sellers was the first actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for a film in which he portrayed more than one character. The movie was nominated for Best Picture (and remains the longest-titled movie to be so honored) along with Zorba the Greek, Becket, and Mary Poppins, but they all lost to My Fair Lady.

Much has changed in the world since 1964, but Putin’s boasts last week about Russian weaponry remind us that much has also stayed the same. It may be only the grace of God that has spared the world thus far from the incredible damage humanity is capable of causing, whether through a deliberate act of hate or through mere carelessness and stupidity. For this divine protection we should be thankful every day. J.

Authority

God says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”

Salvageable adds: Once again, to despise can mean to hate, but it also can mean to consider unimportant. When we treat parents and other people in authority as if they did not matter, we sin against the authority of God, because all human authority represents God’s authority.

This commandment has no age of expiration. Adults honor and respect their parents in a different way than do children living in the homes of their parents. Even the white-haired father and mother in a retirement village or nursing home still should be honored, loved, and cherished. As we grow older, though, we encounter more authorities. Parents entrust their children to sitters and then to teachers. Anyone who applies for a job is expected to honor and respect the authority of a supervisor. Pastors have authority in their congregations, and all citizens are under the authority of the government. That authority is held not only by elected officials, but also by other government employees, including police officers and judges.

But those in authority often sin. When they command us to sin, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Still, even when Daniel was commanded not to pray to any God but only to the Persian Emperor, Daniel did two things. He broke that wrongful law, but he continued to honor and obey the Emperor in all other matters. Likewise, Peter and Paul both wrote that government authorities should be respected and honored, in spite of the fact that the highest authority of their government was the corrupt and wicked Caesar family.

American culture struggles with our relationship toward authority. We value independence and the right to question authority. Worse, we are surrounded by people who mock authority. After an election, supporters of the losing candidate often fight against the plans and commands of the winner, seeking to undermine his or her authority. Entertainers join the fray, mocking and scorning those who have been placed in control of the government. Likewise, literature and drama belittle teachers and school administrators, workplace management, police officers, and—especially—parents. It seems as if no one remembers that opposing earthly authorities is, by its very nature, opposition to the authority of God.

Jesus is our model of perfect obedience. As a child he honored and obeyed his parents, and as an adult he continued to honor his mother. Though he debated scribes and Pharisees, priests and Sadducees, he did not seek to overthrow them, nor did he treat them with scorn and mockery. In his trials he respected those of authority, earning in return the grudging respect of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who three times declared that Jesus was innocent and tried to set him free. Though the Jewish authorities and Roman authorities were corrupt, Jesus never called for their overthrow. His respect for human authorities did not have to be earned by them; it already existed as part of the respect Jesus has for his Father.

When we fail to follow the perfect example Jesus set, we grieve the Holy Spirit and contribute to the penalty Jesus paid on the cross. Yet Jesus has freed us from all our sins, even our sins of disrespect towards authority. We are free—not to mock and scorn authority or rebel against it, but free to submit as Jesus submitted, doing what is right in all matters, only breaking the rules when those rules conflict with God’s rules. J.