Monday, October 31, 2011




Outline of Talk by Fred Hallberg

For the Cedar Falls Town and Gown Club

At Bourbon Street Café, Cedar Falls, Iowa, 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

I. Introduction: I wish to introduce you to Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch Jew of Portuguese descent, living in Holland in the 17th Century.

Why is Spinoza of interest today?

A. I had not dealt with Spinoza for several decades, when I last taught a course at UNI entitled “History of Philosophy: Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

1. Spinoza was recalled to memory for me, by the events of the “Arab Spring” beginning in Tunisia last December. The unrest spread to Egypt, where I saw on television a phalanx of women carrying a banner displaying words in Arabic. The words (when translated by the TV announcer) said “Peace” and “Solidarity.” The announcer then explained the women were a mixture of Coptic Christians and Sunni Muslims, who were agitating for a world in which they could live together in “Peace” and “Solidarity,” as their sign said.

2. Suddenly Spinoza began rattling his cage from deep within my memory. He was insisting that “I have something to say to those women!” I had lost most of my Spinoza books during the move from Janesville to Eisenach Village, so I bought a half dozen new books on Spinoza from, and began to get reacquainted with the man. I wanted to find out what Spinoza might have wanted to say to these women in such circumstances.

3. I re-discovered that Spinoza was for me a very attractive person. His first name means “Blessed,” and I grant that he was. He succeeded in making his philosophy a positive way of life, as well as a set of arguments and doctrines. I am probably most attracted to him because he showed me how one can find a sense of belonging in almost any social circumstance, as I shall explain shortly.

B. Spinoza has in my view been inadequately recognized in the history books for:

1. His defense of freedom of conscience and of speech as universal human rights.

2. His advocacy of the toleration of religious diversity within a secular state as an alternative to religious war.

3. And for his having invented modern Biblical criticism 200 years before Graf and Wellhausen made it an acceptable academic discipline.

II. Life and Times. (Born 1632. Died 1677 at the early age of 45). (The Treaties of Munster and Westphalia, which brought the main Religious Wars in Europe to a close, were signed 1648, when Spinoza was 16 years old.)

A. The 17th Century marked the Dawn of the Enlightenment, but it was a terribly violent time.

1. John Milton called it “the century of iron.” It was a time of religious wars: the 30 Years War in Germany; the 80 Years War in the Netherlands; the civil religious wars in France and England. The 30 Years War was especially destructive. Large regions of Germany lost between 1/5 and 2/3 of their population.

2. By time of Spinoza’s death (1677) religious wars had become largely a thing of the past, at least in Europe. Religious uniformity was no longer given as a motive for war. Toleration of religious diversity became much more common.

3. I believe Spinoza’s ideas helped to justify this transition toward more liberal and tolerant societies.

III. Why was a man with a Spanish name (d’Spinoza) living in a Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam?

A. Spinoza’s family had lived in Spain perhaps for centuries. Beginning in 1492 Jews began to be persecuted as Ferdinand and Isabella attempted to purify Spanish culture by eliminating non-Catholic-Christian influences.

1. The Spinoza family first sought refuge in Portugal, where the Inquisition was not yet operating. But then Portugal became part of Spain in 1580, which brought along the Inquisition. So the Spinoza family had to flee again. They happily accepted the Dutch invitation to Portuguese Jews that they move to a suburb of Amsterdam, and carry on their international trading activities from there.

2. Spinoza’s father became a reasonably successful shipping trader in Amsterdam.

3. The young Spinoza proved to be very good at learning Biblical Hebrew at his synagogue school. His teachers hoped he would become a prominent rabbi.

4. During his early 20's, Spinoza began quarreling with his teachers over the meaning of many Biblical texts. He was offered a stipend to teach Hebrew but to keep his own views about what it all meant, hidden from the students. Spinoza refused. One early biographer reported he was attacked by a man with a knife on the synagogue steps. In 1656, at age of 24, he was brought before a tribunal and formally excommunicated from the Amsterdam synagogue. This ban endured for his entire life.

5. Spinoza’s response to this ban (which forbade contacts with any Dutch Jew,

including members of his own family) is part of what has made him so attractive to me. I have been searching all my life for a special sort of community which would provide a truly authentic home. I had memories of life in such an idyllic community from my life as a child in a small town in western Minnesota in the 1930's and 1940's. But that community disappeared with the advent of large scale industrial agriculture, and the destruction of the traditional family farm. Spinoza’s response to his ban showed me how it is possible to find a support community in almost any circumstances, if you can share a commitment to some sort of positive values or interests. You simply have to be open to these values or interests being shared across more ordinary tribal forms of identity.

D. Spinoza’s relationship with Dutch gentiles.

1. Spinoza developed a circle of friends and admirers among dissenting religious groups within his predominately Calvinist Christian society. These included the Remonstrants (who denied the Calvinist doctrine of predestination to salvation), the Collegiants (who tried to live a simple religion of the heart like that of the American Quakers), and the Socinians (who denied the post-Biblical doctrine of the trinity). He also befriended a publisher in Amsterdam (Jan Rieuwertsz), along with others in the Amsterdam publishing community, and he participated in various discussion groups concerned with the new sciences. A life-long friend and correspondent (Henry Oldenburg) later became Secretary to the British Royal Society, which kept him connected with what was happening there. Spinoza was a popular figure in all of these groups. He may have been rejected by his original home community at the Amsterdam Synagogue. But managed to develop a robust, if informal, support community among other dissenting Christian and secular groups. His example says to me; “Go forth and do likewise!”

E. Spinoza taught himself the craft of lense grinding as a way to earn a living after his excommunication. It seems fitting that a philosopher would commit himself to a craft which would enable him to see things more clearly. He was soon able to support himself making magnifying glasses, reading glasses, and later compound microscopes and refracting telescopes. He was also offered support remittances by wealthy friends. He accepted a small fraction of these offers, but turned down most of them. One acquaintance said he subsisted comfortably on “pennies a day.”

F. Spinoza mastered Latin by working with a tutor, then traveled from Amsterdam to a suburb of Leiden, a university town about 25 miles to the southwest of Amsterdam. He spent a couple years there (1655-57) studying the philosophy of Descartes. He then moved to a suburb of The Hague, called Voorburg, which is about 20 miles further southwest of Amsterdam. He published an exposition of Descartes’ philosophy there in 1663. It was the only thing published under his name during his lifetime.

G. While at Voorburg Spinoza began working on his two master works, his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and his Ethics. The first of these two works, the Treatise on Theology and Politics, which I am calling the “Tractatus,” was finished first, and was published clandestinely and anonymously in Amsterdam in the winter of 1669-70. It was written in Latin to make it less accessible to the masses (and their often intolerant and trouble-making clergy). The title page said it was published “In Hamburg,” which was untrue, and the author’s name was never stated.

III. Why Was the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Important?

A. I claim the Tractatus is Spinoza’s most influential work, even though it is seldom discussed at any length in standard histories of philosophy. The book consists of 20 chapters, of which 15 are devoted to biblical scholarship. He discusses the alleged uniqueness of Jewish law, the role of prophesy in the Bible, and whether the Bible can be accepted as the inerrant Word of God. He then unexpectedly shifts to political issues in the last five chapters. He shows how the foundational ideas of the modern liberal democratic state can be derived from elements of the very Biblical material he had criticized so severely in the preceding 15 chapters.

B. My claim that the Tractatus had a greater cultural impact than did his more ambitious Ethics, is controversial. I make my claim because the Tracatus achieved the following effects: He succeeded in “denaturing” the Bible. No serious person could take the Bible as inerrant after reading the Tractatus. He simultaneously provided a persuasive rationale for a secular state which could protect human rights and religious diversity. I find the Ethics to be much more difficult to read than is the Treatise. The Ethics was, however, much more important in Spinoza’s eyes, as well as in the eyes of most historians of philosophy. It was organized in a rigorous deductive way, like a gigantic mathematical proof. It spelled out his world-encompassing metaphysical system, as well as his detailed discipline of personal salvation. It may be of greater interest to professional philosophers. But I do not believe his Ethics had nearly the impact on 17th and 18th Century European Enlightenment culture, as did his Tractatus.

C. Spinoza began his Tractatus by criticizing certain hoary self-congratulatory claims Jews have commonly made about their own religion. He denies that the Jews are the only people to have received knowledge of the Law from God, and he denies that the Jews have been the only people to have been enlightened about the Law of God by means of prophesy.

1. Concerning the first claim, that the revelation of the Law of God was given uniquely to the Jews, Spinoza refutes it by reference to the Biblical material itself. He refers to Genesis 14, where Abram is portrayed as accepting the religious authority of King Melchizedek of Salem. (Abram was not called “Abraham” until after he received his commission from God.) The city would become (Jeru) Salem later, after the Jewish religion was created. The king was, of course, not yet a Jew. Yet he is called a priest of the God most high, which is the same name used to designate the God who called Abram to his mission. The king also provided a blessing for Abram in the name of this God, even though all these events occurred long before Moses first encountered God at Mount Sinai. Spinoza also lists proof texts to the effect that the Law of God is mainly about personal moral virtue, and is therefore accessible to any morally upright person. Spinoza is a universalist concerning the content and applicability of the Law of God. According to Spinoza, the authentic Law applies to all persons everywhere, and it has been made available to persons across the earth by a variety of means, including both prophecy and critical reason.

2. What Grounds Does Spinoza give for Denying the Bible is Inerrant?

a. Spinoza catalogues many sorts of factual and formal errors in the Biblical texts. I shall describe just one such type, which I call errors of “redundancy and contradiction.”

b.c. Spinoza has a heyday with examples of Biblical redundancy and contradiction. The Biblical texts are filled with them. Stories which we can recognize as being about the same event are often told more than once. But the content of these two recitations of the same story often differ in significant details, so the entire narrative becomes contradictory.

c. Spinoza discusses one such example of special importance to Jews, namely the story of Moses’ first encounter with God on Mount Sinai to receive the Law. The story of this first encounter is told twice, once in Exodus beginning at Chapter 19, and again in Deuteronomy beginning at Chapter 4. But the unfolding details of these two accounts of the giving of the Law by God, and of the reception of this Law by Moses and by the Jews, differs significantly in these two contexts. So the whole narration cannot be a literally true account of what actually transpired. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the content of the Law is given a third time in Exodus Ch.34, after the first edition of the Law was destroyed as result of the Golden Calf incident (Ch.32). This third version of the Law is nowhere near identical with either the first one in Exodus or with the later one in Deuteronomy.

IV, How Did Spinoza Derive Liberal Political Principles from such Ambiguous Biblical Material?

A. The Two Great Commandments provide the key to Spinoza’s positive interpretation of the Bible.

1. The last five chapters of the Tractatus come as a surprise to the reader. (They certainly did to me.) After 15 chapters of unrelieved negative Biblical criticism, we are suddenly informed that there are gems of unsurpassed value buried in this deeply flawed material.

a. Spinoza defends a version of progressive revelation. He portrays the Old Testament writers as groping through the darkness and fog of their primitive religious consciousness, toward the light of progressive modern awareness.

b. There is no evidence Spinoza ever converted to Christianity, so we are further surprised to learn what this progressive light reveals about the Old Testament and the New. The fog of the Old Testament lifts in the New, to allow a much more clear and illuminating vision of moral reality. The point of the New Testament stories is not, according to Spinoza, the revelation of Christ as our cosmic savior. It is rather that Jesus, acting as our rabbi (that is, as our teacher), reveals to us the inner essence of the Law of God highlighted by the Two Great Commandments.

c. The two Great Commandments are first, that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul. The second is that we love our neighbor as our self.

2. This specific version of the Two Great Commandments is asserted in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, namely, in Matthew Ch. 22:34, in Mark Ch. 12:30-31, and in Luke Ch. 10:25-28. The only difference is that Jesus himself asserts the two commandments in Matthew and Mark, whereas he elicits this assertion from his interlocutor (said to be “a lawyer”) in Luke. But the order and content of these formulations are identical in all three instances.

a. Both commandments can be found in the Old Testament, but they occur there in entirely unrelated contexts, in entirely separate books. The First Commandment occurs in a number of different forms in the Old Testament, but it is stated in the specific form quoted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, only in Deuteronomy Ch. 6:5. The Second Commandment, or anything remotely like it, occurs but once in the entire Old Testament. It occurs in Leviticus 19:18. It appears there amidst a hodge-podge of largely unrelated prohibitions about how to treat women during their menstrual cycle, how to treat one’s relatives and members of one’s household, and those with whom one may or may not have sex.

3. The New Testament affirmations of these Two Great Commandments meet Spinoza’s requirements for an authentic element of the Law of God. They are very simple, so anyone can understand them. And they can be ratified by discursive reason as well as by prophetic revelation. That makes them universal in a way that can be applied to all persons everywhere, regardless of their cultural differences. According to Spinoza, if people are smart enough to do arithmetic, they are smart enough appreciate the validity of these two Great Commandments.

B. Can the Two Great Commandments really be ratified by Reason alone?

1. Many contemporary philosophers would deny that they can be ratified by reason alone. I am not myself such a skeptic. Those of you who heard my paper entitled, “My Search for Absolutes,” know that I claim there is a close analogy between the Second Great Commandment and what Immanuel Kant called the Categorical Imperative. Both involve norms of mutuality and reciprocity. Kant held that such norms should govern our relations with one another. He provided arguments in support of the validity of such norms, as have such contemporary philosophers as John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas, among many others. My own arguments supporting this component of the Categorical Imperative are most similar to those given by Habermas. We both argue that the procedures by means of which beliefs are ratified, presuppose something like the Second Great Commandment as a background condition of our being consistent in thought and action. So I do believe the Second Great Commandment can be plausibly defended by discursive reason alone.

2. The First Great Commandment appears to present more of a problem, especially in the face of trenchant assertions of atheism by prominent contemporary philosophers such as Daniel Dennett. (You may have heard that Dennett calls atheists “the brights,” whereas he calls religious believers “not bright.” In other words religious people are, according to Dennett, just plain dumb.) Spinoza, on the other hand, had no problem affirming the existence of God, because he accepted what is called the “ontological argument.” This argument allegedly proves God’s existence as follows: God is an infinite being, so God must have all consistent attributes, including the attribute of existence itself. The conclusion is that God exists necessarily, the way, say, the number “3" exists necessarily. That is the so-called “ontological argument” for God’s existence.

3. I do not accept this argument for a number of technical reasons which I shall not burden you with here. But I still accept the claim that the First Great Commandment can be ratified by reason alone, so long is God is conceived of in a Spinozistic way. For Spinoza, the conception of God is purged of all anthropomorphic attributes. Spinoza denies, for example, that God could have either a face or a back side, as asserted in Exodus Ch. 33:23, or that God could “walk” with Enoch (Genesis, Ch. 5:22).

4. God, for Spinoza, is the infinite substance (that is, “something, I know not what”), which has created all present and past events, and which is creating future events. I take this doctrine to imply that we should take a realistic and affirmative stance toward our ongoing tasks of inquiry. Spinoza and I both deny the skeptical claim that the procedures of inquiry might simply be futile. I would argue that our very consciousness requires that there be a created world to be discovered and treasured. So I can accept this Spinozistic ratification of the First Great Commandment.

5. I suspect Daniel Dennett could accept it as well, if only he would cease viewing inquiry as a competitive, zero-sum game. If he could allow himself to become open to alternative points of view, I am confident he would see that accepting Spinoza’s argument would not require that he surrender his philosophical integrity.

E. How Can The Two Great Commandments Provide a Basis for

Universal Human Rights?

1. Spinoza is able to generate a surprising amount of substantive political theory from the Two Great Commandments. The Second Commandment requires that we internalize and enact norms of mutuality and reciprocity. I must risk opening my self and my basic beliefs to your inspection and possible criticism, and you must risk opening yourself to me. But I cannot thus open myself to you unless I have such an inner conscious life which I am able to articulate to you. The same must be true of you. That is why we must both have the basic rights of freedom of conscience and of freedom of expression if we are to be able to function as responsible persons in a community of inquiry.

2. Spinoza further argues that persons who share certain basic beliefs will tend to gather together in groups where they can share and celebrate these beliefs. This “flocking together” of “birds of a feather” is what generates the religious diversity characteristic of modern societies.

3. The rulers of early-modern nation-states often tried to secure social stability by

enforcing uniformity of basic beliefs at the point of a sword. But this has proven to be a self-defeating policy. The connection between outer behavior and inner belief is a weak one, so physical coercion cannot really get at what these rulers wanted to control. And second, such efforts always violated the victim’s sense of identity and integrity. That is why such efforts typically stimulated the very unrest and instability they are supposed to eliminate.

4. Spinoza argued it is much better to allow groups with differing basic beliefs to meet and function under the protection of a government which remains neutral with respect to such ultimate issues. That is what the United Provinces (what we now call the nation of “Holland”), had done during the 80 Years War with Spain (1568-1648). Calvinists, Catholics, and Jews were all allowed to live in contiguous communities within the United Provinces, and they generally did so in peace and harmony. This proved to be the form of social organization which would finally end the nihilistic Wars of Religion in Europe.

5. That was how Spinoza purported to “derive” the principle of separation of church and state from the New Testament formulation of the Two Great Commandments. It may not have been a strictly logical derivation. But history has proven to be on Spinoza’s side in this matter. Institutionalized separation of church and state has proved to be the only way we know to avoid irreconcilable sectarian conflicts. The lessons Spinoza taught us is what is being so painfully re-learned in the Islamic world today during the so-called “Arab Spring.”

V. How Was the Tractatus received?

1. Spinoza hoped the Tractatus would not stir up any great controversy. He could not have been more wrong. His publisher produced two printings over the winter of 1669 and 1670. They sold like hot cakes. But then the authorities got wind of what was happening, and the book was abruptly banned. Neither the author nor the publisher were publicly identified until after Spinoza’s death in 1677. So the author and publisher avoided being sent to prison. The book was soon published without his permission in other countries, often translated into the vernacular. Before long most of the influential philosophers of the Enlightenment had a copy of the Tractatus in their library.

2. I cannot claim Spinoza’s pioneering philosophy of the Enlightenment was what brought the 17th Century European Wars of Religion to a close. But he was an early and influential source of the modern idea that the state should remain religiously neutral, and thus render religious warfare pointless.

4. The positive facts of the Arab Spring, as well as the negative facts of 9/11 and of the rise of the religious right in this country, all show that Spinoza’s pioneering efforts in defense of the modern, secular, liberal democratic state, are far from complete. With the street demonstrations of the Arab spring ringing in my ears, I can still hear his voice calling on us to help complete the world-historical task of cultural change which he began 350 years ago.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


Presented by Max E. Kirk, Cedar Falls Supper Club, April 19, 2011
Every academic discipline examines leadership in one form or another with
multiple theories advanced to explain how we choose and respond to our leaders. Any
discussion of leadership, whether it be in politics or business, can benefit from a summary
of some of these leadership theories.
1. GREAT MAN THEORY. The theory of great man leadership assumes
that a leader’s capacity is inherent. In other words, great leaders are born and not made.
These theories often portray great leaders in a mythical sense and assume that they are
destined to rise to leadership when needed. A great man is often lurking in the general
population and hopefully that person will be in a position of leadership when the need
arises. Historically, the “great man” theory of leadership has focused on primarily male
leadership qualities, especially in terms of the military.
An example of the great man theory of leadership might certainly be George
Washington. The theory holds that without a person of Washington’s inherent ethics,
morality and intellectual discipline, the country in its formative years could easily have
slipped back into a monarchy or emerged as some type of weak executive parliamentary
type system of government. Only by Washington’s presence were we able to avoid such a
2. TRAIT THEORY OF LEADERSHIP. The trait theory of leadership is
somewhat similar to the great man theory in that it assumes certain people inherit certain
qualities and traits to make them better suited to leadership. With regard to these leaders,
we looked at those who are trained at the great public institutions, such as Harvard or
Princeton. We also look at military leaders such as Eisenhower, who presumably will
function well in the presidency because of the decisive training they received in the
military. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. As we will discuss in more detail later,
Ulysses S. Grant is an example of the complete disconnection between presidential
leadership and prior military leadership. Another example may be seen in Dwight D.
Eisenhower. As “Supreme Commander” of the Allied forces in World War II,
Eisenhower was responsible for planning and executing the invasion of northwestern
Europe that eventually took place on June 6, 1944 and seeing the war through its ultimate
conclusion. One can hardly imagine a game played with higher stakes or with more
complex operations than the D-day invasion, the conquest of Nazi Germany. Eisenhower
was continually able to elicit cooperation, foster optimism while maintaining the
confidence of the American public. In a letter to his son, written in 1943, Eisenhower
summarized his view of leadership as follows:
“The one quality that can be developed by studious reflection and practice
is the leadership of man. The idea is to get people working together, not
only because you tell them to so and enforce your orders, but because they
instinctively want to do it for you. . . .Essentially you must be devoted to
duty, sincere, fair and cheerful. You do not need to be a glad-hander, nor a
salesman, but your men must trust you and instinctively wish to win your
approbation to avoid things that call upon you for correction.”
Most agree that when he was elected president in 1952 Eisenhower was considered an
authentic hero. His failure to assert leadership in the postwar era constitutes what many
consider a failure of his presidency. His approach on civil rights was, at best, tepid. He
refused to announce his approval of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of
Education. He wavered in his support of civil rights legislation in the mid-1950s and
while he did commit federal troops to the integration of Central High in Little Rock,
Arkansas, he never offered his judgment or opinion on the issue of integration itself. His
approach to civil rights was very narrow and proceduralist, hoping the matter could be
deferred to the next administration.
It has been suggested that Eisenhower was at his best when the goal was defined
for him and his assignment was to win the war in Europe. When called on, however, to
define the goal himself, and sometimes face hostility in achieving the goal, Eisenhower
vacillated and was deficient.
3. CONTINGENCY THEORIES. The contingency theory advances that
there are so many variables related to leadership that no particular style of leadership may
be considered best suited for every situation. Success of a leader under the contingency
theory depends on a number of variables, including the leadership style, quality of the
followers and all aspects of the situation.
These leadership theories are by no means exclusive, but they do serve as a useful
focus in examining presidential leadership.
Ulysses S. Grant was elected President of the United States in 1868 and re-elected
four years later. His second term was marred by scandals, none of which involved Grant
personally. He was vilified by both political parties and thought unfit to be President.
Grant was characterized as coarse, inept, unforgiving. Some characterized him as a
lowlife who presided over the “blackout of honest government” during the reconstruction
years and who personally ushered in the excess and dishonesty associated with the Gilded
Age of the 1870s and 1880s. No less a commentator than Richard Hofstater characterized
Grants administrations as “notorious for their corruption”. Others, such as Edmund
Wilson stated that during Grants two administrations “their flapped through the national
capitol a whole phantasmagoria of insolent fraud, while a swarm of predatory adventurers
was let loose on the helpless South”.
In truth, Grant’s administration featured courageous efforts to ensure civil rights
not only for newly freed slaves, but also for whites residing in the confederate states.
Grant entered the White House determined to secure national reconciliation. His prestige
and influence were important in the ratification of the 15th amendment, banning
disenfranchisement on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. In early
1870s, he directed the recently created Department of Justice to begin the vigorous
pursuit and prosecution of the Klan which was reeking havoc and violence in the southern
states. It was at Grant’s initiative that Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan act, making it a
federal crime to conspire to overthrow the US Government or conspire to prevent citizens
from holding office, voting, or otherwise enjoying equal protection under the law. He
ordered federal troops stationed in the South to aid federal officials in breaking up Klan
marauders. He suspended habeas corpus in certain South Carolina counties where the
violence was most rampant and directed an effort by which the Justice Department
secured over 3,000 indictments for violations of the Klan Act. In all respects, Grant
pushed for national reconciliation with equal and civil political rights regardless of race.
Grant’s last effort to quell white southern uprising occurred with a series of events
that occurred in 1872 after both Republicans and Democrats claimed that they had won
the Louisiana Governor’s race. A federal judge ruled in the Republican’s favor and Grant
dispatched troops to enforce the decision. The local white population responded by
forming a new paramilitary group, which mounted coordinated attacks upon blacks and
republicans alike. In Colfax, Louisiana, the black controlled government took up arms to
protect the county Courthouse. On Easter Sunday 1873 a force of some three hundred
whites attacked, killed more than one hundred blacks and destroying the Courthouse.
Emboldened by the is, white supremacists formed the White League new Paramilitary
organization. Grant responded swiftly, issuing a proclamation that the white league
disburse or face federal military intervention. He followed this up with five thousand
troops and three gun boats which were sent to New Orleans.
By this time, much of the country and certainly the South had grown tired of
reconstruction conflict. Most of the country had grown tired of any commitment for civil
rights for blacks. In the last two years of his administration, Grant continued to be the
only leading figure inside the federal government who was concerned about protecting
equal rights in the South. Grant’s death in 1885 spared him witnessing how badly the
federal government failed to protect the suffrage and civil rights of freed blacks in the
South. It can be argued that but for Grant’s swift and certain intervention and
commitment of federal troops, white supremacists would have split off southern states to
resume their segregated policies denying the federal government its right to enforce the
civil rights amendments. Grant will be remembered for the scandals which occurred
during his administration and economic panics, none of which were of his making. These
matters have long overshadowed his true leadership in facing a hostile congress, a hostile
Court and, at best, an apathetic public in standing staunchly for civil rights of freed blacks
in the immediate post-civil war period.
Jimmy Carter was by any respect sufficiently educated, (U.S. Naval Academy and
Nuclear Physics) trained, (Naval Officer, Peanut Farmer and Governor of the State of
Georgia) and moral (strong southern Baptist background) to be an ideal President. In
practice however, the Presidency of Jimmy Carter is viewed as undistinguished and lack
luster. Was this the result of unanticipated crisis over which Carter had no control?
Probably not, because every President has those issues. Was his relative failure due to
lack of ambition or initiatives? Probably not. In many respects Jimmy Carter was an
activist who wanted to instill a great sense of human rights in the foreign policy of the
country. In all likelihood, Jimmy Carter was an excellent bureaucrat who had a passion
for the process of government, not what government could accomplish. Carter believed
in the process of government meaning that if the process was good, the end result would
be good. As part of the process he made sure to immerse himself in the many details of
each decision to be accomplished. Thus, by being fully advised with all the minutia of
any particular project, the process would be good and if the process was good, the end
result would be good. Unfortunately, Carter found out that the process is not a substitute
for substance. The process can also produce conflicting, competing and often times
confusing programs which seem to mark the Carter administration. Carter’s
administration was often times split with cabinet members and department heads taking
differing positions. He failed to set clear policy goals and then motivate his own
administration let alone congress to implement any goals. He aspired to make the
Governor “confident and compassionate” and responsive to the American people and
their expectations. He had some noticeable foreign policy successes such as The Camp
David Agreement of 1978, between Egypt and Israel. He also completed negotiation of
nuclear arms limitation treatises and full diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic
of China. On the other hand, he presided over The fall of the Shah of Iran and his failure
to secure release of the hostages seemed to indicate the impotence of the American
military and foreign policy.
In may respects, Carter failed to establish any philosophy of leadership. He did
like to preach however to the American people about their shortcomings. Early in his
administration, when inflation was rampant and energy prices soaring, he went to the
Presidential Retreat at Camp David for some soul searching. When he returned he
scheduled a national address which he told the American public that there was a deep
malaise in the American public. Frankly, most of the American public thought there was
a deep malaise in their President and resented his insinuation that all of the external
circumstances battering the country were our fault. Right or wrong, Jimmy Cater seemed
to preach that there were shortcomings in the American public that could be overcame by
hard adherence to the puritan work ethic and a more humane foreign policy. People
didn’t buy it as evidenced by his resounding defeat by the great communicator in the 1980
History remembers President Reagan in a number of ways, most of which are
extremely positive. He was the Great Communicator. He was the man that ended the
Cold War and challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. He launched the Star Wars
initiative and brought the Soviet Union to its knees and is truly the Cold War “Warrior”.
Consequently, his reputation among political conservatives is epic assuming almost
superhero proportions. Everyone wants to be like Reagan. Everyone wants to touch the
hem of his robe and gain some sort of validity from embracing his values. I suggest that
his near cult status is based more on fond recollection that upon reality. If anything, the
conservative superhero status is a myth created more to provide a common front than to
reflect reality. If anything, Reagan was not the conservative people claim he was.
The website Think Progress has compiled a list of ten things we must consider
when assessing whether or not Reagan was a true conservative as is currently portrayed.
1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan “signed
into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then.” Meanwhile, state
spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan “raised taxes in seven of his eight years in
office,” including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson,
who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in
his administration - I was there.” “Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes,” said historian
Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false
mythology,” Brinkley said.
2. Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit. During the Reagan years,
the debt increased to nearly $3 trillion, “roughly three times as much as the first 80 years
of the century had done altogether.” Reagan enacted a major tax cut his first year in office
and government revenue dropped off precipitously. Despite the conservative myth that tax
cuts somehow increase revenue, the government went deeper into debt and Reagan had to
raise taxes just a year after he enacted his tax cut. Despite ten more tax hikes on
everything from gasoline to corporate income, Reagan was never able to get the deficit
under control.
3. Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts. Unemployment
jumped to 10.8 percent after Reagan enacted his much-touted tax cut, and it took years for
the rate to get back down to its previous level. Meanwhile, income inequality exploded.
Despite the myth that Reagan presided over an era of unmatched economic boom for all
Americans, Reagan disproportionately taxed the poor and middle class, but the economic
growth of the 1980's did little help them. “Since 1980, median household income has
risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled
or quadrupled,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted.
4. Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously. Reagan
promised “to move boldly, decisively, and quickly to control the runaway growth of
federal spending,” but federal spending “ballooned” under Reagan. He bailed out Social
Security in 1983, after attempting to privatize it, and set up a progressive taxation system
to keep it funded into the future. He promised to cut government agencies like the
Department of Energy and Education but ended up adding one of the largest — the
Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which today has a budget of nearly $90 billion and close
to 300,000 employees. He also hiked defense spending by over $100 billion a year to a
level not seen since the height of the Vietnam war.
5. Reagan did little to fight a woman’s right to choose. As governor of
California in 1967, Reagan signed a bill to liberalize the state’s abortion laws that
“resulted in more than a million abortions.” When Reagan ran for president, he advocated
a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited all abortions except when
necessary to save the life of the mother, but once in office, he “never seriously pursued”
curbing choice.
6. Reagan was a “bellicose peacenik.” He wrote in his memoirs that “[m]y
dream…became a world free of nuclear weapons.” “This vision stemmed from the
president’s belief that the biblical account of Armageddon prophesied nuclear war — and
that apocalypse could be averted if everyone, especially the Soviets, eliminated nuclear
weapons,” the Washington Monthly noted. And Reagan’s military buildup was meant to
crush the Soviet Union, but “also to put the United States in a stronger position from
which to establish effective arms control” for the entire world — a vision acted out by
Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, when he became president.
7. Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Reagan
signed into law a bill that made any immigrant who had entered the country before 1982
eligible for amnesty. The bill was sold as a crackdown, but its tough sanctions on
employers who hired undocumented immigrants were removed before final passage. The
bill helped 3 million people and millions more family members gain American residency.
It has since become a source of major embarrassment for conservatives.
8. Reagan illegally funneled weapons to Iran. Reagan and other senior U.S.
officials secretly sold arms to officials in Iran, which was subject to a an arms embargo at
the time, in exchange for American hostages. Some funds from the illegal arms sales also
went to fund anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua — something Congress had already
prohibited the administration from doing. When the deals went public, the Iran-Contra
Affair, as it came to be known, was an enormous political scandal that forced several
senior administration officials to resign.
9. Reagan vetoed a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act. which placed sanctions
on South Africa and cut off all American trade with the country. Reagan’s veto was
overridden by the Republican-controlled Senate. Reagan responded by saying “I deeply
regret that Congress has seen fit to override my veto,” saying that the law “will not solve
the serious problems that plague that country.”
10. Reagan helped create the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Reagan fought a
proxy war with the Soviet Union by training, arming, equipping, and funding Islamist
mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan. Reagan funneled billions of dollars, along with
top-secret intelligence and sophisticated weaponry to these fighters through the Pakistani
intelligence service. The Talbian and Osama Bin Laden — a prominent mujahidin
commander — emerged from these mujahidin groups Reagan helped create, and U.S.
policy towards Pakistan remains strained because of the intelligence services’ close
relations to these fighters. In fact, Reagan’s decision to continue the proxy war after the
Soviets were willing to retreat played a direct role in Bin Laden’s ascendancy.
One of the most inexplicable stories of the Reagan administration began to come
to light in 1985. The story was leaked that American operatives had negotiated a deal
with the regime of Muslim fundamentalists Ayatollah Khomeini, the man responsible for
the incarceration of the American hostages between 1979 and 1981. According to the
story, American operatives authorized the shipment of sophisticated weapons to the
Khomeini regime on behalf of the President of the United States. Additionally, the arms
sales to Iran were conducted at a significant mark up in price creating profits from the
transactions. The profits were funneled into a Swiss bank account and thereby to the anticommunist
gorillas in Nicaragua known as the Contras who were trying to overthrow the
communist regime known as the Sandinistas. Reagan hailed the Contras as “freedom
fighters” and the “moral equivalent of our founding fathers”. Most observers saw the
Contras as typical Central American right wing thugs.
As the story started to get out, there was a cover up, of course. The Attorney
General Edwin Meese was reluctant to investigate. Oliver North conducted a “shredding
party” to destroy relevant documents. The whole affair was in blatant contradiction of
U.S. law so the question immediately focused on what did the President know and when
did he know it. In the case of Richard Nixon, the answers to those questions were
everything and immediately. In the case of Reagan however, it became apparent that
Reagan was disconnected, remote and uninformed. The true facts of the Iran-Contra arms
exchange became known. Reagan went on television to issue the following apology: “I
told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and best intentions
still tell me this is true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”
Congressional hearings in the appointment of a special prosecutor brought
fourteen indictments and eleven convictions to those involved in the Iran-Contra matter.
Some were pardoned, some served time, and some had their convictions reversed on
appeal. Surprisingly, Reagan was not directly affected by the Iran-Contra scandal and his
obvious lack of knowledge and control of those working directly under the authority of
his office. He was probably too personally popular to face impeachment. It seems as
though the American public so personally fond of Reagan was willing to let him ride into
the sunset but serious questions about his mental competency and managerial skill were
present. The fiction of Reagan as the grandfather’s quipster was maintained. Any serious
analysis would have forced the public to come to grips with realities that were very
unsettling to their heartfelt beliefs regarding their President. In reality, it was best just to
let him be and remember what the public wanted to remember rather than the reality of
Ronald Reagan.
For further reading in these areas, please consider the following:
Walter Isaacson, Editor. Profiles and Leadership: Historians on the Illusive
Quality of Greatness; WW Norton and Company, New York (2010).
Jim Cullen, Imperfect Presidents, Fall River Press (2007).
Joan Waugh, U.S. Grant, American Hero, America Myth; University of North
Carolina Press (2009).
Additionally, you can find any number of toxic blogs on any president you choose.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rich Winsor: Global Warming and Engineering Solutions

Global Warming & Engineering Solutions

January 18, 2011

Climate change is becoming too apparent to ignore; what realistically can be done about it?

What is global warming?

Global warming is also called the “greenhouse effect” whereby sunlight warms the earth and some of the thermal radiation that would normally be expected to leave and thereby somewhat cool the earth is trapped or absorbed by the atmosphere. This effect has been present for much of the time that the earth has been a planet.

Why is global warming important?

Without global warming it is estimated that the earth would be 59 F cooler. So global warming is a good thing. Nevertheless, like many good things, too much can be harmful, and there is mounting evidence that global warming is increasing.

What is the evidence for increased global warming?

Various measures of average surface temperature of the Earth have shown rising temperatures, but this has been only 0.74 deg in the last hundred years, so that is not convincing to some people. This small change has a bigger effect than you might think as shown by the melting polar ice caps, which give more dramatic evidence of global warming.

There are many statistics showing increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. One of the most convincing is measurements made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii where CO2 has increased from 315 to 385 ppm in 50 years. There are no signs that CO2 will decrease significantly, especially with the substantial economic growth in India and China.

Munich Re is an insurance company that estimates risk and looks forward rather than backward for potential risks. To quote Bloomberg Businessweek “One of the new risks Munich Re is tracking is climate change. The company has the world’s most comprehensive database on natural disasters, with information going back centuries. It shows that the frequency of serious floods worldwide has more than tripled since 1980, while hurricanes and other severe windstorms have doubled. (This is because warmer sea and air masses lead to greater winds.) ‘Global warming is real’ says Peter Hoppe, who leads the company’s climate-change research.”

By the way, they predict 97% probability of a major earthquake in Los Angeles by 2040.

What problems may be caused by climate changes?

There are many potential changes caused by global warming and the associated shift in the earth’s climate. Of course, climate is a complex system so it is difficult to determine which changes will actually happen and if any given change is due to global warming or just a random variation in the weather. Some predicted changes:

  1. Sea level rise and more and larger storms.
  2. Melting polar ice and retreat of glaciers.
  3. Alterations in habitats and dominance of plants, animals, and insects.
  4. Changes in local climates – droughts, flooding, colder in some areas and hotter in others

Another concern is that there may be a positive feedback of global warming, i.e. some effects of global warming themselves may contribute directly to further global warming, in a vicious circle. For example, melting ice could lead to increased heat absorption because ice reflects more solar radiation than land or water. Also, warmer temperatures in the oceans can reduce the growth of ocean phytoplankton (algae). This is expected to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by photosynthesis in the ocean, which would increase the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and hence increase the greenhouse effect. This is a concern because ocean photosynthesis is as large a part of the planet's overall carbon balance as land photosynthesis.

What are the Causes of Global Warming?

Obviously CO2 emissions come from burning petroleum products like gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane, and heavy fuel oil. Burning coal, natural gas, and biological materials also add CO2 to the atmosphere, but there are other sources that are less well known. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has pointed out a "little known" global problem caused by the unintentional burning of coal. The Association estimates that such fires, started mainly by human activity, contribute significantly to carbon dioxide emissions - as much as 3% of total world output deriving from such fires in China alone.

Deforestation adds CO2 from burning and reduces the amount of CO2 that is consumed. Production of fertilizer and cement also add significantly to atmospheric CO2.

Methane is a much more effective greenhouse gas than CO2, and it is produced by landfills, animals, and termites. It is estimated that methane currently contributes 28% of the warming that CO2 contributes.

Why do people deny global warming?

There are many reasons, so I will try to list the three most common ones:

1. Economic – Reducing consumption of relatively inexpensive fossil fuels will cause serious economic changes. Note that out of all the major scientific organizations, only the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has not affirmed the consensus view on global warming (they haven't taken a firm stand).

2. Government Conspiracy Theory - Solving global warming implies government action. Many have a strong political and ideological bent against government regulation. There's a fear that individual freedoms will be infringed upon.

3. Religious and/or Anti-science – Some people think that science causes problems and that we should rely on religion and “common sense” and avoid complex rational thought and scientific theories. Therefore, they believe that we should not try to affect global warming.

How are we going to solve this problem of global warming or climate change?

There are at least four categories of actions that can be taken to mitigate global warming:

1. Reduction of energy use (conservation)

2. Shifting from carbon-based fossil fuels to alternative energy sources

3. Carbon capture and storage (carbon sequestration)

4. Planetary engineering to cool the earth

The first three of these could theoretically be effective, but they have had little impact. Many small efforts can help reduce global warming, but reasonable estimates show that they will not be sufficient. Global warming is like a runaway freight train going downhill and efforts to reduce it have failed and will continue to fail. India and China are industrializing, as is most of the rest of the world, and energy consumption is increasing. Countries and people will not significantly cut back on consuming energy for heating and cooking, transportation, manufacturing, etc. Anyone who suggests that we all get together and solve the global warming problem is simply being unrealistic. None of the efforts of the past have had a significant effect on CO2 production, and the nature of human existence has shown that nothing significant will be done until there is a crisis, and that will be too late.

So I believe that conservation and alternative energy are not going to solve the problem, and carbon sequestration is expensive and will therefore be only a token effort. I believe the solution to global warming must be planetary engineering, so let’s explore this topic.

What are the issues with planetary engineering?

First, let me define engineering. Engineering is the application of scientific and mathematical knowledge to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems. Of course, engineering, like science, can be used for beneficial or detrimental purposes, but here we want to use engineering principles to address the global warming problem. One of the major considerations in any engineering activity is cost, and here I am using cost in a very general sense. Costs include raw materials, manpower, detrimental effects on other activities, etc. We must be very aware of costs because if we are spending an inordinate amount of resources on planetary engineering, we will be using resources that might better be employed to solve many other problems, such as disease, hunger, and the general standard of living. We must use resources wisely as we conduct planetary engineering.

We have to consider many possible solutions to global warming, conduct experiments and pilot studies, generate cost estimates, and determine the benefit vs. cost of the alternatives before starting a major program to combat global warming. Of course, this investigation will take time and resources, but starting a major effort without the necessary studies risks wasting much more than would be gained by an early start. For example, T. Boone Pickens started on an ambitious program to generate wind power in Texas. Unfortunately, there was little market for semi-reliable power far from customers and the cost of generating and shipping the power was high, so he is now trying to sell the operation.

Another consideration with planetary engineering is unintended consequences which often arise from major activities. Some of these could be beneficial spin-offs, while others could be quite detrimental to some portion of the ecosystem. However, we must not be paralyzed by the possibility of some unknown problem. We must do our best to choose a wise solution to global warming with the overall objective of improving life on earth.

Proposed Planetary Engineering (Geoengineering) Solutions

The cost per ton of CO2 pollution reduction is $10 to $30, while estimates are that geoengineering can give the same effect for $0.7. Therefore, I think we must invest in serious studies of geoengineering, like we invested in space exploration. I will mention some geoengineering concepts, but it is premature to recommend anything without pilot studies, improved models, and further calculations by multiple investigators.

  1. “Doping the stratosphere” involves releasing aerosol particles above the clouds to reflect sunlight and thereby cool the earth. Sulfur dioxide is generally suggested as the material to be used to create the reflective aerosol, and it might be provided by burning high-sulfur fuel in high-flying intercontinental jets.
  2. “Cloud brightening” involves releasing fine water droplets to create more reflective clouds and/or more clouds.
  3. Lighter colored rooftops and roads have been suggested to reduce absorption of sunlight.
  4. Ocean nourishment including fertilizing with iron has been proposed to encourage growth of CO2-consuming plankton.
  5. Another concept is “space sunshades” to obstruct solar radiation with space-based mirrors or other structures.
  6. Building thicker sea ice by spraying seawater onto existing ice has been proposed to increase the polar ice caps and reflect more sunlight.
  7. Air capture of carbon dioxide and its sequestration has also been proposed.

As I suggested before, the cost effectiveness, side effects, and risks must be considered before embarking on large-scale geoengineering. Nevertheless, it is time to begin serious studies of planetary engineering alternatives, and there is growing support for this because the cost is much lower than alternatives.

Some Risks of Planetary Engineering

Changing global temperatures without lowering the level of greenhouse gas concentrations is a source of concern. One risk is the possible lessening of rainfall, and the possible weakening of the Indian or African monsoons is a particular worry. In the wake of the Pinatubo eruption, there was some diminution in rainfall, and some model results suggest this might also result from solar radiation management strategies.

Not all planetary engineering technologies are equally at risk on this score. The more localized nature of marine cloud whitening may represent a positive advantage. Because of anxiety over the effect of extra cloud condensation nuclei on rainfall, areas upwind of land with a drought problem could be avoided. In a sense, the more localized nature of marine cloud whitening operations is an offset to the potential disadvantages of the patchy effects of this approach.


With that I will finish and restate “the much lower cost of a planetary engineering solution to global warming should be seriously considered since conservation, alternative energy, and carbon sequestration will be delayed and avoided because of the societal costs.”

For more information on Climate Engineering, I recommend “An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Climate Change” by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. They conclude “the results of this initial benefit-cost analysis place the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders of those who would prevent such research.”